Sunday, 4 March 2012

Traveling Western Canada in the Winter

Done our vacation at Big White for the year, it was time to head home. Our normal route is north to the Trans Canada Highway (TCH) then east, as shown in the map below.
The Normal Route
By this route, it's ~550 km and 8 hrs drive time.

However, the lovely snow we've been having in Big White has caused no end of grief for the TCH. Last night, when we were packing to leave, the TCH was closed for part of the route (between Sicamous and Revelstoke) due to avalanches that were being cleared, and closures/delayed openings were threatened for the part through the Rogers Pass from Revelstoke to Golden due to the avalanche danger. The alternative route here is pretty long; the Selkirk and Purcell mountains are in the way. It looks like this:
The South route
By this route, it's ~800 km and 11 hrs 45 min. Based on this, we figured taking this route we were committing to an overnight stop somewhere (crossing mountain passes at night is ill advised). We didn't like it.

When we woke up this morning, the TCH was still closed between Sicamous and Revelstoke, but the forecast opening (with moderate confidence) was several hours before we would get there. The section through the Rogers Pass was slated for opening around the time we would get there, too. So we headed north.

All the way we were getting regular updates that the road ahead was opening bit by bit. But we got to Vernon (just north of Kelowna) and found out that the Sicamous-Revelstoke stretch had now shut due to multiple avalanches, and wouldn't open until tomorrow. Oops. Now what?

Our two choices at this stage became pull a 180° turn and head right back the way we came to take the south route, or to cut across the mountains and try to avoid the closures, using a route via Nakusp that looks like this:
Big White to Vernon to Nakusp to Revelstoke to home
This route? 675 km and 10 hrs, 45 min. It takes a long time because there are two ferry crossings of Arrow Lake.
Guess where?
It's a pretty drive full of windy, twisty roads. We got to Arrow Lake and the ferry, and what a fun little thing that is. The lake is so narrow and the ferry ramp angled just enough that perhaps, just perhaps, with enough speed, you could jump it. James Bond could, anyway.
I figure about 300 km/hr ought to do it
The ferry is a cable ferry, running a 5 min crossing back and forth every 15 min.

Part the way across 
Getting closer. Cables visible.
Almost there. Packed with cars...
This lake is used for moving logs, too, and there was a boom full next to the ferry dock...

Dramatic log shot
...being pushed around by one of those little tug boats.

Out of focus, but still
The lake itself is very long (about 200 km).
The pole is artistic, don't you think?
There's room for ~20 cars, but we only had 4.
Have roof bullet, will travel
There's also an extensive on-board selection of local tourist information.
Pamphlet, anyone?
And you get to see the "outer workings" of the ship.
Cable pullies
We got to Nakusp, got back into cell service, and found out that the Rogers Pass was now closed and wasn't due to open until 6 PM or later. More oops. Now we had to head south, or go join the other stuck folks in Revelstoke. South we went, through fascinating little towns like Silverton.
I liked the building. Looked like a movie set.
So now we were on this route, expecting to overnight in Cranbrook:
Big White to Cranbrook via Nakusp
This route? 675 km, 10 hrs 15 min. Which is about how long it took us.

We left Big White at 9 AM Pacific time and rolled into Cranbrook at 7 PM Pacific. But we went through a time zone change on the way, so arrived at 8 PM mountain. We found a hotel, checked in, then went out for dinner. I had picked a Greek restaurant in town that I had found on line. As we pulled up (at 8:30 PM local time on a Sunday night), they shut the lights off on the sign and we watched them turn the sign from Open to Closed.


So a quick check on my iPhone and I found a back up restaurant. We went there, and it too was closed (despite a sign saying open for take out from 5-9 PM Sundays). We ended up at East Side Marios. However, we were the only patrons in the whole place for the 90 minutes we were there.

To get home from Cranbrook tomorrow, this is the fastest route:
Cranbrook to home
300 km. ~4 hrs. However...

At this moment, a wicked snow storm is hitting Kootenay National Park. Parks is doing avalanche control on the road in the park tomorrow. Forecasts are for 30 cm of snow. The road is currently in poor winter driving conditions. It crosses two major passes (Sinclair and Vermillion). So there's a risk that we will wake up tomorrow and find the road closed (or worse, get to Invermere and the Kootenay Park turnoff and find the road closed). And if Hwy 93 closes, so will the TCH. This would be our only route around it all:
Cranbrook to home via Fernie and Calgary (almost)
500 km. 6 hrs, 20 min. On top of the 675 km and 10 hrs 15 min we have already done (to accomplish a 550 km, 8 hr drive).

Stay tuned for how this all ends.

And if you're coming to Cranbrook on a Sunday night, try to eat before 8:30 pm.

1 comment:

Edwin said...

Well that's one heck of a detour.... Safe travels!