Filling in the gaps: Crossing the Rockies

NOTE: This was a “guest” post written by [the other guy], so he refers here to his niece and his experiences having lived in the area.  – Paul


I have to admit, I was more than a bit nervous to drive over the Rockies, in January.  Throughout December I checked the weather network several times a day and watched several storms come and go.  I read website after website trying to find information that would tell us which mountain pass is the best to conquer in the winter and even did a test drive to the beginning of Crowsnest Pass in the Jeep to see if I felt we could handle it in the motorhome. Of course, well meaning people all have their own advice to give and some of the most discouraging comments came from people that have never driven over the Rockies before.  I have been over the pass several times before but those trips were many many years ago before I had any concept of fear. As the time to leave drew nearer a storm began to develop on the West Coast.  Vancouver was scheduled to have freezing rain then snow, and temperatures were forecast to drop.  The storm was to continue towards the Rockies and would cause blizzards at the higher elevations.  It was a difficult decision but we finally decided to risk it and leave as planned and drive as far as Creston and if need be we could stop in Creston until the storms passed. We planned on leaving at about 8 A.M., us, the dogs and bird in the RV and with my niece Kimber and her friend Scott following us in the Jeep.  The plan was for them to drive the Jeep to Vancouver Island (where they’d get a few days to bop around on their own) and we would pay for their flight home. With unexpected delays while we finally decided, based on weather and time, to take the Crowsnest Pass over the further north Calgary/Banff/Rogers Pass route and a necessary pre-trip stop into Cardston for a propane fill up, we didn’t actually get out of Leavitt until around noon.  My mother (“Grandma Chicken”) stocked us all with countless bags of chips and snacks and sent us on our way.

Right out of the gate the motorhome seemed to be having a hard time getting any speed up and the motor was roaring just to keep us up to 50-60 km an hour.  I was beginning to think we were having some sort of engine troubles then it dawned on me this is Southern Alberta after all and that there might be a wind blowing off the mountains.  I had Paul, the navigator, check the weather network on his iPad and it seemed that we were driving head first into a windstorm. 100 km + winds and a travel advisory against travelling around Pincher Creek and the Crowsnest Pass.  Exactly where we were headed. Undaunted we drove on. Needless to say our gas mileage for the first leg of the trip was the worst gas mileage yet.  At least the roads were clean and clear with bare pavement.  Eventually the snow started but nothing too scary and definitely nothing as bad as what we had driven through in Northern Ontario… at least, not yet.

We were almost to Creston when it started getting dark and we decided to find a place to stop for the night.  There was a fair amount of snow on the ground and amazing enough we found an RV park in Creston that was open all winter.  Scotties RV park and Campground was the first RV park we had found from Toronto to Creston that was opened in the winter.  Nice park, nice people and really decent facilities.  (Note: Photo to the right would be the park without snow; picture it with no leaves and about a foot of snow, in the dark.) Only 48 spots and it seemed like at least 20 were fulltime RVers.  Up to this point the drive had been ok but it was the next section that had me nervous, especially with a storm coming from the Coast.

Here is what British Columbia.com has to say about the next days drive. “Only intrepid travellers need apply to drive what is the highest-elevation paved highway in Canada, the Skyway. But you’ll want some time – and cooperation from the weather. During winter storms, avoid this route, particularly the stretch between Salmo and Creston.”

Yikes.

In the morning I checked the road conditions on DriveBC.com and it said that the pass was having avalanche control taking place and to expect minimum 2 hour delays.   Shortly after leaving Creston the road conditions changed drastically.  The road was steeper, the snow was coming down heavier and the roads were slippery under the snow.  The grades were crazy steep and at times I was pressing the accelerator but we didn’t speed up, the tires were just spinning and with the ice under the snow we weren’t going any faster.  There was always a sense of relief once we got to the top of a mountain as I knew that for at least the next 15-20 minutes or so we would just be coasting down the other side.

At the top of one of the passes we came across a road block and we were stopped for an hour or so for road clearing.  The heavy equipment they used was amazing.  The snow blower had a huge rotary blade at least 15 feet high and it threw the snow with amazing force into the forest way above the highest pine tree.  The plows were equally as impressive and absolutely massive.  I didn’t mind the delay. It gave time for my blood pressure to lower a bit and I knew that the roads on the other side were being cleared of snow, or at least cleared of some snow.

The rest of the drive through the mountain passes continued the same…up, down, around a corner, up, down, up, down. We kept driving through BC with stops only for gas. Somewhere before Osoyoos the roads cleared up, the snow disappeared and was replaced with rain.  The rain was a welcome change from the driving snow.

Finally we got to Hope.  I was absolutely exhausted and stopped at the side of the road to decide what to do next.  It was dark and there was no way we were going to catch a ferry to the Island and I was feeling too tired to drive through Vancouver.  With just a few phone calls we found an Hotel/RV park nearby and pulled in for the night.   This was the first time that we were able to hook the motorhome up to running water, sewer and full 50 amp electric, ever.

After a good nights sleep I was ready to get to Vancouver Island.   The kids had taken the jeep into Vancouver the night before and they were meeting us at the storage facility in Vancouver where we are keeping our furniture.  Jasmines huge cage was shipped to Alberta in the Jeep and we needed to put it  in the storage as we didn’t want to have it on the island right away. Luckily the storage place is on the way to the Ferry.

The ferry was interesting.  RV get to line up with the semi trailers and the line up was much shorter than the cars.  As we were waiting in line I was hoping that the kids were able to secure a spot on the same ferry as they were planning on going off on their own when we got to the Island. Luckily we were all on the same boat and we met them on deck, they gave Paul the keys to the jeep and we all went our own way. Driving off the ferry was interesting as I was without my navigator.  I knew roughly how to get to the RV park but was not 100% certain.  It was almost dark and I remembered that I was to watch for a railroad bridge and an A&W.  Amazing enough, I drove straight to the RV park and was almost completely checked in before Paul arrived in the Jeep.

We had made it.

posted by Paul in The Trip and have No Comments

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