Rockies Road


Rogers Pass is a famous route through the Selkirk Mountains, just west of the Rocky Mountains. It rises to 1,330 metres in altitude. Major Rogers discovered the pass in 1882 for the Canadian Pacific railway, in return for $5,000 and the name. It avoided a 240-kilometre detour around the mountains.

Avalanches abound. The army shells the cliffs to cause controlled avalanches instead of letting nature take its course, and dark tunnels protect cars from some snow chutes that can't be avoided.

Bicycling between and around these mountains is like creeping through the jaws of a geological monster. I'm an insect surrounded by enormous teeth: craterlike molars, zigzag-topped incisors and towering canines. The monster could crunch and swallow me and half the cars and roads in two provinces.

As I climb, slowly and surely, some cars honk their encouragement. I speed up.

The Selkirk Mountains line the road to Golden, B.C., which lies just west of the Rockies.

A bighorn sheep munches grass beside the road near Golden, B.C.

The trees don't reach the tops of all the cliffs. Rather than snow bleeding through trees, up here trees peek through the white like stubble on a stone-faced old man.

Then comes the summit of the Trans-Canada Highway, Kicking Horse Pass, 1,627 metres above the ocean. It defeats the Rocky Mountains, but there isn't so much as a congratulatory sign beside the road. After all that climbing I can't hold the pun back: it's anticlimactic.

Kicking Horse Pass crosses the continental divide. To the west, water flows through British Columbia and to the Pacific. To the east, water flows through Alberta and eventually to the Atlantic.

In other words, it's all downhill from here.

Lake Louise, a summer tourist spot, sits on the Alberta portion of Banff National Park. Tourists flock to it even in springtime, when they can also walk on it. The hamlet is the highest-altitude community in Canada; the lake itself, at 1,661 metres, is higher than Kicking Horse Pass. The temperature is sub-zero, by year-round average.

Banff is another spectacular resort town, famous for skiing, hiking and bicycling.

Today I left Canmore, the city near Banff. The temperature rose to 15 degrees and there was almost no snow. Halfway through the day I climbed a puny hill, stopped, and turned around.

Fields surrounded me.

Finally, the Rocky Mountains were to the west.