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twolost 01-06-2013 01:48 AM

TWOLOST: Banff/Jasper: End of the Mayan Calendar

My wife, our three year old daughter and I just returned home to Washington State from two weeks traveling around Alberta (CAN) in our Sportsmobile. Most of the time we were in (or just on the outskirts of) Banff/Jasper National Park. For nearly the entire trip, the skies were clear and the temps were in the single digits (F) or lower. We stayed overnight in the relative comfort in either a timeshare or hotel on this specific trip - but we did go out exploring in our van nearly every day.

This is the first time that our family ventured this far north during this time of year and the first time that our van had been submitted to sustained temperatures that were this low. This trip was not without a few unexpected surprises (at least unexpected to those of us who are not well acclimated to this type of frozen climate). I think that we can avoid most/all of the issues we encountered on this trip on any subsequent visits (which we are already planning for next year). The scenery was equally (if not more) as amazing during this time of year compared with spring, summer, and fall. While there were pockets of high quantities of people (skiing, ice fishing, dog sledding, ice climbing, telemarking, snow shoeing, etc…) there was significantly less tourist traffic in general. During winter, there are plenty of easily accessible places that you can basically call your own.

Route (counter clockwise, starting from point [1])

TWOLOST +1 :b6: :b7: :o3:

twolost 01-06-2013 01:49 AM

Day T-1 (12/19/2012):
Day T-1 (12/19/2012):

While lying on the ground underneath of the van I discovered that the front non-serviceable u-joints all had cracked rubber cup seals and that one of the cups would spin freely in the retainer. The driveline itself rotated smoothly and without any noise but it also seemed a bit draggy. As there was eight inches of snow in our front yard already and we were headed into the Canadian Rockies in the dead of winter, I reasoned-out that I would likely have the manual hubs locked for much of our drive (which in turn meant that the front driveline would be spinning for pretty much the entire time). Because of road and mountain pass conditions during this time of year… not being able to rely on fully functional 4x4 was not an option I wanted to consider. Nor was my vision of me trying to fix a potential problem out in the field (in well below freezing temps). Had this same trip been at any other time of year (where the front drive-line would be idle most of the time), I would have just noted this as a future maintenance item to take care of when I got the chance.

I was already on the verge of getting sick (cold) and as is typical for me I was already out of preparation time so I decided to stop by the local diesel truck stop and see if they could service the front drive-line. I will mention just for color and for my current employer that I made this stop after I had picked up my daughter early from pre-school because she had thrown-up more than once (both my wife and my daughter were sick too). Well, the shop was not able to get me in that day but they might be able to squeeze me in the next day (which was our original departure day). At that point, I decided to forgo our original departure day and just get this potential issue handled. Now, I had to tell my wife.

twolost 01-06-2013 01:51 AM

Day 01 (12/20/2012):
Day 01 (12/20/2012):

I had our van at the local diesel truck shop at 8:00am. I had the shop attempt to source the right parts the day before so that I knew that there would not be any last minute hold-ups. Turns out, all of the part numbers that I provided the shop were for parts not being replaced. As such, the shop ended up installing some Federal Mogul serviceable u-joints that were of lower quality than what they replaced. Looks like I will still get that future project of replacing these u-joints on my own time (hopefully on a much warmer day). For now, these new replacement u-joints still provided me with more confidence than using the stronger but suspect original parts.

Shop was done with our van around 3:00pm. I then brought the van back home and inspected their work as well as double checked the torque of all of the bolts. Even though these were serviceable u-joints, only two of the three had Zerk fittings. The u-joint closest to the transfer case (was greased, sure enough) but it had a dummy plug rather than a Zerk fitting. The question as to why there was a dummy plug installed (clearance issue, parts shortage, ???) would have to be answered another day as I was getting the family vibe that I still needed to get us on the road today.

Sure enough, my wife and daughter were still dead-set on leaving today (even if nine hours behind schedule). We shortened our travel day to accommodate for the late start, I grabbed a 20 ounce coffee, and we departed our driveway at 4:45pm. Destination: Best Western in Liberty Lake, WA.

Today's route: 270 miles.

Coffee stop in Cle Elum, WA

twolost 01-06-2013 01:52 AM

Day 02 (12/21/2012):
Day 02 (12/21/2012):

Out and on the road by 9:30am. A major snow event had just passed through (some cars still had nearly two feet of fresh snow on the roof). We encountered the aftermath of one semi that had jackknifed much earlier in the morning (crews that had obviously been there for a while were still trying to winch the semi out of the ditch). We crossed the Canadian Border at Eastport, ID. Up to now, we had been traveling on the snow free freshly plowed roads that lead up to the border on the US side. This was not the case on the Canadian side. The Canadian roads were totally covered in snow from the border up to around Cranbrook (where there was progressively less snow on the ground). We arrived at our time-share in Canmore, AB at 7:00pm local time. Temp was -5 (F) and it was snowing lightly.

Today's route: 365 miles.

Semi truck wreck, aftermath

US side of the border

Canadian side of the border

twolost 01-06-2013 01:53 AM

Day 03 (12/22/2012):
Day 03 (12/22/2012):

I headed out to van early in the morning to get it all warmed up in preparation for a little family exploring. Dash panel lights would come on for a couple of seconds and then go dark. Flipping the key to the run position would barely turn the diesel engine over. Batteries were dead. Wife and daughter showed up just after I fired up the on-board diesel generator to see if I could use that to charge the starting batteries. The little frigid engine sputtered and shook as it tried warm-up. Wife says “wow, the van sounds really bad.” Me, “the van is dead, that is the generator.” My wife using her sixth sense to immediately assess the situation… (or, simply knowing that I break everything I touch coupled with the fact that I am as slow as dirt when it comes to fixing anything)… she astutely figured that this was likely to be a loooooonnng wait in -1 (F) weather. “Ok, we will go back inside until you get it working” she said in her retreat.

Well, as it turned out using the generator to charge the van batteries was a bust. I was not getting any A/C power from the outlets in the van. Another issue to troubleshoot - later. Next was to see if I could use power from the block heater posts located in each parking stall to charge the batteries. Nope. Turns out the block heater posts only come on every 30 minutes for a short time and then turn off again. Even if I was able to charge the batteries to a point where the van would start, that did not solve the problem of why the batteries were flat to begin with. We just drove for two straight days and the charging system worked fine. Hmmmm... these van batteries were now five years old. When at home, these batteries live on a float charger and the van has always started without issue. Thinking back on it, the one time the van was not on the float charger for a week I seem to recall that the van did struggle to turn over (even at 50 degrees (F)). Were the batteries just too old and too weak to crank over in these well below freezing temps? Possibly. Regardless, I could not head off into the mountains with my family without root causing the issue and getting it fixed. As such, I had my wife locate the nearest Ford dealer (which happened to be Bow Valley Ford located only a few miles from where we were staying). She worked with them to source the correct batteries and to make an appointment to get them installed. This was Saturday. By the time my wife called, Ford service was still open (finishing existing work) but their parts department was closed. Their senior mechanic had one remaining job left and then was heading back to Calgary to spend time with his family. Ford was not open on Sunday (nor was any of the other parts outlets). Monday was Christmas Eve and Ford was not accepting any more appointments. Tuesday was Christmas. Wednesday was Boxing Day in Canada (another holiday). Everyone was either closed or booked for days. Because of the exceptional service of Bow Valley Ford (specifically the service writer and the mechanic), one hurdle after another was overcome and I was able bring our van into their dealership (after getting a jump start… which is another tale of kindness) and they were able to source and replace the batteries as their ‘new’ last job of the day. The mechanic tested each of the batteries and found them to be “toast”. Nearly $700.00 later, I was back on the road.

Van will not turn over in the morning.

twolost 01-06-2013 01:54 AM

Day: 04 (12/23/2012):
Day: 04 (12/23/2012):

Let’s try this again. I get up (not early this time), I go out to the van in preparation to get it all warmed up prior to a little family exploration and sure enough the new batteries light the dash, heat the glo-plugs, and fire the engine. Now running (barely), the engine sounds like it is running on two cylinders and it is belching black smoke out of the tail pipe. This goes on for a couple of minutes before it starts to smooth out. Even though I filled up with diesel (presumably Winter diesel) in Radium Hot Springs (just outside of Kootenay National Park) and that I put 8 oz of diesel fuel conditioner in 40+ gallons of diesel the day before… perhaps the diesel mix in the fuel line / fuel filter was still partially iced? In any event, once the van ran for a while the exhaust noise returned to normal (and it ran fine for the remainder of the day).

Now that we had reliable wheels, we headed to the local Safeway for some groceries to stock up our room for the next few days. After lunch in the room, we finally made it out around dusk to do a little family exploring along Highway 1A (Bow Valley Parkway). It had snowed a couple of inches each night over the past two nights and the weather was now clear and cold. 1A was totally snow covered and from Banff to nearly Lake Louise we encountered far more bull elk than people. The snow was pristine. The fading light on the surrounding mountains was as amazing as ever. Spectacular!!!!

twolost 01-06-2013 01:56 AM

Day: 05 (12/24/2012):
Day: 05 (12/24/2012):

Clear and cold again today (-5 F). Van started rough like previous day but smoothed out quickly. For the first time ever, I noticed a blue haze coming from the tail pipe during warm-up. It seemed to clear up after 20 minutes of run-time. My wife then discovered that everything inside the van was frozen. Baby wipes frozen into a solid block, bottled water we had stored in the fridge, soda we had stored in an insulated fabric cooler (some of which had already exploded), and our entire bottled water supply located in a storage cabinet. Even the water in my insulated thermos had frozen solid. This was the coldest temp that we had experienced in our van to date. Glad I had purged our 22 gallon on-board water supply before left the driveway. It would not have survived otherwise.

We decided to run the van up along the Spray Lakes Reservoir today (HWY 742). The dirt road was totally snow covered but had been plowed and sanded recently. Navigating the road was no problem in 2WD. Lots more people out and about than what we were used to (during other times of the year). Recreation activities like ice fishing, dog sledding tours, snow shoeing, and telemarking seemed to be responsible for the majority of vehicles/people we encountered. Uncharacteristically, we did not see any wildlife (elk, moose, coyote, bear, etc…) this time.

As the sun started to fade from sight, we found a wide open spot to setup a temporary camp, hang up and turn on a string of Christmas lights, and put out a stocking for our three year old daughter. We looked for Santa among the stars in the crystal clear night sky. Before we all froze solid we collapsed our camp and retreated back to our timeshare for a hot dinner and a warm fire.

Our primary water supply... that had frozen solid overnight.

Along the Smith-Dorrien/Spray Trail.

twolost 01-06-2013 01:57 AM

Day: 06 (12/25/2012):
Day: 06 (12/25/2012):

Weather remains cold and clear.

The night before, I told our daughter that I sent Santa our new GPS location so that he could find us. And sure enough, Santa found us. Our daughter had a great time opening a few small gifts that we had hidden in the van for this trip.

Later in the morning I took our daughter to our facilities indoor/outdoor heated pool for a soak. While in the outdoor portion of the pool I could totally submerge for a couple of seconds and then with only my head above water ice crystals would form in the hair on my head in less than a minute. Within five minutes, the top of my head would be totally white and covered in ice. Our daughter had a wonderful time and I was not sure I would be able to coax her back out of the pool again. This will probably be one of her more memorable moments of our trip.

We managed to get out and drive the van up to the Lake Minnewanka area for a short time this evening. Part of the loop was designated a wildlife corridor and was closed to vehicle traffic. However, there were more than a dozen five, six, and seven point bull elk hanging out at the nearby (unused) airstrip that were a treat to watch for a while.

Minnewanka Loop (area); Banff National Park.

Pschitt 01-06-2013 01:59 AM

Re: TWOLOST: Banff/Jasper and the End of the Mayan Calendar
Nice report, thank you! But it would be still better with some pictures... :a3:

twolost 01-06-2013 02:53 AM

Day: 07 (12/26/2012):
Day: 07 (12/26/2012):

I decided that we would go out looking for trains today. Unlike the area that we live in back in the US there are numerous places in Alberta to get good vantage points of trains (which run pretty frequently). I had promised my daughter that one of the things that we would do on this trip was look for trains and it was now my time to pay up. We headed up Hwy 1A to a couple of popular train viewing overlooks. The most notable one is called Morant's Curve a few miles south of Lake Louise. Conveniently, there is as a 60’x60’ parking lot just across the road (Hwy 1A) from the best vantage point. However, at this time of year the parking area was buried in two plus feet of snow. This deep snow was no problem for us as we had a high clearance 4x4 van with front and rear locking diffs. However, two plus feet of snow was an insurmountable barrier for anyone driving a stock equipped automobile (all-wheel drive or not). Unlike other times of the year, there was also no place to pull off of the road other than this parking lot because the snow plows had created high berms of snow on each side of the road that basically eliminated any chance of getting out of the road. There were many motorists that wanted to stop, get out, and capture the same scene as I was setting up for but they were unable to find a suitable (safe) place to park. For the first time ever, we had the place to ourselves. We stayed about an hour just playing outside in deep snow - which allowed us to see two trains before we called it a day.

Bow Valley Parkway (Hwy 1A); Banff National Park.

Freight train on Morant's Curve; Banff National Park; a few miles south of Lake Louise.

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