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  1. #1
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    Rockies/Canada in Winter

    Hi! Wondering if anyone could help me, in the very early stages of planning my first tour and have a hit a bit of a stumbling block already. I am intending to go from Florida to Washington, onto Canada west to east then back down to Florida however I am guessing the Rockies will be impassable by bike during some of the year and this has been implied on some of the sites I have read but unfortunately I can't find any concrete information on it. Would you also attempt crossing Canada in the winter? I quite fancy the challenge however if this would be a nightmare I will alter my trip instead. Apologies for how long-winded this question became

    Thanks
    Phil

    P.S Won't be going for 3/4 years so no rush to answer . Also means I am probably going to return to bug you with more questions later on down the line

  2. #2
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    Inexperienced people unfamiliar with the extremes of weather in remote areas of the Rocky Mountains die every year. A friend of mine in search and rescue has carried out many a body. Please - if you have no idea what the interior West is all about - don't start riding out West in the winter. From October to April there can be blizzards with 20, 40, 60 below wind chill, zero visibility, and no possibility of rescue until the storm abates. Yes, there can be lovely interludes, but you must understand the whole picture. I suspect that you do not. The overall tone of your post suggests that you have little understanding of the Intermountain West. Please rethink.

    <<<>>>

    During 1999--2002, a total of 4,607 death certificates in the United States had hypothermia-related diagnoses listed as the underlying cause of death or nature of injury leading to the underlying cause of death (annual incidence: four per 1,000,000 population). Exposure to excessive natural cold (International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision [ICD-10] code X31) was the underlying cause in 2,622 deaths. Hypothermia (ICD-10 code T68) was the nature of injury in 1,985 deaths with underlying causes of death other than exposure to excessive natural cold (e.g. falls, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, or drowning).

    During 1999--2002, among those who died from hypothermia, 49% were aged >65 years, 67% were male, and 22% were married (compared with 52% of the overall U.S. population) (2). A high proportion (83%) of the hypothermia-related deaths occurred during October--March (Figure 1); these deaths occurred in all 50 states during 1999--2002 (range: four to 288 deaths per state), with the highest average annual rates per 100,000 population in Alaska (4.64), Montana (1.58), Wyoming (1.57), and New Mexico (1.30) (Figure 2). Most deaths were not work related (63%); 23% of affected persons were at home when they became hypothermic.

    http://www.cdc.gov/mmwR/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5510a5.htm

  3. #3
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Are you from Florida? Have you cycled in snow? What is the coldest temperature you've experienced?

    What time of year were you planning to enter Canada? And where exactly? Vancouver?

    I live right next to the Canadian Rockies. I can see them from here. If you let me know what time of year you're thinking of coming through, I can tell you what the roads and weather conditions might be like.

    As for your question: "Would you also attempt crossing Canada in the winter?" From the perspective of someone who has spent her entire life living in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba ... who has experienced 40 Canadian winters ... who cycles year round (commuting, centuries, etc.) ...... my answer is a resounding NO!! <<shudder>>

    However, if I were to attempt such a thing, there would be some very specific and critical steps I would take ... if you're interested I can go over some of them.

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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Incidentally, it's snowing here, next to the mountains, today. I believe it is also snowing in the mountains.

    If you go to this site: http://www.climate.weatheroffice.ec..../canada_e.html you can look up the amounts of snow on the ground, and snowfall amounts, etc. at different times of the year. I notice that the first heavy snowfall in Banff last winter occurred on Sept 15th -- 33.2 cm (about a foot) of snow fell that day.

  5. #5
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    Thanks for the replies, yeah although I do have no experience with camping in severe weather I am not na´ve/stupid enough to think I could survive in the mountains in winter J.
    Quote Originally Posted by jamawani
    From October to April there can be blizzards with 20, 40, 60 below wind chill, zero visibility, and no possibility of rescue until the storm abates.
    Quote Originally Posted by Machka
    I notice that the first heavy snowfall in Banff last winter occurred on Sept 15th -- 33.2 cm (about a foot) of snow fell that day.
    Thanks a lot this is the info I have been trying to find although not the answer I wanted I had hoped to sneak through in September but this might be cutting it too close for comfort. Hmm will have to a think. Thanks again!

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    The weather in the Canadian Rockies in September isn't always as nice as in July/August but if you are prepared to "hole-up" for a few days if you are hit with an early winter storm and show some discretion when conditions are poor, then you will be OK. I think you can count on a least one multi-day snow storm and many mornings of -0C weather in September, especially if you are on the Icefields Parkway. The snow may be significant on the passes, but I've found that even just frost and frozen sleet on the highway shoulder in the early mornings can be pretty dangerous, even terrifying on descents. Don't even think for a minute that you're going to be loaded touring if there is snow on the road.
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  7. #7
    cyclopath vik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by phil87
    Thanks a lot this is the info I have been trying to find although not the answer I wanted I had hoped to sneak through in September but this might be cutting it too close for comfort. Hmm will have to a think. Thanks again!
    I toured the Icefields Parkway last September long weekend. It was sunny, warm and dry the whole tour, BUT I lived in Canmore and one 4th of July we had a snow and freezing rain storm. The real problem with the mtns in Canada is the weather is completely unpredictable. As someone else pointed out if you are lucky and can wait out some bad weather you shouldn't have a problem making it through the rockies in September - but, that's not winter around here.
    safe riding - Vik
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    I think some of the answers are a little overwraught. Lots of people try to sneak through the seasons and don't generate this kind of response. I think its the combination of talking about crosing the rockies late and crossing Canada in the winter that is getitng conflated into crossing the rockies in the middle of the winter. Even so, I doubt many people are really needing rescue off the trans Canada highway during the winter. Most are probably sensible enough not to go there. But dying of hypothermia on the trans Canada, that sounds like carelessness.

    Main thing to keep in mind is that the TCH is the east/west Hwy in Canada. And if you consult your atlas you will see Canada is mostly populated along the US/Canada border. So you are planing on cycling a route that is in many places heavily used, but in no place cleared for winter cycling. This just isn't going to appeal to very many people. Worse, is how short winter days are. you will spend most of your days in a dark tent, it's not that it's uncomfortable, but I just don't like it when the nights are significantly longer than the period of required sleep.

    It is possible to cycle across Canada in winter, there was a link to a guy from Germany, I think, who did it recently, and got significant local coverage. Here is an earlier winter experience: http://www.marktanner.com/bike/biketrip.html. I read some of the local routes and they didn't sound that credible, but then my touring diary is incomprehensible.
    Last edited by NoReg; 05-05-07 at 10:06 AM.

  9. #9
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    When you've actually seen an inexperienced cyclist with all new equipment get hit by a car,
    when you hear every year about cases like the Kim family in Oregon that don't make the national news,
    when you have seen the temperature drop from 70 to 20 degrees in a half hour in October or April,
    then perhaps, you may sound "overwrought".

    I do believe that the original poster said this was his first tour.
    Also - it seems that he/she is from Florida.
    If anything, he/she should be discouraged in the strongest terms.

  10. #10
    cyclopath vik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peterpan1
    I think some of the answers are a little overwraught.

    It is possible to cycle across Canada in winter, there was a link to a guy from Germany, I think, who did it recently, and got significant local coverage.
    As Jamawani said - first tour - winter crossing of the Canadian rockies... ...I bet the German guy had toured before and he probably had winter traveling experience.
    safe riding - Vik
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  11. #11
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    Hi all thanks for the posts. Just to clarify I was talking about crossing the rockies late and then Canada in the winter but have just noticed what an ambiguous title I chose, (also I am from England not Florida ). Obviously the way I planned it just isn't worth the risk and anyway I want to be enjoying the ride not worrying about sudden blizzards. I wasn't mad enough to think I could get through in the winter but hadn't expected the window to ride through to be so short. Since I can just as easily start in Washington and do my route backwards this is what I will do.

    Thanks again.

  12. #12
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    Vik I was thinking more of the mountain rescue morgue talk. Hey you never know, once pulled fromt he water a couple of phys ed graduates/stiffs who where at their graduation party and took out a canoe, about this time of year, actually. You never know when even a good day is going to get you. Still.

    By the time he gets to Canada, it may be his first tour but he will be pretty experienced! Hey if he's British he's probably tough and doesn't let the weather stop him.

  13. #13
    touring roadie islandboy's Avatar
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    There is a Tour de Canada (fully supported) group that crosses west to east from June to September. I think they average 150 km a day riding 6 out of 7 days to travel in their alloted time. Depending on your fitness and ability to stay in the saddle 6 - 10 hrs (tailwinds - headwinds and hills). Do like the geese, North in the spring, enjoy the Canadian summer and head South in the fall ~8^)

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peterpan1
    Hey if he's British he's probably tough and doesn't let the weather stop him.
    Sometimes, Peter, I wonder why our county of 6000 people bothers with the time and expense of rescue. Nearly every person who comes out alive went in with a similar attitude. Unfortunately, every year, some don't come out alive. In an age when 99% of the population takes cell phones and GPS for granted, inexperienced people are taking even more risks.

    The three greatest risk factors of hypothermis are:
    1. Sex - male
    2. Age - over 65
    3. Alcohol consumption

    Other common factors -
    1. Overexertion - i.e. perspiration and faster loss of body heat
    2. Unfamiliarity with the area
    3. Becoming lost

    James Kim was a brilliant man who took one wrong turn in a motor vehicle.
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/articl...AGLKMRFBK7.DTL

    I know many people involved with the NPS, the USFS, and the BLM.
    They also get to stop whatever they are supposed to be doing to search for someone.
    The attitude you describe above is their biggest headache - and heartache. too.

  15. #15
    cyclopath vik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peterpan1
    Vik I was thinking more of the mountain rescue morgue talk.
    Ah..yes. I agree. I live near the mtns and spend a fair bit of time recreating there. I don't worry a great deal about the wildlife or weather. As long as you have decent gear you'll be fine. Not saying something bad is not possible, but why sweat it? When its your time to be a grizzly snack at night in your tent - its your time!...
    safe riding - Vik
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    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Just a quick additional comment here ... for whatever reason this past winter was a bad one in the Rockies. Most of the highways through there were completely closed for extended periods of time. My father and I drove through there in early April, and near the tops of some of the passes, there was still about 12 feet of snow by the side of the road from when the plows cleared a path through.

    I've lived in the Canadian prairies all my life and have seen some significant snowfalls here, but when the plows clear the roads, the most I've seen is about 6 feet of snow piled on the side of the roads, and that's after a winter's worth of clearing. 12 feet, left after the snow has been melting is a lot. No wonder the Rocky Mountains were shut down most of the winter!!

  17. #17
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    I had some friends attempt to cycle from Saskatchewan River Crossing on the Icefields Parkway to Banff one year at Easter. Which is technically spring, but full winter in the mountains. They got as far as Lake Louise then took the bus the rest of the way.

    I know from winter commuting that the worst surface to ride on is semi-compacted snow, like you get on the sides of the road. In a normal winter that is what you would be riding on and every passing vehicle would coat you in semi frozen muck. It would be horrible.

    As far as time windows for crossing the Rockies go, the latest you might be able to make it, is mid November. If you were very very lucky. I can remeber trying to go skiing on the Icefields parkway at the end of November one year and there being no snow and the highway dry and clear.

    On a normal year I would say mid October if you wait for good weather and can endure very cold night and mornings.

  18. #18
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    Phil -

    I'm not sure by your posts what your time frame and geographical frame are.
    If you say 3/4s of a year before starting -
    I figure you intend to start about March 1, 2008.
    If so, you wouldn't be doing any winter riding in the Rockies or Canada.
    (Unless you ride very, very slowly.)

    3 months for each crossing and 2 months for heading down the coast = 8 months.
    And those are leisurely times.

    But May is VERY iffy in the Northern Rockies.
    This weekend's blizzard will be leaving up to two feet of snow in the Bighorn Mountains.
    Have you considered a different triangle?

    Southern California to New England - spring
    Then up to the Maritimes - late spring
    Canada - east to west - summer
    Then down the Pacific Coast - fall

    The weather would be ideal for each of these legs.

    Best - J

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    Quote Originally Posted by jamawani
    Phil -

    I'm not sure by your posts what your time frame and geographical frame are.
    If you say 3/4s of a year before starting -
    I figure you intend to start about March 1, 2008.
    He he oops, I am going to have to start being a lot more careful posting on the internet I meant 3 or 4 years! sorry.

    My start time is going to be around July for 9 months (max) which means I will definitely be touring somewhere in the winter. It looks like I am going to have to be less ambitious though as on the triangle I wanted to do always involves me being in cold places in december . Thanks for the alternate suggestion but since I gave you the wrong start time this also has the same problem.
    Thanks everyone.

  20. #20
    cyclopath vik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by phil87
    He he oops, I am going to have to start being a lot more careful posting on the internet I meant 3 or 4 years! sorry.

    My start time is going to be around July for 9 months (max) which means I will definitely be touring somewhere in the winter. It looks like I am going to have to be less ambitious though as on the triangle I wanted to do always involves me being in cold places in december . Thanks for the alternate suggestion but since I gave you the wrong start time this also has the same problem.
    Thanks everyone.
    Go ride the Baja peninsula in Dec. It will be warm, but not hot and should be dry. Great, food and wonderful people. With only one highway you won't have to worry about getting lost for 1800kms...
    safe riding - Vik
    VikApproved

  21. #21
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by phil87
    He he oops, I am going to have to start being a lot more careful posting on the internet I meant 3 or 4 years! sorry.

    My start time is going to be around July for 9 months (max) which means I will definitely be touring somewhere in the winter. It looks like I am going to have to be less ambitious though as on the triangle I wanted to do always involves me being in cold places in december . Thanks for the alternate suggestion but since I gave you the wrong start time this also has the same problem.
    Thanks everyone.
    If you could start in Vancouver about the middle of May, you'd hit the Rockies around the beginning of June, and it would probably be all right. If you did encounter snow (and I have in June), it probably wouldn't be anything significant. Then you could cover the prairies in the summer. Believe me, the prairies are much nicer in the summer than they are in the winter. In the winter temps can drop to -30C and -40C (not counting the ever-present wind), and there is usually quite a bit of snow and ice.

    If you did want to do a winter tour, or if you ended up somewhere on your tour during the winter, I would strongly recommend the following:
    -- mtn bike with studded tires
    -- very short riding days - nothing more than 3-4 hours. If you encounter good weather and good roads, 3-4 hours might mean 50 miles. In bad weather, it might mean 25 miles.
    -- hotels/motels instead of camping. Yes, you can camp in the winter, and for a few days it might be fun and exciting, but after a while the constant cold can be very draining ... and painful.
    -- well researched clothing - traditional cycling gear won't cut it. I ride year round and I'm decked out in thrift store finds and ski gear ... lots of wool and polypro.

    Have a look over the icebike site for some ideas:
    http://www.icebike.org/

  22. #22
    cyclotourist
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    Go ride the Baja peninsula in Dec. It will be warm, but not hot and should be dry. Great, food and wonderful people. With only one highway you won't have to worry about getting lost for 1800kms..
    I have a buddy who has ridden that road three times. He likes it so much he keeps going back. He likes to cultivate the image of a serious world traveller type but that is the only place outside Canada and the US that he has ever been.

  23. #23
    Long Distance Cyclist Machka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by phil87
    Hi all thanks for the posts. Just to clarify I was talking about crossing the rockies late and then Canada in the winter but have just noticed what an ambiguous title I chose, (also I am from England not Florida ). Obviously the way I planned it just isn't worth the risk and anyway I want to be enjoying the ride not worrying about sudden blizzards. I wasn't mad enough to think I could get through in the winter but hadn't expected the window to ride through to be so short. Since I can just as easily start in Washington and do my route backwards this is what I will do.

    Thanks again.

    I just thought I'd mention something else now that I see you're from England. I've cycled in England twice, and the thing that amazed me there was that there were towns every few miles. You're rarely more than a stone's throw away from civilization ... a place where you can get food, water, a place to stay for the night, etc.

    Here in North America it's different. There are areas that are heavily populated (like the Vancouver/Lower Mainland area of BC), but once you start heading east across Canada you can travel some long distances between towns, and even longer distances between towns where you can actually get any kind of supplies or services. In addition to that, many stores etc. in the very small towns have limited hours - closed by 5 pm on weekdays, closed on Sundays, half-days on Saturdays, etc.

    I have a rule when I'm out cycling ... if I come across a place where I can stock up my food and water, I do because I just never know if I'm going to come across a place like that again any time soon. Just something to keep in mind.

  24. #24
    cyclopath vik's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skookum
    I have a buddy who has ridden that road three times. He likes it so much he keeps going back. He likes to cultivate the image of a serious world traveller type but that is the only place outside Canada and the US that he has ever been.
    I don't blame him. In the past 6yrs I've spent 12months camping, kayaking and biking in Baja. It is such an amazing place and relatively close by.
    safe riding - Vik
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  25. #25
    Senior Member Snow_canuck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by phil87
    Would you also attempt crossing Canada in the winter?

    Well, I ride when it's -30c in winter, but I Stay in the city! I'd rather not be 50km from the nearest place when it's -30c while on my bicycle.

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