Oh, Cah-nah-dah!

Although for very different reasons, like another fellow hiker blogger I am stuck at home today when I would much rather be playing on the mountain [insert bluebird winter day here- grrrr].

Linda’s ongoing recap of her 2008 Banff trip has me reminiscing about Andy and I’s September 2009 trip to the Canadian Rockies. So, since I’m stuck inside, the bills are paid, laundry done, taxes organized, dog washed and the house clean (nope, don’t sit still well), figured I’d take a trip down memory lane.

Bow Lake, Banff National Park, September 2009

It’s quite a long drive from Portland to Banff, about fourteen hours whichever way you go. We went via northern Idaho (aka, the pretty part of that state) and made decent time to Canmore, especially once we hit the 93 near Radium Hot Springs. Technically, 93, which then connects with BC-1, is a wildlife corridor, winding through both Kootenay National Park and Banff- speed limit was supposedly about 45mph. In order to just keep up with traffic, we were probably doing closer to 70. Yeah. Canadians drive fast. Other than that, the most exciting part of the trip was when a customs agent threw away my apples at the border. Oops.

If I were to sum up the landscape of the Canadian Rockies in a word, it would probably be surreal. There is an otherworldly quality to the crags and rock and spires that simply dominate the landscape. There is a sense of space, of vastness, of immenseness; no photograph I have ever seen truly does it justice. Hidden within the landscape are waterfalls, meadows, milk-blue and milk-green lakes and rivers, where the colors of fall pop against storm gray skies. True to alpine form, fickle weather. And wildlife, so much wildlife.

Lake Moraine & the Valley of Ten Peaks (photo by AJP)

Lake Moraine in the rain- fickle mountain weather
rock hamster! aka, pika- the only picture of one I have ever managed to get. So. Cute.

We had many, many plans for this trip, and, like our trip to Yellowstone, the best laid plans went by the wayside when I managed to trash my feet on our first day of hiking. Damn blisters are the bane of my hiking existence.

the blister that thwarted our plans

Unfortunately, I can’t remember if it was Bow Glacier Falls off the Icefields Parkway or the local, Grassi Lakes hikes in Canmore that trashed my feet…regardless, it was a multi-layered, deep blister that hurt. I’ve learned a lot about foot care since then. Sort of.

milk-blue waters of Bow Lake

Bow Glacier Falls (photo by AJP)

checking out the valley- Bow Glacier Falls in the distance (photo by AJP)

Bow Lake at evening. You can see the falls in the distance

short & sweet local Canmore hike: Grassi Lakes

Hiking plans were also thwarted by something I had not anticipated- minimum group hiking size or full on hiking closures. Why? Grizzly activity. We were entering the mountains in the glorious month of September, late fall for the high country this far north, and every animal was focused on preparing for the long winter ahead. Griz activity was high in the Lake Louise area, effectively closing down popular treks tramped by thousands of feet every year. Still, even without getting further into the backcountry, the area is the stuff postcards are made of.

The world famous Lake Louise, in the sun

we have always wanted to stand in this spot

the world famous Lake Louise, in the rain (complete with freezing husband)

He did, however, score an awesome parking spot

We filled our days not just with the tourist destinations like the famous Chateau Lake Louise, but also more local flavor- small pubs, shops and local stores in Canmore, a local lumberjack contest, Lake Minnewanka. However, if I had to handpick the best of the best from this trip, I would be hard-pressed to choose between Wilcox Pass in Jasper or Sunshine Meadows in Banff.  

Lake Minnewanka

After letting my blister *heal* for a few days, I was determined to get in a hike. We had driven three hours north on the spectacular Icefields Parkway, 144 miles of what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful roads in the world.

Peyto Lake, one of many spectacular vistas along the Icefields Parkway
First view of the Athabasca glacier from the Icefields Parkway, Jasper NP

The hike to Wilcox Pass (7800 feet in elevation) climbs quickly into the open, high alpine that I love so much. Windswept, barren, rocky, with a desolate feel that is nevertheless beautiful. The mighty, Athabasca glacier framed the backdrop. Although huge, the Athabasca is actually only a small part of the enormous Columbia Icefield, the largest ice field in the Rockies, straddling the Continental Divide and covering 125 square miles. From Wilcox Pass, the glacier and the icefield felt like they were making their own weather (and, to be fair, they probably were).

heading up the Wilcox Pass trail (photo by AJP)

dorking out near the pass- even with all my layers, it's freezing up here (photo by AJP)

loved this bowl-shaped valley

Wilcox Pass hike
Wilcox Peak from the valley

At one point, Andy went all National Geographic on me, photographing a small group of bighorn males that decided to hang out within 10-15 feet of us on the trail. They were lovely, and much, much larger in person that I imagined. When the dominant ram decided he had had enough of us, we beat a hasty retreat up the valley, continuing our hike and not wishing to encroach upon their space any further.

the dominant ram, coming in to check us out (photo by AJP)

other fellas hanging out at Wilcox Pass (photo by AJP)

the king (photo by AJP)

another view of this majestic fella (photo by AJP)

The day before, simply driving through Canmore, we had watched two young rams tangle in a friendly tussle along the roadside. After the demonstration the youngsters put on, we had no wish to anger this particular, heavyweight king. Fortunately, upon our return, the small band had made their way further up the hillside.

compared to the king of Wilcox Pass, these two were just striplings (photo by AJP)

Strutted their stuff for a while though. Hormones (photo by AJP)
saying goodbye to Wilcox Pass, Athabasca Glacier in the background

Sunshine Meadows was the antithesis of Wilcox Pass- still in the high, glorious alpine at 7500 feet but instead of being characterized but a brutal and barren sort of beauty, Sunshine Meadows in Banff is simply bucolic. Small tarns and lakes dot a landscape filled with larches, lichen and open meadows alive with color. We also managed to hit Sunshine Meadows on a bluebird day; it was simply glorious.

the rocky, glorious fall meadows of Sunshine

just cuz I <3 feet pictures

Rock Isle Lake, Sunshine Meadows (photo by AJP)

Now that I’ve been to the Canadian Rockies, I think *when* I make it back there (I refuse to say *if*), I think I would prefer to spend more time exploring Jasper & Yoho National Parks- they feel less touristy, more isolated, more off the beaten path. The Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit went on my bucket list one day- Andy and I made an impromptu stop in Yoho to see if we could potentially score some coveted bus passes last minute….alas, to no avail. Yoho wasn’t a loss, however. We swung by some beautiful sites, including Emerald Lake, Natural Bridge and Takakkaw Falls. And Jasper, oh, Jasper- that taste of the wild north in Wilcox Pass forever sealed my intrigue.

best way to retire old hiking boots :)

Emerald Lake resort (Yoho NP)
Natural Bridge, Yoho NP (photo by AJP)
Takakkaw Falls close up (photo by AJP)

Takakkaw Falls (photo by AJP)

snow on the mountains of Yoho NP

Oh, Cah-nah-dah. Sigh.



Linda W. said...

Hey, thanks for the shout-out! Glad I could provide ideas/inspiration to a fellow blogger. :) Yes, the Canadian Rockies are amazing - after going through all my old photos, I've started scheming a way to get back there soon. Nice photos, and a great recap of your trip!

Manda said...

My pleasure, Linda! Reading your reports took me back- god, Banff is simply incredible. I was really disappointed we didn't get to do some of the hikes I wanted (thank you feet and grizzlies), but that's life. The tea house above Lake Louise is still on my list, but I think Jasper & Yoho more. This was also in the days when I still had a crappy point n'shoot camera- the landscape is begging me to come back with a real camera. :)