Our Canadian Rockies experience included many of the classic tourist attractions, but also trips into the back country and premier hiking locations that made this trip extra special. Eleven adventurers signed up for this trip at the first opportunity during the CIWC Holiday Party last year and Cindy started the countdown clock from that moment on. And 224 days later, I think all would agree the waiting was well worth the anticipation and our journey more than met our expectations.
Using the Tunnel Mountain Campground as a base camp for the first two days, we explored the town of Banff, a resort town nestled within the Banff National Park. The highlight was a trip on the gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain. From this bird’s-eye view we could survey the breathtaking mountainscapes that they would be exploring over the next week. A dip in the Upper Hot Springs, a visit to Bow Falls and a short exploration of the enormous and elegant Banff Springs Hotel were other highlights of the first days.
The first big adventure for our group was a three day backpacking trip to Egypt Lake. The hike into the backcountry was resplendent with wildflowers. It was an exceptionally good year for blooms and we were hiking though the alpine meadows and over the Healy Pass at exactly the peak time to view them. Indian Paintbrush, Asters, Blanketflowers, Yarrow, Wild Lupine, Sunflowers, Anemones and many more vied for attention with expansive mountain panoramas. It couldn’t have been more beautiful and we stopped to take it all in at the apex of the pass. Wow!
After than a steep decent we reached the campground beneath The Sphinx and Pharaoh Peaks that was home for the next two days. From here, we took day hikes to view various lakes and viewpoints and spent some leisure time sunning or playing Euchre near the mountain creek running from Egypt Lake. Beautiful weather and some good food dehydrated back in Indiana made for a very pleasant time in this area.
Leaving via a hike back over the pass and out through the Healy Creek drainage got us back to Banff with plenty of time to check into the Banff International Hostel; to get cleaned up and refreshed; and to get ready for a delicious and much anticipated dinner at Melissa’s Missteak restaurant.
The next day offered options for group members, with the more adventurous heading off to the Kicking Horse River for a whitewater rafting experience and the others taking in a short hike through the Johnston Canyon to view the gorge’s lower and upper falls, and then on to explore of the nearby community of Canmore.
Bright and early the following morning we said good-bye to the Banff Hostel and headed northwest to Yoho National Park for a day of hiking at beautiful Lake O’Hara. Getting to this coveted hiking area is no easy task as daily quotas limit the number of visitors to those fortunate few that can grab reservations for the shuttle bus ride up the 11.7 kilometer access road. This high elevation area, with Lake O’Hara as the centerpiece is a wonderful hiking mecca with multiple lakes, stunning mountain views, waterfalls and diverse trails that enable hikers to take it all in. Each lake varies in color but all are affected by the rock flour, ground down by the glaciers, that is suspended in the water and refracts unbelievable deep blue, turquoise or emerald hues depending upon the depth of the lake and concentration of the rock flour. Getting up high on the Yukeness Mountain ledge and Opabin Prospect gave us grand views of the entire alpine valley and surrounding mountain peaks.
After an amazing hiking day we headed into the Lake Louise area, checking into the Lake Louise Hostel. Shortly, we headed over to the Timberlake Pizzeria and gorged on many varieties of pizza and some partook of the Grizzly Paw craft brews. An evening drive to Moraine Lake, a stunning deep cerulean blue lake located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, was enjoyed as a relaxing end to a perfect day.
The last day, the rain that had been threatening all week finally made good on its promise. Never the less, we headed up to see the famous Lake Louise. As expected, the crowds were beginning to build, but we divided up into longer-hike and shorter-hike groups. Both hikes culminated at a tea house, either Lake Agnes or Plain of the Six Glaciers, where hot tea, soups and pastries provided a nice reward for our wet efforts. A completely soggy but never the less beautiful hike back to the vans was our final experience with the Canadian Rockies.
Then we were off to Calgary to the brand new Homewood Suites hotel that provided a dry resting spot before flights home the following day. The shared experience with a great group of dedicated hikers in a world-class location left most wanting more and some promising to get back to the area when time and resources allow.