Just returned from a glorious vacation in the Canadian Rockies. We (Dee, Susan and I) had a wonderful time. The scenery was amazing…one spectacular vista after another. I ran out of appropriate adjectives quickly. I found myself repeating “spectacular,” “breathtaking,” “amazing,” “wow” over-and-over…even I got tired of it!
We traveled with a group through Country Walkers. We were a fairly large group (18 people) but everyone was lovely. It was quite nice getting to know people from different parts of the country and interesting to see how quickly people can connect when thrown together like that. The hikes were challenging but well worth the effort. Our guides, Mary Jane (M.J.) and Andrea, were just wonderful. They were very knowledgeable about the area and hiking in general. Their professionalism really enhanced the whole experience.
Here’s the blow-by-blow:
Arrive in Calgary and Dee and I picked up the rental car. We drove to a nearby Radisson hotel where we spent the night. Susan arrived much later…she and I had a quick rendezvous over a drink (for her) and ice cream (for me).
We discussed possibly looking around Calgary but really couldn’t think of anything we wanted to see or do there so we piled into the car and took off. We had brought the Garmin Nuvi 750 with us which was really helpful. We programmed in the Banff Park Lodge (our lodging for the night and where we would meet the group the next day) and off we went.
The scenery was beautiful the whole way up. Mountains and trees and rivers everywhere you looked. After getting through some Calgary traffic it was clear sailing all the way to Banff. Turned out Banff is in the Banff National Park…who could ask for more? Because we would be keeping the car even while we were off hiking we had to buy an annual pass to the park. Now we have an excuse to go back soon!
The town of Banff is charming. We walked over to the main drag (Banff Avenue) where there were lots of lovely shops and…to our great surprise and pleasure…a huge Lululemon store! Susan and I managed to spend quite a bit there stocking up on all sorts of activewear. We then stumbled upon a store called Miriam Joy. I found a stunning alpaca stole with fox trim which I couldn’t resist. Susan discovered an equally stunning textured stole with fox trim. Naturally, we didn’t resist.
We had a very delectable dinner at the Terrace restaurant within the Banff Park Lodge. Convenient, elegant and tasty! We called it a night early because we were meeting the group the next morning. Our adventure was about to begin…
8:00 AM and we rendezvous with the Country Walkers group with all our luggage and dressed for hiking. We met our fellow travelers and had a brief meeting with our guides, M.J. and Andrea. They gave us an overview of the trip and the area. Then, before you know it, we were picking up our lunches, baggage loaded in the car and we were toodling off to our first hike in two vans
The day was a bit gray and overcast but we were undeterred. The vans pulled up at the trail head for our hike to Stanley Glacier. We geared up with packs, sticks and gorp. Our group broke up into a “fast” group and a “slow” group. Susan and I, wisely, chose the slow group. After crossing a couple of small streams (on logs!) we were soon climbing through forest. This area had suffered a large fire 5 years previous. It was interesting seeing the nature and amount of regrowth that had occurred. We saw many large, blackened trees lying against the lush new growth of willow and small pines. As we steadily climbed (and climbed and climbed) it started raining. We all pulled out our rain gear and covered up. (Susan admitted later that she considered turning back at that point since she has a “no hiking in the rain” rule already worked out…but she braved the rain). It was a bit weird hiking in the downpour but, fortunately, it didn’t last too long. M.J. paused regularly to provide information about the area and local flora (and to let us catch our wind).
Finally, the wooded, narrow trail opened up on the valley floor that had been carved by the recession of the Stanley glacier. We traversed across the rocky floor of the valley to some large rocks beneath a waterfall (from the glacier melt).
Dee was already lunching with the fast group and we joined him. There was a very friendly chipmunk who wanted to lunch with us as well. He was completely unafraid of people and would come quite close trying to share our lunch.
While we lunched M.J. read us an excerpt from a Sid Martey story. Very instructive and entertaining! Then it was time to hike back down. Susan broke out both sticks for the hike down and found it really helped ease the trail for her knees. The hike down was even more enjoyable as it was all downhill through the woods. The rain held off and we returned to the vans.
Once we had all piled back into the vans we were off to the Baker Creek Lodge which would be home for the next 3 nights. Dee and I were given a delightful little cabin right beside the creek. We could hear its burbling all night, soothing us to sleep. That night we had dinner at the lodge and got to know some of our fellow hikers a little better. We sat across from Beth and Mike from St. Louis. They were traveling with their children: Abby and her fiance Weldon, Adam and Alex. Mike is a neo-natologist and both he and Beth were delightful dinner companions. We would get to interact with everyone by the end of the trip.
Dinner was excellent and accompanied by lovely wines and lively conversation. We were pretty tuckered out and retired to our cabin. Dee and I were warm and comfy and talked ourselves to sleep
The day dawned sunny and bright. We had a very nice buffet breakfast at the lodge and then gathered up our gear to pile in the vans by 9:00AM. Today we were off to Moraine Lake for our hike. The lake is an amazing blue color which it gets from the “rock dust” that falls into it from the surrounding mountains. In places it looks like cream has been poured into the deep azure of the lake.
As we began our ascent (yes, another ascent of about 1200 feet) we would catch glimpses of the lake through the trees. It’s color was always startling and changing as the angle of the sun changed and bounced off it.
Eventually we rose out of the trees onto a narrow rocky trail. We were scrambling along across the rocks (with our slow group) when Andrea asked if we wanted to stay where we were and have lunch or hike on about 40 more minutes to rendezvous with the rest of the group. We would have to traverse some steep, rocky areas to do it and pick up our pace a bit. Susan was a little trepidatious about it because she has some fear of heights but she gamely agreed to go on. We hiked across more rocky trail and then traversed across a rather steep mountainside littered with rocks and shale. The “trail” was barely visible across the rocks and footing was dicey. The whole area was an avalanche fall so the debris was littered across the area. We then traversed across a snow patch, up and over some larger rocks, across another narrow trail and there we were! The rest of the group was lounging on some large boulders and we joined them taking in the great view of the startlingly blue lake far below.
Here we were visited by a very curious marmot! Dee got some great shots of him (will post later). We had another story and were ready to do the return trip. Although traversing the steep rockfall was a bit nerve wracking it was well worth the effort. The roundtrip was about 7 miles and 1200 feet elevation gain and worth every step!
After returning to the Baker Creek Lodge we rested (briefly) and then it was on to the Lake Louise Railway Station & Restaurant for dinner.
We had a very nice dinner with lots of lively conversation that night. We sat at a table with Ray (a 73 year old astronomer) and his wife, Barbara, Lisa and Steve (he is (or was…he formally retired during our trip) the dean of Univerity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Marty (also retired and living in Georgia now) and one of our guides, Andrea. After a fun drink and a glass of wine it was a delightful evening!
This was featured as “the” hike of the trip. We were off to Lake Louise. First, we gathered early at the vans and drove to the Fairmount Chateau Lake Louise.
We had a scrumptious breakfast there looking across the lake to the glacier. As we ate we looked up and suddenly a large piece of the glacier broke off and avalanched down the mountain. Wow!
By this point I’d started to develop some “hot spots” on my feet so it was time to break out the moleskin. Of course, with airline restrictions locating a scissor to cut up the moleskin was a bit of a challenge! We figured it out and I padded my big toes for the climb
There was a long and short option for hiking each ending at a little tea house in the mountain above Lake Louise that offered tea, coffee and hot chocolate. We (Susan, Dee and I) opted for the long option. It was indeed a challenging 4.5 mile climb to the tea house but exquisite views appeared at every turn. To get to the tea house there were a few gnarly areas along a sheer cliff and then a very steep set of switchbacks to arrive at a lovely area outside the tea house. There were benches beside a flowing creek and we ate our lunch there. There was an option to go on another mile or so to a spur that would put us right next to the glacier. The going was a bit scary though as we’d have to cross on a ridge that went up as it dropped away on both sides. Susan opted to remain at the tea house, Dee, of course, was off and running and I decided to give it a try. I made it about 1/3 the way up the ridge (after walking a mile or so to get there) but found it was a bit too scary for me and turned back at that point. Just as I had come down off the ridge (and the others had made it over) there was a huge groaning noise and then a sharp, loud crack. And there it was another large avalanche of snow cascading down the cliff face. It was very loud and thrilling! I had a very good view but those that had made it all the way out the spur were right beside the glacier when the avalanche occurred…again, wow.
I returned and met up with Susan. She and I started down in advance of the courageous spur crew. This was a loop trail so after climbing down from the tea house (via the cliff face, rocks, etc.) we took a different trail heading down through the forest that came out at the upper end of the lake. The rest of the hike was a wonderful walk along the shore of the lake. As the sun moved across the sky the lake’s face changed and it’s color deepened. Quite spectacular!
9 miles (roundtrip) to the teahouse…a couple of more for the spur…1300 foot (maybe more) elevation gain. phew!
Dinner was back at Baker Creek and again was lovely.
After our big hike I now had developed more “hot spots” or, really, blisters! Dee broke out the duct tape and I covered various parts of my feet. It looked weird but it really helped when out and walking
This was our “transition” day as we were changing hotels and supposed to be our “easy” day (“only” 6 miles! but not much elevation gain). We had our luggage packed and breakfast done by 9:00 AM as we started off for Bow Lake. We arrived at a parking area near the beautiful Bow Lake Lodge and geared up for our hike.
The weather was a bit overcast but we were feeling optimistic. Boy…were we wrong! The hike started off around Bow Lake
which was fairly flat and easy. We soon started to come to areas that were rock strewn shores with rock cairns marking the trail. Footing was tricky and slippery. Adding to the difficulty it started raining and temperature started falling. I was wearing four layers (including my rain gear) and gloves but it was pretty nippy and windy. We moved along at a good clip and came to a stunning sight where the Bow River (I think) waters fell through circular holes that had been carved into the rock by years of water flow. It was very cool looking up and through the holes and seeing the water tumbling through. Right next to this area we spied some “stairs.” We were informed that this was our only climb of the day and it didn’t look too bad…hah! We could see about a dozen steps and thought “that doesn’t look bad” – hah! The rise on each step was at least 18-24″ and, as if that isn’t bad enough, they were rocky and slick. But, we thought, it’s only a dozen steps…hah! As we reached the top of the stairs we turned and, you guessed it, more stairs! In all there were 3 or four “flights” of these stairs and then you were up on a ridge looking down at the river. I have to admit it was beautiful.
Now we really started hiking…through freezing rain, sleet, across rocky riverbed and water falls. Eventually, we reached a rock outcropping that provided a bit of shelter…we climbed on a bit to try and reach the falls but it was REALLY, REALLY, REALLY cold. We retreated to the rock outcropping for shelter and huddled together trying to eat our soggy sandwiches with frozen fingers. The hike back seemed even colder and wetter as we slipped and slid down the rocky hillside back to the stairs and eventually down to the lake shore. By the time we arrived back at the lodge we were pretty cold and weary. We rested there and downed some (delicious and well-deserved) hot chocolate before piling back into the vans. That was some adventure! We really felt like we’d been out in the wilderness after that and it gave me a whole new appreciation for Les Stroud of Survivorman!
Back in the vans we made stops at the Spiral Tunnels and a natural bridge both of which were amazing. The natural bridge was really awesome with a huge volume of water crashing down through the bridge. It was amazing to see such raw, natural power up close.
We arrived at our new lodging, The Emerald Lodge, by a short hike (which didn’t seem so short after our ordeal) from the parking area. Fortunately, they brought the bags up for us. Our room was beautiful with a deck looking out over the lake. The lake truly lived up to its name…a deep, emerald green surrounded by glacier topped peaks.
We were on our own for dinner that night and the tree of us decided to dine in the main restaurant…a good choice as it turned out. We had a wonderful dinner including a game sampler platter that was terrific. That combined with an excellent Pinot Noir, yummy entrees (elk, buffalo and pork) and great desserts made for a perfect capper to a tough day.
Just my luck I reacted pretty strongly to something in the air. My allergies flaired with a vengence. Nothing like a snuffling nose to help you when you’re climbing and hiking 😦 I tried Claritin with no avail and then Lisa was nice enough to offer me some of her Allegra which seemed to help some. Undeterred I just sniffed and blew through the day. My feet were still had a number of blistered and irritated areas but I duct taped again and forged on!
Today there was a long and short option again. We all climbed (yes, climbed and climbed) together for a while. Then the long hike group continued up even further to a ridge line called the Iceline Trail. From there were spectacular views of the Takawkaw Falls. Susan and I opted for the shorter (4.5 miles) hike. We went directly up to Yoho Lake (or Mosquito Lake as we now call it). It was a very lovely hike through lush forest areas and while a climb there were only a few really steep parts. There were only four of us (including Andrea) so it was a nice, intimate climb. We sat at lake side for our lunch and were soon joined by the rest of the group. Steve decided he “had” to try taking a dip in the warm looking (looking being the operative word) and so there are now circulating butt shots of Steve clamoring out of the lake after his dip!
M.J. led us “shorties” down the way we had come while the more adventurous group continued up and over Yoho pass and hiked directly back down to the lodge. It was a 1700 foot descent and, from what I gather, pretty challenging. We took the van back and M.J. treated us to a stop in the tiny town of Field where we got lattes and cappacinos…now, that’s the way to end a hike!
That night, our last dinner together, was at the Emerald Lodge and we, again, had a wonderful meal. The guides had given us each a postcard the day before and we were to record a thought or poem on it. When we met for dinner we placed them in a bag and then each of us drew a card. We then read the card we had drawn. It was a lovely little ritual to complete the trip. Our dinner was excellent and accompanied by much lively conversation and laughter. We had really all bonded as a group and enjoyed ourselves tremendously!
Our luck finally ran out on the last day. There was heavy overcast and drizzle at the lodge and M.J. checked the weather for our planned destination (Sunshine where there were supposed to be beautiful fields of wildflowers and gentle hiking – after the climb to the field, of course). The prediction was for thunderstorms and no one felt we should be on the top of a mountain in a thunderstorm (although I figured I’m short…I could just stand next to a tall person with a hiking stick…but no). It was amazing to see how well M.J. knows the area…we drove around and around and around (“are we there yet?”) and finally settled on a truly easy hike around a small lake near Banff. We did see some loons and, during our extensive driving tour, some elk, white-tailed deer and a wild sheep. We opted (over Susan, Dee and my objections) for lunch in a little covered area near another lake during an immense downpour. It was pretty cold but my hero, Dee, was able to get a fire going in the wood burning stove and save the day!
With lunch over we were driven back to the Banff Park Lodge from where we started. We all bid fond farewells to our hiking companions and fetched our car (which had been stowed at the lodge while we were gone). Susan, Dee and I did a last round of Banff shopping and then headed back to the Fairmount Chateau for our final two nights.
It took about an hour to drive to Lake Louise but the hotel was well worth it. It’s a beautiful, beautiful place. And lucky us…both our rooms were upgraded to suites! After relaxing for a bit once we arrived we decided on dinner at the Waliser Stube where we had the “Raclette Experience” – and it was an experience! For those that don’t know, Raclette is a hunk of cheese (called Raclette) that is brought on a paddle and placed under a hot light so that it can soften and melt. You’re given various things (like dried meats, veggies and bread) to smear the soft, delicious cheese on. The Raclette itself was preceded by salad and rabbit and morel tart and finished off with Dark Chocolate Fondue. Yes…wow! After that day a good night’s sleep was no problem!
We enjoyed a lovely breakfast buffet (again) at the Poppy Brasserie and then toured the various shops in the hotel. That was a mistake! One shop hooked me with a lovely embroidered jacket, stunning embroidered shawl, several scarves and some earrings. Then Dee found a shop that had a watch I “had” to see…and see it and buy it I did! The watch is pretty cool with the watch face embedded in a wooden bracelet that hinges with magnetic clasps. Of course, the shop had a bunch of really nice jewelry so I ended up with several pairs of earrings, a pendant and a couple of bracelets. Then Susan and I saw the Quivik store. She had spied a stunning deep blue scarf there and, of course, managed to spy a sweater that I just “had’ to try on …try and buy I did. Fortunately, we had a 1:00 reservation for high tea in the Fairview Dining Room. We had a wonderful, traditional high tea with finger sandwiches, scones and petit fours. We rolled out of there and talk a little walk around the grounds and part of the lake. We opted to dine in that evening since we still had an unopened bottle of wine that we had bought earlier in the trip. We ordered room service up to Susan’s room (she had better furniture for it) and had our wine and dinner there! It was quite a fun dinner picnic!
We wrapped up pretty early as we had to get up early next day to start the trek home
We again enjoyed (a very early) breakfast in the Poppy Brassiere before loading up the car for the schlep back to Calgary. It was about a 2 hour drive from the Chateau to Calgary airport but it went fine. With a minimum of fuss we went through Immigration and Customs and waited for our planes. Ours left a bit before Susan’s so we said goodbye and were off.
We arrived home uneventfully. We had a fantastic time and have pictures and wonderful memories. Of course we’re already thinking about where to go next!