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Published: July 10th 2017
Monday: Settling in
The connection was tight in Vancouver. With immigration and what not, we made it to the gate 15min before departure. I’ve missed a flight with 10min to spare so we were lucky that they were running late, phew. We got into Calgary at 2 pm. Wow, how long has it been since I’ve set my foot in this part of Canada? After a breather at airport Tim Horton, we picked up the car at 3 pm and hit the road.
First stop: Canmore to pick up our camp gear rental. We got there at 4:30 pm as we had pre-announced. Mark was super thorough with the gear. They even rent bear spray which we didn’t know where we were going to get. We didn’t want to buy one because I don’t think it can go on a plane. Mark even showed us how to use it. It would be too late to figure that out when we are face-to-face with a bear…right.
We made a quick stop at Banff for info and food supply. I wasn’t sure if it was possible to hike from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake because I only see info on
the sections. But the park person told us “yeah, totally”. She said it would probably take ~6 hrs. Also, there is no minimum hiking group size requirement yet. Cool. IGA supermarket was frenzy crazy. Water aisle was totally scavenged. People at every aisle and corner of the store. I don’t have to mention the checkout line. It might have been the only grocery store in town but we didn’t want to find out. It reminded me of Queenstown. Anyway, that put us at 6 pm already.
We checked into Lake Louise campsite at 7 pm. V worked hard for dinner and we had a square meal at 8 pm. It’s funny that being in the bear country is emphasized but the food goes in the car. There is no bear-proof storage at the campsite like in the Sierra Nevada. I mean those bears will rip the car apart, ha! After dinner, we went to check out the Chateau area until little past 9 pm. Sun was just about going down. Time to get ready for the next day. Amazing, we had enough light until 10:30 pm that we couldn't even see the stars at 11 pm. Tuesday: Crazy
More wild flowers
Saddleback trail, Banff NP
adventure, crazy view
5 am was already light outside. Are we that much north here? We had a full breakfast to get ready for the hike today. We started hiking at 6:45 am at Lake Louise parking. Sun just started to shine on us and the parking lot was fairly quiet. The immediate uphill assault lasted for some miles. At mile 1, the jacket came off but got 2 mosquito bites. They were biting over the double-layer repellent. I put under and over my clothing, grrr. I ended up getting 8 altogether despite constant repellent top-off. The path hugged the high peak with patches of snow, beautiful. About 6 miles into it, Lake Annette opened up suddenly. That was a great surprise!! Turquoise water at our eye level! This would be a great place to take a break as it was already 11 am.
In Sheol Valley, things got a little adventurous. Definitely more than what I signed up for. About a half-mile stretch was completely under the tree avalanche. We didn’t know where the path was and we had to go over tipped over trees. It didn’t look bad until I actually started to go over them.
No ground to set my foot on and nothing to hold on to! Those pine branches are prickly. It looked like it went on forever but we eventually reconnected with the trail. Escaped that one, phew.
Paradise Valley was gorgeous with the view of the range at our eye level over the valley. First marmot sighting there too. That was about mile 10ish, which marked the end of the hike I signed up for.
We were approaching the dark mean-looking wall with snow patches and our path started to be covered in patches too. We had to cross them on the steep slope. One slip, I felt like I could slip slide all the way down to the bottom. My trail shoe tread was pretty much gone on my toe and they weren’t gripping much. No hiking poles either. Still, one step at a time, I made it across patch after patch. We were at the bottom of that dark wall made of stones and rocks. Where is the trail? Are we lost? Wait, what? We’re going up this wall????? You’re kidding me. Wait, really? Nooooo. Sandwiched between the slopy snow patches and the wall, I had nowhere
Paradise Valley, Banff NP
else to go.
It was just impossible, borderline deadly. “Path” was visible here and there. If it was visible, the footing was tiny gravels. It was too steep to not be slippery. If it wasn’t visible, we had to scramble bigger stones that were loosely piled up. So many times, I had unstable rocks to step on and hold on to. Omg, am I going to slide down this hill with these rocks? Way way more adventure than what I came for. 6-hr hike? Totally doable? Right. I need to be laser focused and death grips on these rocks. Rocks were more stable closer to the top. Still, the slope was dizzying. I could see the top where people reached there from the other side. One step at a time, I’ll eventually get there, don't give up!
I haven’t longed for an ice-cold beer this much in a long time. I made it! Somebody alerted me of the view I climbed for…!!! Wowww, speechless! Big struggle, big reward. I haven’t seen anything like it. This is a crazy view!! It was breezy there but thoroughly enjoyed the reward. From there was nice wide switchback on Sentinel Pass to
the valley, then smooth descent to Moraine Lake. Finally reached Moraine Lake at 4 pm. My GPS watch logged 16 miles, 9+ hours. What an epic hike that was. I would have been ok if the entire trip ended right now.
It was hot and crowded at Moraine Lake. The view was not very good under the glaring sun. Since we were 3hrs behind planned 6hrs, it was hitchhike or bust. Luckily, a couple from Toronto came to the rescue. They said at 2 pm, both Lake Louise and Moraine parking were full. Wow, I guess I didn’t really understand the craziness of this place. The only thing I knew was last night and this morning when there were plenty of spots. We were happy to give them our premium parking spot at Lake Louise and we broke even 😊.
Lake Louise area was taken over beyond my imagination. We drove over to the village to get a beer and other food supplies. Traffic control person was at every intersection as if 4-way stop signs weren't working. Madness. Beer and dinner took the highest priority, then shower. We return to Moraine Lake for a better lighting. We had
no problem parking at 8 pm but it was far from having the lake to ourselves. The 20-dollar view of Moraine Lake and the ten peaks was beautiful. What a day. That 500m walk to the lookout was all I could do today. Wiped out at 10:30 pm in dusk. Wednesday: Icefields Parkway
Slept super well on this therma-rest pad. It might be time to invest in one of these. Camp sleep doesn't have to be hurting my back. Lots to do today. We're traveling along Icefields Parkway to Jasper. Coffee made, gear packed, and off we went at 6 am. First stop: Bow Lake. I had read that sunrise there is stunning. Sunrise is way too early when the daylight is from 5 am to 11 pm. We'll take the 6:30 am view. It was sub-40F; hard to adjust from 90s mid-day. Parking lot directly led to the lake shore...wow! Lake view suddenly opened up with the mountains in the backdrop, reflecting perfectly on a calm morning water. Stunning indeed!
A short 5min drive from there is Bow Summit Lookout for the view of Peyto Lake. The hike is a 3-mile loop with the first half
of it paved with educational signages. The summit view is definitely worth the 1.5- mile hike compared to the lookout close to the parking lot. On the way back, I muted the bear bell because really? 3-mile loop on a paved/fire road. V didn't even bring his backpack which had the bear spray. Of course, that's when you encounter one. When we were getting close to the paved part of the loop, I saw a brown light cross further ahead with the noise like a car just zoomed by. Hmm, weird, road isn't that close. A minute later, I hear that roar again. Next instant! The brown is back moving in the opposite direction except, this time, I clearly saw a running bear!! I ran for a few steps before V stopped me, fail. Stay put, bear bell back on, and start talking loud! Shortly after, we came to the first lookout where everybody goes to. Ok, this looks safe but in case anyone's thinking about going deeper, we let them know. I mean who would've thought!!
Parkers Ridge wasn't planned but the view from the trailhead next to the road was too gorgeous. 4km round-trip, why not. But
the rule here is “no climb, no view”. It took almost 2 hrs. Switchback took us to the ridge overlooking the icefield with an alpine lake. Gorgeous.
Wilcox Pass was a 5-min drive from there. This was planned as the hike of the day. Sure enough, the small lot was filled up. Steady 2.5-mile climb admiring Columbia Icefield took us to the top. In the meadow at the top, the path split to Wilcox Ridge where things got epic. We saw a herd of bighorn sheep wonder by. I heard someone say “finally, we waited 40min”. Going further over the hump, we were rewarded with the direct view of Columbia Icefield! Wow!! Not everyone opted to go here because you don't know until you get there. It was super windy but what a view! 3h15 hike for 7 miles, not bad.
That 7miler pushed me off the cliff and I was exhausted. By the time we reached Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls, I could barely make it to the lookout 100m, 200m from the parking lot. But my bear radar stayed sharp. Near Jasper, I spotted a brown bear chowing grass next to the highway.
center was super busy! There was a line to ask questions. And this is with 3 windows for the trails and 2 for the city. We confirmed that the permit to Mount Edith Cavall hadn't run out for tomorrow morning. Apparently, that is THE place to go in Jasper so we wanted to make it during our brief stay. We were also told of some trail closures due to bear activities at Mount Edith Meadow and Opal Hills, both on my list of trails to hit, doh!
Jasper grocery store was also crowded but slightly less hectic than in Banff. Choices were very very limited here though. More importantly, we got a beer from the liquor store down the street. V made another square din din. Even with the full tummy, devising plan B was tricky. Finally, it was time to turn in. This shower had no hot water, yikes 😞. In any case, it was still lit out but lights out at 11 am. Thursday: Play til we drop in Jasper
Got up later than usual at 6 am cuz we were going to the visitor center at 7:30 am for Mount Edith Cavall permit. It's
available only from 8 am to 10 am. 7:30 am in case the line forms because y’know, the popularity can’t be underestimated here. Plus, we're operating on a tight schedule and can't afford to be at the back of the line. At 6:30 ish, I was done getting ready and my obnoxious bug kicked in. Can we go to Pyramid Island before 7:30? 7:40 might even be ok. The 5k path goes there along the road from the town center. I didn't have high hope but since it was mentioned by the info center, let's see. Mountains were nicely reflecting on the lake but it wasn't anything we haven't seen in a past few days so we went right back to town. We arrived at the visitor center at 7:30 am as planned. Doh! A handful of people already!! Good call on not spending time at Pyramid Lake!! I rushed to get in line while V parked. There are 45 permits per wave and there are 4 waves in a day: 8:30 am, 11 am, 2 pm, and 4 pm. Our first choice was 8:30 am today which has 15 spots left. Looks like we'll make it. By 8 am
when the office opened, the line had easily tripled. And just like that, we got a permit for right now! Chain of cars followed along the road and the permit checkpoint. I felt like we had a golden ticket. We reached the parking lot shortly before 9 am. Literally, after about a quarter mile in, we were met with a sign saying the meadow trail was "closed due to aggressive grizzly". Continued on the other path and it ended very shortly after. That's it?! Dead end at a half mile in. Apparently, though, we were looking at The North Face, one of the coveted climbing faces in the world, cool!
Back in town already ~9:30 am. Grabbed food for later as we plan to be out and about all day and hit the road for a 2-hr drive to Miette Hot Spring for Sulphur Skyline hike. 5 miles at 2000+ ft elevation gain in the heat was tough. We had to dip hat, neck gaiter, and arm sleeves in ice cold stream right off the bat. Luckily, our legs were recovered from the days prior. A good night rest does wonders. After a few miles of climbing, things got
real. From there was a half mile of short steep switchbacks on loose gravel. I was so glad my strength was back. I was absolutely not in a condition to walk this at the end of yesterday. Summit was nice, cool, and breezy. We were rewarded with a 360-degree view of the mountains. Amazing! No climb no view! After a snack break with the view, we made our way back down.
It was 3 pm when we were back at the parking lot. I felt like I had been eating bars all morning but was hungry already. But we saved the sandwich for Maligne Lake views for 2 hrs. We found a perfect picnic table right at the lake shore with mountain view, away from the boat house. Epic.
We made a brief stop at Medicine Lake vista point on the way back and pulled into Maligne Canyon for hike #3 today. Being exposed to 90F heat all afternoon, we were so beat but we pushed through this one last hike for the day. Canyon gorge was pretty over-the-top. It was an easy trail except we were beyond exhausted. Definitely worth the visit though.
From there, Jasper
isn't too far. We wanted to grab a beer at Jasper Brewery but we couldn't find parking, grrr. Forget it. V grabbed a nice one from Jasper Liquors and called it a day. Another cold shower (this must be the only cold shower that people wait for in a line out the door!!) and lights out at 11. Friday: Last push
Woke up at 5 am, packed, made hot tea, and left the campsite at 5:40 am. Bang bang. It’ll be a 3-hr drive all the way back to Lake Louise and rental car cutoff is 3 pm. We drove the same Icefields Parkway a few days ago but still had to make a few stops along the way. Couldn't help it. So beautiful in the soft morning light! Still made it to Lake Louise at 8:30 am. Already, we had to park in the further lot, although not quite the overflow lot. Shoes on, water filled, bug spray shower and go! We had 3hrs to hike toward the Planes of Six Glaciers Teahouse, ~6-mile round trip. The path got difficult after a few miles. Boy, the trails here are not easy! We made it to the tea
Sentinel Pass, Banff NP
house on time. Not much of a view there but not enough time to go to the lookout 😞. By the time we got back to the chateau, oof. There was a huge mob by the lake! Lake is amazing but this mob is impressive on its own! Where did they all come from and why are they flocked at a spot??
Canmore is 1hr from there. We're dropping off the rented camping gear. Rent-A-Tent was spot on! We had everything we needed but nothing in excess, quality over quantity, impressed! Quick bite at Market Bistro and back to Calgary. When I was planning the details, I thought 3 full days would be too short. It was, in a sense that we could have seen a lot more. Then it wasn’t because we wiped ourselves out every day and I was satisfied and tired. The city was all about the Stampede which started today. I even saw people in flannel and cowboy hats at the airport. Keep the tradition alive Calgary!
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