I have always loved the mountains.
When it came time to plan our vacation this summer, Jineen
(my good friend and Windchase's indispensable manager/trainer) and
I wanted to go somewhere we had not been before, and the Canadian
Rockies seemed the perfect destination.
We made plans to sightsee and hike in Banff and Jasper
National Parks, which span the continental divide along the border
between Alberta and British Columbia, and to ride horses in the
Willmore Wilderness Area. Come
share in our travels.
traveled on July 27 (my birthday!), changing planes in Chicago and
arriving in Calgary around nine that evening.
Right away we were off to a good start; in the airport near
baggage claim was one of the most beautiful statues I have ever
seen. It was five
bronze horses, larger than life, leaping and plunging together in
a curved line; they seemed to bound right out of the wild and into
one's imagination. It
was an amazing piece of artwork, entitled 'Breakaway,' by Robert
'Breakaway,' by Robert
We picked up our rental car from Enterprise; the guy
working there gave us a choice of two vehicles.
Based on experiences from past trips, Jineen asked him
which one had higher ground clearance; he looked at us
suspiciously and asked, "Where are you planning to take
it?" We assured
him we wouldn't dream of
driving off the pavement, and then chose the Toyota, with the
Driving across town from the
airport, we could see that Calgary is very open and expansive.
The term Big Sky
Country came to mind, though that moniker is usually
associated with Montana across the border.
The atmosphere in Calgary was friendly, and very western,
and we felt some regret that we hadn't been there earlier in the
summer for their world famous rodeo, the Calgary Stampede.
Knowing we would be traveling in
National Parks and wilderness areas where shopping is difficult,
we visited a liquor store to stock up.
We bought enough wine for our Happy Hours for the whole
trip, including three bottle of Stoneleigh chardonnay from New
Zealand, one of our favorite wines.
Then it was off to our motel for a good night's sleep.
1 - July 28
We were up and on the road early,
eager to get to the mountains.
We stopped at Safeway to stock up on Happy Hour supplies,
and we also put in a good supply of trail mix and granola bars,
figuring this would tide us over in case the food on the riding
trip was really bad. There
was one tense moment when Jineen got her hand stuck in the banana
chips dispenser, but otherwise we got out of Safeway unscathed.
Driving west from Calgary, we
crossed wide expanses of rolling pasture and open sky.
After about an hour we topped a rise, where suddenly before
us the rolling hills gave way to mountains in the distance,
crowned in white. We
left the farmland behind us when we passed Canmore, entering a
land of rugged peaks, pine and aspen trees, and mountain meadows.
Along the Bow River Parkway
The scenery was immediately spectacular as we entered Banff
National Park. We
bypassed the town of Banff, not being much interested in tourist
traps, but took the Bow River Parkway, a small winding road that
is a less traveled alternative to the busy Route 1.
Driving slowly, we scouted for wildlife and enjoyed the
was a lot to see on the Parkway, and we took our time, pulling
over whenever we passed a particularly scenic or interesting spot.
Our first stop was the Mule Shoe Wetlands, a marshy pond
next to a river, surrounded by aspen trees.
Here we had our first wildlife sighting for the trip - a
Columbian ground squirrel, sitting up by its burrow like a prairie
dog. Further on
we stopped near Castle Mountain, where the Castle Cliffs towered
over us in resplendent grandeur.
We had our second wildlife experience when we got out of
the car and were immediately swarmed by a cloud of mosquitoes.
We traveled along the Panorama
Ridge, and stopped to look down over the Bow River.
Spectacular mountains formed the backdrop for this
blue-green river, and a railroad track ran along the near shore. An
osprey flew above the water, diving for fish, and then stopped to
perch in the tall trees by the riverbank.
A long freight train passed by, rounding the turn known as
Morant's Curve before disappearing into the distance.
Bow River at Morant's Curve
Lake Louise is widely considered to be one of the most
beautiful lakes in the world, and a must-see destination.
We expected it to be crowded, but we were not prepared for
the mobs of people in the packed parking lot - we couldn't cope.
Quickly changing plans, we left Lake Louise and drove down
to Lake Moraine instead. It
was busy there as well, but we were able to find a place to park,
straddling a ditch behind a camper.
We walked along the shore of the vibrant turquoise lake,
overlooked by tall mountains with cornices of snow.
Before the trip, I had purchased a book entitled, Don't
Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies; The Opinionated Guide.
It rated most of the
hikes in the parks on a scale of
Worthwhile, or Don't Bother.
This book turned out to be an extremely useful guide, and
we chose our hikes on the basis of which were given the highest
'four boot-print' rating of Premier.
We decided to do the 7.1 mile hike
to Lake Annette, which was rated as Premier.
Following the advice in the book, we phoned the Park
Rangers office to see if there were currently any bear
restrictions on the trail; they told us there were not.
We parked at the trailhead, then followed
the path uphill through the woods, alongside a rushing creek. The
trail climbed steadily, after a while coming out on a ledge high
above the stream, where we could catch glimpses of the snowy peaks
through breaks in the trees.
After about half an hour, we came
to a trail junction, and to our dismay there was a large Bear
Restriction sign sitting in the middle of our path.
It was a portable bilingual placard with a picture of a
grizzly, informing us that the trail to Lake Annette was
restricted due to recent bear sightings, and only parties of four
or more were allowed to hike it - under penalty of law, with
possible court appearances and fines up to $5000.
Having heeded our guidebook's instructions and phoned the
Ranger station before hiking, we found this very annoying. After
several minutes of careful consideration, we decided to break the
law and take our chances. Two
young fit looking guys had left the trailhead parking lot just
ahead of us; maybe we could pretend we were with them.
(We were sure this rationalization would impress the
The path was fairly level, and we
followed it through dense woods for quite a long way, glancing
over our shoulders often to check for bears.
Eventually we came out into an open glade, crossing the
stream three times over wooden bridges, stopping to admire the
beautiful views down the valley.
Ahead of us towered a tall peak, with a cornice of snow on
the top gleaming white in the sunlight.
passed some lone hikers and several pairs of two, so
clearly we were not the only ones ignoring the Bear Restrictions.
We kept a wary eye out for bruins, but the only wildlife we
encountered was a little field mouse crouching by the side of the
trail, which on closer examination seemed to be blind.
Jineen insisted on petting him; I thought he looked a bit
We entered the woods again, and
the path climbed steeply for the last half mile.
As we labored up the incline, ominous black clouds rolled
in above us, accompanied by loud rumbles of thunder.
We topped the rise at last and
came out of the trees to see Lake Annette before us, a rich
blue/green in color, hemmed in close by rugged mountain peaks.
Across the lake, the snowbank we had seen earlier from a
distance now loomed above us, at least fifty feet deep; a narrow
snowmelt stream ran from it, tumbling
down across the barren slope.
The thunder was louder now, nearer.
The two guys we had planned to use as our bear protection
alibi were just leaving the lake as we arrived; they wished us
safe passage and headed out fast, as though they could outpace the
weather. We were alone
with the oncoming storm.
A sharp crack of thunder
reverberated down the valley, echoing back and forth between the
peaks. The rising wind
brought a quick ten degree temperature drop, and it started
spitting rain and hail. We
were sure we were in for a dousing.
But no sooner had we scrambled into our raingear than the
brief shower ended, as the storm passed and the sun came out
again. We were barely
damp. And that turned
out to be the most we got rained on for the entire trip!
We walked along the side of the lake, watching the last
errant raindrops making ripples in the now still surface.
The clear blue water looked inviting, but sticking a hand
in the ice cold glacier-fed lake quickly disabused me of any
temptation to swim. At
the far end of the lake we climbed over the rocks for a while,
then sat on a boulder and ate trail mix and dried apricots,
enjoying the solitude. Looking
up at the steep cliffside above
us, we spotted a mountain goat on a narrow ledge, silhouetted
white against the granite background.
Presently we headed back, retracing our steps.
We did not see a soul on our return trip, either human or
ursine. The only
wildlife we encountered were a few birds and one toad.
Our legs became more and more tired as we went on;
mercifully it was mostly downhill, but every slight incline made
us groan. We were
glad we had chosen a hike with a modest elevation gain to
acclimate ourselves on the first day; by the time we reached the
car park, our legs were like jelly.
Tired but happy, we climbed in the car and celebrated the
day with a glass of the Stoneleigh chardonnay.
We continued north on the Icefields Parkway, stopping at
each viewpoint to admire the incredible scenery.
The road was lined with red Indian Paintbrush and little
white puffball flowers that seemed to glow in the slanting evening
Glacier, named for its distinctive shape, hung poised above Hector
Bow Lake was especially
impressive; it was a deep blue-green color, framed by mountains
and glaciers. The
sun, dropping behind the peaks, sent out dazzling shafts of
sunlight. We walked
along the edge of the lake, but our legs were increasingly tired,
so we didn't go far.
was 8:30 by the time we came to Peyto Lake.
There was a large parking lot, no doubt usually crowded,
and a paved trail leading steeply uphill to the overlook.
Our tired legs protested at the thought of climbing, so
since there was almost no one around at this late hour, we drove
up to the handicapped parking lot - from there it was just a short
paved path to the overlook. It
didn't make us feel guilty, as we really were feeling rather
handicapped . . .
Lake lay far below us, absolutely stunning, the water an
outrageous turquoise color. The
Peyto Glacier dominated the mountainside on our left.
A chalky white river ran through the scree field at the
base of the glacier, winding down the valley in many channels
before emptying into the cyan lake.
Looking to the right, we could see layered mountains,
topped with white, fading off into the distance in the haze of the
setting sun. It was a
quiet, peaceful evening. Everyone
else had left the overlook; our only company was a gold mantled
ground squirrel (similar a chipmunk) eating a nut. We
watched him for a while before heading on.
and I have a tradition on our trips, where in the evening we find
the most beautiful secluded spot we can and stop there for 'Happy
Hour.' We parked
beside Waterfowl Lake and dined on cheese and chutney on crackers,
with cookies for dessert, accompanied by the NZ Stoneleigh
mountains and bright clouds were reflected in the calm surface of
the lake in the dusky evening light.
Happy Hour at Waterfowl Lake
It was nearly ten o'clock by
the time we came to the Saskatchewan
River, and not yet quite fully dark.
We crossed the wide braided river and found our lodging for
the night, an inn called The
Crossing. We went
wearily to our beds and slept like logs.