Canadian Rockies 2011

The Canadian Rocky Mountain Tour

The Canadian Rockies were our first stop on our road trip this summer (2011). We started in Spokane Washington, we arrived the evening of 23rd July and spent a bit of time the next morning getting stuff ready for the trip. We were soon ready to hit the road and headed straight for the Canadian boarder in Idaho. That feeling when you first get on the road is incredible, knowing that you can go wherever you want, whenever you want, free to explore and adventure as you please.

We were heading for the Canadian Rockies, a place of incredible natural beauty, or so I had heard. I had spent much time reading about the National Parks of the Canadian Rockies and seen even more pictures of amazing mountains and bright blue lakes. We were hugely excited and I felt like I was heading home, back to the place I have discovered I feel most alive, completely free to be just me, we were heading to the wilderness.

We had been In Kooteney National Park for probably less than five minutes when we came across our first ever Big Horn sheep, it was great to see such an amazing creature in its natural environment.

We stayed the night in Kooteney and left early the next morning for Banff National Park, the drive through Kooteney was stunning, we saw a moose and made a couple of brief stops along the way to take in the mountains in the low early morning light. We didn’t have too much time to stop as we wanted to get in to Banff and secure a campsite before going out to explore, I was not too worried about quickly driving through as I knew beautiful mountain scenery was not going to be in short supply over the next ten days.

We arrived in Banff and found a lovely campsite on the Bowfield Parkway, most campers were just emerging from their tents and trailers and had started to light campfires to take the chill off the morning air. The sun was shining through the trees and getting caught in the rising smoke through the campsite, it was wonderful, so peaceful and welcoming.

We set up camp and headed out to explore our new home. We headed for Lake Louise to see what all the fuss was about. Lake Louise was one of those places I felt like I had been to as I had spent so much time researching it, I was very excited to get there and see it with my own eyes.

Soon we found ourselves standing at the shore of a lake so stunning it was as if it had been created to show what a perfect mountain lake should look like. It was just perfect in all its magnificence and beauty.

The lake is constantly fed by snow melt from the glaciers in the mountains giving it the most unbelievable  emerald colour, this is caused as ‘rock flour’ is deposited from the glaciers into the lake.

From the lake we headed to one of the most popular trails that took us high into the mountains above Lake Louise passed more lakes, forests, a tea house and some leftover snow from the winter. The view from the top of Big Beehive was wonderful and the lakes on the way up were just as beautiful. Especially Lake Agnes where the tea house can be found.

The next morning we started the day in the town of Banff waiting out the rain and getting a world class breakfast at Mc Donald’s, we had a chance to stop at Vermilion Lakes Road to admire the fantastic views surrounding the town. The mountains looked as though they were on fire as the rain cooled the air rising out of the mountains creating thick fog that was quickly blown by the wind.

The rain soon cleared and we set out on a fantastic hike in the Johnson Canyon area with the promise of stunning waterfalls. We were not disappointed.

That evening we headed to Moraine Lake, one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. After seeing a few amazing mountain lakes you would think they could not get any more amazing, that is until you arrive at the shores of Moraine Lake. Waters so blue and clear you just want to reach in and take a drink, surrounded by terrifyingly beautiful mountain peaks and lush green forests with trees that  reach all the way down into the waters. Drift wood from fallen trees float in the waters and gather at a couple of spots where the waters flow out of the lake, giant rock slides from long ago create perfect platforms for climbing up to get a higher view of the lake. No matter how long you sit and stare at such a view it continues to take your breath away, I found it hard to comprehend the majesty of nature, I guess living in a huge city it is easy to forget that these places are real and just as alive as we are.

 

The first picture of Moraine Lake was taken a little after 6am as the sun was managing to break through the clouds, the views surrounding the lake are spectacular in every direction. The next two pictures were taken that same morning.

After spending some time at sunset around the lake we had some breakfast in the car and prepared to hike up to Eiffel Lake from the lake shore. It was still very early and there were very few people out hiking, there were no more than three people ahead of us on the trail. The start of the hike was a long and steep climb into the mountains via 50 minutes of steep switch backs. After the switch backs the trail leveled out and headed along the mountains with unbelievable views of the ten peaks, we were soon crossing rock slides and large areas still covered in deep snow. We finally reached Eiffel Lake as it started to rain so didn’t stick around too long. The rain cleared up soon after we left and we were able to sit and have lunch with this view of the Ten Peaks.

The next day we were heading up to Jasper National Park for our trip out to the Tonquin Valley. We drove up along the Icefield Parkway, I had read many times that this was one of the most amazing drives anywhere in the world.

The Icefield Parkway is 230km/140 miles long and every moment spent on it is filled with incredible mountain views, stunning glacier fed lakes, waterfalls, winding rivers and huge glaciers creeping down towards the road. One of the most amazing spots is Peyto Lake, another emerald Lake surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. In the panoramic photo below you can see the glacier on the left feeding the lake giving it the amazing colour.

The next two pictures are taken from the Crowfoot Glacier viewpoint, the glacier can be seen to the left of each picture. Some of the ice hanging over the mountain sides were as much as 50 meters deep, it was a beautiful view and the nearby Bow lake was so clear.

There are endless points to stop on the Parkway, some of the waterfalls on the way along were very nice.

 

 

The Tonquin Valley

We had been heading for Jasper National Park as we had booked to stay with Tonquin Valley adventures for three nights at their cabins on Amethyst Lake. The Tonquin Valley is the back country of Jasper, even in peak season it is free from all but a handful of visitors who hike or ride a horse the 20km/12Mile through the mountains and forest. The hike is fairly tough but you are treated with stunning scenery the whole way and the view of the Ramparts Mountain range is breathtaking.

We arrived at the cabins after 4hours 40 minutes non stop hiking and welcomed with freshly made cakes, cookies and hot drinks.

The setting around the cabins is beyond spectacular, the Ramparts are so close you have to look up from your cabin to see the top of them. Amethyst lake is just a stroll away and is stunning, there is nobody else there, it’s the kind of place where seeing other people is a bit of a strange and rare event, like seeing a bear or eagle. These next pictures were taken about half a mile from our cabin early one morning as the sun rose over the valley, I could not decide which picture I like the most so I have just put them all in.

On our final morning in the valley we woke up to fresh snow on the surrounding mountains on August 1st, it was a truly magical sight.

Our hike out of the valley was almost an hour faster than on the way in as it was more down hill, it was a beautiful day and the view of Cavell Lake at the end of the hike was a wonderful sight after such a long walk.

We had one day left in Jasper before heading back to the Lake Louise area in Banff so we headed up the steep Cavell Road to explore the Cavell Pond and Glacier area. It was amazing to get up close to a small glacier, the large pond is full of ice burgs that have broken away from the main glacier. The water in the pond was so cold it was still frozen over in many areas.

We headed back down the icefield parkway for a final two days in Banff before heading back into the USA. The next morning we got up early and headed for Lake Louise before heading on the trail up to the Plain of the Six Glaciers. It was a beautiful morning and the lake was totally calm and as flat as glass.

We stopped in at the Tea House on the way up to the end of the trail, it was nice to be the first ones there as we had started early in the day, within a couple of hours it was crowded with visitors. From the Tea House the hike was fairly short to the end of the trail, on the way we watched a Willow Ptarmigan and her two chicks  before reaching the end for some amazing views of the mountains and glaciers.

Later that day we spent some time waiting for a train so I could get the shot below, this was a very different experience to waiting for a train in London, I think I could get used to this. Later at sunset we headed for a nice spot by the Bow River to watch the sun set over Castle Mountain.

The next morning would be our last hike before heading out of the parks that afternoon, I woke up early and headed for Herbert Lake for an early morning shot of the mirror like water there. I had been here before to plan for the shot and was just hoping for a clear morning with some interesting clouds, I was only there for around 20 minutes and this was one of the easiest shots of the trip, It was just perfectly beautiful.

After packing up our things we headed for Moraine Lake to do the Sentinel Pass trail, once again we began very early and only met a few people along the way up. The trail went up the same switch backs as the Eiffel Lake trail and then turned off into the breath taking beauty of the Larch Valley. From the valley I took the final few, incredibly steep, kilometers to the top of Sentinel Pass, some of this trail was still covered in very deep snow. The view from the top was amazing and made a great place to rest after such a steep climb. Alison waited down by that lake in the picture for my safe return.

We left the Canadian Rockies that afternoon and headed for Kelowna to stay with some wonderful friends, It was nice to have a couple of days rest away from the temptation of any mountain hikes. If the mountains are there, I must go to them.

 After leaving Kelowna we had another night with some more great friends in Vancouver where me and Calum headed out to watch the world fireworks championship. The next day we would bid farewell to amazing Canada and cross the boarder to the USA.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are
beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness
is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as
fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of
life.”

John Muir