Saturday, June 18, 2011

Canadian Rockies - A Return Adventure

ES and I returned to the Canadian Rockies this past Memorial Day weekend.  We headed up to the edge of the park on day one, allowing us to spend an entire day in Kootenay National Park as we headed up to Banff.  The weather started out a bit ominous, with low clouds and snow.  If we hadn't already visited the park, we'd be unaware of the large mountains obscured by fog as we started the climb into the park. At one point, it started snowing.

The weather started to clear.  We hiked along a waterfall, Ochre beds, and Marble Canyon (which was not make of marble at all, but rather dolomite).  The weather began to improve, and at a few points even the sun started to come out.

 Falls along the drive in KNP.

Marble Canyon.  Kootenany National Park.

Ochre Beds.  Kootenany National Park.

We made it to Banff by late afternoon. Thankfully, it was still considered "shoulder season" and the town wasn't too busy yet.   Restaurants and shops were relatively quiet and we encountered few people on the hiking trails. We actually liked the solitude at first, but when we were warned at the hotel that due to the harsh weather, wildlife was much lower in the valley this year and was still present in high numbers.  This was especially true for bears.  We were advised to talk, yell, or even sing (we choose some Whitney Houston songs - surely that would frighten away the bears).  I head my breath each morning ES headed out for a run.  We spend the next two days hiking, eating, and enjoying the days in Banff.  A common theme:  if you don't like the weather, just wait 5 min.  We experienced snow, rain, sleet, hail, and sun during a visit.  A few times we experienced almost all of those in 1 day.

 The Hoodoos and some deer along Tunnel Mountain trail.

Stopping for ice cream at COWS.  We'd also visiting the one on PEI.  Amazing amount of fat = really good ice cream!

Walking around the grounds of the Banff Springs Hotel.

.  Hiking around Johnson Lake.  Banff National Park.

Yep - evidence of bears.  Banff National Park.

Bow Falls.  Banff National Park.

Vermillion Lakes.  Banff National Park.

We headed up to Jasper National Park a few days later, making lots of stops along the way.  The road contains lots of view points and stops (waterfalls, short hikes, amazing lakes).  We also saw a good deal of wildlife along the drive, including our first grizzly (1 of 4 bears on the trip).  We'd just left the Ranger station off the Trans-Canada highway (cuts through BNP) and a bear ran out in front of the car.  By the time I got over the shock, I got out the camera.  Unfortunately I only got the hind quarters.  We circled back around and reported the bear.  Amazingly, the ranger could identify the bear and said they'd seen a lot of activity in the area.  This made us a little leery to do any long hikes off in the woods, especially when they had signs suggesting groups of 4 or more.  We'd later learned that the suggestion would become mandatory later in the summer.

Sights along the road in Banff National Park as we headed to Jasper National Park.

The Columbia Icefields are close to the junction of Banff and Jasper National Parks.  This Icefield, and its associated glaciers (the guide on the SnoCat noted this was ~12) are part of a triple continental divide (one of the few in the world).  Part of the Icefield and glaciers flow into the Arctic, part into the Pacific, and part to the Atlantic Oceans.  They also feed into the Columbia river.  We don't normally take tour groups, but the only way to see the glacier was to hop on the tour bus followed by a transfer to the SnoCats (these special vehicles are equipped to drive on the glacier).  We had ~20 min to walk on the glacier.  It was pretty amazing.  It looked like a lunar landscape + snow/ice.   

The Columbia IceFields in Jasper National Park.

As we left the IceFields, the weather (no surprise!) started to turn.  The rain set it.  And it kept raining well till after we got to Jasper and the Lodge.  The weather broke after dinner (and the sun came out) and was (for the most part after the morning fog burned off) relatively nice.  The great part about this time of year - the sun came up at 5am and set at almost 11 pm, giving us very long days.  Jasper was much more low key versus Banff.  The town was much smaller and much less crowded.  As we got farther and farther north, we saw even more wildlife.  We saw yet another bear, mountain goats, elk, bald eagles, moose, and countless deer in Jasper.  In one case, we were going to set out for a hike when I noticed this spot in the horizon moving about in the field.  When we looked in the binocs, we saw a black bear.  The zoom on our camera picked it up grazing for dandelions and roots in the glen.  Needless to say, we decided not to take the hike.  

Sights in and around Jasper National Park.

Athabasca Falls.  Jasper National Park.

Sunwampta Falls.  Jasper National Park.

Maligne Canyon.  Jasper National Park.

Medicine Lake.  Jasper National Park.

Up and away on the Jasper TramWay.  Jasper National Park.

Lake Annette, Pyramid Lake, Leach Lake, and Patricia Lake.  Jasper National Park.

Lac Beauvert.  Home of JPL.  Jasper National Park.

We spent our last few days in the park back in Banff.  We took a boat trip on Lake Minnewonka.  The boat trip only opened the day before (usually opens in May - opened the latest it had opened in 24 years. We also took some time to wander the shops in town, went to Lake Louise and the surrounding areas, and hiked a few of the trails we'd yet to see.  

Parks Canada Banff Museum.  Banff National Park.

Lake Minnewonka.  Banff National Park.

Lake Louise.  Banff National Park.

Moraine Lake.  Banff National Park.

Viewpoint from Mt. Norquay.  Banff National Park.

We packed our bags and headed on trek home back south, through Banff and Kootenay back to the States.  We'll return again someday. 

A Parting Shot.  Viewpoint in Kotooney National Park.  Note:  this is the same view as the 1st picture, but without the snow and clouds.