Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Northern Lights

Location: Banff, AB, Canada
We had intended to spend a rest day in Lake Louise, but couldn't stay another night in the campground so decided we'd follow Stan and Roz to Banff to continue sharing the cost of camping. Patricia and Markus offered us a lift up to Morraine Lake which would have been a 28km ride and since we'd been told it was a super beautiful lake and nicer even than Lake Louise we hopped in the back of their car and headed up the hill. The traffic was awful and it took us a long time to get parked. We walked to the edge of the lake, amidst crowds of tourists, and thought 'hmmm not really worth all the car-based faff'.

Sure it was pretty, but so were so many of the lakes we'd seen in the last few days and we couldn't really fathom why hordes of sightseers would endure the vehicular nightmare to view this particular lake. And apparently Lake Louise itself was even worse. But that's the thing isn't it? People hear about one sight or another being the nicest, prettiest, most spectacular whatever and everyone crowds to it, which can actually ruin that thing somewhat. Despite being rather underwhelmed, since we'd finally got a parking spot we headed off to wander along the lakeside trail. Having only walked three minutes away from the carpark we were away from the throng and whilst there were still others around it was much quieter and we all started to appreciate the lakes beauty a lot more. By the time we reached the end of the trail, only about 10 or 15 minutes walk, there were only a handful of people.

We gawped up at the towering peaks around us, the shrunken glacier, the morraines that gave the lake it's name and the iridescent turquoise water. It was really quite gorgeous and we could understand why people had recommended the lake. What we couldn't understand is why more than ninety percent of people who endured the traffic jam to get to it wouldn't leave the carpark, but at least it meant we enjoyed the lake all the more away from most the crowds. We were dropped off by our bikes and headed to the picnic tables in town to eat lunch before setting off for Banff. We were just getting finished when who should ride by but Barbara and Matthias! After sitting and chatting for some time we realised we were all riding together down the Bow Valley Parkway. We had a lovely couple of hours cycling together down this beautiful, quiet road and before they turned right and we continued to Banff we loosely arranged to meet in Radium Hot Springs in a few days.

It was an undulating ride and having not even left Lake Louise until 2pm it was about 5:30pm when we made it into Banff and followed signs to the campground. It was a fair way out of town, up a hill, and unlike at Lake Louise there was no note for us from Stan and Roz so we were allowed to go look for them. We searched the whole campsite, from A loop through to K loop, each loop consisting of about 30-40 sites, which as you can imagine took a long time and rather dishearteningly came up fruitless. Out of options we forked out for a campsite, ate dinner and hit the hay. Turns out there's another campground, closer to town, but badly signposted, which we'd rode right past and that's where we found Roz and Stan the next morning. We hurriedly moved camp and rode the shuttle bus into town.

We wanted breakfast and found the perfect spot in Touloulou's after a short wait in a queue. There was so much choice and we ordered variations on breakfast hashes and Tom also got a waffle too. It was all gorgeous and we could see why the place was so popular. After stuffing ourselves silly we searched out the laundrette, bumped into Stan and Roz camped out in a coffee shop and joined them for wifi-dependant shenanigans. In the evening we hit Eddie's burgers where fellow Brit, Guy the barman, did an awesome job of looking after us as we polished off chicken wings, buffalo burgers, a jug of beer and chocolate milkshakes. That night Tom and I both awoke needing a wee. We traipsed off to the toilet block together and then stood transfixed in the parking lot of the campground as the Aurora Borealis danced through the night sky. The light pollution from Banff town rendered the colours washed out, but it was spectacular nonetheless. I was utterly mesmerised and found it totally magical and enchanting.

Stan and Roz run a tight ship and were on the road by 8am, we followed shortly after and within half an hour of setting off the rain started. We stopped to drip-dry and warm up with a coffee at Johnston Canyon where we were informed by a Parks employee that the campground we were aiming for that day was closed. We caught up to our camping companions at the next shop and decided we'd get up the pass we had coming and then take stock. It wasn't a tough climb so we decided to press on and try to make it to Radium Hot Springs then award ourselves with a rest day.

The summit of the pass marks the watershed line and border between B.C. and Alberta as well as being the boundary between Banff National Park and Kootenay National Park. So after appropriate photo shots we whizzed down the other side and along a long fairly flat valley. 

For most of the afternoon we were trying to outrun some rain clouds that were on our tail and mostly succeeded getting up to a good pace along the flat before the next pass which would then drop us down to our destination and into the Columbia River Valley. This second pass was a bit more of a grinder than the morning's climb, but the wonderful sign in the truck brake check area at the summit outlined the 11km of downhill we had earned as our reward. We flew into the town of Radium Hot Springs and after a brief visit to the visitor info climbed the 2km up to the campground.

As we paid for our camping a herd of big horn sheep appeared on the bluff beside us. They are really majestic, proud looking beasts. Whilst finishing off dinner prep at our site who should roll by but Matthias and Barbara so after eating and showering we strolled over to their site to chat since this would be the last time we would bump into each other as from here we'd be heading east and they were meandering their way back to Vancouver.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting narrative on your natural habits and observations of the AB! Mr P