Quote of the day

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Beautiful Alberta - Banff National Park

Cradled in the lap of Canadian Rockies lies two of the most beautiful national parks in North America, Banff and Jasper. In this part of the country one would find numerous glaciers, including the largest ice field in the Rockies - Columbia icefields, turquoise & emerald glacial lakes, and lots of berries & bears! 

It was the beginning of autumn, and enough time had already passed to make us want to be back on the mountains. I was so excited when I came across these gems of the Canadian Rockies, with its interesting and rewarding trails. Due to lack of time, we had to limit this trip to just Banff and leave Jasper for later. But we managed to squeeze in enough activities for the 5 days we spent in Canmore, a small town located near the outskirts of Banff national park.

On our first day in Banff, we drove from Calgary all the way up to Athabasca glacier, one of the several glaciers constituting the Columbia Icefields. It is also the most visited glacier in North America due to its close proximity to the scenic Icefields Parkway. 

Driving through Icefields Parkway

Athabasca Glacier

A black bear found feeding on the berries off the highway

Trails we hiked:

1) Parker's Ridge trail

Located near the Athabasca glacier, this is a short and moderately difficult (due to steepness) hike to the top of the ridge. You will be rewarded with amazing views of the mountain peaks surrounding the Columbia ice field, and its giant tongue - the Saskatchewan glacier. A rapidly disappearing glacier, it retreated about 4474 ft during the years 1893 - 1953 based on what was measured, and is still occurring as of today.

Unexploded warhead warning at the trail head.
I thought I only had to watch out for bears

Icefields Parkway from the trail

Saskatchwan Glacier

Pika hiding in the rocks

2) Johnston Canyon

After white water rafting in the morning, we drove to Johnston Canyon and walked up to the lower falls. It has a boarded catwalk along the canyon wall which makes it easily accessible for visitors of all skill levels. We didn't run into a lot of tourists here, probably because it was already getting late in the evening. And we barely had time to get to the lower falls. A perfect late afternoon stroll listening to the sound of many waters!

Johnston Canyon

Lower Falls at Johnston Canyon

2) Cory Pass

One of the most challenging hikes in the Banff area, this trail has some interesting sections that adds more variety to the hike. Its a 9.3 miles loop that climbs about 3000 ft, most of which is gained in the first 2.8 miles as you ascend through a grassy bald, lush forest and a rocky hill, with the view of Trans-Canada Hwy 1 and Bow river behind. It then gradually climbs up around Mt. Edith along the Cory pass, then descends through an avalanche scree field and finally loops back through a dense forest along Edith pass. Several trails in the park area requires hikers to hike as a group of at least 4 to avoid unpleasant surprises to the bears. This wasn't one of such trails where its mandatory, but for our own safety we carried bear bells, and thought it was comforting as we hiked through the forest at low light.

Bow river from the trail

Scrambling across a rocky hill

Cory pass

Mt. Louis and Bobby

Scree field leading to Edith pass

3) Plain of Six Glaciers

This 3.2 miles (one way) trail starts at Chataeu Lake Louise, goes around the lake, and then climbs up 1380 ft through fir woods and waterfalls to a Tea house with amazing views of the glaciers. Most hikers stop at the Tea house and then return. But those seeking a closer encounter with the glaciers go past this point, all the way up to Abbott pass which is an additional mile hike with 160 ft elevation gain. The final section of this trail is through a not-so-friendly scree field, with frequent dust sprays from gale force cold wind rushing through the mountain pass. As we hiked, we heard just one avalanche that sounded like a distant thunder. But it seems to be a common thing. 

Trail starts at Lake Louise. We were to hike close to
 the glaciers you see in the distance.

A waterfalls near the trail

Lake Louise and the Chateau in the distance

The Mitre (center), Lefroy Glacier & Mt. Lefroy (right)

Getting closer to Victoria Glacier and Abbott Pass

Abbott Pass & the Deathtrap route (notorious for
its avalanches and crevasses)

A bit too crowded trail, but the breathtaking views of the lake, mountains and the glaciers makes it worth enduring. We came across several chipmunks on this trail, spoilt by tourists and looking to be fed. Please do not feed them! It will effectively handicap them making it difficult to survive on their own in their natural habitat.

Chipmunks near the trail

We drove through 1A (a side branch of Hwy 1) almost every morning and evening hoping to see some wild life, specifically bears. But instead was greeted by several elks and deers, which was still a treat!

Elk sighted off 1A

Driving through 1A also offers amazing views of the Rockies!

Elk crossing

On our last day in Banff, we visited Lake Morraine before heading back to Calgary.

Lake Moraine & Tent Rocks

Some useful links: