Canadian Rockies Day 9: Stanley Glacier

August 4, 2016

Today we checked out of our hotel in Canmore and headed to Radium Hot Springs on the British Columbia side of the Rockies. We stopped at a roadside pull-out on Highway 93 at Vermillion Pass. There is a sign there acknowledging the Continental Divide and the border between Alberta and British Columbia as well as the border between Banff and Kootenay National Parks.

Continental Divide

Just a short ways beyond that we pulled into the trailhead parking area for the Stanley Glacier Trail. Right away the trail crosses the Vermillion River on a high footbridge.

Stanley Glacier Hike

Stanley Glacier Hike

The trail climbs up the slope through a recovering forest. This area burned in 1968, but most recently burned in August 2003 when crews intentionally set a fire here to prevent the spread of the Tokumm-Verendrye Fire.

Stanley Glacier Hike

The trail crosses Stanley Creek at this super lovely spot backdropped by Stanley Peak:

Stanley Glacier Hike

The trail emerges from the forest and begins climbing up the rocky valley toward our destination, a sort of rocky plateau at the head of the valley, which you can make out in the distance:

Stanley Glacier Hike

Looking back at the way we came and Mt. Whymper across the highway:

Stanley Glacier Hike

Meltwater from an upper snowfield was creating this cool waterfall down the limestone cliff:

Stanley Glacier Hike

Getting closer to the plateau:

Stanley Glacier Hike

Looking back down they valley once we reached the plateau:

Stanley Glacier Hike

Stanley Glacier Hike

The plateau sits just below the Stanley Glacier and is a lovely spot with a forest and a marshy meadow area:

Stanley Glacier Hike

Stanley Glacier Hike

Stanley Glacier Hike

Stanley Glacier Hike

Stanley Glacier Hike

We saw several ptarmigan up there as well. Cool!

Stanley Glacier Hike

Stanley Glacier Hike

The water flowing from the glacier is the start of Stanley Creek, a delightful burbling body of water:

Stanley Glacier Hike

Stanley Glacier Hike

Stanley Glacier Hike

Stanley Glacier Hike

After hanging out on the plateau and enjoying the lovely spot, we headed back down. Greg paused at the edge of the plateau to admire the view:

Stanley Glacier Hike

Back in the car we drove all the way through Kootenay National Park to the other side and the town of Radium Hot Springs where we checked into our hotel. The hotel turned out to be not very good, but we did have a nice view west of the mountains.

Radium Hot Springs view

<< Day 8: Afternoon Tea | Day 10: Bugaboo Pass >>

Canadian Rockies Day 8: Afternoon Tea

August 3, 2016

With rainy cloudy weather in today’s forecast we took a day off from hiking today. We spent some time exploring downtown Banff, which is SUPER touristy with lots of shops selling souvenirs that range widely in quality. For lunch we had Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, a splurge that was fun and tasty.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

This was the view we had from our table!

Tea with a view

They have this cart of jars with loose leaf tea so you can smell the different ones, if that helps in making your decision of which tea to order. What a great idea!

Afternoon tea

Even though each food item served was pretty small, it all added up to quite a meal. I was stuffed afterward.

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea

That afternoon we walked around Canmore, which is a cool little town just outside the park boundary. They have this big head sculpture that Greg tried to imitate:

Big head sculpture

We took a walk along Policeman’s Creek, which is an incredibly lovely little slice of nature right in town.

Policeman's Creek Boardwalk

Policeman's Creek Boardwalk

Policeman's Creek Boardwalk

Policeman's Creek Boardwalk

Canmore view

We saw these rabbits in a little park. Adorable!

Bunnies in Canmore

Bunnies in Canmore

The Ramada where we were staying in Canmore had a three-story waterslide so of course I had to partake. Felt like a kid again!

Ramada water slide

<< Day 7: Kananaskis Country | Day 9: Stanley Glacier

Canadian Rockies Day 7: Kananaskis Country

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

There is a lot of spectacular scenery in the Canadian Rockies that is not in the national parks. The area south of Canmore is known as Kananaskis Country and consists of several provincial parks and a whole lot of jaw-dropping vistas. We headed down that way today. On our way south along Highway 40 I needed a bathroom break so we pulled into a day use area called Wedge Pond. Since we were there we decided to make the two-minute trek from the parking lot to the pond to see what we could see. Well, thank goodness for full bladders! Mt. Kidd towered over the mirror-like pond:

Wedge Pond

Back at the car we continued south. We were lucky enough to spot a radio-collared grizzly bear alongside the road, chowing down on berries. Cool!

Grizzly bear

Grizzly bear

Look at those claws!

Grizzly bear

Continuing on down the highway, surrounded by amazing scenery the whole way, we parked at the Elbow Lake trailhead and did the short half-hour hike to the lake, which is a popular backpacking spot. Fortunately we were early enough in the day that the lake was still calm. Wow!

Elbow Lake

Elbow Lake

We continued driving south a little further and parked at the trailhead for Ptarmigan Cirque. As with most hikes around here, the views start immediately.

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

The trailhead is right at Highwood Pass and the trail crosses the highway near the pass sign so I was able to get a picture. This place is significant because at 7,239′ it’s the highest paved pass in Canada. Cool!

Highwood Pass

After climbing steeply up through the forest for a short ways, the trail breaks out into the open and heads towards the cirque. Storm Mountain looms above it.

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

Looking back at the way we came. The highway is down in that gap.

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

Once I reached the bowl I discovered this delightful little gurgling stream.

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

I sat there for awhile waiting for Greg, who got distracted by wildflowers further back on the trail. Cute little golden-mantled ground squirrels kept scurrying up, hoping for handouts that they did not get.

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

Still waiting for Greg, I explored further up the cirque.

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

Snowmelt dropping down from on high forms a waterfall:

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

Greg finally appeared and we enjoyed a snack by the gurgling creek. There were no mosquitoes, but there were some biting flies, unfortunately. We continued on with the rest of the loop, which doubles back on the other side of the meadow.

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

Our beautiful day was quickly turning cloudy.

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

After tumbling through a deep crack in the earth, the creek turns and heads south.

Ptarmigan Cirque Hike

When we got back to the car around 3pm it was almost completely overcast, which was a bit of a bummer since we had such a scenic drive ahead of us. As we headed north we encountered a group of bighorn sheep on the highway, which apparently is pretty common. They like to like the salt off the pavement. They seemed not at all concerned by the presence of a vehicle. We didn’t want to harass them, but neither could we continue until they moved out of our way!

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

We took Road 742 back to Canmore. It’s all gravel but it good shape. We stopped to take a look at Spray Lakes Reservoir, but the light was terrible for photography and the weather was turning rather chilly, so we didn’t linger.

Spray Lakes Reservoir

Spray Lakes Reservoir

After dinner that night we enjoyed a nice soak in the jacuzzi tub in our hotel room. What a great way to end a beautiful day!

<< Day 6: Lake Agnes | Day 8: Afternoon Tea >>

Canadian Rockies Day 6: Lake Agnes

August 1, 2016

When my sister and I visited Banff in 2005 we did the hike from Lake Louise up to the Lake Agnes Tea House. We enjoyed delicious tea with warm biscuits and honey and declared that every hike needed a tea house. I told Greg we definitely needed to do this hike while we were in Banff so today we headed up there.

Our first stop was to drive up to Moraine Lake, which is a popular stop for all tourists in Banff. Good thing we got there early because there were already a lot of people at 8:30am. But man, what a view! It took quite a bit of jockeying to get a photo that didn’t have people standing in the way.

Moraine Lake

We had another pika sighting and Greg was lucky enough to get two really awesome shots:

Pika at Moraine Lake

Pika at Moraine Lake

We got back in the car and drove to Lake Louise, the star attraction of Banff National Park. This place is so popular that the parking lot often fills by 10am! We were able to snag a spot, and then were dismayed to discover that the public bathrooms in the parking lot were closed. The hotel was not an option, as it was surrounded by numerous signs that basically told us to keep out.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Lovely Lake Louise is such a cool color. What you can’t see in this photo are the HUNDREDS of people along the lakeshore.

Lake Louise

We began the climb up to Lake Agnes. We passed Mirror Lake with the Big Beehive towering high above:

Mirror Lake

After jockeying through the crowds on the trail we finally reached the Lake Agnes Tea House:

Lake Agnes Tea House

What an impressive menu!

Lake Agnes Tea House

And it’s right by this extremely beautiful little lake:

Lake Agnes

We grabbed a seat inside and ordered biscuits and tea. Very satisfying! After our little snack we hiked up to the Little Beehive, where a fire lookout once stood. All that remains is the foundation:

Old foundation

Old foundation

And of course the stunning view of the Bow Valley:

Mountains

Mountains

A jay hung around, hoping for handouts:

Gray jay

On the way back down we saw the view that had been at our backs on the way up. The long turquoise lake on the left is Lake Louise and the little lake in the center is Mirror Lake. The high point to the right of Mirror Lake is the Big Beehive, to which we were headed next.

Mountains everywhere

We hiked along the shore of Agnes Lake:

Lake Agnes

We had an impressive view to the other end of the lake where the tea house sits:

Lake Agnes

The trail starts climbing up and we could see across to the other side of the lake where we had been hiking a little while before:

Lake Agnes

After a stiff climb, we reached the summit of the Big Beehive, which has a little wooden shelter:

Shelter

Shelter

The views were incredible. Looking down on Lake Louise and the Bow Valley:

Lake Louise

Looking up the Bow Valley. You can see the Little Beehive in the foreground:

Mountains

While we were chilling out and enjoying the view we were approached by another couple who asked if we’d take their photo. Turns out they were on their honeymoon too. They were from Australia and were on a 16-week tour around North America. WOW! Portland was on their list so we gave them some recommendations about what to see and do there.

This was probably the most crowded hike we did the whole trip, but the scenery was spectacular so it was definitely worth it.

<< Day 5: Bow Valley Provincial Park | Day 7: Kananaskis Country >>

Canadian Rockies Day 5: Bow Valley Provincial Park

July 31, 2016

When we woke up this morning it was totally socked in. The forecast said “mainly cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers and risk of a thunderstorm.” High of 60. So we went back to sleep for a little while. When we got up we decided not to waste our time with any hikes that were supposed to have sweeping views. So we headed east a little ways to check out Bow Valley Provincial Park. We first did a short little loop along the Many Springs Trail. The trail goes around a wetland that is fed by underground springs. The water is relatively warm and attracts birds and animals year-round as a result.

Pond

Ducks

Boardwalk

Despite the poor weather forecast, we actually lucked out and had some views of the mountains on this little walk:

Mountains

Reflecting pond

Then we headed over to a different part of the park and walked along the Bow River Trail where we go to see the rushing Bow River up-close. This river starts at the Bow Glacier, which we passed near while driving south the day before, and flows south through Banff National Park, then on toward Calgary.

Bow River

Bow River

Bow River

Bow River

<< Day 4: Icefields Parkway | Day 6: Lake Agnes >>

Canadian Rockies Day 4: Icefields Parkway

July 30, 2016

This morning we packed up and headed south out of Jasper National Park, making several stops along the way as drove the Icefields Parkway towards Banff. The weather was cloudy and rainy today, which was disappointing. But at least today wasn’t a hiking day.

Our first stop was Leach Lake, which was calm and deserted on this cloudy morning.

Leach Lake

Athabasca Falls was thunderously impressive. What you can’t see in this photo are the hoards of people and the plethora of awful selfie sticks.

We stopped at Sunwapta Falls, which was a tad less crowded.

We stopped at this neat roadside pullout called Bubbling Springs on the map, but it was totally unsigned from the road. There’s a picnic area and a little natural pool of quicksand. Super cool!

We pulled over at the Mushroom Peak viewpoint along the Sunwapta River. It was a beautiful spot although in terms of photography the light was dreadful. This is Tangle Peak to the south:

Tangle Falls is right alongside the road:

And of course we had to stop to see the Athabasca Glacier, the premier attraction along the Icefields Parkway. This glacier flows from the Columbia Icefield almost right down to the highway. Back in the day the toe of the glacier was indeed very close to the highway. But the glacier is retreating and melting. You can take a short hike very close to the edge of the glacier:

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

Dark ominous clouds were gathering to the north and they looked to be headed our way.

Hail is coming

So as soon as we were done checking out the glacier we retreated to the Columbia Icefield Centre across the highway where we bought an overpriced lunch and through some minor miracle managed to snag a little table by the window.

Icefield Center

As we sat there eating and admiring the view, the storm arrived and it was a doozy. It was a hail storm like I’ve never experienced before. The hail was pouring off the roof and through the downspouts, piling up everywhere like snow. It was crazy!

Hail

The hail ended after about 10 minutes, but it was still raining and I had left my rain jacket in the car. Greg ran to the far end of the parking lot to get the car while I waited at the building entrance for him. While standing there, a guy from Hawaii who had just arrived asked if all the white stuff everywhere was hail or snow. Then a woman asked me if it was safe to drive with all the hail everywhere.

We stopped at Mistaya Lake. Unfortunately the weather and the light were both pretty terrible :

Bow Lake

Our final stop before connecting up with Highway 1 was Hector Lake:

Hector Lake

We checked into our hotel in Canmore, went out for dinner, then Played Mr. Jack at the hotel room before turning in for the night:

Another pounding rain storm passed through around 10:30 that night.

<< Day 3: Sulphur Skyline | Day 5: Bow Valley Provincial Park >>

Canadian Rockies Day 3: Sulphur Skyline

July 29, 2016

We got up early and drove out to Patricia Lake, which is just a few miles outside of the town of Jasper. The road goes right past it, and there was a nice pullout where we could get out and see the lake reflecting Pyramid Mountain in one direction, and a range of mountains in the other direction.

Patricia Lake

Patricia Lake

A little ways down the road is Pyramid Lake, which is equally as beautiful, and has the bonus of a lovely little island with a footbridge leading to it. We were fortunate to be here early before the crowds arrived. It’s a very popular stop with the tour buses, and indeed one arrived with a huge load of people right as we were leaving.

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake

We drove out to Miette Hot Springs, which also serves as the trailhead for Sulphur Skyline. We started hiking and started gaining significant elevation. Finally we got high enough that we had some views. We could see down the valley towards Miette Hot Springs, the little white blob down there in the trees.

Sulphur Skyline Hike

Not even to the summit yet and we feel like we’re on top of the world.

Sulphur Skyline Hike

After a steep final push to the summit we were surrounded by stunning 360-degree views. Our beautiful clear morning had turned into a cloudy and windy afternoon, but the views were still stunning. Holy crap!

Fiddle River

Sulphur Skyline Hike

Sulphur Skyline Hike

Sulphur Skyline Hike

Sulphur Skyline Hike

After hiking back down of course we had to go for a soak at Miette Hot Springs. The weather had turned quite cool and cloudy, with even a threat of rain, so the hot soak felt GREAT.

Miette Hot Springs

The setting is pretty awesome too.


travelalberta.com

From the top of Sulphur Skyline we had been able to see a “fin” of rock to the north called Ashlar Ridge. There’s a roadside viewpoint right below it, so we stopped to check it out on the drive out.

Ashlar Ridge

From there we could also see up to the summit of Sulphur Skyline where we had been earlier.

Sulphur Skyline

What a gorgeous scenery-filled day!

<< Day 2: Cavell Meadows | Day 4: Icefields Parkway >>

Canadian Rockies Day 2: Cavell Meadows

July 28, 2016

On our way to hike Cavell Meadows today we stopped at Cavell Lake, a lovely little lake that you can’t see from the road and that most people probably drive right past. (By the way, we read that “Cavell” pronounced to rhyme with “gravel” which is not how we were pronouncing it at first.) Just a short ways down the trail brought us to a bridge over the outlet creek and this wonderful view. We were lucky to have good conditions here because an hour later it was overcast.

Cavell Lake

Back to the car and a little bit further up the road we parked at the Cavell Meadows trailhead and started hiking at 9:30 along with dozens of other people. This is one of the most popular hikes in the park.

Cavell Meadows Hike

Cavell Meadows Hike

We first hiked out to a viewpoint that looks down on the pond below Angel Glacier. You used to be able to take a trail down to the pond, but after a flood event in 2012 (part of the Ghost Glacier fell off into the pond, sending a wave of water and debris downstream) you can’t do that anymore. Nevertheless, despite numerous signs, we saw many people hiking down there.

Cavell Meadows Hike

Cavell Meadows Hike

Then we headed up to the meadows, surrounded by mountain vistas and increasingly better views of the Angel Glacier.

Cavell Meadows Hike

Cavell Meadows Hike

Cavell Meadows Hike

Cavell Meadows Hike

When we passed a rockslide by the trail Greg caught sight of a cute little pika and got several great shots of the adorable little guy.

We also saw marmot along the way.

Cavell Meadows Hike

The wildflowers were awesome!

Cavell Meadows Hike

A little side trail to a viewpoint provides a nice view of Mt. Edith Cavell and the Angel Glacier.

Cavell Meadows Hike

At the viewpoint this funny marmot ambled up and started posing on this rock. I know I shouldn’t anthropomorphize, but it really did look like he was posing! He even changed positions several times, as if to say, “make sure you get all my angles.”

Marmot

The shot above is one I took. I had my wide angle lens on the camera. Below are some much better shots that Greg got on his camera.

Another side trail leads to the highest viewpoint along the loop. It was a doozy, a very stiff climb up an open rocky slope. You can see the trail on the right in the picture below, although it looks pretty tame compared to real life!

Cavell Meadows Hike

I would definitely not want to do this on a hot sunny day. We had the opposite weather, with dark clouds coming our way. And then it started to rain while we were up there. Drat. I had neither my pack cover nor my rain jacket, so I got pretty wet. Greg stayed on top while I started hiking down. Of course 10 minutes later the rain stopped just as quickly as it started.

We passed through more wildflower meadows as we finished the loop back to the car. Glorious!

Cavell Meadows Hike

Also on the way back down we saw a family with young kids sitting in the fragile meadow off the trail. The kids were running around like kids do and the parents were oblivious. It was just one of many displays of appalling behavior we saw from other park visitors during our time in the Rockies.

We arrived back at the car at 3:00 and headed back to Jasper for some post-hike food. Yum!

<< Day 1: Opal Hills and Maligne Canyon | Day 3: Sulphur Skyline >>

Canadian Rockies Day 1: Opal Hills and Maligne Canyon

July 27, 2016

On Tuesday we left Vancouver and made the LONG drive across the province to Jasper National Park to kick off the Canadian Rockies portion of our trip. It was a beautiful drive almost the entire way, especially towards the end as we drove into the Rockies. Although we didn’t have time to spend in Mount Robson Provincial Park, we got a picture of the namesake mountain as we drove through the park on our way to Jasper.

Mt. Robson

We stayed at a nice place south of the town of Jasper called Jasper House Bungalows. It had a nice little living area, kitchenette, bathroom, and bedroom.

Our cabin

And right outside our door was this. Awesome!

Reading spot

We couldn’t see the full sunset from where we were, but we could see some of the clouds turning colors. Welcome to the Rockies!

Sunset

Sunset

On Wednesday we drove down to Maligne Lake. We got there early before the crowds arrived and it was beautiful and peaceful. Photography was challenging due to the clouds (we would see A LOT of clouds on our trip), but it was still lovely.

Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake

On the way back to the car we saw a deer having breakfast in the forest.

Deer

After admiring the lake we started off on the trail to Opal Hills. It is the steepest trail in the park, according to the sign at the trailhead. As ever, the steepness is not properly conveyed in photos.

Opal Hills Hike

Opal Hills Hike

We tried to keep up with a group that was ahead of us, wanting to stay close to their noise since this is bear country. But they shot up the hill like it was flat ground and we soon fell behind. It didn’t help that we were hiking from about 5,500′ to 7,000′, an elevation we’re just not used to. Most hikes in Oregon top out at 4,000′ or 5,000′. The trail finally reached the meadows and we had a bit of a mountain view. This is a pano from my iPhone.

Opal Hills

The trail travels through this lovely basin with green meadows and wildflowers. It was quite pretty!

Opal Hills Hike

Wildflowers

Opal Hills Hike

Bumblebee

Our hiking book said “climb to the first knoll on the left for the best view of Maligne Lake.” We poked around, but didn’t see any knoll, just a big hill with a very steep slope, which you can see the bottom part of on the left side of the photo below.

Opal Hills Hike

I actually think there may be a typo in the book and that the author meant to say “right” instead of “left.” There WAS a bootpath up a little hill when we first hit the meadows, but it was on the right so we didn’t think that was it. This track on everytrail.com shows the side trip and a photo from the top:

When we got to the northwest end of the meadow we were greeted with this  lovely view of the mountains.

Opal Hills Hike

Admiring the view

Then the trail dropped back into the trees and we descended steeply back to the trailhead. We had planned to do the nearby Bald Hills hike after this one but since it took us five hours to do the four-mile Opal Hills loop, we didn’t have time (or energy).

On the drive back up the Maligne Road we stopped at Medicine Lake, which is an unusual place. From the sign there:

The bedrock in this part of the Maligne Valley fractured severely during uplift. Rainwater and snowmelt entered cracks and slowly dissolved a network of underground passages.

The upper Maligne River sinks into this passages through many openings in the valley floor. In summer, meltwater from snow and glaciers swells the river, exceeding what the underground system can carry. The surplus water, dammed by a massive rock slide to the north, floods the basin and forms Medicine Lake.

At the onset of cooler weather in late August, the inflow is less than the drainage into the caves. The lake level drops, exposing the lake bottom until the cycle begins again the following summer.

Medicine Lake

We then made a stop at Maligne Canyon. This is SUPER popular with tourists and was crazy busy, even though it was now early evening. The Maligne River travels through a super narrow limestone canyon here and there are bridges and trails that allow you to get a good look.

Maligne Canyon

Maligne Canyon

Maligne Canyon

As we were driving back to town we saw a car pulled over, which usually means wildlife is around. Sure enough there was a black bear having a roadside snack. Greg got a few quick pics on his iPhone before we moved along.

Black bear

Black bear

We stopped at Jasper Brewing for a delicious dinner. Our waitress told us that the town’s population swelled from 4,500 to 25,000 in the summer. Yikes! Then we went to the grocery store so we could eat in the next few nights. What a surreal experience. All the shoppers were clearly tourists. I wonder if the locals ever shop there?

Day 2: Cavell Meadows >>