Happy August 31st, 2008 - Banff, Alberta, Canada

Yesterday we spent the morning soaking in Banff's outdoor hot springs pool (39C or 102.2F), and loved it, tho the pool got a bit crowded and loud after we'd been immersed for 20 +/- minutes. In the afternoon we walked around Cave and Basin NHS, which commemorates the birthplace of Canada's National Park system, circa 1885.  From that, Banff National Park was born.  Banff NP spans 6,641 km (2,564 Square miles) in the Canadian Rockies: Valleys, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, forests, meadows and rivers ... in short, one of the world's premier destination spots.  We can vouch for it.

Rain began falling about the time we got in for the night, but quit sometime around 3 AM, or so we thought. Actually the pitter-patter of rain turned silent because the drops had turned to SNOW. And we awoke to the images you see below! The temperature was 1C (33.8, just above freezing) when we got up. Holy cow, Happy Labor Day wkend - wow!  Surprise, surprise ... we certainly didn't expect to frolic in snow on the last day of August!

Today we are kicking around Town of Banff, enjoying the brisk mountain air and wintry weather. We are concerned about our loved ones on the Gulf Coast, but the contrast is hard to grasp. Hope and pray that all will be well for the Gulf Coast people.


Spectacular Columbia Icefield & Athabasca Glacier -- 8/29/08

It’s roughly a 2-hour drive from Banff to the Athabasca Glacier on the Icefields Pkwy – a spectacular experience from beginning to end, even on a windshield-wiper day, as we traveled in and out of clouds and misty rain bands. Blue-hued glaciers and ice fields were visible atop craggy peaks. Imagine, walking on a glacier – an experience of a lifetime ... and the mountains are simply beyond words ....

Here's the stats:  Athabasca Glacier: 2.5 mi² in area, 3.75 mi in length, 270’ to 1000’ in depth. The Ice Explorer, above, is a giant six-wheeled, all-terrain vehicle, which drove us right onto the glacier.  Elevation where we were standing -- 7000 ft. The temp at midday was about 2.7C (or 37F), with a wicked wind blowing off the glacier.  Ice drops pelted our jackets (and camera lens). Thank goodness for Big Blue (my rarely-used parka), which kept me toasty-warm, initially. We were given 20 minutes to explore a pre-selected section of the glacier; anywhere else would have been too risky on unstable ice. We were aghast at the ominous, but brilliant blue, crevasse we saw nearby. Twenty minutes was too long for most people, anyway. The driver did not have to call out “All Aboard” -- his frozen passengers were already on board!  Except for the guy in the shorts (above) ... none of the rest of us could believe our eyes. 

Athabasca Glacier is receding at a rate of about 16 feet per year.  It's receded approx one mile in the past 125 years, and it's lost over half it's volume.  Not an unfamiliar story for glaciers everywhere.

Cones delineate okay and off limits.

The Icefield is the largest body of ice in the Rocky Mountains – highest point is 12,284 ft. Melt water drains into the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. The Icefield is immense, covering an area more than five times that of Manhattan. Ice is up to 1200 ft thick - deep enough to bury the Empire State Bldg.

Toasty warm might be a stretch.  We were all freezing!

On the terrace of the Visitor Center, you can see the ribbon (road) each Ice Explorer travels to deposit people onto the glacier (at right, mostly out of sight).  Mountains make their own weather, and we experienced all kinds of weather this day -- sun, clouds, rain, drizzle, ice, snow, and ... did I miss anything?  We were glad to step into the VC and warm up.


I know this looks completely out of place, compared to all the other pictures.  I took this pic on our return to Banff, and it was on the opposite side of the road.  This is one of many waterfalls we saw while traveling the Icefields Parkway.  We didn't have enough time to "see it all," darn it.  So, we'll just have to come back.  Double thumbs up today!   


Lakes in the Clouds -- Thurs, 8/29/08

We spotted this handsome elk on our way to Lake Louise, a good omen on an overcast day.

Our destination was Lake Louise, with its unique turquoise color, said to come from glaciers at the head of the valley.  We thought we might walk around the lake.  With the overcast sky, the brilliant blue water was somewhat less than, but still beautiful.  The morning was cool and drippy, but it wasn’t really raining. Great hiking weather. We spied a trail sign to Mirror Lake, and said, well, let’s give it a go. It was our luck to pick a trail that was mostly straight up and then straight down. 4 km each way, plus an extra 1.4 km up/down to the Lake Agnes Tea House.  The first part of the trail offered little in the way of views as we trudged thru the tall trees, but the higher we climbed, we could see glimpses of the lake ... its stunning color looked artificial!!

Not many takers this morning.

The up was vigorous stuff (huff, puff!), but the work was worth the effort.  Fragrant firs and hemlocks lined the trail.  Mists swirled around the snow-covered peaks.  Jimmy is a) resting and b) bending down so we can see the lake below.   This is a popular trail; lots of people going up and down. 

Another unexpected moment -- meeting up with the horse/people at tiny Mirror Lake.  They were checking the trails.  We ate our granola bars and drank a thermos of hot chocolate here, perched on a rock shelf.

Lake Agnes Tea House is just right of the top o' the waterfall.  The final ascent to the tea house has two sets of steep wooden staircases.  The massive rock to your left is called the Big Bee Hive.  Several trails lead to its summit, but not today, not for us.  So named because of its obvious resemblance to a beehive.

We wondered about a tea house built in the mountains that requires a real trek to get to it, so I looked it up. Originally built in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a refuge for hikers (great idea!), it began serving tea in 1905.  That log building was replaced in 1981, but still features the original windows, tables, and chairs.  Lake Agnes was named for the First Lady of Canada -- Lady Agnes MacDonald, the wife of Canada's first Prime Minister. In 1886, she visited Lake Agnes and was delighted by the beauty of this idyllic lake and the hanging valley it sits in. Jimmy and I were disappointed that it was crowded, full to the max, with a waiting line out the door, so we didn't linger, tho it would have been lovely sitting on the deck....  Always a good idea to bring your own food and drink and skip the masses.

The Fairmont Hotel is somewhere down there.

I was awe-struck by this Big Bee Hive, such a different-looking mountainous pile of rocks!

And the lakes: Pure turquoise or aqua, unlike any we’ve ever seen. So clear you can see through it.

The total distance for his hike was about four-and-a-half miles, with an elevation gain of 1312'.  Of course we mustn't forget that pesky elevation!  Lake Agnes and the tea house are at 7,005 ft.  Some rate this hike at moderate, but the first part had us gasping.  I was being facetious initially about it being our luck to pick a hike like this, but -- yup, it was a winner!  As we returned to the Fairmont, clouds descended and a light rain/drizzle began falling.

I'm all smiles after hiking, despite the weather, amid these lovely flowers.  The temp never got above 59F (15C). We stepped inside the gracious Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (nice washrooms).  A harpist was playing in the lobby and tea was being served ... $39 for tea and crumpets.  We hopped in our RV instead and drove to the village, to eat a cookie and enjoy a cuppa reasonably-priced coffee!  Crockpot chicken is what's for dinner back at the campsite, who can ask for more?  What a great day! 

Banff -- Alberta, Canada -- Wed 8/28 (I think)

Welcome to Banff, Alberta, Canada!

You can see a glimpse of the Bow River that runs thru Banff.

Above are scenes of the spectacular Canadian Rockies taken across the road from our Tunnel Mountain campground.  Look at the views!  The air is crisp and invigorating (and a bit chilly).  El Sol is shining, with some occasional dark clouds, no big deal.  Hey, there's snow in them thar hills!  Being here is another Dream Come True.


Monday, 8/25, McDonald Creek Trail in GNP

I took this photo (L) of our shadows on the rocks thru the flowing water.

We wanted to hike one last trail, but not one so strenuous or steep, so we took off on the above trail, which follows McDonald Creek from the cascades to the beginning of the 10-mile long McDonald Lake. Figured it should be easy; however, nothing in this park (or the Rocky Mtn chain, for that matter) is flat or level, but we enjoyed trekking across the rocks and up/down thru the cedar forest. The forest floor with all the fallen trees looks like a kid has pitched out pick-up-stix. Much of the GNP forest is ancient; some of it has burned recently (2002).

Since the Labor Day holiday is next wkend, we decided this morning to head up to Canada to avoid our crowded USA national parks... only to discover this evening that Canada celebrates the same three-day 
wkend as the USA!!  Joke's on us!  So, what the heck, we're here - we're on the way to Banff, Lake Louise and the Columbia Icefield.  Hope there's no crowd!  yuk yuk yuk