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Sunshine Meadows

I’m having a wonderful, totally free Saturday so thought I’d catch up on some of my writing.  A couple of weeks ago I went with Ray and Brian on one of the most beautiful short hikes which I have done.  My photos aren’t wonderful – my camera is finally giving up the ghost – but I think they give some idea of the beauty of the landscape.  Although the weather had been reasonably warm, on the Friday before the hike it snowed in the foothills and up in the mountains, which always makes everything look just that much prettier.

We drove through to Banff and picked up the shuttle bus at the base of the Sunshine ski area – thus avoiding trudging 5 kms up a fairly uninteresting road.  The bus delivered us to the Trail Centre in the Sunshine Village where we started walking, after picking up a couple of hiking sticks for Ray and Brian.

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We set off up the Rock Isle Trail which climbs for about 1 km and is the steepest part of the hike.

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Near the top we reached the continental divide and crossed over into BC.

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This part of the trail looks out towards Mount Assiniboine among a number of other peaks and opens up into the alpine meadow where, unfortunately most of the wild flowers were buried under the snow.  A few hardy specimens shook their petals free and showed us what we were missing.

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We soon reached the Rock Isle Lake and spent some time there, just enjoying the vistas and taking numerous photos which fail to do justice to the scene.

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We were lucky enough to have started early and were alone most of the way around the trail, meeting a few more hikers later in the morning.  This made it possible just to soak in the views and the silence.

From Rock Isle Lake the path led down through the trees  and over a number of little creeks

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and a few more flowers showed themselves.

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We stopped to have a final look at the lake from the other side before carrying on.

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The right hand pathway led us down to and past Grizzly Lake. Many of the ‘bridges’ over the creeks are just a few (and in many cases, just one) roughly hewn logs placed over the water, some artistically rotting, making crossing not dangerous (there is no depth to speak of) but a challenge. The views were stupendous and we kept stopping to take photos and just enjoy being there.

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Brian found some small fish swimming about in one of the creeks which ran into the Grizzly Lake.

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Grizzly Lake is very different to Rock Isle Lake but just as beautiful and again we spent some time just looking and taking pictures.

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Not far past this second lake we came rather unexpectedly upon the Simpson Viewpoint.  The view was breathtaking! Looking down into the valley we suddenly realized just how high we were, walking above the mountain peaks.

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From the viewpoint we took a leisurely wander around the last of the lakes – Larix Lake – stopping occasionally just to enjoy the quiet beauty.

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A couple of Columbian ground squirrels entertained us along the way but I didn’t compete with Ray in photographing them as I think she must have taken dozens of pictures. The pathway looped around and joined up to the one leading back to Rock Isle Lake.  By the time we reached this lake again there were a number of groups of hikers starting along the trail, unfortunately accompanied by the inevitable loud music which seems to be unavoidable on popular hikes, so we were not sorry to have completed the trail.  Back down the hill towards Sunshine Village – the downhill rather hard on the knees – and we  went to the picturesque restuarant to book ourselves onto the next bus back and then enjoyed a nice relaxing meal and a beer while we waited.

This is a hike I would love to do again, perhaps a little earlier in the season when the wildflowers are at their best.  And next time I’ll take the first bus up.

September 19, 2015 Posted by | Day Trips from Calgary, Hiking, Living in Canada | , , | Leave a comment

Sundance Canyon

Yesterday we answered the call of the mountains and drove through to Banff where we hiked the Sundance Canyon trail.  This is a lovely, scenic loop of around 10km, starting at the Cave and Basin. The Cave and Basin, a National Historic Site featuring warm mineral springs, has been a tourist attraction since the 1880’s but is closed until November next year for major revitalisation.  Warm, sulphur smelling streams offer a stark contrast to the ice-edged river which flows nearby.  Apparently green grass flanks these streams even when the snow is thick on the ground and they offer an oasis for many of the animals and birds which frequent this area.

View of the Bow with mountains in the distance

Because of the construction work, parking was at a premium so we parked a distance away from the trail head, adding another km or two to our hike.

We met a deer along the way

The first part of the trail, leading up to the Sundance Canyon picnic area is an open, paved pathway and is used by both hikers and cyclists.  We met a deer along this section and waited for him to take a leisurely stroll across the path before resuming our hike.

The initial short descent leads through a forest to the Bow river and then runs beside the river channels and wetlands before climbing gradually again through the forest to the picnic area.  Here the paved trail ends and a footpath meanders up alongside a number of half frozen cascades to the canyon itself.

Sundance Canyon

Standing beside the frozen waterfall

A short, steep scramble takes you to the top and then a winding path loops through the forest for about 2 km before ending back at the picnic area.  Reading up on the canyon after our hike I discovered that both black bears and grizzlies frequent this area which generally has an abundant crop of buffalo berries.  Fortunately the berries have been depleted now and most of the bears are probably heading off for their winter snooze.

Green marshland pond

We walked back to our starting point west of the main path past marshlands and startling green pools and stopped to photograph a small pond in which streams of small bubbles appeared to have been frozen on their way up to the surface of the water.

Leaving the canyon, we drove through Banff and then, not yet ready to leave the mountains, walked the short Fenland Trail before heading back home.  A great way to spend the day!

November 14, 2010 Posted by | Hiking, Living in Canada | , | Leave a comment

The Icefields Parkway

Typical view on and above the Sub-Alpine zone

Last weekend we headed out on Friday afternoon for Banff National Park and the Icefields Parkway.  The Parkway is claimed to be the most beautiful road in the world and there can’t be many other scenic drives where the view is quite as breathtaking for mile after mile after mile.

The Parkway runs through two National Parks in Alberta – Banff National Park and Jasper National Park – close to the border of British Columbia.  From the Lake Louise junction where you turn off the Trans-Canada Highway onto the Parkway the journey to Jasper is approximately 230km and the vegetation changes from the Montane zone in the valleys where Aspens vie with Spruce and Fir, to the Sub-Alpine zone where only evergreen trees grow, and then to the Alpine zone as you reach the end of the tree line.  Apparently about 40% of the Canadian Rockies are above the tree line where you will find snow throughout the year.

We saw moose in the valley near Lake Louise, a black bear rooting unconcernedly at the edge of the road in the North Saskatchwen valley, big horned sheep near Tangle Falls between the icefields and Jasper, and numerous elk, mule and white tail deer around Jasper.

Met a bear along the way

A Pine Marten caught raiding the garbage bin

At the Glacier hotel we watched (and took a photo of) a little pine marten who had decided to raid the garbage bin.

Our hotel room looked straight onto the Athabasca glacier – what a beautiful view!  Looking out onto the glacier, which is fed by the Columbia Icefields, we couldn’t wait to drive out onto it and actually walk on the surface.  The glacier is over 1000 feet thick and has many hidden crevasses so venturing out without a guide is strictly forbidden.  The ice road which the bus follows is cleared every day by a bulldozer whose driver’s sole job is to continuously rake the snow on the surface to ensure that no new crevasses have formed during the night.  Although the typical blue of the ice is not evident when you are walking on it it is awe-inspiring to think of the depth and age of the slow moving ice beneath your feet.

The Columbia Icefields themselves feed eight major glaciers, including Athabasca, Saskatchwen and the Dome glacier.  The Icefields straddle the continental divide and the run off from the Dome glacier, which can be seen from the Athabasca glacier, feeds into three different oceans – the Pacific, the Arctic and, eventually, the Atlantic.

The Athabasca glacier 'flowing' down from the Columbia Icefield

Standing on the glacier next to the Ice Explorer

The splendour of the mountains along this route is almost matched by some of the most scenic waterfalls I’ve seen.  We stopped at a couple of smaller falls and then at the beautiful Athabasca falls where we wandered along the wooden pathways in softly falling snow – snow fell on and off during our journey, followed by clear blue skies and sunshine.

Athabasca falls

The Maligne Canyon

Once we started our descent towards Jasper itself, the scenery was a little less spectacular but a side trip to the Maligne Canyon with its sheer limestone walls was definitely worth the effort.  I would love to go back in winter and do the almost 4km  ice walk tour  through this amazing gorge.

Altogether an unforgettable route and one I intend to follow again very soon.

May 16, 2010 Posted by | Living in Canada, Travels | , , , , | 3 Comments