A week and a half before we head to Canada, Russ texts me: “So… I broke my thumb yesterday…”
It was a motorcycle accident. While waiting for his main bike to get fixed, he bought a Ninja 250. It skidded out underneath him, he put his hand out to catch himself, and that was that. It’s a story he will now have to tell to everyone he meets.
The nature of the break requires a full wrist splint and surgery, but the rest of his hand is functional. His doctor grants permission to postpone the surgery and go ahead with the via ferratas, so the trip is still on!
The jumping-off point for the CMH trip is nestled nearby some of Canada’s premiere national parks, so we make the ten-hour drive from Seattle early to explore one of these: Banff National Park.
At Lake Louise, we head off down the trail along the right-hand shore of the blue lake dotted with canoes. Within a mile, the throngs of camera-wielding tourists have vanished. The spattering rain keeps us company as we gain elevation toward the Plain of Six Glaciers. Looking back, we discover a rainbow arching over the lake, the Fairmont Chateau perched picturesquely on its shore.
Near the end of the trail, there’s a teahouse open until 6pm (tea and dessert menu until 7). Wet and shivering, we clump up the stairs to nurse cups of hot tea and bowls of vegetarian chili alongside fluttering prayer flags.
The final walk to the viewpoint is along a ridge where the wind burns every inch of exposed flesh as it howls off the glaciers. I scream my defiance at the weather and take off at a run, but it does nothing to warm me.
By the time we drive up to Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, the already brooding sky is darkening. The hikes in this area all require groups of four or more to prevent grizzly bear attacks, so we content ourselves with the view from the top of the Rockpile. Thanks to the hour and the weather, we have the lookout to ourselves.
The burn ban is in place even during the rain, so we sleep in the car at our site in Johnston Canyon Campground. At 8am, we walk across the street to actual Johnston Canyon. The trailhead parking lot is nearly empty at this time, so it’s smooth sailing along the catwalks past a series of waterfalls.
We decide to continue past the Upper Falls. The sign warns you need “backcountry experience” to continue, and by that I assume they mean “not wearing flip-flops” because the trail is still well-groomed, only now dirt instead of paved. The Ink Pots are little mineral pools swirling with brilliants greens and blues and perfect sand rings created by the water bubbling up from underground.
By the time we get back to the canyon, the entire trail is one, long, slow-moving train of people, an exercise in patience that I’m all too ready to leave behind.
Despite poor visibility, we take the Sulphur Mountain Gondola out of the town of Banff. At the top, snowflakes mingle with the rain. We don’t stay up there for long.
Wet and freezing, we decide it’s not worth trying to camp another night and head to Ponderosa Motor Inn in Golden. The town’s not terribly exciting, but it’s warm and sunny and we discover an amazing little restaurant called Eleven22.
As a bonus, we get to sleep in, since Golden is only half an hour away from the CMH heli-pad in Parson. Despite my excitement, I slip swiftly into a restful sleep.
- Plain of Six Glaciers Trail
6.8 mile roundtrip, 1215 ft gain hike to a teahouse past Lake Louise.
- Johnston Canyon Campground
Campground halfway between the towns of Lake Louise and Banff.
- Johnston Canyon / Ink Pots Trail
7 mile roundtrip, can be shortened to just view just the lower or upper falls of the canyon.
Fun restaurant in Golden.