We arrived at our campsite in Banff at about 5 pm. There was a long queue to check in, even with a reservation. When we finally got inside we pitched up the tent and prepared camping mats, sleeping bags and stuff. First time I got to try my new camping mat and sleeping bag that I bought specially for this trip. The sleeping bag is supposed to be comfortable until 1°C and the camping mat is a good one too, quite thick. We went into Banff town to get some bear spray and more tent pegs (Nate didn´t bring enough. For this campsite I used some stones but we wanted to have enough tent pegs for the next side) and some local beer. Since we were both hungry and we knew that it would take a while to build up a fire and cook on it, we shared a BeaverTail with chocolate and bananas. My first BeaverTail ever. It´s quite fat, but super yummie! We went back to the campsite, build a fire and cooked some lentil soup and corn. Enjoying some beer and chips while waiting for the food. It got quite cold, but close to the fire it was ok. At 11 pm the quiet time on the campsite started, you are not allowed to have a fire going anymore. So we put it out, cleaned up and went to bed. You always have to clean up thoroughly, even when you just go quickly to the toilet. It is bear area, so no food or anything food related or that could smell like food is allowed outside or in the tent. You have to keep everyhing in the trunk or in bear boxes.
This night it cooled down to 4°C. I was very happy with my sleeping bag. With my old one I would have frozen all night, with that one I only got cold a little bit for maybe half an hour to hour at the coldest time of the night. But not so cold that I would shiver all over. This equipment was definitely a good investment! Was hard to get out of the sleeping bag in the morning though. Took us about an hour. Chatting while lying in the warm sleeping bags instead of getting up. We woke up pretty early since the nights are super short here. Sunset is at about 10 pm and sunrise at 5:00 already. We tried some of the freeze dried camp food Nate had brought from home for breakfast. Something with eggs, hashbrowns, sausages and stuff. Was not too bad I have to admit, but I definitely prefer other food if possible. After cleaning up and shower we took off to do the Johnston Canyon Trail. It had warmed up pretty quickly and we had another nice day with temperatures in the mid twenties and lots of sun. The part of the trail to the Lower and Upper Falls was very touristy, it was paved and not a trail at all in my understanding rather a stroll. There were a lot of people. The falls were nice, but the trails absolutely not my taste. From the Upper Falls to the Ink Pots however the trail got a bit more difficult and more natural, so not so many people took it. I liked this part of the trail a lot better and the Ink Pots are amazing. Just beautiful and definitely worse the hike. All in all the trail was 11.6 km long.
Back to the car, we drove to the Banff Gondola since a couple in the city the evening before had told us that they saw a bear with pubs there and it´s very likely to see some since the Godola is not working and thus there are not many people. But when we got there it was full of people and of course no wildlife there. So we went to the Tunnel Mountain Trail with the Tunnel Mountain Lookout close to our camp. It´s a 4.8 km retourn trail with beautiful views and more trail like.
Another stop in the village on the way back since Nate had forgotten a few things he needed to buy and I needed an ATM. We spontaniously decided that we are both not in the mood to wait for dinner until we managed to get a fire going and cook on it, so we went to the Rose & Crown, were you could sit outside on the patio and had some nice dinner and beer there. First time I ate buffalo. We had to put on jackets though quite early since it cooled down a lot as soon as the sun started to set. But this night was about 2 degree warmer than the last and I was very comfortably warm in my sleeping bag. Next morning after breakfast, shower and cleaning up we packed everything and checked out of the campsite. Before leaving, our neighbours – a German couple in their trailer – gave us a view tips what to see and do in Lake Louise and Jasper and also left us some food since they were off to Calgary to fly back home the next day. They also wanted the link to my blog so that they can follow my adventure. Was really nice of them and we had a good time, but also led to us leaving the campsite a lot later than intended. For the campsite in Lake Louise you couldn´t make a reservation yet (only in summer), it was first come first serve. The signs for the campsite there are not very clear so we took an involuntary detour of about 30 min. But we were rewarded with a beautiful view, so it wasn´t too bad.
When we finally arrived at the camp site there were only 4 vehicles in front of us, but we had to wait for ages anyway. The staff was soooooo slow. Lake Louise is not so much in civilization so there are a lot more wild animals. There is even an electric fence around the camp site and a bear gate – similar to the cattle stops in Switzerland with the round bars apart from each other so that the animals can´t step on them. But you still have to be careful with food, same as in Banff. We put up the tent and prepared a little lunch before heading to the Lake Agnes Trail and the Lake Agnes Tea House. There is still a lot of ice and snow there, Lake Agnes is still partly frozen. But it is very beautiful. The trail was a bit adventurous due to all the mud, snow and ice though. At the tea house we had a big pot of tea (fucking expensive!) to warm up. We wanted to go to the Big Beehive from there, but after a few hundred meters on the trail we couldn´t go on since there was way too much snow. We tried a little bit, but both got wet feet and after we met some people coming towards us and asking them if it is possible to get through they said that only a little bit further there is no chance anymore since there was a landslide. So we turned around and went back down. On the way we saw a turn towards the Little Beehive, so we thought ok, if not the big one we try the little. This trail was also officially still closed and partly very hard to get through, but we managed and the view was definitely worth it!!! It´s at 2225 m and you see over the valley and lake with it´s beautiful colour. Just amazing! We had a little snack break at the top talking to some Ukrainian people we met there.
Back down we fueled the car in Lake Louise and went back to the campsite where I prepared some couscous with carrots, avocado and tuna. Later we put the remaining 2 corns on the fire and enjoyed some hot chocolate (we got 2 packs from our camp neighbours in Banff) with a shot of Whiskey that Nate had with him. Next morning we got up early and managed to leave the campsite before 9 am with all our stuff packed up again. We had a long drive with loads to see ahead of us. We took the Icefield Parkway and stopped at several lookouts.
At Bow Lake we stopped to do the Bow Glacier Trail. It was drizzling when we started the trail, but soon got better and quite nice. Already after a few hundred meters we encountered parts that where hard to get through. The trail was either flooded or blocked with ice, snow or fallen trees or all of the mentioned at once. After about an hour we met some people coming the other direction and they said that a few meters further it is absolutely not possible anymore to go on. We still wanted to try and continued. At one point the trail just stopped and basically led into the river. But there was a huge arrow made of stones on the ground pointing in the direction of the riverbank on the other side of the river. So we balanced our way over stones and wood pieces over the river and followed the direction of the stone arrow. After a bend of the river we suddenly saw a path again and followed it. Nate discovered that his phone was gone, back at the car he still had it. We searched every pocked, but couldn´t find it. Since there was not much we could do about it at this point we decided to continue the trail and keep an eye open for a phone on the way back plus asking at the tea house if someone handed one in and/or check if it is still in the car. About an hour after the river crossing we finally reached the water fall. It´s pretty impressive and definitely worth the hike, also the hike itself is nice. We had quite a long break at the fall enjoying the view and the sound while using a huge flat inclined stone as mattress while waiting for the other people to do their pics in front of the fall. After we also took some pics before we headed back to the car. We had to hurry a bit since we forgot the time while at the fall and we had tickets for the Skywalk at 4 pm, which was still about 1.5 to 2 hours to drive. But since now we knew where to go and didn´t have any guesswork to do for the way back we managed in 1.5 hours.
Shortly before the parking lot in one of the flooded areas of the trail we discovered Nate´s phone hanging just a few centimeters above the water level in some branches. We couldn´t believe our luck! I really enjoyed this trail, it was not so full of people and not so easy, very natural and beautiful. It was about to fill up though when we got back. Got some tea and took off along the Icefield Parkway towards the Columbia Icefield. Just before we left the parking lot it had started to rain and it got worse and worse the further we got. When we finally arrived at the Columbia Icefield with 15 min time buffer it still rained cats and dogs. It got super foggy and you could basically see nothing. But the Skywalk tickets where already paid for and they have 15 min slots they stick to. So we went anyway. We have been the only 2 people on the bus taking you to the skywalk, but on the skywalk where some others. It´s a very impressive structure with a glass bottom. Was quite a challenge for me with my fear of heights and I didn´t feel very comfortable there. Unfortunately I was not even rewarded with a great view. It was just cold and wet and not much to see. Really annoyed me!
On the way back with the bus of course it stopped to rain and the sun came out for a few minutes before it started to rain again. So the people on the next slot were a lot luckier. Since the weather was so bad, not only cold, but also super wet and we only had the small tent and nothing to hide under we decided to skip camping. We would have been only miserable. So we used the WiFi of the discovery center to search for some accomodation in Jasper and canceled the campsite. Took us quite a while to find something free and not for like $400 a night, but in the end we succeded. In the national park there is basically no reception at all and even most of the information centers don´t have WiFi so we were quite lucky to have some there to be able to make this change of plan. We drove the last 1.5 hours with a quick stop at Athabaska falls. They are really impressive! In Jasper we checked in the Marmot Lodge. This place was luxury pure for me. We had a room like an apartment with living room, bedroom kitchen and bathroom. There was even a fireplace. A fake one with gas, but a real flame. The Lodge also had a coin laundry for the guest which I happily used and there was a pool, hot pool and a sauna free to use. You really got something for your money there! Was $120 a night, but with 2 people and everything they offer that was ok. We used the hot pool, cooked some dinner and chilled a bit before the fire place before going to bed. We were so lucky to have found this place! The next day I brought Nate to the car rental place in town where he picked up his car. We rearranged the luggage so that all his stuff was in his car and only my stuff stayed in mine and then we took off to the Jasper Riding Stables for an one hour horse ride. Was really nice, but super cold and wet again. Our guide told us a lot about the area, plants and animals. There is one tree that has like white trails on its leave. There is some kind of worm living inside which eats the chloropyll so the leaves get white. The tree doesn´t care though it just reproduces the chlorophyll. It´s a kind of symbiosis. We also learned why so many trees are dead in this area. Its a beetle that eats something around the trees that the trees need to get their nutriants inside (not the roots) and so they slowly die off. It´s really scary, there are huge areas where only dead trees are standing. The winters aren´t cold enough anymore to kill this beetle. Their only chance to destroy it is to burn the woods.
After we quickly jumped in the hot pool and tested the sauna to warm up before we prepared some early dinner. Since the weather was so bad and we weren´t in the mood for hiking we decided to go to the movies this evening. We wanted to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean, but they only have to movies running and this was not on that day. So we watched Wonder Woman. A movie I probably wouldn´t have watched in the movies under other circumstances but was not too bad. Some nice light evening entertainment. Nate had to get up at 6 the next morning to drive to Edmonton for catching his flight back to Philadelphia from there. I stayed in bed and slept in a little, taking my time to get ready and check out. Since I would stay in a wilderness hostel for the next 3 nights without running water, proper toilets or WiFi, I had to get some things organized before leaving the Marmot Lodge like further accommodation, routes and stuff. It was already start of the main season so places tend to be booked out. I had skipped the Glacier National Park due to Nate, since we wouldn´t have made it in time to Jasper for him to get the car and drive to Edmonton in time otherwise. So I had planned to go back there after Nate left and continue to Vancouver from there instead of going over Clearwater/Kamloops. When I looked on Google Maps how long I will have to drive from the Glacier National Park to Vancouver it would always send me back up over Jasper. Which resulted in an 8.5 hour drive and me taking the same route 3 times within 1.5 weeks. I didn´t want to do that, but couldn´t find out why I could not just take Highway 1. I asked at reception later and learned that there was a landslide over a bridge and therefore the road was closed. I didn´t know how long it would take them to open the road again and since I wouldn´t be able to check before heading there and also not cancel my accommodation if need be, I decided to skip the Glacier National Park completely and go to Clearwater instead. So I sat at the reception area (since I had to check out already) and used the WiFi to cancel my accommodation in Golden and find other places on the other route. Went to the grocery store again to get a few more supplies and walked around Jasper with no rain for a change
before driving to Maligne Canyon where my hostel was. I arrived there shortly after 4 pm, but there was nobody there. Reception opens at 5 pm and all the sleeping huts are locked during the day. But the kitchen hut is always open. So I went in there, cooked myself some lunch and wrote my diary until somebody showed up and I could check in. Did a short walk to the Maligne Lookout and a little part of the Maligne Canyon Trail. I haven´t been very motivated that day for hiking and it was raining anyway, so I went back to the hostel, where some other guests had shown up by then. Talked to them, shared some beers and worked a bit on my blog (offline) before having an early night. I slept really well there.
After breakfast I had off to do the full Maligne Canyon Trail this time. It was still raining and only 9°C. But most of the trail is in the woods and the canyon is very impressive. After about 2.5 hours I was back.
I felt pretty cold since in addition to the bed weather you also have this cold wind coming up from the canyon. So I went into the kitchen, turned the gas stove on full blast, cooked some tea and warmed up the leftovers from yesterday´s dinner. Worked about 2 hours on my computer before heading off again. This time to Pyramid Lake. Took a short nap in the car on the parking lot there before going for 1.5 hours on a trail. The weather finally started to clear up a bit and so I had some nice views over the lake and the mountains. Pyramid Island was next. This is a lovely little island with beautiful views. Since the clouds finally started to vanish I could see Pyramid Mountain for the first time.
On the way back I drove up and down Maligne Lake Road for a bit instead of stopping at the hostel in the hope of seeing some bears or other wildlife, but without success. While on this road my rental car showed an error massage that I should change the motor oil soon. Shouldn´t happen so soon after renting a car, pretty annoying. Early start again the next morning. Since this was supposed to be the only nice day of the week I was heading to Maligne Lake. It´s only 38 km from the hostel to the lake, but most of the time you are only allowed to go 60 or even only 40 km/h and there are many super slow caravans on the road, plus there are many nice lookouts. Since it was finally more or less clear I could finally see “The Man of the Mountain” from the parking lot of the hostel before taking off. Organized myself a trail map at the visitor center and at 10:45 I was finally on my first trail of the day. I did the Bald Hills Trail, 10.5 km with an elevation of 500m. At the top of this Hill at about 2200m there used to be a fire lookout, but this burned down many years ago and was not rebuild. After about 1.5 hours I reached a really great lookout. I had my lunch there, sitting on a stone and enjoying the view. Until then most of the snow was beside the trail, but from there on it first got super muddy, almost like in a swamp and then the really deep snow started. I first doubted that the trail continues here since it didn´t really look like a trail anymore, but it was also not the highest point yet and there were other people on the trail. So I went for it. Had a bit of a déjà vue from Rimouski there. Partly knee deep and more in the snow, super steep. Was tricky to get up and even trickier to get down after. I wished I would have hiking sticks. Partly I was literally on all fours to manage and of course my shoes, socks and pants got soaked again. But the view was great and it was a little adventure and a challenge. 4.5 hours after I started I returned to the parking lot.
Quickly changed my pants, got some fruit and water out of the car and sat on the terrace of the restaurant where I took my shoes and socks off to let them dry in the sun. Got an ice cream, enjoyed the view and wrote a bit of my journal. If Nate would have been here with me, I would have loved to rent a canoe and paddle a bit on the lake, but for me alone it was just too expensive ($50 an hour) and not so much fun. When my socks were dry again I took off for another short trail. The Mary Schäfer Trail, a 3.2 km loop with almost no elevation. Beautiful lake and mountain view again, but in the woods the mosquitos were having a feast on us humans. Shortly before the end I saw an elk cow. Later at the parking lot the same elk cow was munching on some grass on the side and attracted quite a big crowed of people.
Discovered that I got quite a bad sunburn on my forearms and my ears. I had put sunscreen on my face and my hands and didn´t expect it to be so warm that I would pull up my sleeves. Well, mistakes are there to learn from them… Drove back to the hostel, prepared some dinner, had a quick cat wash in the river just behind the hostel, took care of my burned skin, talked to my new dorm mates and had a quick nap before heading out to Maligne Road again at 9:30 pm for about an hour to look for wildlife. This time I was successful, saw 3 bears, a bald eagle and some deer. Was super happy! My first wild bears in Canada!!! Also saw a nice sunset over the mountains that day.
Next morning I left the Wilderness Hostel shortly after 9 to drive to Clearwater. Quickly stopped in Jasper again to fill up the car. Hardly out of town and on the highway I discovered a male elk with some nice antlers on the side of the road and only a few minutes later 2 Grizzlies. Got some nice shots of them and started this day very happy!
Then I was out of Jasper. Have been some eventful and great 8 days, even with the bad weather half of the time. I can definitely recommend visiting those two national parks.