Trans-Canada: North America and the Canadian Rockies

2180miles

Endurance Adventuring
Day 12 - August, 7th, 2017

Our alarm clock was that of a small child screaming at the top of his lungs then bursting into tears. I referenced my watch and learned it was 08h30, a decent night’s sleep but from the way my body felt, not a restorative one. We emerged from the tent half an hour later to find the campground quieter and far more empty than when we went to sleep the night before. The large family behind us was packing up their belongings into the car, and the couples on either side were already gone leaving vacant campsites around us. The weather was a bit chilly, cloudy and in the mid 50s, and we decided that with it being a Monday we both had a little work to get done. We cleaned up our campsite and headed back to downtown Banff to find a coffee shop to work out of.

Setting up shop at the White Bark Café right on Banff Avenue, Dani ordered something coffee-like and I settled into a comfy chair in the lobby of the connected hotel to edit some photos and get a little writing done. She went straight to e-mails as I had a chance to look over the time-lapse images from the campsite on the Athabasca River the night before, elated to find that the Northern Lights had in fact been captured by my camera. I spoke briefly with some other photographers who were editing images in the lobby seats, discussing the wild fire’s impact on the visibility and sky, and how clear Jasper was further north. After an hour or two of working Dani and I closed our laptops and went in search of a grocery store for a few key gluten-free items we needed for dinner. By this point town was full of sunshine and quite warm, making me regret the jeans I was wearing. We toured through a few grocers until we found what we needed, then decided we’d find somewhere picturesque to have lunch.

About ten minutes out of town we arrived at the parking lot for Two Jack Lake just past the notable Two Jack Campground. Curious as to what parking was available we drove straight down the hill to the lakeside lot and found an empty spot that backed up directly to the water. I put the Jeep between two other SUVs and we got to work setting up our cooking station, the same Coleman grill we’ve been using all along atop a collapsible table. She had a toasted cheese sandwich with cucumber and tomato, and I made a bowl of spicy white queso rice with chicken sausage. Despite the gorgeous scenery there were occasionally massive gusts of wind, and we unexpectedly were joined by a Park Warden who arrived to issue a ticket to a family for operating an engine on their inflatable dinghy in the lake. The father got argumentative with the (armed) Warden and basically refused her ticket, so she issued him a court date and the whole thing turned messy quickly to the point where another Warden showed up. In the guys defense, it was a battery powered engine, not a gas one, but apparently they still frown on that.

Having had enough of the scene, we packed up our lunch and cooking station and began a short drive around nearby Lake Minnewanka as a massive storm cloud blew in and soaked the world around us in torrential rain. We scrapped the remainder of our scenic drive, opting instead to return to the campsite and put a tarp up over our tent as an extra measure of protection against precipitation. Honestly I’ve been quite disappointed in REI’s Quarter-dome 2 for its moisture management during colder and more wet nights. We’ve had to use towels to mop up vast amounts of precipitation off the rain fly on multiple occasions, and even had to throw it in the drier on a delicate tumble dry at one of the Airbnb’s to make sure it was usable the night instead of soaking wet. I had an 8x10 tarp in the Jeep that was easily died between trees around our tent at the Tunnel Mountain campsite, and I’m now a little more reassured that it will stay dry in case of unexpected downpour.

With the sky still looming with darkness overhead and thunder threatening another storm, we decided that it was a great time to do laundry, and headed into town with two full bags of clothes and towels. I did some more writing in the Laundromat as the watched the new(er) JFK movie Jackie on her laptop, and within an hour we were folding our clothes and headed back to the campsite to cook dinner. I played the role of Dani’s sous chef as we made a ground-turkey taco dinner, and after the dishes were washed, dried, and put away, we retired to the tent in hopes of a few hours of sleep before enacting an ambitious plan to drive an hour north and photograph dawn at Lake Louise. Having spent the last years chasing dawn's colors and other epic early-morning photo opportunities, these plans are always great in theory, but don't always work out... so I’ll just say I have my fingers crossed we actually make it up there in time for the 06h20 sunrise.


Banff - Jeep at Lake Minnewanka by 2180miles


Banff - Taco Dinner by 2180miles


Banff - Two Jack Lake by 2180miles
 

ukrboy

Observer
Loving your write up! Very interesting to see what others think of these places that we get to enjoy year round.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
 

2180miles

Endurance Adventuring
Day 13 - August 8th, 2017

If my 04h00 alarm clock hadn’t woken me, the nearby campsite’s blaring car alarm at 04h02 certainly would have. Dani rolled over, not looking too amused with the situation, and we each began layering up in anticipation for a cold morning further north. We piled into the Jeep and pulled out of our campsite, turning out of Tunnel Mountain Campground and onto the main road at 04h21 exactly. Not a word was exchanged until we got to the highway a few minutes later, when I asked her to verify the destination for our morning. I had debated the night before between Banff’s famous Lake Louise and an equally gorgeous but slightly less popular Moraine Lake. Ultimately deciding to devote my shutter time to Moraine, we turned our compass there and continued with the hour-plus drive north up Alberta’s Highway 1. The highways are unlit and there was not another soul in sight, so I ran my 30” roof-mounted LED bar to blast through the darkness of the night and illuminate the road ahead of us.

Shortly after 05h00 we pulled off the highway at the exit for Lake Louise, following the signage for Moraine Lake another 14km away. Signs warned RVs of winding narrow roads, and I slowed the Jeep as we climbed up further into the mountains, eyes peeled for any kind of wildlife that may have thought it a smart idea to jump out in front of us. When we arrived at the tiny Moraine Lake parking lot it was still pitch black; almost all of the spots were empty, and as we parked another vehicle arrived and a photographer hopped out with his tripod. I could have guessed we wouldn’t be alone, but I was interested to see just how many people were already up at the lake’s famous overlook. Using my headlamp as a guide Dani and I found the sign for the Consolation Trail which would take us up the rocky mountainside to the perfect vista to watch the sun rise from. Within ten minutes we had reached a stone patio area, surrounded by tall pine trees, and were looking out over the most beautiful lake I believe I’ve ever seen. Moraine glowed back at us from under the cloudy morning skies with a saturated blue that I struggle to even describe. I set up two cameras on separate tripods and began shooting, capturing early morning light and waiting the sun cresting the horizon behind us, checking my compass and verifying that the first rays of light would illuminate the Ten Peaks mountain chain across the lake. This iconic vantage point is known as the “20 Dollar View”, as it was once portrayed on the back of the Canadian $20 bill.


Banff - Lake Moraine Sunrise by 2180miles


A few minutes after the sun rose we became aware of the crowds of people showing up around us. At the same time, in some sort of satirical form, Mother Nature rolled in heavy clouds in front of the Ten Peaks and the view people came to see was almost completely gone. Dani and I packed up and returned to the car, finding the tiny parking lot that was empty upon our arrival completely full of RVs and rental mini-vans. We drove a few miles back down Moraine Lake Road, passing countless vehicles making their way to the dead end parking lot, before turning left at a T, our next destination set for the world-famous Lake Louise. Thankfully due to our early start we were able to park at the main lot by the lake without issue; even an hour later we’d likely have had to park at a remote lot a few miles away then hopped on a shuttle to view the lake. Throwing my camera bag over my shoulder as Dani shed an insulating layer, we walked past the regal Fairmont hotel and made our way to the rocky shores of Lake Louise. With the sun still relatively low in the sky, the refraction of light against the glacial water left us with the most indescribably gorgeous hues of blue and green I had ever seen. We took photos for a while as crowds of people began piling into the waterfront area, then decided to head down into the downtown Lake Louise area for a small café breakfast. We found a gluten friendly menu at Laggan’s Mountain Bakery and enjoyed our time staring out the window at a busy parking lot with seemingly endless mountaintops in the background. Hopping back in the car we made the hour drive back to Tunnel Mountain campground, arriving at 10h30 and taking a multiple hour nap in the tent to make up for the exceptionally early start to our day.


Banff - Lake Louise Landscape by 2180miles


Banff - Lake Louise Portrait by 2180miles


Banff - Afternoon Clouds by 2180miles


Waking up drenched with sweat in the early afternoon heat I began looking up activities for our afternoon. While I had made a map of notable places to visit, we were enjoying our “choose your own adventure” vibe and went to work debating between what Banff had available to us. We knew that the Banff Gondola to the top of a nearby mountain ridge was of interest, especially with the Sky Bistro restaurant located some 7,500’ above sea level as an option for dinner. To fill the afternoon we decided to hike up the Johnston Canyon Trail to a few different waterfalls. Located about 30 minutes north of our campsite we hopped back in the car and drove with the windows down, enjoying the sunshine that soaked the world around us. The hike to the Upper Falls was about 1.5 mi and took us first through a pine forest before we began walking on a narrow steel walkway cantilevered off the edge of a vertical rock cliff. It was an exceptionally awesome experience to be walking along the side of a wall that was perpendicular to the ground below, and we stopped often to stare over the railing at the river rushing through the canyon below us. Eventually reaching the falls, Dani and I took a few photos as the spray of the waterfall soaked our clothes. The colors of the water were as gorgeous as every other river and lake we’d seen, and the pine trees offered the perfect shade to accompany the river.

​As the afternoon crept past us we made our way back down the Johnston Canyon trail towards the car. Dani got to work on the 4G LTE enabled iPad and reserved us two tickets for the Banff Gondola ride for 19h00. The drive to the downtown area was easy enough and the clouds were wonderfully clear, giving us hope that our cable-assisted journey to the top of a mountain would gain us access to even more incredible views of the Canadian Rockies. After checking in at the base lodge and using the restrooms we got in line for our gondola. I snapped photos of a display case highlighting the cable specifications: 28mm in diameter, 3,330 meters long, weighing in at 9,490 kilograms, with a 55,000 kg breaking load… It was impressive. Dani had never been on a gondola of any kind before, so as we made our way up the side of the mountain she was excited to be suspended some hundred or so feet off the slope below us. By comparison to others I’ve been in this gondola was rather small, enough room for four people, but was exciting nonetheless. In a few minutes time we were atop Sulphur Mountain getting our first taste elevation in the region. The wind was fierce as we first stepped out on the deck, and we almost instantly turned back inside to buy Dani a knit “Canada” hat to help her keep warm. Returning outdoors we made our way across the expansive wooden deck that spans across the mountain ridge and up to the next peak’s observation tower.


Banff - Johnson Canyon Hike by 2180miles


Banff - Johnson Canyon River by 2180miles


Banff - Johnson Canyon Falls by 2180miles


Banff - Johnson Canyon Falls by 2180miles


Banff - Johnston Canyon by 2180miles


Checking out the first-ever weather observatory in the Rocky Mountains, constructed in 1957 and officially (and rather epically, in my opinion) called the “Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station”. Inside was a simple bunk bed for the weather observatory staff, and basic amenities for their residency. I took some photos of the scenery around us, followed by an iPhone selfie or two, and we began the long walk back across the boardwalk to the gondola/restaurant on the other side of the ridge. Exploring the historical museum & art gallery that highlights Banff’s history, we then climbed a flight of stairs to the Sky Bistro restaurant and got seated for dinner. The place was relatively quiet with only a few other customers at the bar, so I requested a table by the massive floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the mountain range across the way. Our waiter, Timo, was a local photographer and after taking our drink orders he informed us that the restaurant had in fact closed for the night. The three of us spoke for a while about the scenery, photography, and his adventures of moving across the United States over the course of the last few years. He made some suggestions of gluten-friendly restaurants in town, and Dani and I watched the sun disappear behind the distant peaks before paying our tab and walking down to the gondola loading zone. We were the last patrons to be taken down off the mountain, and spent the entire ride down enamored with the views the gondola provided.

By the time we arrived back at the Jeep it was pitch black and we were the only car left in the lot. A five minute ride into town left us at the Saint James’s Gate Olde Irish Pub where we found a great menu to choose our meals from. Service was “relaxed” and we both expressed how tired we were as we finished a delicious appetizer and moved on for our main courses. Eventually paying the bill, we drove back to our campsite at Tunnel Mountain, getting our teeth brushed and climbing into the tent just before midnight. The day had been one for the record books – up exceptionally early to watch a beautiful sunrise over gorgeous snowcapped peaks, moving on to witness the indescribable color of what is arguably the most famous lake in the Canadian Rockies, a well deserved nap, and exploration for the entire afternoon wrapped up with a gondola ride and breathtaking sunset from a 7,500’ mountain peak. It’d be hard to argue just how uniquely amazing this adventure, this “vacation”, is, but I can honestly say that there’s nowhere in the world I would rather be right now.



Banff - Gondola Boarding Zone by 2180miles


Banff - Gondola Ride by 2180miles


Banff - Sulfur Mountain Boardwalk by 2180miles


Banff - Sulfur Mountain Weather Observatory by 2180miles


Banff - Dinner Views by 2180miles


Banff - Blue Hour in the Rockies by 2180miles
 

2180miles

Endurance Adventuring
Day 14: August 9th, 2017

​With the day before having been such a long one, and our arrival back at the tent having been so late at night, it was no surprise that we slept in till nearly 10h00. I cleaned up the sleeping gear inside the tent while Dani went to take a quick shower, and then we traded as I rinsed off and she made us a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal. Once our cookware had been put back inside the Pelican cases in the Jeep, we made our way out of the “neighborhood” and back towards the campground's main gate and turned down the now-familiar roads towards downtown Banff.

Over the past few days we had passed by the Cascade Gardens, acres of stunningly maintained flower gardens surrounding the large stone-made Park Administration building. We parked inside the gates and began our self guided tour, spending well over an hour meandering down the paved walkway through trellises, over bridges, and winding around the manmade waterfalls and ponds. The sunshine was brilliant and the skies blue with interspersed clouds, making the colors of the flowers pop against the green manicured lawns. I snapped the obligatory photos of the garden and Cascade grounds, then we made our way back to the car and down the road a few minutes to visit the nearby Bow Falls. The parking lot was overflowing with cars and the waterfront packed with people, but we lingered for a few minutes overlooking Bow River, the falls, and a few rafts out in the water for rent. Horses made their way past with riders atop as we walked back to the car and began speaking aloud about lunch.


Banff - Cascade Gardens Waterfall by 2180miles


Banff - Cascade Gardens by 2180miles


Banff - Main Street Views by 2180miles


Banff - Bow River by 2180miles


Banff - Bow River Rafting by 2180miles



Our first day in Banff we'd eaten by Two Jack Lake but had been rained out before any real exploration of the area was possible. Dani thought it'd be great to return to that area and drive around a bit more to get our bearings and see if there was anywhere fun or scenic we could eat. The drive back towards Two Jack Lake didn't take long at all, and I decided we should approach counterclockwise to get a different view from the day before. We arrived at the shore of Lake Minnewanka as a pack of Elk made their way up the middle of the road, stopping traffic in both directions. Enjoying watching their movement from our vantage point in the Jeep on the side of the road, we eventually hopped out and explored the rocky path along the waterline of Minnewanka. The lake itself was the same brilliant hue of blue I remembered from the photos I had seen in photos leading up to our trip, expansive beyond description to our left and right, and stretching out for miles ahead of us. It's the only lake in Banff National Park that allows motorized boats, and there were more than a few out and about in the heat of the afternoon. After fifteen or so minutes of checking out the area we concluded there was nowhere ideal to set up and cook lunch, so we got back in the car and continued along the Lake Minnewanka Scenic Drive road past the immensely busy beaches and boat docks, and on a few miles further to a small day-hike parking lot with picnic benches.

​
We cooked a rice dish with turkey sausage patties and avocado, doing our best to keep the trash reigned in as occasional gusts of wind blew. A few minutes after we set up the stove and began cooking we were joined by a small and exceptionally annoying chipmunk who wanted in on our meal. Despite doing our best to shoo him away as we ate, by the time we were packing up he was actually following us to the Jeep and back as we packed up our gear. I was almost expecting him to hop right in the truck with us and come to wherever we were going next, though thankfully he didn't. Turning back onto the road, Dani did some research on the iPad and found the nearby Mt. Norquay, a ski mountain a few miles outside downtown Banff with a winding scenic road that climbed three quarters of the way up the mountain to an open vista look-out. We began ascending the mountain as a light rain began to fall, the Jeep navigating the hairpin turns well as I kept an occasional eye on our strapped-down cargo gear in the back to make sure it wasn't shifting as we went along. The drive to the top of the road was enjoyable as the mountain gave us a more and more scenic view as we continued climbing. By the time we reached the top the rain was coming down heavier, clouds having begun moving in over the mountains, so we sat in the car and enjoyed the view for what it was. We drove up to the “base” of the ski mountain itself, located some 6,000' above sea level, and I showed Dani the motorized mats that are provided for the bunny hill slopes, as well as the snow-cat grooming machines that were parked in the lot.

We turned around and headed back down the road towards Banff as the sky got darker and the rain eased up, making a brief pit-stop at the famous “BANFF” sign on the town's main road to take a photo in front of it. Parked on the side of the road with another half-dozen cars all with hazard lights on, we waited a few minutes before quickly setting up the tripod and snapping a picture of ourselves. It was a one-and-done kind of photo, with no time for a re-do as more and more people arrived to take the same snapshot. By the time we turned back towards Tunnel Mountain Campground it was nearly 19h30, late enough that we decided to call it a day. We sat in our camp chairs, hers a recent birthday gift I'd given with a large Florida State Seminoles logo on the back, and each worked on our computers. With an extension cord running into the Jeep for our laptop power supplies, we were truly the epitome of 21st century camping as she answered work e-mails and I edited countless photos and jotted notes about our adventures. It wasn't the most abundantly thrilling day, but with all the non-stop effort put into the last few weeks, it was nice to have another relaxing day in gorgeous weather to explore this small town in the Canadian Rockies.


Banff - Lake Minnewanka by 2180miles


Banff - Lake Minnewanka by 2180miles


Banff - Welcome to Banff by 2180miles
 

2180miles

Endurance Adventuring
Day 15: August 10th, 2017

Waking to the sunlight casting shadows of trees across the rainfly of our tent, I checked my watch to verify both the time and date. As I had suspected it was our last morning in Banff, and we had just spent our final night at Tunnel Mountain. After relaxing for a few minutes longer, we then ran through the checklist of breaking down the tent and packing our gear away for good, having spent five nights in a row at the Banff campground and living the luxurious life of leaving the tent pitched for days on end. Knowing that we had no concrete sleeping arrangements for the night we each took a quick shower before leaving the tent site and dropping our vehicle parking pass in a drop box as some informal kind of checking-out.

First up on our social calendar for the day was visiting the Cave and Basin National Historic Site, a site of natural thermal springs around which Banff, Canada’s first national park, was founded. Though depicted as originally being utilized by Native Americans present in the area, the first recorded reference from western settlers was in 1859. Twenty years later two men working with the Canadian Pacific Railway rediscovered it, descending through the narrow skylight entrance to the cave, then building a small cabin nearby and claiming it theirs for commercialization. Other community groups pushed against the men and asked for intervention from the Canadian government, and in 1885 an order from John Macdonald, the Canadian Prime Minster, reserved ten square miles around the Cave as the Banff Hot Springs Reserve; this simultaneously gave birth to the Canadian National Parks system. The admittance to the Cave was free, and Dani and I read the abundant signage and absorbed the gigantic murals depicting the discovery of the thermal spring before venturing through a low tunnel carved into the mountainside to see the spring itself. The smell of sulfur was overwhelming to my nose, and the dark environment made for a tough photography subject, but we lingered for a while watching the sunlight dance on the sparkling turquoise water before heading back out to view the rest of the museum.


Banff - Thermal Springs by 2180miles


Banff - Thermal Springs Tunnel by 2180miles


A walkway outside the cave led us to a massive hallway with even more historic photographs and writings detailing the creation of the National Parks in Canada. We looked at countless images while a video played across massive screens overhead, then found a quiet room in a seemingly forgotten part of the visitor center where a 1958 film played detailing the efforts of the Canadian Railroaders, the men responsible for the daily operations of the railway. I never anticipated being so intrigued by this, but we ended up watching the 30 minute narrated documentary from start to finish before departing. In the courtyard outside the museum hall was a living scene depicting how a small established village may have looked while the railroad was being constructed a hundred and thirty years prior. Canvas tents were sprawled out with period-correct beds and desks inside, and two cast members from the Cave and Basin site were re-enacting a land surveying as a crowd of us visitors watched. The entire experience at the Caves was rather fascinating, and the cherry on top was seeing a Ford Model T truck outside as we walked back to the parking lot.

We spent the early afternoon indulging in all that the city’s downtown had to offer, beginning with lunch at the Banff Avenue Brewing Company. Settled at a 2nd-floor balcony’s bar-top table overlooking the main avenue of town, we got to work writing a dozen or so post-cards to friends and family. The streets were bustling below us and we made a million comments to each other about the pristine weather and incredible view of the mountains as we ate lunch, sipping some locally brewed hard ciders. Finishing up our last bites and last written words, we paid the bill and decided to explore the shops surrounding us. I found a t-shirt that wasn’t overly touristy, a shot glass for my globally inclusive destination-based collection, and an 8 oz can of ISO/propane fuel for our backpacking camp stove. Dani window shopped nearly every establishment on the street, then grabbed my hand and brought me into the Spirit of Christmas store to find an ornament for this winter’s holiday tree. By the time we were back at the car it was 15h00, with a half-hour drive ahead of us to the town of Canmore where we’d begin our afternoon traveling an off-pavement route I had read about on a fellow overland blog you're all aware of, Desk to Glory.


Banff - Canadian Railway Worker by 2180miles


Banff - Early Model T by 2180miles


​The Smith-Dorrian Trail is a graded gravel route that runs 62 kilometers through Kananaskis, Alberta. While, in my opinion, it doesn’t hold a candle to the drive from Jasper to Banff, it does has the phenomenal benefit of being relatively void of any other people or vehicles. Dani and I turned off pavement we passed a large sign denting the “narrow winding mountainous road ahead”… had there been a camera in her hands at that moment, I’m sure she would have captured a look of childish glee on my face as I pressed the accelerator a little harder and the Jeep began climbing up the gravel to our first mountain pass. The road rose with the side of the slope, the small town of Canmore disappearing in the rear view mirror. As we crested the gap between two peaks our eyes found a large lake sprawled before us, a half dozen people swimming in the dark blue water. We continued on, knowing that there was limited daylight and lots of driving left before we called it a night. Our elevation continued varying as we traveled along, but stayed within a reasonable range of 6,000-feet. Pine trees towered over the road as we passed by them, and I decided it was an opportune time to stop and send the drone up for some aerial photography of the Jeep and mountains around us. Stopping alongside a massive and completely vacant lake roughly halfway through the trail I threw a telephoto lens on my camera and took some modeling/marketing photos of the Grand Cherokee to send to the dedicated and supportive off-road industry companies that have chosen me to represent their products. The scenes we were privy to are unlike anything I’ve found myself able to photograph back in New England, and I’m not one to pass up the opportunity to click away with my shutter.


Smith-Dorrien Trail by 2180miles


Smith-Dorrien Trail Panoramic by 2180miles


2180miles Trailhawk on the Smith-Dorrien Trail by 2180miles


Smith-Dorrien Trail Gravel by 2180miles


Smith-Dorrien Trail Lake by 2180miles


Smith-Dorrien Trail Mountains by 2180miles


Smith-Dorrien Trail by 2180miles


Smith-Dorrien Trail Moose by 2180miles


Smith-Dorrien Trail by 2180miles



It took us a few hours to complete the Smith-Dorrien Trail as we stopped occasionally to soak in the feeling of being completely alone in the mountains. The sun began sinking in the sky as we progressed further south, dust kicking up behind us as the Jeep’s tires churned over the dirt and gravel road. Towards the end of the route we stopped on the side of the road to catch a glimpse of a mother and calf moose nestled back in the woods. I used my telephoto lens to capture a terrible photo of the young moose, but by the time I was able to grab it from my camera bag the mother had lay down on the ground. We hung around for a few minutes hoping she’d stand back up but knew we had over an hour of driving between the end of the Trail and getting back to the highway, so we pressed on. Eventually returning to pavement, we rolled through a stop sign and turned north onto Alberta Highway 40 to make our way back to the Trans-Canada route and return to Banff.

One of the most prominent things on Dani’s bucket list for our vacation was to complete one of the famed “tea-hut” hikes at Lake Louise. While we hadn’t been able to the morning we photographed sunrise there, I finagled a plan for us to be able to the next morning on our last day in the National Park. We had no definite plans for somewhere to spend the night, but I had done a bit of research on the same iOverlander webpage we used crossing the continent, and found a marked wild-camp site up by Lake Louise right off of Highway 1. The drive would take us another two hours to complete, and by the time we arrived it was already dusk. The site was a large trailhead parking lot with a clearing nestled back in the woods at the far end that overlooked the glaciers behind Lake Louise. Dani got to work cooking us a small dinner on the stove while I set the tent and got our sleeping gear ready, and by the time we climbed into bed it was nearly 22h30. Luckily for us the moon had not yet risen, and through the faint light pollution of the town below we were able to see the Milky Way stretching out overhead. I lingered outside of the tent for a few minutes with my camera and tripod to capture the scene, and was elated to find out just how well it came out when I viewed it on my computer - it is probably my favorite image from our entire trip. Below you’ll see it, our REI Quarterdome 2 tent on a cliff with the small town of Lake Louise, Mt. Victoria and her glacier in the background, and the Milky Way sparkling in the left side of the frame. It was quite the sight to fall asleep to, and I was thrilled with all we’d been able to see and do throughout the day. Our final night in the Rockies was being spent at an otherwise uninhabited campsite with the stars shining brilliantly overhead; it was the icing on the cake of what had been an amazing week and a half in the mammoth mountains of western Canada.


Banff - Trans-Canada Highway by 2180miles


Banff - Wild Camping by 2180miles


Banff - Milky Way Wild Camping by 2180miles
 

2180miles

Endurance Adventuring
Day 16: August 11th, 2017

The beauty of the stars glistening in the sky overhead was slightly interrupted throughout the night by trucks passing on the nearby highway. We woke with the sun, the air cooler and more crisp than on other mornings, and I began packing up camp immediately as Dani prepared us a quick breakfast. We had one mission: make it to the Lake Louise parking lot before the masses of other visitors arrived; the focus of our day was entirely on a Pinterest-worthy “Tea Hut Hike”. Due to my incredible campsite finding skills the drive to Louise took no more than five minutes, and we arrived early enough to secure a parking lot just a few cars from the trailhead entrance. We packed my 66L Cold Cold World bag with the appropriate gear we’d need for a day hike, and though the bag itself probably appeared to be overkill to anyone walking by us, it served us well. I included a light windbreaker for myself, my camera bag with a few lenses, an extra liter of water for us to share when our primary ones ran dry, and the usual bag of minor medical supplies and a headlamp just in case. The snowshoe straps on the exterior of the bag worked phenomenally as a place to fasten my aluminum tripod to, and there was plenty of space left in the backpack to fill with Dani’s extra layers as the day got warmer. We made a final restroom stop in the gorgeous Lake Louise Fairmont hotel and made our way to the trailhead alongside the lake’s shore as hundreds of people gathered to take photos of the water as we had a few days prior.


Banff - Wild Camp Site by 2180miles


Banff - Pre-Hike Snacks by 2180miles


The Lake Agnes Tea House hike is a notable attraction for people of all ages and abilities visiting the Lake Louise area. Climbing from the water’s edge up into the mountains the trail covers 3.4km each way and gains just over 1,100-feet of elevation as it goes along. The trail is relatively well manicured throughout the hike, and is four people wide for the most part. Temperatures were in the high 60s as we started our trek and we looked funny standing next to each other, me in a short sleeved polyester New Balance top and shorts, Dani in a hooded down jacket, fleece insulating layer, and long sleeve polyester top with yoga pants. One of the exciting things for me on this day was the opportunity to test out a new pair of active-wear compression shorts called Eletrunks (more on that later). I took the lead as we passed the trailhead sign and carried on happily at my usual 3 mph pace for a few hundred feet before realizing that it wasn’t a pace we would be able to happily maintain. I urged Dani to hike in front of me so that I could match her pace, and we carried on that way for the next two hours.

The trail wove its way through a pine tree forest, carving switchbacks into the side of the mountain as we climbed to the Lake Agnes Tea Hut. It was awesome to see all the people out hiking, as there was absolutely no blatantly noticeable demographic of the people around us. For the most part the hikers were Asian, and we very rarely heard English spoken as we moved along, passing most people and occasionally being passed by others. Some people on the trail wore what I would consider normal hiking clothes, polyester or wool, while others wore anything from jeans to khakis to long dresses, t-shirts, pea-coats, denim jackets (with glittery bedazzles), any anything in between. Footwear ranged from trail runners to over-the-ankle leather hiking boots, flip-flops to heels, and one person trekking barefoot. There were a handful of backpacks and a few Coach/Michael Kors bags, with the majority of people simply carrying a bottle of water in their hands. I’m sure my backpack looked like overkill to many.

As we climbed higher the trees occasionally gave way for unobstructed views to the saturated water of Lake Louise below us and the snow-capped peaks on the ridges opposite us. We stopped for a quick snack, water, and rest break just over halfway up and sat on a fallen tree that was well positioned for sitting on. From there the trail became more strewn with rocks bulging out of the dirt as the sun reached the perfect height to be baking down on our backs. At one point we passed a corral of horses tied up and being groomed by a mountain guide, evidence of the tour company that brings people up to the tea hut on horseback for the small fee of $180 or so. We learned (thanks to an inquisitive guy in front of us) that this was the highest point the horses get to, leaving the paying client to hike the last quarter mile to the tea hut itself. A bit further up the trail we made a sharp hairpin turn by a waterfall, run-off from Lake Agnes, then began climbing a steep set of grated steel stairs that brought us up alongside the side foundation of the tea hut itself. The large wooden building sits nicely up on the edge of Lake Agnes, only a dozen feet from the steep rock cliff that the stairs parallel, and the large patio was buzzing with noise from the immeasurable number of hikers who were waiting to order tea or snacks. With an unknown wait time to actually sit on the porch, we got a cup of tea and a cookie from the “To-Go” line and went to sit on a rock by the edge of the lake and soak up the sun and scenery of this gorgeous summer day.



Banff - Tea Hut Switchbacks by 2180miles


Banff - Lake Agnes by 2180miles


Banff - Lake Agnes Tea Hut by 2180miles


Banff - Hiking at Lake Agnes by 2180miles


Banff - Wild Creatures by 2180miles


After finishing our tea and snack we cautiously stepped out onto the expansive rocky shore of the eastern side of the lake, cooling off in the shadows of the mountain peaks above us. Taking some goofy photos with my camera, the snow on the other side of the emerald green lake caught Dani’s attention, and we changed our itinerary to include a venture to the snow pack on the southern edge of Lake Agnes. It was fun to explore the mountain, making our way up a rocky avalanche chute, seeing different kinds of vegetation and wildlife from anywhere else in the park. The terrain was toying with my mind as I began daydreaming about a thru-hike of the Pacific Crest or Continental Divide Trails. Around high noon we turned back towards the tea hut and waiting in the excruciatingly long line for their privy-style restrooms before beginning our descent of the mountain. Dani led the way again, enjoying the ease of the down-hill slope and passing almost everyone in front of us as we went along. I was genuinely happy to see so many people out in the mountains for the day, and made repeated comments to Dani about how great it was to see people challenging themselves - I say this kindly, many people appeared to be challenging themselves with the hike – and experiencing the national park in more fulfilling way than tourism from a car window could ever provide. We arrived back at the picturesque shore of Lake Louise at 13h00 having hiked just under 7 miles to, from, and around Lake Agnes.

Gentlemen readers: revisiting the mentioning of Eletrunks from earlier in the post, I wanted to take a second to talk about them in more detail. A week before the start of our trip I was contacted by one of the co-founders of this Brooklyn, NY company about testing out their compression shorts during my adventures. Over my years backpacking, cycling, running, even doing generic outdoor sweaty activities, I have tested many different manufacturer’s compression shorts. The design of Eletrunks allows for some “compartmentalization” that immensely improves discomfort and almost all potential for chaffing. Few companies, if any, address this as attentively and elegantly as Eletrunks does. I can confidently say that I’d have traded every Little Debbie snack from Georgia to Maine to have had these on the Appalachian Trail in 2014. If you’re interested in finding out more about them, head on over to EletrunksNation.com – you can even use the code “2180miles” at check-out for 10% off your order.

We packed up our gear in the car and made a quick stop downtown for delicious sandwiches, putting us in great shape to depart from Banff National Park for the final time, our destination coordinates set to an Airbnb in downtown Calgary some three and a half hours away. The drive was painless but saddening, a blunt re-entry to the civilized world as pine trees and mountains gave way to endlessly flat pastures, giving way to factory smoke stacks and eventually a the skyline of Alberta’s largest city. For $150 we’d spend two nights in a modern high-rise condo downtown, complete with elevator access to our unit and underground garage parking for the Grand Cherokee. It was absolutely perfect for what we needed, and after four trips bringing up what felt like all of our stuff, we took showers and a short nap before getting ready for a night out on the town. In celebration for the nearing end of our National Parks trip I had made reservations at the Calgary 360 Tower, a 626-foot skyscraper and observatory with a rotating restaurant on the top floor. For $6 we took an Uber a mile and a half to the building’s main entrance, checking in at the front desk before beginning the fifty-someodd floor elevator ride to check out the observation deck before our table was ready.

Dinner unfortunately wasn’t over-the-moon “oh my gosh” incredible, but sitting together at a window seat watching the sun set and dusk creep in as the restaurant slowly rotated over the city below us was an incredible way to spend the evening. We indulged on four separate courses before paying the tab and taking an Uber back to the condo just after 22h00. It had been a long day with an incredibly diverse range of activities and geographically induced surroundings. While I had hoped to do a bit more hiking between both national parks, we had spent a self-supported night at a remote campsite in Jasper and had followed it up, at Dani’s request, with a 7 mile hike to the glacial snow and tea hut above Lake Louise in Banff. Our plan for the next day was to have a relaxing exploration of Calgary; it was to be our last day together as my co-pilot was flying out of YYC (Calgary International Airport) to get back to work in Florida. Falling asleep wasn’t set up to be easy, the condo warm from the all day sunlight shining in and a lack of air conditioning in the unit, but my eyes closed quickly, exhausted by all that we had accomplished in one days worth of adventure.



Banff - Lake Agnes by 2180miles


Calgary - Parking Garage by 2180miles
 

Yukondoit

New member
Great trip report! You went to a lot of effort to document it and it shows. Thanks for sharing your adventure with me/us. Your experience at Moraine Lake was so fortuitous. I admit to a perverse sense of happiness when that sort of thing occurs. Sort of like the cosmic consciousness is siding with you.
 

2180miles

Endurance Adventuring
Great read and amazing pictures! The abandoned church in post 18 is in Longlac?
It was! Despite being almost out of gas in the WK2 I wasn't willing to just pass by that place without stopping for some photos. I wish we had time to fly the drone around it, but I was waist high in brush that had grown in around the property and it wasn't too easy to explore. I've got a few more photos I'll dig up and post.

If you're interested, here are the GPS coordinates: 49°46'59.0"N 86°33'12.8"W
 

2180miles

Endurance Adventuring
Great trip report! You went to a lot of effort to document it and it shows. Thanks for sharing your adventure with me/us. Your experience at Moraine Lake was so fortuitous. I admit to a perverse sense of happiness when that sort of thing occurs. Sort of like the cosmic consciousness is siding with you.
Thanks so much for reading along and your kind comments. I put a lot of effort into the writing and photography to do my best to make it entertaining, even if people only scroll through for the photos :)

It's funny that of all the things, you commented on the lake that morning. Moraine was without question my favorite moment of the entire trip. I wrote in a post-trip letter to Dani, "Of all the incredible once-in-a-lifetime moments, I’ll never forget standing in complete and utter silence at Moraine Lake as the clouds moved overhead and the unbelievably brilliant turquoise water shone back back at us in stark contrast to the otherwise grey morning. Snow-capped mountain peaks and countless evergreen trees along the shoreline painted the most beautiful surrounding landscape. We had traveled thousands of miles, seen countless sights, and in that moment were able to stand in complete solitude, oblivious to the entire world. Moraine was everything we had hoped it would be, and our magnificent journey was all that and more."

I'm happy that the senses of our experience there were conveyed, or at least something you could pick up on. Thanks again for following along.
 

JaredNorthway

New member
Absolutely beautiful photos! It's been quite a few years since I've been through the Rockies and seeing these pictures is definitely an inspiration to go back soon. If you don't mind me asking what kind of gear was this all shot with?
 

2180miles

Endurance Adventuring
Absolutely beautiful photos! It's been quite a few years since I've been through the Rockies and seeing these pictures is definitely an inspiration to go back soon. If you don't mind me asking what kind of gear was this all shot with?
Really kind of you, thanks so much. The majority was captured on one of my Canon 6D's with either my 24-70L or 16-35L lenses.

As additional info, the gear for this expedition was stored in a Pelican 1620:

  • 2x Canon EOS 6D bodies
  • Canon EOS T2i Rebel
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8
  • Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L
  • Canon EF 16-35mm f/4.0 L
  • Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
  • Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
  • DJI Mavic Pro Drone
  • Lowepro Flipside 300 bag
  • Spare batteries, Pelican SD Card holder, Chargers, etc.
 

JaredNorthway

New member
Really kind of you, thanks so much. The majority was captured on one of my Canon 6D's with either my 24-70L or 16-35L lenses.

As additional info, the gear for this expedition was stored in a Pelican 1620:

  • 2x Canon EOS 6D bodies
  • Canon EOS T2i Rebel
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8
  • Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L
  • Canon EF 16-35mm f/4.0 L
  • Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
  • Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
  • DJI Mavic Pro Drone
  • Lowepro Flipside 300 bag
  • Spare batteries, Pelican SD Card holder, Chargers, etc.
Cool thanks so much!
 
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