Lone fisherman on Lake Minnewanka

Joining the crowds at Lake Louise

Chipmunk at Moraine Lake
Chipmunk at Moraine Lake

The next day began inauspiciously. We left later than planned; the weather was indifferent and the drive back to Lake Louise was long. We hoped to visit Moraine Lake, which is at the end of a 14km stretch of road and accessed from the road to Lake Louise. Officials close the road if the car park is full. We were fortunate. Just as we were driving past, they removed the barriers so Steve made a quick U turn, and off we went.

Unsurprisingly, there were crowds, but they didn’t diminish the incredible scenery. Nature is wonderful! We clambered around the rocks and marvelled for a while before retracing our steps and heading for Lake Louise. It was full! Parking attendants directed us around all the car parks and back down the road. There was nowhere to park. The overflow car park was miles away on the main highway and shuttle buses ran from there. We made a unanimous decision to drive to the Chateau and pay for valet parking rather than waste time. It was worth it!

Moraine Lake
Moraine Lake

Steve and Robyn couldn’t get hold of Marina, whom we were expecting to meet for lunch. In the meantime, we used the voucher she had given us for the canoes on the lake. ‘We’ (Steve) paddled slowly for an hour and reached the middle of the lake before returning. Judging by the number of boats, it was a popular pastime.

Lunch was our next problem. The only place at Lake Louise is the Fairmont Chateau, and the cafe is expensive. Marina, with her staff discount couldn’t meet us after all, so we had to buy food from the deli and pay the price. My soup was tepid so asked for it to be re-heated and there were so many people there was nowhere to sit except the window sill. At least, it was an improvement on the gutter of the previous evening!

The Tea House
The Tea House

The afternoon hike more than made up for any hassles of the morning. We walked the entire length of the lake, accompanied by many people, most of whom we lost once we began the ascent on the Six Glaciers trail. Over four hours later we returned to the Chateau. We had followed the track right to the top where glaciers and mountains surrounded us. At the end, the path followed a ridge with some loose moraine. This is where we turned around but more adventurous people clambered further and onto a rocky ledge. Only serious hikers ventured this far. However, one lady amused me. She was wearing a pearl necklace and told me she bought a new one each year for her trips so this was her 2018 set. I think I might have to adopt that practice!

I didn’t want to leave the mountains; they were so stunning, but the weather was closing in and tea and chocolate cake beckoned at the Tea House. This cafe was exactly how I imagined a Nepalese tea house to be. We shared chocolate cake and mousse, both of which were divine (and justified by the hike!).

Waterfall at Johnson Canyon
Waterfall at Johnson Canyon

Our arrival back in Calgary was late, and we were all tired. We were hoping for a special meal out as this was our last evening together. We took a while to find somewhere appropriate, tempers frayed and we (Robyn and I) imbibed much wine before we ate. However, the food was excellent. On the way back to our hotel, a policeman swore at us when we crossed the road against the lights. And I thought all Canadians were so polite!

We started our last day with a stop at a bakery recommended by the hotel’s valet parking man. It was more of a patisserie but typically French and had a large selection of croissants. Our blood sugars rose!

Robyn had selected the hike to the Ink Pots in Johnson Canyon for today’s hike. It was the wrong side of Banff, much further off the highway than she thought and the roads were busy as it was the start of Canada Day long weekend. On arrival, we were lucky to get a parking space as someone pulled out as we approached. I bought a much-needed cup of coffee and we joined the hordes walking up to the waterfalls. We could not believe how many people there were! The trail continued past the waterfalls by which time the crowds had thinned. However, we had had enough so turned around and returned to the car. We enjoyed excellent walnut maple ice creams before re-joining the traffic and heading for Minnewanka Lake, which someone told us was not pronounced as it is spelt!

Almost empty Lake Minnewanka
Almost empty Lake Minnewanka
Lone fisherman on Lake Minnewanka
Lone fisherman on Lake Minnewanka

What an unexpected surprise this was – no problem with parking and no hordes of people. We had a picnic of baguette and cheese overlooking the lake. There was time for a quick rest or wander, depending on your disposition, before hitting the road for the final stretch to Calgary airport. Robyn and Steve were flying to Victoria, and I was spending the last days of my trip in Vancouver. All too soon it was time to say goodbye.

On the plane, the WestJet pilot gave a short spiel with dry, humour that had the passengers smiling. An hour later, we landed in Vancouver and I caught the SkyTrain and bus to the Carey Centre at U.B.C. campus. It transpired this was a theological college and reception was only manned until 9pm. Thankfully I got there in time. Some guests who arrived the following evening were not so lucky. My first impressions with my accommodation were not favourable. However, over the next couple of days I came to appreciate it more once I had found a source of hot water for my tea (as long as reception was open!). There were few facilities, but the campus is extensive and attractive and there was an abundance of cheap cafes around.

Kerkeslin View point

The Icefields Parkway

Clear blue skies and sun magically appeared the following day. We couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions to drive the Icefields Parkway. Robyn and Steve queued at the bakery for coffee, breakfast and lunch supplies whilst I had my granola and packed up. We were on the road by 9.30am. The traffic was light; the road was wide, and the scenery was stupendous.

Athabasca Falls was our first port of call. The height of the waterfall was small but the volume of water converging into the narrow gorge was enormous. The noise was deafening. Whilst the car park was full, people were not intrusive as we wandered along the paths and stopped at the lookouts.

Kerkeslin View point
Kerkeslin View point
Hard to believe!
Hard to believe!

On the way to Sumwapta Falls, we stopped at the Kerkeslin viewpoint, which had a magnificent view of the milky looking, glacial river below and the sparkling mountains beyond. On our return to the car, it astounded us to see the number of vehicles parked at the side of the road (and not in the car park!) so people could take photos of mountain goats. The people were oblivious to the spectacular view just a few metres behind them.

The Sumwapta Falls were swarming with people and cars so we didn’t stay long. We climbed down to the river edge, avoided a crow intent on its lunch, and from a lookout watched a whitewater rafting trip set off down the river.

Columbia Icefield
Columbia Icefield

The Columbia Icefield lured us in next. By the side of the highway, cars and buses filled a hotel car park. We turned in the opposite direction and drove the short distance to the Icefield car park. A walking track was carved out of the moraine and easy. We took our time to marvel at nature’s wonders. The tour and walk on the glacier looked appealing, but we had many miles yet to cover.

It was already early afternoon at that point and Robyn was determined to fit in a hike before lunch. A 35 minute climb with incredible views brought us to the top of Parker Ridge where we ate our sandwiches in sight of the Saskatchewan glacier. That picnic spot would be hard to beat! It was a steep ascent but well worth the effort. An additional bonus was that there were few people, proving that you don’t have to go too far to escape the crowds.

Saskatchewan glacier from our picnic spot
Saskatchewan glacier from our picnic spot
Peyto Lake
Peyto Lake

Robyn had another hike planned but our destination for the night was Calgary and the day was passing quickly. At least it remained light until after 10pm. We had to content ourselves with a walk to the viewpoint of Peyto Lake at Bow Summit where we fought with the Asian tour groups to find a space on the platform to take photos.

The Parkway ends just before Lake Louise. Robyn and Steve had a friend working at the Fairmont Chateau there and wanted to call and see her. We were lucky to find a parking space and went to track her down. The number of people along the lakefront was astonishing! We chatted to Marina for a while, looked at two expensive rooms with views of the car park (professional interest on Steve and Robyn’s part) and decided to return the next day for sightseeing.

Our original intention was to have dinner in Calgary when we arrived. However, it would have been so late we stopped in Banff for a quick takeaway instead. This almost proved mission impossible! People jammed the pavements, and it took a while to find a cafe or restaurant that wasn’t too busy to provide takeaways. Eventually, we discovered a non-descript Japanese cafe that sold us excellent ramen noodle soup, which we ate sitting on the edge of the pavement next to the car! Had I reached my lowest ebb?

Calgary was another hour and a half away and it was almost 10pm by the time we arrived. Robyn had booked the Hilton with her staff discount when we couldn’t find any accommodation less than $300 a night around Banff. It was cheaper to drive backwards and forwards and have a comfortable room to sleep in. This worked well in theory but it was tiring for Steve who was driving.