Saturday, July 23, 2011

Canadian Rockies Part 1 - Borgeau Lake

Rebecca set aside a week in June for her timeshare condo in Canmore, Alberta, the gateway to Banff National Park. We planned to do a number of the classic hikes in the park, as many as the snowline and time would allow.

On Thursday we flew all night on the Red-Eye from Anchorage to Seattle, boarded a smaller plane to Calgary, rented a cool car, and headed to the supermarket to stock up for a week in the mountains. The weather was hot, the sky was flawless, and we thought we had struck alpine gold. However, we had read the weather report and knew that clouds and rain were in our future.

For our first hike we picked Eiffel Lake and Wenkchemna Pass, a rather long and steep hike, but a classic for the opportunity to get to the top of a peak and view much of the park in every direction.

The Banff-Jasper highway, Canada Route 1, is lined on both sides by high wire fences to keep the wildlife from entering the roadway. At convenient intervals, large rock and earth bridges have been constructed over the highway so the animals can cross to the river or mountains. They are architecturally beautiful, planted with spruce, pines and birch to look like natural crossings to the critters. To enter the trailhead we needed to climb a metal style and open a gate...easy for us, impossible for a bear.

Many of the trees seem to suffer from a bark beetle infestation, so we found dead trees in large groves. The forest was still stunning, and the trails were easy to walk, well maintained, and of a very comfortable grade.

Rebecca and I stopped often to photograph the flowers. In this area, beautiful lady slipper orchids were everywhere.

The floor of the forest was covered with moss, soft under foot, and fragile. The trail started out fairly even and straight, but after a while switchbacks appeared as we gained altitude. Looking out to the west, a steep cliff rose from the river below. The sounds of the highway disappeared and were overtaken by the rushing water.

Looking back across the valley we could see the vertical limestone cliffs and pinnacles, so different from the glaciers and craggy peaks above us. It was like two different worlds on either side of the Bow river.

Our first snow was the remains of an avalanche, covered with rock and debris from above.

We looked up to see our goal on the other side of the valley. We still had a way to go, having covered about 4 miles so far.

A nice bridge covered a small steep stream coming from a large snowfield above. The Canadian park trails were so civilized after 31 years in Alaska. We sat down under a tree for lunch, and the afternoon rains began. Four hikers came down the trail and reported that it was solid snow, unconsolidated and nearly waist deep ahead by Eiffel Lake. We were dressed in running shoes and by now had an 8-mile round trip for our first outing.

Back to the condo and a Cesar chicken salad washed down with a beer, energized for day two!

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