Thursday, July 26, 2012

Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper Canada

Maggie and Felix Climbing the Largest Glacier South of the Arctic

Driving through Montana coming from Idaho we decided to drive through Missoula and make a quick visit to our good friends Tiffany and Jeremy Wolf.  On our stop I noticed our tire was going flat and that I could hear the hiss of the air coming out.  Too long a story, but we had the spare tire on as the other tire had a flat as well. The tire wasn’t patchable and we had to purchase new tires.  We ended up staying at the Wolf’s place and enjoying the comforts of a house for an evening and morning.  It was great to visit the Wolf's and get acquainted with our future home city.  
On the way to Banff National Park we stayed at a Provincial Park southwest of Banff on Premier Lake.  The mosquitoes were unbelievably thick, but the lake was unbelievably clear (you could see the bottom clearly 20’ below the dock) and beautiful.  I went for a rare evening run not sure if the trails would do much climbing or go for very long.  Ends up I found a trail that went by a few lakes then up to the ridge.  The geology in the Canadian Rockies and NW Montana is such that the base elevation in the mountains is relatively low ranging from 3,000-4,000 feet at the base of the peaks, but the mountains rise dramatically out of the earth to elevations as high as 12,000 feet.  The mountains of the Canadian Rockies are phenomenally beautiful, rocky, raw and sheer, making trails up the mountains crazy steep.  The trail I took, which simply lead to “saddle back” pass was the lowest point on the fairly mellow ridge line  (in comparison to the surrounding mountains).  I ended up climbing over 5,000 feet in 11 miles, boasting a climb of 4,300 feet in 4 miles. 
4,300 Feet in 4 Miles
  On the way back, I nearly ran into a mother black bear coming within 10 feet before noticing and backing up.  The bear had a baby cub the size of a raccoon that sprinted up a tree.  The mother bear stood up on her hind legs and made some snorting noises before turning around, calling her cub down the tree and then running off. 
Lake Louise

Banff and Lake Louise was phenomenal to see, but a bit too crowded and touristy.  Jasper National Park, further north and off the huge divided highway was more impressive and far less of a motor home and Asian tour buss bonanza.  The Canadian Rockies were/are experiencing flood stage level runoff, which made some of the hiking and running a little challenging, but also the rivers, creeks and waterfalls were that much more spectacular.  The Canadian Rockies are so amazingly raw and new.  The  river beds are starkly flat, dramatic and harsh.  The waterfalls often go down and over the most rugged, rocky terrain creating beautiful spectacles. 
Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefield

We spent a number of days camped just two miles down from the Athabasca Glacier and Columbia Icefield, the largest glacier and icefield outside the Artic Circle.  Seeing and hiking on the glaciers was a life experience.  Jasper has some of the most amazing mountains, rivers and glaciers I have ever seen, to include travels to the high alpine of Europe, and the mountains of Bolivia and Peru in South America. 
I’ve included a lot of pictures and they tell a much better story than words can.  This was a tough time to be attempting a taper for the Speedgoat 50k, but we are going to return to the area in August and I plan on doing a better job exploring this magic place. 

On the flip side, this area of Alberta and British Columbia have different ways of managing their public lands than the way Rocky Mountain States do.  Visiting Provincial Parks (sort of a state park and national forest combo) and National Parks in Canada is very expensive.  Entrance fees were $19 to the National Parks… per day.   The fee for camping in the NP was $27 in Banff and $19-25 in Jasper in addition to daily park fees.  Having a fire required a permit costing $8.80 per day.   Provincial Parks in BC and Alberta cost $21-$30 per night.  There were no “Forest Service Roads” in the Canadian Rockies, or at least on any of the roads we traveled.  The authorities were also very good at marking any possible public land access with “no camping” signs.  Bottom line, in addition to very limited access to public lands, free camping does not exist.  
Canadian Ground Squirrel 

Cattle Guard in Canada... Funny
The other discouraging thing about our visit in the National Parks in BC and Alberta was the deterioration of the trails and their access.  We spent nearly 4 hours one day in Jasper trying to find a hike and run longer than 2 kilometers.  Three trailheads marked on two different maps given to us at the visitor center no longer existed.  The next day I asked about the several trails that no longer existed and was told that they are no longer  maintained due to a lack of use.  This disappearing trail phenomena was just an instance at Jasper National Park, a place where the terrain is crazy steep, snowy and glaciated and remote, but still, something I don’t think would happen in the US Rockies.  I don't mean to assume trail access or the cost of being on public lands in the rest of the Canadian Rockies or Canada is like Jasper.  Regardless, we had a spectacular time and will return soon!
Cousin It Plants

We are in Bozeman Montana now and I unfortunately have a cold for the first time in over a year.  Hoping I feel better by race day Saturday.  


  1. Great photos. Interesting seeing your comparisons to the US system. We are used to having to pay for camping at most places up here, except on crown land, and always a little surprised when visiting the US and can pitch a tent quite randomly it seems.

    Definitely notice many trails don't get heavily used in parts of Canada (small population, but widely spread out will do that), but that's sometimes part of the beauty. Having said that, the trick is to contact some local trail runners to give you some input to the must do routes. Not sure about Jasper, but strong trail running community in Banff/Canmore and got some great advice when we visited from the East.

    Here's a short blog we did, with mention of a book you might want to check out for next time...

    Good luck at SpeedGoat!

  2. Epic pics I can't believe you guys made it all the way to the Columbia Icefield. it's so incredible from what i remember from the trip I took through there in 2006 in Tan van Jammin!

  3. Incredible pictures ... especially liked the naked boys in the "cold" lake shot! Hope today's race went well with little impact from your recent cold - God Bless, Dad

  4. Wow...epic posts my friend. Really cool to see the adventures you guys are having.
    Nice job in speedgoat yesterday against a DEEP field. Must have been a cool race to be a part of.

  5. Derrick,
    Totally agree. Thanks for the link.

    Mike, it was awesome, eh!

    Thanks Dad

    Thanks Aaron, yeah, crazy field. It was a neat event to be part of.