Red squirrels accompany me up the trail and down, squeaking and chirping to each other and to the intruder. Big bellied blue-black and white magpies squawk at me, also asking for food. I look over the incredible scene from the rocky summit, but see no eagles or other birds of prey circling the skies. Still, the rock laden peaks surrounding me reach into the clouds on this cold day begging the sun to smile down upon them. After lunch, I head to the town Hot Springs to soothe my leg muscles, which have been getting stretched here in the beautiful historic town of Banff. The sun decided to shine its golden rays across the town this afternoon, so lunch was on a park bench by the Bow River, which got its name from the native Americans who believed the young Douglas Fir saplings to make the best bows for hunting. A lost seagull visits me and I wonder how and why he is so far from the sea. We decide it is because this is a good place to rest one's soul. This turned out to be a perfect day, as I then stroll downstream where people were walking their happy dogs. I decide then that this must be a good place to live. I come across an obviously in-love couple and their smiling pet collie who indulged me with a few friendly pats and headrubs. They told me the path continued up past some falls (Bow Falls) and that I had to watch my footing as it was quite steep, but what another glorious surprise was in store for me.
As i hiked along and the river bank grew taller and more dramatic, the river that was so tranquil at my lunchsite ran as if it was late for its plane. Faster and faster the water traveled below me, until the river became stormy rapids and rushed down into the limestone below, carving deep slices from the rock. Across the river there was another unexpected scene, the historic Banff Springs Hotel. Now I was intrigued, and seeing people on the other side tempted me to walk over the bridge and to see the forested walkway to the storybook castle hotel. So I mustered up my remaining strength and walked back upstream and over to the far side, which was much cooler, shaded by the tall firs. I found myself under a cool evergreen canopy that sheltered the path and provided habitat for elk, deer and bear. I hoped to see all from a safe distance, and since it was nearing dusk I figured I had a good chance, but none would show themselves this evening. The setting sun glinted off the enchanting river and my steps quickened to reach the end of the pathway before the evening cold made its nightly entrance. I followed the hundred or so steps to the viewing platform to see the Bow Falls again, now on the opposite side from the cliffs, and was delighted to see that the river then became quiet again and plunged into a serene lagoon like corner, with a quaint beach and massive rocks surrounding the sands. It seemed that every time I turned a corner, there was a fantastic surprise. Little did I know, this stretch of river was actually named "surprise corner." My perfect day did not end there, as I then went to the Banff Hot Springs to comfort my body after a long day of hiking. I ran into my roommate (who is also a neighbor, hailing from Quebec) and we both soaked our bones in the steamy, heated bath. The mineral rich warm waters are reknowned throughout Canada for curing rheumatism, arthritis and other ailments. All I know is it felt damn good after hiking all day long! I thought the day could not get any better, sharing these experiences with new friends and then having time to relax. Then upon returning to the hostel I met my new Irish friend and namesake in the hall, who said "will ya be goin downstairs for a pint?" I had to catch my bus early in the morning so I said okay, but just one. I seem to remember we ended up closing down the pub...We talked about the mountains - I kept saying I can't believe I've never been here before, and being a poetic Irishman, Don said "what language do you think the mountains were speaking?" Good question. I think it must be universal - to all who look at them. "Climb me, look at me, respect me, be in awe of me" I looked and saw where grizzlies live and was in awe. I will be back in Banff.
I just came off a trailhead into the town of Banff, and before I get some chow, I thought I'd write down what I just witnessed. Tunnel Mountain, so named because at one time the government was going to tunnel through it for transportation, actually has no tunnel at all. But an easily accessible trail - 4-6 feet wide in sections, wide enough for a baby stroller. The trail goes up 902 feet to the summit which is 5546ft looking over the town of Banff. Wide vistas make for spectacular views of the town, the Bow River - yes it follows a serpentine course through the valley, and the Vermilion Lakes. At one point I counted 38 peaks that I looked out on. The saying here is 360 degrees of "wow!" and I believe it is a truism. From the summit, pencil thin Douglas firs that have survived forest fires, grow in rocky soil and stand tall guarding the mountain while at the trailhead the forest floor becomes green and yellow with mountain grasses and evergreen groundcover.