The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

Trip Start Feb 16, 2011
Trip End Jun 11, 2012

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Thursday, July 7, 2011

On Sunday I had decided to make the most of my 2 nights off this week by hiring a car and doing a drive to Moraine Lake. I spoke to Susanna who was interested in coming along and Adam invited his roommates Kylie and Jenni who are both Aussies. So it was set that we would have 5 people for an afternoon cruising around the Canadian Rockies!

I got up early on Wednesday after only a few hours of sleep to pick up the car at 1pm. I hired a Chevrolet Impala which is like your basic Commodore, but it was a 2011 model so it was still quite nice. It had all the mod-cons like electric seats and a foot emergency brake which meant it took me 10 minutes trying to figure out how to get the damn thing out of the car park! It wasn't too weird driving a left hand drive car because I’ve been doing plenty of bike riding around town so I am used to riding on the right hand side of the road. Plus the indicators are on the left which is the same as a motorcycle (although this one didn’t have a right stalk anyway).

After picking up the gang, we hit the Trans-Canada Highway travelling at a smooth 90kmph. It took around an hour to reach Moraine Lake which is 14kms up a side road on the road to Lake Louise. Everyone was out enjoying the sunshine which was evident by the number of cars which were parked down the road; luckily we got one close to the lake. Moraine Lake is your picture postcard view of an alpine lake in the Canadian Rockies. Stunning turquoise water surrounded by snow peaked mountains on the left and a forest on the right. It was by far the most beautiful place I’ve been to; even better than Lake Louise which is more developed. We spotted some trout swimming in the shallows and went for a walk around the lakefront for around an hour.

Then it was time to go for a quick look at Lake Louise. The sun was shining more than last week and the lake looked like a different colour. I continued my tradition of going to the café inside the chateau and having a hot chocolate and a muffin even though it was a sunny day. We were running out of time, so we left early to get to the Lake Louise Gondola which is located on the other side of the highway on the big ski hill. We got there just before 5pm and just made the gondola up the mountain side to the top. It was strange to think that the grassy hills below us would be covered with snow and skiers for 6 months of the year. There was a small observation platform at the top where we had just enough time to soak in the Bow Valley and Lake Louise on the other side. We kept our eyes out for grizzly bears on the way back because there are many in that area, but we didn’t see any. Just before we got back to the car we saw 4 military helicopters taking off from the car park and copped a mouthful of dust in the process.

Next we drove down the Bow Valley Parkway which runs adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway on the other side of the Bow River down past Castle Junction to Johnston Canyon. It was late and we were running out of daylight so instead of hiking all the way to the Inkpots, we only got as far as the Upper Falls which were still pretty spectacular. The canyon was quite narrow in places and the catwalk certainly added to the aura surrounding the area. Highlights were finding the cave and the S shaped tree!

It was time to head for home and it was all smooth sailing on the highway. Some people were planning on going out for a drink, but we were all much too tired and sank into our beds.

On Thursday, I got up at 7am to get ready for the Grand Nature Club hike to the Bow Glacier Falls, but when I arrived at the meeting point I found I was the only one. A quick check of the internet confirmed that it had been cancelled which is why I had hired the car for 2 days in the first place! After sending a few messages around, Kylie and Jenni agreed to tag along for the drive out to Lake Minnewanka. We had a nice relaxing stroll around the lake front to Stewart Canyon, even stopping to dip our feet in the icy cool waters. The sun was out again and the water looked good enough to swim in if it wasn’t freezing cold. We had a bit of fun throwing around the Frisbee before driving back into town.

I picked up Susanna and her workmate Henri and his friend Mikhal who was visiting from the Czech Republic. We drove back onto the highway past Lake Louise to Peyto Lake which I had missed seeing on my trip to Jasper. A short walk up the hill from the car park revealed the turquoise coloured waters of the lake and the glacier that fed it. It was hard to believe that the waters could turn that colour just from tiny rock flour particles suspended in the water and refracting only certain light frequencies.

However, the big surprise was yet to come as we travelled back to Bow Lake which we had passed on the way up. Bow Glacier and Bow Lake are the source of the Bow River which runs all the way down through Banff and Calgary on its way across the continent to the Atlantic Ocean. I intended on going on the Bow Glacier Falls hike and we were all excited to do it. Little did we know that this hike would be the best hike of our entire lives, how the scenery would leave us reaching for an apt description; all of which would be less than reflective of the true beauty of nature? We started by hiking around the lake edge which was quite large and deep blue. Once we reached the end of the lake, we hiked along the stream that fed the lake into a large floodwater plain filled with river stones. The river meandered up to a narrow gorge which we hiked up the side of encountering a huge boulder which had wedged itself between the chasms. We had lunch on the boulder which was quite safe and then continued out into a glacial valley complete with moraines, steep vertical cliffs and a huge thundering waterfall at the end of it. Excitedly we clambered up this moonscape to the edge of the waterfall, but it wasn’t close enough. On hands and feet we scaled the slippery rock face on the waterfall edge until we finally reached the base of it. But it still wasn’t close enough, so we put our rain jackets on and climbed up to where the glacier fed, thundering shower hit the rocks between the snow and getting saturated in the midst of it! It was absolutely glorious; it was divine, unbelievable, amazing and all together WOW!

With the sun setting and tiredness setting in, we carefully negotiated our way along the cliff edge until we got to a point where we could climb down and start the trek back to the car. It seemed to go very quickly, but it still took over an hour in the shadows and mosquitos which were a frequent terror. But the fun wasn’t to end there. Not long after re-joining the highway, we came across a few cars parked on the side which indicated wildlife in the area. Hurriedly, everyone jumped out to have a look at a black bear wandering along the bottom of the forest below the road. If that wasn’t enough, a few kilometres later we stopped as we viewed another black bear and her two cubs munching on grass and dandelions on the side of the road where I had previously seen a black bear on my trip back from Jasper. After a thousand photos, we continued down past Lake Louise and back to Banff. As we turned off the highway, an excited Susanna shouted that she had seen something on the Vermillion Lakes loop, so we turned down it to find a huge bull elk lying down and munching on grass seemingly bemused by the couple of cars that had stopped to take his picture. To top off the day, we headed down to Bruno’s Bar for some beer and pizza and hopefully a good night’s rest.

Trail Info:

Johnston Canyon Upper Falls
Distance: 2.4kms one way
Elevation: 120m gain
Time: 2 hour round trip
Waterfall Height: 30m

Bow Glacier Falls:
Distance: 5km one way
Elevation 155m gain
Time: 3 hour round trip
Mosquito Bites: At least 20 on my arms alone!

Anyway enough narration let the pictures do the talking!
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