TRIP REPORT: Fairview Mountain, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta
Story and photos by Deek Speredelozzi •
Circling the Canockies
It had been a long day of driving. Or at least my wife thought so. For my money, there could be nothing long, or in any way problematic, about eight hours spent tooling around the Canadian Rockies—especially, coming as it did, hot on the heels of a lifetime spent itching to get up here. So to me, the day we had just spent driving from Alberta’s Banff National Park (arguably the crown jewel of the Canockies) to and through British Columbia’s Kootenay and Yoho National Parks, and then back over the continental divide and into Banff once again, was about the best way you could spend a cycle of the sun in the car. I mean—she dug it, too—don’t get me wrong; it’s just that Katherine, like most folks I know, has a much lower threshold for pull-offs, scenic-overlooks, short day-hikes, and waiting around by the tracks for a train to come along, than, say, I do. So, when she (and the proverbial they) are like “Okay, this is undeniably bad-ass; but how many more glacially-carved prominences can I look at before my system for appreciating them is utterly flooded and thus temporarily incapacitated,” I’m always Joe Counterpoint, saying “This next stop is the spot I’m most jacked to see in this whole area.”
And so it was that, as we approached the fabled Lake Louise around 4:30 PM, Katherine announced that she had no plans to do any more hiking that day. This was actually fine with me; because despite having done a bunch of short, painless hikes throughout the earlier part of the day, I had yet to really carve out a route befitting a seasoned mountain man, since we’d crossed the border from Montana a day earlier. And the type of hike I was gunning for at this point was the kind that no dude could ever bring his wife or girlfriend on and expect to still have that person as a significant other afterwards. Plus, it’s not like she was trying to stop me from hiking or anything—she just didn’t want to go on one at this time. My wife, an avid backpacker herself (case in point: her second backpacking trip ever was a through-hike of the John Muir Trail in 2005, with me and another friend), is definitely not one to stand in the way of her man and his near-biological imperative to run up and down rocky crags whenever possible. In fact, I dare say that that’s one of a handful of things that she loves about me—in a way. I’ve had some girlfriends in the past who would try to stop me from going on hikes; but they’re all exes now. Every last.
“So now then…” thought I, pulling our rented Rav 4 into the Lake Louise Visitor’s Center area, “How best to punish myself among the heights of this endless spine of earthen teeth, cut and sharpened long ago on ancient glaciers, that poke and pierce the sky all up and down the continental crest?” Inside the visitor’s center a few minutes later, I got my answer. When my questions about nearby trail options quickly proved too probing for the frumpy, uninspired gal working the info desk, she grabbed a co-worker to help me. Now this new rangerette/kindred spirit was just the person I was looking for, as attested to by her demeanor, which suggested that she’d been all day long chomping at the bit to give somebody trail advice. Seeming to understand implicitly that I wasn’t looking for just some touristy fluff-walk , but a challenging hike that would pay out substantial scenic dividends, she recommended, without any flip-flopping, Fairview Mountain, one of the many lofty peaks in the immediate vicinity. This particular one rises steeply and vertiginously out of the waters off of Lake Louise’s southern shoreline, and taps the firmament more than 3,300 feet overhead. 3,300 vertical feet over just under three and a half miles. That sounds like something I could get into.
“Okay, I might as well get to it, then,” I announced, thanking the rangerette and turning to go.
“You’re not planning to go up there today, are you?”, she asked, a tone of cautious reservation barely concealed.
“Yeah, why?” I countered. She went on to point out the hour (it was just before 5 PM, Mountain Standard Time), and also explain about an aggressive grizzly (possibly not alone) who had been frequenting, of late, the area into which I was about to head- particularly around dusk and in the evening. I pondered this for a moment.
“Okay, I guess I’ll pick up some bear spray at the store before I hit the trail. And don’t worry—I hike very fast. You won’t be having to send anybody up there to look for me.” She seemed sufficiently reassured. Like I said—kindred spirit.
I stand outside the Rav 4, in the parking lot for Lake Louise and the Saddleback Trail—my trail to the summit of Fairview Mountain, eating a hastily-assembled tuna-melt, and mixing up another bottle full of icy lemonade. My wife tinkers with the bear spray canister, eager to confirm its functionality, and that I know how to use it. I pick it up and investigate, peering intently into the barrel while being extremely careful not to unlock the trigger. I think of the time ten years ago when, while fidgeting with an ex-girlfriend’s protective Mace spray, I inadvertently painted my face with red-hot-pepper-optical agony, for no good reason at all. The orientation of the trigger mechanism appeared sort of backwards from what I would have expected; so I misjudged the device entirely and blasted my grill. I guess this is how idiots with real guns manage to take their own heads off while cleaning their weapons. Anyway, I never made that mistake again with the Mace; and I wasn’t about to make it with bear spray either. I demonstrate to my wife’s satisfaction that I know how to correctly aim and administer a cone of eyeball-busting hellfire, should the need arise; though I don’t actually pull the trigger—everything but. It’s not really a very good idea to deploy a canister of bear-spray for any reason other than you are under real and present threat from an actual charging bear.
I take only essential gear: A Twix, a Snickers Bar, a bottle full of bone-chillingly cold lemonade, a camera (with extra battery), a weak-but-sufficient trail map, a fleece shirt, and a windbreaker.
Before I begin my ascent, I take a walk down to check out the lake with Katherine and Peanut. A 90-second walk through a heavily wooded area ends with the shockingly-abrupt unveiling of a lakescape of the highest order. Completely hidden from view when you’re in the parking lot, Lake Louise demands, captures, and holds your attention effortlessly once you’re standing by its shores.
Viewed from its northeastern end—the “developed” end—Lake Louise appears as a bed of implausibly green glacial melt-water, framed gorgeously by the long, deep, and towering V-shaped canyon that abuts its southwestern end. The lake’s emerald radiance (often referred to as “glacial milk”) is attributable to the abundant inflow of what is called “rock flour”—essentially just silt-sized particles of limestone that has been methodically ground down to a virtual powder by the mighty and ceaseless forces of erosion and bedrock grinding that are nature’s process way up here on the continental crest, where the great tectonic plates of the Pacific Ring of Fire ply their trade, wrestling with one another for dominance. Particles of rock flour are typically so small that they don’t even get pulled downward by gravity to settle at the bottom of the lake, but are instead suspended in the water, clouding it up and infusing it with its famously green hue.
We gaze out at hundreds of red kayaks, which lay like slices of red bell pepper all across the glistening surface of the lake. Hundreds of tourists crowd the scenic area at the end of the lake where we are standing. In the less than five minutes that we’ve been standing here, I’ve heard at least five languages being spoken. A Swiss-looking couple wanders past, the woman quizzing the man in some eastern-European-sounding tongue. A large extended family of Indian descent muscles in on our spot, seeking for an appropriately scenic backdrop for their imminent family picture. I step aside accommodatingly, then offer to take the photo, so the patriarc/cheerleader of the family can be in it, too. He’s happy to oblige, though somewhat overly-insistent on subjecting me to a brief tutorial on the proper procedure for using a fairly basic point-and-shoot camera. I tolerate his unnecessary tutelage, and take a photo that will doubtless find distribution and prominent placement for years to come on mantelpieces from here to Sri Lanka.
Looking southwest across the lake, I see, from the right, Mount St. Piran, Mount Niblock, and Mount Whyte, a trio of great peaks that are the first three in a great horseshoe of nine or so towering rock pigs that half-encircle the business end of Lake Louise. Straight ahead and about four miles away looms Mount Victoria, at 11,365 feet the highest peak of those that look down upon the shimmering emerald waters of Lake Louise, a lake named for the fourth daughter of Britain’s beloved Queen Victoria, for whom Mount Victoria was named. It’s a family affair, y’see. Hanging from the upper reaches of Mount Victoria is the Victoria Glacier, which breaks and crumbles its way down the Plain of Six Glaciers to eventually dump its ice and silt into Lake Louise, which sits at 5,740 feet above sea level. To the left of Mount Victoria stands Mount Lefroy; and in front of it hangs the Lefroy Glacier, from which comes most of Lake Louise’s melt-water. Set back in a deep recessed canyon, the Lefroy Glacier, as well as the three peaks of Mount Aberdeen, Haddo Peak, and Sheol Mountain, are all hidden from me by an intervening mass of shale and limestone lurching skyward from the lake’s southern shore. This intervening mass is Fairview Mountain; and it is upon its uppermost pinnacle that I aim to stand, before the end of the day.
Better get movin’ then, being that it’s almost 5:30 PM now. I establish an 8:30 PM pre-set turnaround time with my wife, which is always a good idea when starting a hike so late in the day- especially a grueling climb such as this one, and super–especially when an aggro grizzly is known to be active in the vicinity.
I kiss my wife; and tell her to expect me most likely before 8:30, though not to panic until I haven’t returned by 10 PM. Even then, it’ll still be light out, we’re so goddamn far north; but it’d be nice to have time to find camping before the headlamps have to come out. Like I said, it’s only a 7-mile roundtrip; and even with a 3,300-foot elevation gain, I trust my body and mind to carry me quickly up this trail, and without incident.
To Saddleback Pass
I start walking at 5:30 PM. My goal is to view Lake Louise from the summit of Fairview Mountain before the sun’s light has left the lake in shadow. A tall order? Perhaps. But I feel up to it. The trail starts climbing at once, up into the aforementioned heavy forest, the extreme fringe of which blocks the view of the lake from the parking lot, as I mentioned earlier.
Not more than two minutes into my hike, I encounter a trio of seriously overweight dudes coming down the trail. We exchange whatups in passing; and as I float by I ask them if they made it all the way up to the Fairview Overlook—more because I couldn’t think of anything else to say than because I thought there was any real chance that these three guys had done any real climbing. Because of their physiques, I mean. One of them responds “Fuck yeah we did! Shit was dope. You’ll see for yourself in a minute.” We parted ways.
Seconds later, I’m once again huffing and puffing my way up the trail, which continues to rise steadily through the thick forest along Fairview Mountain’s northeastern flank. Suddenly, a thought occurs to me: “There’s no fucking way those three guys just came down from the top—not in the shape they were in. Plus, if they had really just been up there, then they’d have known that I was definitely not gonna be up there ‘in a minute’, like the guy said. Why would someone lie about something like that? Weak.”
Almost immediately I come to a trail junction sign. The left fork goes to Saddleback Pass (my route)—the right fork goes to—well whaddya know—“Fairview Lookout: 0.8 km”. Okay, so I’m a dick. I didn’t realize that there was a lesser viewpoint actually called “Fairview Lookout”, less than a mile from the trailhead, and not more few hundred vertical feet above the lake. Clearly that’s where the Fat Boys had just come from. I wallow in my dickishness for a few seconds, and then climb down from my judgy high-horse and resume my hike—you know, to that other “Fairview Lookout”. The real one.
After about 15 minutes of walking, the trail leaves the forest for a short stretch, contouring fairly steeply across a hillside for a few hundred yards before passing back into heavy tree cover. Here I get my first views, eastward, down into the striking Bow River Valley, along whose namesake river runs the Trans-Canada Highway, on its way westward from the Village of Banff, 35 miles down-valley, up here to Lake Louise, and then up and over the continental divide and down into British Columbia, bound for its western terminus on Vancouver Island. I’m looking out across the tops of the trees of the forest through which I have just passed. On the far side of the valley, a row of formidable-looking mountains form a barrier against the lands beyond. The front-range peaks of this group: Mt. Lipalian, Castle Mountain (at the base of which we camped last night), Mt. Ishbel, Cockscomb Mountain, and Mt. Cory stand tall over the Bow Valley Parkway, which parallels the Trans-Canada Highway, offering access to the various trailheads, campgrounds, and various other points of interest along this stretch. The upper reaches of these giants are largely hidden behind the glistening white cover of hanging glaciers, which in a few spots are angled just right for reflecting the sun’s light directly back into my face; and at these spots the light explodes into dramatic rays, some of which pass through the lingering moisture above the valley—remnant of an earlier rain shower—launching multiple rainbows skyward before my eyes. Impressive though this vista is, I choose not to linger long, considering the hour, my goal of catching Lake Louise still bathed in sunlight, and the obvious knowledge that the views are gonna just keep getting better. I move on.
Back in the woods again, I continue to climb steadily. I ask a group of passing hikers if they have seen any sign of bears today; but they haven’t. The trail soon switches back on itself; and so now I’m walking with the mountain on my left side, the forest below me on my right. At the next switchback, the trail again leaves the cover of the forest for a few yards; and I stop to survey the view briefly. The view has been beefed up dramatically since my last stop. Now I can see the northeastern end of Lake Louise, the rest of which is hidden behind the main mass of Fairview Mountain. A few hundred yards back from the lake, across a large cul-de-sac, looms the 8-story Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a 4.5-star hotel, for those who must see the wonders of Lake Louise, but are above sleeping outside. Uh-oh: It’s that judgy high-horse again.
More and more hikers pass me, all heading downhill. I ask each group if there are still others above them—that is, if they know—and so far, it is reported, there are still a number of hikers higher up. Normally, whether or not there were other folks up ahead would be of little concern to me; but in this case I feel the need to know, because when the point comes in my hike where I am all alone up on this mountain—just me and the rogue grizzly—it’d be good to know this for certain, so I can make a little more noise. Ain’t tryna turn a corner to a face full of grizzly five feet away. Although I would love to see one from a distance. So far nobody has seen any bear sign.
I trek onwards and upwards; and eventually the trail leaves the forest for good. I can now see that I am heading up into a sort of notch or saddle between Fairview Mountain and the next one over, Saddle Peak, whose 8,000-foot summit towers overhead, a little to the left of my current trajectory. Lake Louise is now hidden entirely from view behind Fairview Mountain. The trail switchbacks steadily upwards, and the trail here is thick with the mud of melt-water from the snowfields above. I pick my way around the wet spots, and shortly arrive at the first snowfield. A shallow cave in the snow marks the spot where the runoff creek emerges from under the snowy blanket; and I make a point to avoid walking over the snow at this spot. I do not wish to post-hole through a snowbank, which would most likely leave my foot submerged in a glacial creek, and my leg snuggly wedged into a tube of sharp frozen snow particles. I re-route away from the hidden creek; and step up onto the white bank, now brown with mud and footprints. The snow here is only a few feet deep; but there is no avoiding its icy bite on my exposed heels; and after a few steps, both of my hiking shoes have admitted enough frozen snow that both of my toes are pierced with frosty pain. No matter, though, this was expected.
As I come up close under Saddleback Pass, the sun’s rays are cut off by the hill I am climbing; and just as I lose the sun, its light is kaleidoscopically rendered through the bright green lush leaves which line the trail on both sides, still wet from the earlier rain shower. Lake Louise is now hidden behind the bulk of Fairview Mountain.
At tree-line the trail at last levels off on its final approach to 7,700-ft Saddleback Pass. Crossing a barren, rocky meadow, I pass a French family on their way down; and they tell me that they are the last ones to have left the summit. Good to know, I’m on my own now.
At Saddleback Pass, I’m back in the path of the direct sun again. It’s bright light floods my field of vision, as I proceed directly into its face for an interval. From here, the Saddleback Trail continues straight down the back side of the pass into Paradise Valley, the area where the reported rogue grizzly has been the most active. My trail breaks away right from here, and almost immediately begins to climb in earnest up to the summit of Fairview Mountain, whose bulk now fills most of my right periphery. I look to the right. From here the trail can be plainly seen as it passes through a small wood of stunted trees—the last remnants from the tree-covered lower elevations, unable to reach their full heights here, because they started their growth process too far up the mountainside. Emerging from the stunted forest, the trail then begins to switchback steeply up a sandy, rocky pitch—up, up, up, until the curvature of the mountain itself causes the trail to curve away out of view towards the summit. Looking south from just above Saddleback pass, I see 9,100-foot Sheol Mountain, directly across from me, its long shadow casting the lower Paradise Valley in a premature-dusk .
The climb is grueling, and the going rough. When I turn around, I am now looking down at both the Bow River Valley and, on the other side of Saddle Peak, the lower end of Paradise Valley, an implausibly lush green hidden river valley, walled in on three sides by steep canyon walls of ancient shale and limestone. The valley is shaped like a bathtub with one end lopped off; and its towering walls of sheer rock call to mind H.G. Wells’s The Country Of The Blind a beautifully-written story in which a man, after taking a nasty fall while mountaineering somewhere in the Peruvian Andes, wakes up on a cliff, high up in the eaves of an unfamiliar-looking valley. Since he’s not seriously hurt, he makes his way down into the valley, and finds it to be inhabited by a population of blind people. The valley in the story is closed off on all sides to the outside world: Banff’s Paradise Valley has an outlet, I just can’t see it from here, due to the intervening mass of Saddle Peak, due southeast by less than a mile.
I am forced to stop for breath after just about every other switchback—leaning over, breathing heavily, with my hands on my knees and my head swiveling about to take in the sensory overload all around. Distant ridgelines become increasingly visible as my vantage point slowly rises above the intervening front ranges. New valleys are revealed to me as I ascend ever higher.
This trail must require a good bit of annual maintenance, I think to myself. Every step I take towards the summit pushes more of the dirt and rock beneath my feet further down the slope of the mountain. In this way, the trail must get obliterated on a fairly-regular basis—from mere use alone, which is to say nothing of the toll that the harsh northern Canadian winters and summer rains must exact upon this precarious route—a route designed by man, to allow for man to venture forth to a point in nature where Ma Nature does not seem to have intended for him to go.
Fairview Mountain Summit
I reach the summit of Fairview Mountain at 7:05 PM, exactly 95 minutes after leaving the shore of Lake Louise. That’s better time than I even thought I’d make. I feel terrific: fit, enlivened, invigorated, and lucky. And I’ve got this whole place to myself, which is extra sweet.
The view from the summit confirms my suspicion that this pig would prove a worthy contender in the All-Time-Most-Understated-Mountain-Name contest. I am no longer gazing up at lofty glaciers and towering rock peaks, I am now looking across at them, and in several cases, even down at them. At last I am high in the Canadian Rockies, as I have long wished to be. If there is any other living soul sharing this vista with me, they are on wings, or four legs; because I can see in all directions; and there is nobody else around. Surprisingly, there is no wind blowing on the summit today; in fact, I am still in my shorts, and shirtless, and perfectly warm. Who would have guessed that one could cap a 9,000-footer in the Canockies without feeling so much as a slight chill?
Whichever way I look, the land falls away beneath my feet. Directly below, to the north, lies the silty emerald-green body of Lake Louise; and I am pleased to say that the sun is still shining on it—at least on the tiny bit of it that I can see from here; for a protruding sub-peak on the northern flank of the mountain hides much of the lake from view. At any rate, the entire lake will be in shadow before much longer. The westering sun hangs above and behind the ridgeline of the continental divide, visible in the northwestern sky in the direction of Mt. Whyte. Due to the angle of the sun’s rays at this late point in the day, the lake, though partially visible, does not shimmer or shine in gloriously reflected light particles, as it surely would if I was standing here in, say, the late morning; but that fact does little to detract from the awesomeness of the spectacle laid out before me.
The Fairmont Chateau sits by the lakeshore, 3,300 feet below, utterly dwarfed by the expansive rich green Bow Valley in which it sits, a point of reference useful for gauging the sizes of the other landscape features all around.
Scurrying across the jagged boulders strewn about every square inch of the summit, I carefully pick a route that I expect will afford me a better view down into the gigantic glacial cirque that lies between the lake’s far end (not visible from here) and Mt. Victoria, further west, on the continental ridgeline. As I creep along the edge of a sheer dropoff of at least 2,000 feet, I forego my usual rock-hopping, instead choosing my steps carefully and methodically. And it’s a good thing, too; because at one point I plant my foot on what looks like a boulder of shale, but proves instead to be merely a thin plate of shale resting atop a smaller boulder of shale. My unevenly distributed weight causes the flat piece of shale to slide out from under my foot; and if not for the firm hold my left hand has on a more stable piece of the mountain, I would be tumbling down an unforgiving cliff, with the rocks I’d just loosened tumbling behind me, hot on my heels. This close call inspires me to take it down a notch; and so I abort my mission to gain the westward overlook. That’s fine, though—I’ve already made it far enough to see the entirety of the Victoria Glacier, now fully in shadow, and the Plain of Six Glaciers, tumbling down to the lake’s western end. This sight, seen from on high like this, is exceedingly satisfying. I draw a deep breath of pure atmosphere, and drink it in with relish.
I turn to face the southward view—across a deep, vertical—walled canyon separating Fairview Mountain from Sheol Mountain, the latter of which rises another 110 feet or so higher than the former. The intervening canyon is far too deep for me to see its bottom. Just beyond Sheol Mountain, and slightly east (left) of its bulk, I can now survey a bit more of the lower Paradise Valley than I could before, though now everything in that direction is in deep shadow.
Eastward is an unbroken panorama of serrated ridgeline peaks stretching from beyond the village of Banff in the southeast clear up to the lofty crags that line the legendary Icefields Parkway, which stretches all the way up to Jasper, 140 miles still further north. Tomorrow we will be driving this epic road—another thing I have long wished to do.
The light of pre-dusk, coupled with the crisp, clear alpine air, has an effect of making certain features of the land pop out, as if in 3-D; which, I suppose they are, being that this is the real world, and not just a photograph of it. But the features jump all the more in these specific conditions. Sunbeams shine at me now through the rocks at my feet. It won’t be long now.
As the sun begins its final descent behind the looming wall to the west, the enormous shapes of the continental divide peaks to the west are projected eastward as grotesquely oversized shadows against the placid green tree-cover that blankets the Bow River Valley. As the minutes tick on by, the shadows inch their way ever higher up the opposing ridge, until at last the fading light starts to dissolve the shadows into nocturnal nothingness. Dusk has begun. Time to get moving.
Back To Earth
I am running down a mountain. Or perhaps the mountain is running up me. All I know is, I’m making quick work of this descent. I noticed a more direct line down the upper flank of the mountain, which I can see from here rejoins the Saddleback Trail just below the pass, cutting off at least a quarter mile, maybe more, from the route I took on the way up. The going is exceedingly steep, and slowing myself down takes a good 15 or 20 feet to execute. I imagine somebody standing atop Saddle Peak, directly across from here, and watching the vertical plume of dust that rises up from my footfalls, watching it makes its way down the steep slope, like a mini-tornado racing for the foot of the mountain. I have to stop every 30 seconds or so to de-sand-and-rock my hiking shoes; but it’s worth the exhilaration of basically throwing my body down a mountainside.
As I approach tree-line, near Saddleback Pass, the slope of the trail begins to taper towards the horizontal; and I begin to move much slower (because for the first time on this descent, I can). I have just said goodbye to the sun for the last time today; and as I think about the rest of my hike, down through the thick forest below, my mind turns to grizzly bears. It’s getting on prime time for bear sightings; so I take out the canister of bear-spray, secure it in my right hand, and practice drawing down on a charging grizzly, acting all Indiana-Jones-in-the-Arabian-Market-Square for a few moments. I’m not too concerned about the possibility of running into anything threatening; but just the same I keep watchful, and keep the bear spray close at hand.
My shortcut intersects the main trail just down from Saddleback Pass; and almost immediately I am skidding on my heels and soles through the snowfields through which I passed a little over an hour and a half ago. My hiking shoes fill with more of that miserably piercing icy snow; but now there’s no sunlight to warm them or dry them; so I stop at the end of the snowfields and immediately empty out my shoes, warming my freezing toes with my hands for a few moments.
Suddenly I feel unacceptably vulnerable: crouched down on a step of the trail, hunched over my footwear, and not looking around me, with darkness seeping into the surrounding forest. I’m just asking for it if a mountain lion was to happen on me like this. I jump up in alarm, as if there is something there. But there isn’t. I continue on.
When the trail plunges back into the darkening forest for the last time, the views are all behind me, the bears are wherever they are (possibly still up ahead), and my appetite has started to draw me downhill. I break into a full-on sprint, tearing through the woods with unbridled glee, alone and in my element. Anytime an obstacle appears before me, I simply leap over it, imagining that I am doing so in slow-motion.
After a time I start to smell meat cooking on a grill. The trailhead and campgrounds are near at last. I emerge from the forest and onto the pavement of the trailhead parking lot at 8:15 PM, before my turnaround time has even arrived. I see the Rav 4, now on the far side of the lot; and I see my wife in the back, rearranging our gear. Peanut spots me at once and comes racing across the parking lot to greet me, conveying an urgency that is just plain ridiculous, but no less endearing for its seeming overzealousness. He is happy to see me: overjoyed, really. I feel like he’s about to drop dead from the excitement of my return. I know how he feels. An hour or so ago, I felt like I was about to explode myself, seemingly unable to take in all the sensory stimuli bombarding me. But I lived; and he will, too. My wife spent the last few hours securing us a campsite, so we wouldn’t have to go looking for one now. What a keeper. We drive off towards camp; and to my surprise, I catch another glimpse of the lowering sun, through the notch of a low pass to the west. As we head to the night’s campground, a few miles north of Lake Louise, along the Icefields Parkway, the canyon walls to my right glow in an array of iridescent warm colors, catching the last of the day’s sun.
We pull into camp; and I open a can of frigid Budweiser. I borrow a neighbor’s axe, and spend 20 minutes getting my Paul Bunyan on, splintering logs into burnable pieces of wood. I start the fire, and sit back in my camp chair to wait for the coals to get hot enough for grilling. A fresh pack of Italian sausages waits patiently on the table beside me.
We are so far north that the darkness comes later than I’ve ever seen it. I don’t even dig out my headlamp until 10:30 PM; and I don’t even turn it on until 11:45 PM. Aah, the north. I hit the sack at 12:30, to rest up for another day of high-Canadian alpine adventure. Tomorrow it’s the Icefields Parkway, clear up to Jasper National Park, that other crown jewel of the Canockies.