Alberta bound again! We spent 8 years living here, and 2 of our 3 children were born in Grande Prairie. The nostalgia really only hits me full force when I see those big skies again. This time we are heading to Calgary for a couple of days with our friends Paul and Mary, before setting out on a four-day hiking trip in the Banff National Park with 2 other couples, Charlotte (one of my regular hiking buddies) and Roger from Toronto Island and our long-term friends from Edmonton, Greg and Rita. Although we were the pivotal ‘common denominator’ we knew there was a significant overlap of interests, adventuring spirit and values among the group so were not surprised when everyone got along famously!
Paul had prepared well and had trail maps, extra poles for Steve, and spare boot laces for me! Greg and Rita are also veteran Rockies hikers and their first-aid supplies and know-how came in handy. Paul and Mary hosted a pre-departure dinner and packed lunch ‘wrap-up’ on the Sunday before we were to leave for Shadow Lake Camp. Mary and I had packed all our stuff into our day packs to practice carrying the weight on a local walk along Fish Creek the previous day.
The weekend we arrived was sunny and warm with great clear views across to the snow-capped mountains. However, overnight the vista changed as smoke from forest fires in Washington State blew in and settled over the Rockies so that as we drove in to our trailhead near Banff we could barely see the peaks on either side of the road. Sadly it socked in for our entire time in the mountains, and only blew out again after we left. In fact Calgary air quality was worse than Beijing’s and the inevitable smoke inhalation adversely impacted our hiking as well as our views.
Despite this we had an amazing time, and would love to rinse and repeat when the air is clear! From the trail head, it was a comfortable 14 km hike along the Redearth Creek Trail, mostly uphill, to Shadow Lake Lodge, nestled near the towering grandeur of Mt. Ball, in the backcountry of Banff National Park. Rita took her mountain bike in and made such good progress that she had time for a nap before we caught up to her, a few kms from the lodge. No need for us to haul food or camping gear, as the very lovely lodge provided log cabins and gourmet meals – an amazing base for our few days of hiking. We arrived in time for high tea provided by the lodge – a wonderful spread of sweet and savoury snacks, hot and cold drinks and bar items on request!
Our days were spent on surrounding hiking trails – Whistling Pass on Day 1, Ball Pass on Day 2, and Gibbons Pass on the last day to exit via the Twin Lakes Trail rather than the one via which we had arrived. The first day (20 kms) was very strenuous for me, particularly with the smoke; thankfully, Steve and Mary turned back with me before the Pass. However, I enjoyed the views of Shadow and Haiduk Lakes, and we all got used to carrying bear bells, clicking our poles together now and then and/or talking loudly to scare off bears.
I really enjoyed the hike to Ball Pass the next day (16 kms) as the smoke seemed to thin out as we got higher, affording great views of a glacier and Mount Ball. The final ascent was a tricky, shale switch-back trail, but the views from the top made it all worth while and we enjoyed our lunch in the pass, watching picas (small alpine mammals) dart about.
The final day we of course had our full packs on again, and the steep ascent to Gibbons Pass seemed endless – a winding upward trail, 500 meters of ascent over 3 kms. Thankfully, fit Charlotte kept Mary and I going by regaling us with stories of previous adventures in Nepal, so I was too preoccupied to give in to pain! The lovely meadow at the top was worth the effort, and the pine trail on the other side was enjoyable, with a handsome posing hairy marmot and glimpses of one of the Twin Lakes through the trees. Mary and I branched off from the others along a different trail to pick up a vehicle left at the trail head, and had a close encounter with a bear, so quickened our pace significantly for the last stretch, rushing past a lovely waterfall.
After taking turns in the shower house post-hike, we spent our evenings at Shadow Lake Lodge enjoying the company of our friends at the lodge and meeting other guests, starting with high tea, if we arrived back in time, and pre-dinner bevvies on the porch. Fantastic gourmet dinners followed, and then social time round the fire in the common room cabin. An amazing place for reuniting with friends …reminiscing and making new memories!
Date: August 22-25, 2015
Shadow Lake Lodge Trail Guide: http://shadowlakelodge.com/hikes/
Hikers: Greg & Rita, Paul & Mary, Charlotte & Roger, Liz & Steve