Bienvenue á Banff

July 16, 2017

Seattle to Nairn Falls | Total miles driven: 235 | 1 uneventful border crossing

After a fairly uneventful shift, I got off work and headed home where my already packed and loaded pickup sat waiting in the garage. Hannah and I had planned a week-long camping roadtrip through Whistler and over to Lake Louise and Banff to experience the staggering Canadian Rockies. Spoiler alert: the trip did not fail to deliver.

We were on the road, with my Doberman, Titus (IG #titusadventuredog), on board, for roughly 4 minutes before we pulled a quick u-turn to grab the Kindle that was sitting on my nightstand. I knew I was forgetting something.

Just over an hour’s drive found us filling a growler at Bellingham’s Aslan Brewing and purchasing one more self-inflating sleeping pad at REI. Ok, now we were ready to cross the border and into the great white north of Canada, where distances and possibly currency values are completely fake. In all honesty, how far is a kilometer and what is the actual cost of a $5 CAD beer? No one really knows, I’m convinced. Commence a week of swiping a credit card at gas stations with no idea how many liters of fuel I needed to prepay for and how much I was actually paying. It was fun.

And worth it.

Hannah had never been to Whistler so after the breathtaking Sea-to-Sky Highway, we pulled into downtown Whistler for a quick leg stretch through Whistler Village. We thought about lunch, but opted to continue on to our campsite, just 30km (3 miles??) north

The three of us arrived at Vancouver B.C.’s Nairn Falls Provincial Park around mid-afternoon and quickly got camp set up. Already pretty efficient at camping, our camp deployment and strike process became even more dialed as the week went on.

Lunch taken care of, it was time to hike out to the actual Nairn Falls, a short, relatively flat 1.5km (one-way) trail from the campground gate / day-parking lot. The falls are outstanding, with several “layers” and massive flow of water.

Before heading east for Lake Louise on what became an 11-hour drive the next morning, Hannah and I got the blood pumping by trail running to the falls viewpoint and back. It was a great start to the trip, even if the supposedly-visible Northern Lights didn’t show themselves in the middle of the night. I checked. For like 53 seconds. Then I gave up and went back to sleep. Sounds like it was a bust anyways, chatting with other campers who were in the area that night.

July 17, 2017

Nairn Falls to Lake Louise | Total miles driven: 747 | Travel day; wildfire detours

Not much to say about this day except that it was longer than expected due to several significant wildfires threatening the road at various points along our predicted route. This led to several detours that added a couple hours to our already sizable drive. Ultimately, Hannah and I got a lot of CST (confined-space time) (and did well!) and Titus got a lot of rest.

The travel day started well, with a stop at the lower Joffre Lake about an hour after starting the drive. There is a cool hike that Hannah and I both want to come back for that leads to the middle and upper Joffre Lakes and then leads to a camp at the base of a glacier beyond. Rad!

Due to time/distance left to our destination that night (Lake Louise), we only hiked to the lowest lake, a mere 5 minutes from the road. We did notice a pretty funny sign at one point on the “trail” on the way back that had an arrow toward the parking lot with an estimated time of 15 minutes to hike back. Confused, I glanced at the time and then checked the elapsed time once we reached our truck: 3 minutes. Once again, the elusive nature of the kilometer reared its head.

After Joffre, the drive became more and more smoky. And it stayed smoky the rest of the drive. Detours came and went and still we drove. We listened to podcasts, music, nothing, more podcasts, did crosswords, played alphabet games. And still we drove.

The truck (war rig… battle wagon… etc) is not fast on a good day, and loaded with camping gear and fuel and water it is just plenty happy doing 60mph (or less). We didn’t make great time, but this trip was about so much more than that, so we just settled in.

A late afternoon caffeine refuel at a Starbucks along our route provided us with a break for lunch (dinner?) (tailgate sandwiches!), coffee and wi-fi. We checked smoke conditions at Lake Louise, and learned that the smoke was there, but promised to be less significant than what we had been driving through all day.

Our spirits lifted by the news and the calories/caffeine, we continued on, arriving at the Lake Louise soft-sided campground (protected by an electric bear fence, no big deal) after dark. Already pros at our camp setup, our camp was pitched and we were asleep within minutes, visions of teal, glacially-fed lakes dancing in our heads.

July 18, 2017

Lake Louise | Tea house hike

It felt good to wake up knowing we didn’t have to break camp that night. Hazy smoke still hung over the area as I made breakfast (breakfast burritos, what else?), but it wasn’t nearly as bad as during the previous day’s drive, so I call that a win. Side note: I could subsist entirely on breakfast burritos, and, truth-be-told, for much of the past month, I have.

Hannah took Titus for a morning run while I made breakfast. The timing was perfect and I had coffee ready and pulled the burritos off the cast iron as they returned from a quick couple miles.

After a leisurely morning (for me), Hannah and I loaded Titus up and headed up the road to Lake Louise to do battle with everyone else who wanted to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the boardwalk, staring at the glaciers at the far end. It was beautiful. But still a little too hazy to truly appreciate the grandeur.

On our agenda was the “tea house hike”, which is a 15km (6 football fields??) loop that takes hikers to two different tea house lodges, where fit and motivated tourists can purchase very expensive bottled waters… and tea! It was actually a really cool hike. We opted to head up the steeper trail to the closer tea house first. This is what everyone else also decided to do. Only 3.4km to the first tea house situated on the shore of Lake Agnes, high above Lake Louise. Peek-a-boo views of Lake Louise were rewarding and the color of the glacially-fed lake was other-worldly, even with the gray of the smoke somewhat muting the Canadian Rockies’ ridiculous, vibrant palette. Arriving at the tea house, we snagged an end table outside on the patio where Titus could sit and promptly got real cold from the wind whipping up at us from the valley below. The tea was exceptional and worth every penny that Hannah spent. I rarely carry cash and for some inexplicable reason, my U.S.-based credit card (or any credit card, for that matter) wasn’t accepted at 7,000′ in the Canadian wilderness. Weird.

No matter. After a warming couple drinks (of tea), we continued on the loop to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House a mere 8km (2 light-years??) away. This section of the trail was much less populated than the initial leg to get up to the Lake Agnes Tea House and had some really cool views of Lake Louise and the glaciers we were approaching. The final stretch of the connector portion of the trail was pretty steep and the footing was loose scree, so it made lunch at the second tea house pretty spectacular, even if it was a simple meal of tea and biscuits. Titus began looking pretty tired at this point, proving this by lying on his side in the dirt. If you know Titus, you’ll know he hardly even sits when he’s not on a doubled-up Costco dog bed. He leads a rough life.

The return to the truck was pretty straightforward as it was possible to see the Lake Louise boardwalk at the far end of the lake very quickly after leaving the second tea house. Just a quick descent to the lake’s edge and then a nice jaunt along the shore until we made it back to the previously-mentioned “shoulder-to-shoulder” boardwalk, which was even more shoulder-to-shoulder at that point. It was time to return to our camp.

Our big hike completed for the day, Titus packed it in and pretty much refused to come out of the back of the truck for the rest of the night, except for dinner. A tired pup is a good pup.

Though our campsite at Lake Louise didn’t have a fire ring and we had already planned on not being able to have fires those nights, it was still disheartening to know that the brutal wildfires ravaging Canada had led to a country-wide burn ban prohibiting fires. I’m not 100% sure it’s camping if you don’t have a little fire at the end of the day. We soldiered on.

Fortunately, the occupants of the campsite that backed up to ours decided to be a lot quieter when they returned that night at some ungodly hour, so our sleep was far less interrupted. Though after hiking more than four vertical floors (that’s all the credit the Health app on my iPhone gave me for the whole hike that day — a measly 40 feet!), I’m not sure we would have heard them anyways.

July 19, 2017

Lake Louise to Banff | Total miles driven: 789 | Sunrise at Moraine Lake; sneaky showers at Tunnel Mountain CG

Do yourself a favor: drive to Moraine Lake. Park before sunrise and hike up the rock pile to stake out your spot. I’m serious. Stop reading this and start driving. It’s that jaw-dropping. Bring a down jacket because it’s also cold. Ok. I’m done typing short, stubby sentences.

Or am I? No, I am.

After a subtle (read: smoky) Moraine Lake sunrise (Pro tip: turn around and look behind you every couple minutes because there are stunning views that way too), we returned to our campsite to break camp and head east a bit to Banff proper. We were becoming pretty efficient with our set-up and tear-down order and we keep a very clean camp (as one should) so only a few minutes later we were on the road.

Even driving east less than an hour to Banff made a pretty decent difference in the smoke level. Banff was noticeably clearer, which was a nice change of pace. We located out site in the Two Jack Main campground and came to the realization that the campground didn’t have showers, which both of us were very much looking forward to at this point in our trip. I recalled from my trip to Banff way back in the summer of ’15 that the Tunnel Mountain campground just outside of city limits had showers. Because it was between check-out and check-in time for all the campgrounds, we thought the odds were pretty good that we could sneak into the campground at “low tide” and nab some zesty hot water.

Our plan worked perfectly. I emerged from my shower feeling like a brand new person. Hannah voiced a similar thought. Back to town to grab some wi-fi at the visitor center to research some hikes and then to Banff Brewing to refill the Flying Bike insulated growler (one of the best camping purchases ever!) and we were back to our assigned campsite at 28G in Two Jack.

After setting up camp (if you can call it that — pretty much nailed it!), we ventured forth to Two Jack Lake. It was beautiful and cold and clear and beautiful. Did I mention beautiful? Titus got some off-leash time, only accidentally scaring a few people walking by and we coaxed him into the water a little bit. Big scary dog, totally afraid of the calmest, lapping waves you can imagine. It’s ridiculous.

Back at the site, Hannah’s meal planning and execution continued to perform at a very high level. I’m confident in saying I’ve never eaten so well while camping. Sorry, Scott — our game was weak sauce, comparatively.

I fell asleep on night 4 of the trip starting to feel very refreshed from the “disconnection” from the world. That’s the beauty and the draw of these longer trips for me — the ability to simplify one’s life, even for a week, to living and breathing and eating and hiking and being outside. There are no voicemails, no texts, no life-and-death emails; no dings or chirps or beeps. You can let it all go and fall asleep listening to the @$$#*%& in the next site over who for some reason feels it necessary to lock his car and then forgot that he locked his car and tried to open his car and his car didn’t like it so his car just alarmed for the next 36 minutes straight. Ahhh nature.

Also, don’t be that guy.

July 20, 2017

Banff | Hiking Johnston Canyon to Ink Pots; Titus is afraid of walkways over rivers

Detail coming soon!

July 21, 2017

Banff | Tunnel Mountain summit; Sunshine Meadows a no-go

Detail coming soon!

July 22, 2017

Banff to Coeur D'Alene | Total miles driven: 1,150 | Exceptional hospitality; swimming in water that wouldn't cause an immediate cardiac event

Detail coming soon!

July 23, 2017

Coeur D'Alene to Seattle | Total miles driven: 1,499 | Home via Leavenworth

Detail coming soon!