|FeedbackBy Preston Hunt, 29 June 2002|
Total days of trip: 7
Total miles driven: 1700
Bear sightings: 4
Pictures are available here.
After our last roadtrip to the California Redwoods, we decided that renting a minivan would make for a more comfortable trip, and, given the almost 1700 miles round trip between Portland and Banff, that was better for the health of our personal cars. We picked up the minivan from Avis around Saturday morning (US$275 for a week). We then spent the next hour loaded it up with mountain bikes, tools, camping gear, food, air mattresses, clothes, books, and all the sundry supplies that one needs to live on the road for a week. Most of this gear we stowed in handy plastic storage tubs, which made organization a snap. We pulled out of the BOOM! Condo parking lot and were on our way at exactly .
The trip up (from
It's amazing how your perspective changes on a long road
trip. On a trip to, say,
All in all, I would definitely do the road trip again. The drive isn't as bad as you think, flying takes almost as long (when you factor in heightened security and its concomitant delays), and you can take everything you need with you.
The weather for our entire trip was unseasonably cool according to the locals. In the course of our trip, we encountered rain, snow, hail, fog, and high winds, but most of the time the weather was fine cool, partly cloudy, fog in the morning, burning off into beautiful sunny days in the afternoon/evening. The slightly cool weather was a real boon while hiking or biking. When we weren't physically exerting ourselves, a light fleece was all that was needed to stay warm. The sun comes up around there and doesn't fully set until , which makes for some action-packed days. Indeed, most visitors and locals seem to take advantage of the long days by taking it easy in the morning. Most mornings we encountered very little in the way of crowds.
Vancouver (Day 1)
My grandmother was visiting my uncle (Peter) and his family
(Monica and Allison) up in
Pete then drove me and Aimee to Chapters (think Canadian
Barnes & Noble) where we picked up a guidebook to aid us on our
By the time we got back, Grandma and Allison had retired to bed; the rest of us spent half-an-hour talking, and then we followed them into the arms of Morpheus.
The next morning, I cooked up a simple breakfast for myself, and then Pete cooked pancakes for everybody when he woke up. I showed everybody a bunch of pictures on my laptop from recent trips, and then Aimee and I made our farewells and were on the road by Monica and Pete, sensing the empty cooler in our minivan, generously stocked us up with all kinds of goodies from their pantries leftover chicken and snapikopita, cheese, cereal, crackers, etc. This food ended up lasting us throughout the week in one form or another and was much appreciated!
We enjoyed a pleasant drive along the TransCanada
For US$6 you can take the toll highway 5 from Hope to
we finally found a trailhead free of "no parking" signs, the Pipestone
trailhead about 1 mile from downtown
The next morning, we were on the road by and made our way to the ranger station, where
we stocked up on parking permits, guide maps, and advice on things to do. When we arrived at the building, we were
greeted by a veteran playing "Oh
Polar Bear Dip
The first thing that we did was to participate in the Polar
Bear Dip up at the Lake Louise Chateau.
This is an annual event on Canada Day in which thirty-odd (and odd!)
people jump into frigid
After changing, we ate a delicious sandwich at the hotel
deli. One problem with sandwiches in
Mountain Biking Ross Lake Trail
Powered by the sandwiches, we embarked for our next
adventure, mountain biking along the Ross Lake Trail. We had a little bit of route finding to do,
but eventually found ourselves winding and dipping through sub-alpine forest
along this 7.3km (each-way) trail. The
trail was challenging, and we both gained respect for the ratings on the guide
map (this trail had gained a "moderate").
Canadians are hard core when it comes to MTB! We didn't have much time to contemplate trail
difficulty, however; the guide map had succeeded in terrifying us about bear
attacks ("...cyclists are particularly susceptible to sudden, dangerous bear
encounters ... bear bells are not enough..."), so we spent most of the ride
shouting and singing. The lake at the end of the trail would have been
delightful except that it started pouring rain on us right as we arrived. We huddled under a tree for a while and then
returned via the
We headed to
Camping, night two
After dinner, we briefly considered switching our van camping location, but ultimately ended up camping at the same place as the previous night. This time, however, we watched from our van as a farmer drove up his trailer and unloaded several horses, and left them in a locked corral for the entire night! I'm not sure if the corral was on his land or he was allowed to use it by the government, but either way, his confidence in leaving his horses unprotected gave me confidence in the security of our possessions for the rest of the trip (the thought of our $5000 of bikes and camping gear was never far from my mind when we left the van alone in secluded areas).
As was the case the previous night, our "camp site" was
deserted all night; a park warden did drive around the parking lot the next
morning around , although he
didn't stop. Before going to sleep, we
spent a considerable amount of time manually pumping up two inflatable
mattresses that had somehow made their way into my possession over the
years. Each mattress took well over 1000
foot pumps, making us both wish that I had borrowed a cigarette-lighter-powered
pump. One of the mattresses had an
obvious leak, which we patched with duct tape, and then had to reinflate. As
Lake Louise Village
The morning of day 4 actually started by returning to
After shopping, we headed back to Lake Louise proper to trek
to Agnus Lake, a 7 km trek rising about 1200 feet
above Lake Louise, culminating in wonderful views and a little tea house up at
the top! The hike was easy and a bit
crowded (the two often go hand-in-hand), but very enjoyable. Aided by some of the best weather we had the
entire time, the views from the top were great, although the food and drink
selection at the tea house was a bit disappointing. I probably shouldn't have expected too much
from a place where everything has to be carried in by person! We were back at the car by , early enough to enjoy an awesome sandwich at Laggan's before making our way closer to
(Days 4-6) Banff
Bow Parkway Elk,
Mountain Goats, Marmot
We eschewed the faster TransCanada
highway in favor of the more scenic
Egypt Trip Lake
We arrived at the
We saw very few other hikers (a total of two couples and one
nice old man from
The meadow turned out to be the
Eventually, we stopped descending and emerged into a clearing and came upon a man and his son gardening beside a really nice log cabin. They waved hello to us, and we went over to talk with them. It turned out to be the park warden and his son. The warden was really surprised to see that we had come down the route we did and quizzed us about the conditions on the trail for about five minutes. He then gave us a tour of his cabin (pretty posh!) and Aimee asked him about bear conditions. At this point, we still thought that we had an hour of hiking ahead of us, and were surprised when the warden said that the shelter was only 5 minutes away! We excitedly made our way down the trail, across a bridge, and up a knoll, to discover the best site for sore hiker eyes that I can imagine a big cabin, complete with six huge bunk beds, 2 long dining tables, a wood burning stove, and tons of firewood chopped and ready to go (they even had matches and scrap paper for firestarting!).
This raised our spirits considerably! By about , we had unpacked everything, had a roaring fire going, and were starting to boil water for our couscous and lentils dinner. It's amazing how much easier a cabin makes your life: We didn't have to worry about setting up our tent, finding a way to dry our wet clothes, cooking 100m away from our camp site, or hanging our food on a bear line. Instead, we let the fire dry our clothes and us and enjoyed the views and sunset from the cabin windows. At one point, Aimee told me that she was cold and asked me to close the window by the dinner table. I said no because I liked the breeze, and then her true motivation came out she was afraid that a bear was going to smell our dinner and stick his hand in the window and attack us! In truth, the cabin was pretty darn secure, and, for whatever reason, bears don't seem to attack cabins, so we were safe.
After dinner, we read for a bit and were surprised to look at our watches around with a tiny bit of daylight still left outside (see photos). Amazing! I had thought I was going to have an awesome night's rest, but it turned out to be just average. The wood that the beds were made out of was pretty hard; if we had known ahead of time, we could have left our tent, stove, and fuel behind, and carried extra thick sleeping pads instead. Ah well, live and learn.
We awoke to a delightful surprise: A large group of pikas (high mountain rodents) were playing around outside the cabin. These creatures are fairly tame (allowing us to get fairly close before retreating into their holes) and they occasionally emit a cute little "eep!" every now and then. A big fat marmot also emerged after an hour or so, and we spent a while watching him scuttle to and fro eating grass and digging around in the dirt.
The hike out was mostly uneventful until we reached the high
mountain meadow that I spoke so highly of before. We encountered a nice couple from
Right around camp E5, Aimee and I were engaged in a good conversation when we crossed a bridge and almost ran smack into a grizzly bear foraging for food on the trail, only about 15-20 feet in front of us. 20 feet may sound like a lot as you're reading this in your comfy chair, but I assure you, it is entirely too close when you are dealing with a 700 pound omnivore. All three of us stopped immediately. The bear looked up and uttered a bassy "woof!". We slowly started to back away as Aimee reached down and pulled the bear mace free from its velcro holster. By this time, the bear had decided to take off, and I'm not sure if he knew the sound of bear mace coming out or not, but he definitely kicked in the turbo boost after the bear spray was out! He ran about 50 feet away, turned around, sniffed at us for a few seconds, and then continued out-of-sight behind some trees. The whole time that Aimee was getting the bear spray out, I was fumbling with my camera trying to capture the "once-in-a-lifetime type of shot", but alas it was not to be - I never really got a clear shot and none of the photos that I frantically snapped during the encounter turned out that well.
The rest of the hike out was obviously pretty boring
compared to the bear encounter. We
cleaned up at the ski area bathroom, unpacked our stuff, snarfed
down some cheese, crackers, and salami, and got back on the road toward...
My first thought upon arriving at
Info center & Hotel
Our first stop was the information center where we inquired
about activities to do (the counter woman pretty handed us a nice activities
book that pretty much covered everything) as well as places to stay for
cheap. We were surprised at just how
many cheap accommodations were available last-minute; scores of hotels and
B&Bs still had vacancy, and many of them were offering special incentives
to rent out their rooms. We walked over
to a B&B close to the info center, but decided against it because of the
small bedroom and lack of privacy. We
then fired up the minivan and drove past a few other cheapos,
before finally heading up the hill on
Excited to be back in civilization at last, we spent a few hours perusing the wares for sale at the various shoppes. On account of the excellent exchange rate, prices were paradoxically affordable given that we were shopping in a mountain resort! One outdoor store in particular had fantastic prices on climbing gear (for example, a Petzl Grigri for US$56!).
Dinner at Tommy's
For dinner, we walked up and down the strip a couple of times flip-flopping between the countless choises, ultimately choosing to go with simple comfort-type food at a bar named Tommy's. The inside of this place was like a dungeon, but outside seating was available. Those who had adventured with me know my weakness for chicken fingers; since I hadn't enjoyed any yet this trip, I went ahead and ordered them, along with the house "spicy plum sauce", basically plum sauce (which I've never tried with chicken fingers before) and hot pepper flakes - pretty darn good! Aimee had a turkey sandwich and was quite pleased with it. And nobody could complain about the bill - about US$6 each!
First night at the hotel
After dinner, we walked around on the strip a bit more, and then headed back to our hotel to plan the next day's activities. We went to bed early, but a restful night's sleep was not to be in our future. First, the refrigerator compressor was loud and annoying, and I briefly contemplating unplugging it until a much more annoying squealing sound started coming from the air conditioner duct. The duct is one of those that you see all the time in retrofitted buildings, a giant circular flower head mounted in the ceiling. For some weird reason, this one was squealing like a pig in mud and there was no stopping it: I tried every possible configuration of having the AC and the fan on and off to no avail. It was thus that the rest of the night was spent tossing and turning and generally hating life. When we complained the next morning to the hotel staff, they were pretty nice about it and switched us to a more expensive room for our same bargain basement deal.
Banff Springs Hotel
Our first stop was this legendary mountain hotel, with nine full-service restaurants (formal dress code required unfortunately), lots of little eateries for snacks and informal eating, library, 27-hole golf course, full athletic facilities and outdoor heated pool, and lots of high-browed shops (the kind where they don't show any prices; if you have to ask, you can't afford it!). The place is full of twisting, turning highways, boardwalks, towers, and nooks and crannies that make it seem as if you're in a castle with countless things to explore. We walked around the hotel around , and it was deserted, but apparently it gets pretty crowded sometimes with people coming to check out the grandeur. Rooms were a spendy Cdn$400 per night for the crummy rooms when we were there, but apparently they drop to Cdn$150 during the winter.
and Basin Banff Cave
Our next stop was this historic site which, according to
every park official that you ask, is the reason that
& Gondola Ride Sulphur
Our main exercise for the day consisted of hiking up to the
Upon gaining the summit, we took in the panoramic view, and then were disheartened to find that we were really on the false summit and that the real summit still beckoned. It was pretty windy up there, so we didn't mess around and navigated the elevated wooden walkway system (as before, in immaculate condition) to the true summit, upon which rests a combination weather station and cabin that a famous local used for almost his entire life to forecast the weather for the area.
We hung out here for a while, had some French people take a picture of us, took some pictures for the French people, and then headed back. The gondola ride down was much easier on the knees than the hike would have been and afforded much better views as well. The hikers must stand out from the paying customers, because the employees at the top of the lift and the bottom both asked us how the hike was.
Biking to the river & Banff Centre
After the gondola, we headed back to the hotel and checked
into our new room, which was basically the same as our previous room, except
slightly larger and with a sofa. And
most importantly, no funny vent thing in the ceiling making obnoxious noises! We took a much-needed power nap for an hour,
watched a little TV, and then got motivated to go biking near the campground
area at the end of
From the river, we decided to call it a day
activity-wise. The climb up from the
river was pretty physically demanding; we pumped our way up some pretty steep
trails until we hit the road and, serendipitously, the Banff Centre for High
Mountain Culture, the same folks that produce the annual Banff Mountain Film
Festival. We spent some time spinning
around the campus (it's a postgraduate institute for study into arts and
culture) and generally being envious of the people that get to live here and
study at the Centre! With places like
Dinner Night Two - Coyote's
Feeling guilty about how cheap we had been eating for the
entire trip, we decided to splurge for a nice meal. After pontificating over the many choices and
recommendations in the guidebook, we walked into our top choice and asked to
look at the menu. The hostess sensed
that her restaurant wasn't our thing and asked spent about five minutes giving
us the lowdown on the various dining options available in town. You find yourself becoming accustomed to this
sort of friendly treatment in
We ended up taking the hostess's first recommendation, a
restaurant popular with the locals called Coyote's. The food, ambience, and service were very
good (as expected) and we scored with a nice table right by the window, where
we could gaze out and marvel at how light it was outside at 10:45 p.m. We also watched group after group of young
women dressed to the nines pile into a dance club across the street. After dinner, we talked to the bouncer and
learned that it was ladies' night at the club (free drinks for them), which
certainly explained the popularity. We
didn't go in, but overheard the bouncer tell a girl beside us, "it's pretty dead in there right now" (gotta
By the way, despite our efforts to spend lavishly on dinner, we still only ended up spending $15 per person!
Bike Tour: Cascade Ponds to
The next day we checked out of the hotel ("wow, that's a
good rate" said the clerk upon checkout) and headed over to check out a cluster
of several lakes near town. We parked
the minivan at Cascade Ponds, and then hopped on our bikes for what would turn
out to be a roundabout adventure. The
source of our difficulties was trying to navigate from a "Biking in
Our next stop on the trail was a cool historic site, a ghost
town that used to be where the Canadian Pacific Railway mined goal. According to the interpretive signs, the town
was at one point bigger than
After the ghost town, we made our way to
Rather than retrace our route back, we decided to make a loop out of the trip and passed the other lakes in the area. They were nice enough likes, although pretty standard fare. The ride was the memorable part: deserted Canadian highway, perfect weather, scenic vistas... the ultimate contentment!
Lunch at Earl's
After biking, we were anxious to get a nice lunch and
decided to give the popular Canadian chain Earl's a try. This place has a lively atmosphere and
ambiance, but the menu was not as diverse as I would have liked. We both ended up getting the exact same
thing, an anemic grilled chicken breast served on sourdough bread. I guess on a normal trip we would have been
more than satisfied with this meal, but our other experiences in
Day 7: The Return Home
Library & Groceries Banff
We hopped in the car and tried to find a more optimal route
home, but found ourselves lacking in that most important of road warrior
tools: Maps! Luckily, the
We had been on the road for a few hours when that most treasured of all Canadian fast food restaurants, Tim Horton's, came into view on the horizon ... a mere 50 miles from the US border. I deftly guided the minivan through a 90 degree turn into the parking lot and we parked to grab dinner and donuts. Amazingly, this was the first Tim Horton's that we had seen on our entire trip! (Technically, Tim Horton's is now owned by the Americans, the Wendy's restaurant chain to be specific, but don't tell the Canadians!) I absolutely adore the Tim Horton's menu. It's pretty much like the now defunct chain Boston Market in that they serve wholesome food. I opted for the chili bread bowl; it was delicious and it filled me up completely. At Tim Horton's, they use donuts much like McDonald's uses French fries: Every value meal has one docked on the side. A chocolate glazed donut brought my Canadian odyssey to a delightful end. Despite Aimee's protests, I also bought a half-dozen donuts "for the road".
The marathon drive home
Aimee and I traded off driving every two hours. The scenery continued to be amazing beyond
words until the sun set and we could see only the highway cat-eyes. Best border crossing ever (took a total of 2
minutes to get across). The roads were
pretty twisty in
Around or , we were both too tired to continue on
and decided to stop for a brief nap somewhere near
We made it back to the BOOM! Condo before and in short order had everything unloaded (after a week of living in the minivan, we were adept at loading and unloading its contents). It took us a few minutes to put the seats and floor mats back in, and then we drove downtown to return the minivan to Avis (conveniently open 24 hours for returns).
Returning yet again to the BOOM! Condo, I had a very strong desire to take a shower and cleanse myself from the grime of the trip. Throughout my shower, I dreamt of only one thing sinking my teeth into a delectable chocolate glazed Tim Horton's donut. When I got out of the shower, I went upstairs to find both Aimee and the donuts missing. About 10 minutes later, she reappeared from a visit to Mimi and Dan upstairs and told me that she had offered them the donuts. I was pissed. I had just spent the last 10 minutes in the shower dreaming about eating those donuts, and now they were gone. Plus, Aimee didn't even want to buy donuts at Tim Horton's - I was the one who wanted them! Aimee ran upstairs to try and intercept Mimi and Dan before they ate the donuts, and she actually made it up there just as Mimi was about to take a bit of a chocolate glazed one (my favorite). When Aimee told her that I wanted the donut back, Mimi took a bite anyway and said "too bad"! Grrrr!
After I recovered from the donut loss tragedy, I quickly found myself growing tired and headed to bed, marking the official end of this road trip.
Selected Logbook Entries
Saturday, June 29, 2002. Departure time: "
- " First bear sighting. Presto. Black bear cub climbing over fence."
Costco, Staples!" Kamloops
- " Second bear sighting. Foraging, head down, next to highway"
time. Another bear! Apparently sniffing grass." Banff
- " ~5 mountain goats!"
- "Day 3. Saw multiple elk and a herd of mountain goats, very scruffy."
Official departure time [from
]. Odometer 987 miles." Banff
is hell, make a note in the log book!" Spokane
- "We make it onto sweet, sweet I-90 with clearly marked lane lines and a fast speed limit."
- "Arrive BOOM! Condo, Saturday "
Things to do on future trips
- Stay at the Banff Springs Hotel
- Play disc golf in Canby
- Go rock climbing
- Go snowboarding at Lake Louise or Sunshine Ski Area (6 total mountains)
- Take the giant snow vehicle tour on the Icefields