Tag Archives: Banff

Beautiful Banff

Most of the people who work here at the hostel have been here for a while or are planning to stay for the summer. Therefore, their motivation to get out and explore the area was not the same as mine. If I would stay longer, I probably would have waited for better weather as well. But I didn’t, so quite a few times I put on my coat and went out into the cold on my own.

Banff in spring is definitely not as busy as it was in July 2015
St. Paul’s Church with “Mount Rundle” in the back

However, I wasn’t alone on my very first hike. Katrina, whom I had met already during my first week in Calgary, was in Banff for the weekend and together we decided to climb the locals’ favorite mountain – “Tunnel Mountain”. The walk up is pretty easy and short, which is why most locals run all the way to the top to exercise. From there we had a great overview of Banff and all the places I planned to visit during the next few weeks.

Katrina joined me for my first hike in Banff
Banff from above – the view from “Tunnel Mountain”

A few days later we had a big dump of snow and my hopes for spring had been dampened once more. But instead of hiding inside, I went on a hike through the winter wonderland, which took me along the base of “Tunnel Mountain” to the “Surprise Corner”. The name can be taken quite literally, because the “Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel” can only be seen after turning the corner. The luxury hotel was opened in 1888, but has been remodeled in the early 20th century. At the base of the hotel are the “Bow Falls”, a series of cascades, after which the river lost about 9m in altitude.

The “Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel” on a winters day
The “Bow Falls” as seen from the base

The reason for building the luxury hotel was not only the beautiful mountain scenery, but also the discovery of the hot springs at the bottom of “Sulphur Mountain” during the construction of the Canadian railway. To prevent the exploitation of the hot springs, a protected area was set up around them and Canada’s first national park was born. The original cave with the hot springs can still be visited today and is now specially protected as the “Cave and Basin National Historic Site”.

The original cave is home to an endangered snail species
The “Bow River” carries turquoise glacier water

Another day I set out to climb up “Sanson Peak” on “Sulphur Mountain”. I had originally planned to go with Tristan, but he was sick that day. Instead I went with Endija and his three Spanish friends Tatiana, Marta and Diana, who happened to be going the same day just a bit later. The way up was pretty straight forward, as the path was zigzagging underneath the expensive gondola. Although it had been warm for a few days, there was still a lot of snow, making it quite slippery.

The way up on “Sanson Peak” is still snowy and quite slippery
The descent with the gondola is for free

We reached the top just on time. After taking in the great view of Banff and the surrounding mountains we had a quick look at the old meteorological observatory building from 1903. Then the rain showers really started and urged us to seek refuge in the summit station of the gondola, where we witnessed a perfect rainbow over the “Banff Springs Hotel”. Eventually it was time to go back and this time we used the gondola, as the descent is for free.

Inside the old meteorological observatory building
The weather changed quickly and suddenly we were above the rainbow

One more trail that I discovered on my own was the “Bow Valley Trail”, which I hiked on a nice spring day. First it leads through the forest and along the “Bow River”, but later on it climbs up to a little ridge overlooking the river valley and the majestic “Mount Rundle” in the back. It definitely looked like one of the mountains I would love to climb, but not alone. A little later I had reached the “Hodoos”, pillar-like rock formations, where I left the trail and headed back to the hostel.

Hiking the “Bow Valley Trail”
The “Hodoos” seem rather small and insignificant compared to massive “Mount Rundle”

With just a few days left in Banff I had almost given up on the idea of climbing “Mount Rundle”. But then I met three Canadians at the hostel bar – Adreon, Curtis and TJ – who wanted to climb it the next day. That fitted perfectly with my work schedule, as my shift was starting in the late afternoon. The plan was to go up from Canmore to the “East end of Rundle”. With its 2530m it is about 400m lower than the top of “Mount Rundle” and the chances of snow are therefore much lower.

The “Ha Ling Peak” is a masterpiece of the Canadian Rocky Mountains
The last part of the ascend leads along an exposed ridge

The total ascend is still about 900m from the “Whitemans Pond”, where our car was parked. It may not seem like a lot, but neither Curtis nor TJ had ever climbed a mountain before. The steep trail and the exposed scramble at the ridge close to the top added to the difficulty. However, with sufficient breaks, snacks and “special drinks” all of us made it to the summit in one piece. At that point the wind died down and the sun came out, allowing us to fully enjoy the rewarding view.

We made it to the summit – TJ, Curtis, Adreon and I (from right to left)
The magnificent view from the top of “East end of Rundle”

Hostelling international

One of the things I wanted to do in Canada on my “work & travel” visa was working at a hostel. By now I’ve stayed in so many different hostels around the world that I wanted to have a look behind the scenes. However, I quickly realized that most hostels only hire for the full season, which wouldn’t work for me. But then I found the “work for stay” program of the HI (Hostelling International) Banff Alpine Centre, which requires a minimum stay of two weeks and a valid work visa.

So much for it being spring time – the HI Banff Alpine Centre was covered in snow when I arrived
A cozy common area with fireplace is best for winter days

This seemed to be the perfect thing for me to do. What is even better, is the fact that the hostel is located in the Banff National Park, surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains. With my hopes high for spring time being just around the corner, I applied for the program and got on a night bus back through Edmonton and Calgary and on to Banff. The hostel itself is located a bit outside of town, which is ideal for hiking, as the trails start right at the front door. A free bus connects the hostel to downtown, which is helpful for shopping and going out at night.

On one of my shifts I had to help shoveling the snow – with a gorgeous view
The hostel is surrounded by picturesque mountains

When I arrived at the hostel there were several other volunteers or “volleys” as we are called. There were Christian and Anne (Germany), Izzy (Quebec) and Alejandra (Chile). We were soon joined by Henry and Sid (Ireland), Maketa (Czech Republic), Tristan (Australia), Simon (New Zealand) and Endija (Spain). Everyone was looking for work in the area or traveling and working to keep the expenses low. We were all living in the same room and everyone had to work four hours per day in exchange for accommodation.

My home for about four weeks – the volley room

Most of the time we had to help with the housekeeping, which also consists of a very international group of people. Most of them have been here since the fall and have been skiing quite a lot. We would clean the bathrooms, keep the kitchens tidy or help with the laundry. It wasn’t always the best job that we had to do, but it gave me back the feeling of a working routine and a new appreciation of free time, which I had been lacking over the last few months.

Cleaning the bathrooms with Izzy

The best shift was of course helping out in the café. Here we had to keep the kitchen clean, do the dishes, refill the containers, making coffee or roll up the silverware in napkins. And sometimes it would happen that a guest ordered a meal and would only notice that it’s not vegetarian once it was sitting in front of him. So Kate (Australia) or Nathan (Ontario) would have to make a new, vegetarian version and instead of throwing away the other food, we could have it.

In the kitchen with Kate
When Dave is not busy with housekeeping, he might stop by the kitchen for a visit

The hostel has also two fully equipped kitchens, which we also made good use of. Sometimes some of the volleys cooked for the others and another time we made an international potluck dinner, where everyone contributed one dish to the meal. And on other nights we went over to the bar to join one of the weekly activities, such as the pool tournament or karaoke night.

Sharing dinner with Christian, Izzy, Alejandra, Tristan, Anne and Henry
Playing pool in the hostel bar