Tag Archives: Canmore

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”

Between Rockies and Prairies

My former host family from my exchange year to Canada in 2004/05 lives about three hours east of Edmonton in the Prairies. I had told them that I was coming to Canada, but not when I would be visiting them. So I decided to surprise them for my host mom’s birthday just before Easter. I still had a bit more than a week until then, so I decided to go to Calgary for that time.

The “Calgary Tower” is the most prominent building of the skyline by day…
… and by night, when it is lit up in different colors

I hopped on the “Greyhound”, pretty much the only major bus company in Canada, and got off about four hours later. On the road I noticed how old and outdated the busses are, compared to most of the busses in South America with the exception of Bolivia. Here, the busses may have WiFi and power outlets, but the seats are old and uncomfortable, they don’t have seat belts and the leg room is not very large on most seats. Maybe they should order some new vehicles from “Cruz del Sur”.

Large displays of artwork can be found in different parts of the city
The Rocky Mountains are within reach of Calgary

In Calgary I checked into the hostel – surprisingly there are only two hostels in this city with more than 1.2 million inhabitants. Here I met Raghu from India, who had been living in the US for the past twelve years, but decided that he’d rather have a Canadian citizenship than from the US. He was living at the hostel while looking for an apartment and getting everything organized. When he was not busy, we explored the city or cooked something together.

Exploring the city with Raghu
An exhibition of Canadian paintings of the Rockies and the Prairies at the “Glenbow Museum”

Another day I met up with Brendan, whom I had met back in Namibia on the Sossusvlei trip. He lives here in Calgary and took some time off at his job, as the oil and gas industry is still not back on track here in Alberta. We drove about one hour west and were suddenly surrounded by the Rocky Mountains. Here, winter was still omnipresent: Everything was white, covered in snow from the last few months and from last night.

A beautiful day to be out in the mountains
Brendan took me cross country skiing in Kananaskis Country

The plan was to go cross country skiing, which I had never done before. Brendan had picked an easy trail to “Chester Lake”, south of Canmore. We arrived at the parking lot as one of the first ones, put on the ski and set off into the woods. After a while we started sweating, as we were constantly gaining altitude along the way. For it being my first time, I thought I did quite well. The moving joint on the ski and the scaled bottom of the ski helped quite a bit.

During the ascend we were warm enough without a jacket
The blue sky seemed to be moving with us

As we had reached the lake, we enjoyed a short lunch break in the snow. However, we did not have the typical turquoise lake in front of us – instead, we were looking at a wide open area, covered in snow. Only the fact that it was flat reminded us of the lake. On our way back it was mostly going downhill. What was supposed to be an easy ride back turned out to be quite difficult, as the trail was much narrower and bumpier than what we remembered from the way up. The thin, long ski added to the difficulty, as they were more difficult in handling.

“Chester Lake” is still hidden under snow and ice

I ended up taking off my ski on the steepest parts, but I still managed to get a good ride for a long part of the trail. It was a good experience, but we agreed that snowshoes would have been the better choice for this trail. On our way back to Calgary we stopped in Canmore, where we caught the last rays of warm sunshine, before it disappeared behind big dark clouds, which would eventually bring more snow.

Closer to Canmore the ice on the lakes is breaking up
Canmore is the first city in the Rocky Mountains on this route