By the time we arrived at the Shadow Lake campsites I was hungry and tired. Add in lacking signage for tent sites and bear hangs (which we later realized was due to the direction we arrived from), and water that required boiling for consumption…I was grumpy as heck.
Thankfully for my adventure companions, I just needed a little food to calm me down. But that didn’t solve our minor annoyance with having to boil water. Horribly rough lives we lead out in the woods (insert overly exaggerated eye roll). With no easy access to the lake or streams from the campsites, we were left with the spigot available for backpackers (a sign indicated boiling before consumption).
The guys went exploring around the Shadow Lake cabins nearby. We couldn’t imagine they boiled all of the water needed for guests – there had to be another way to access drinking water. Luckily a friendly employee clued the guys in on a drinking water spigot along the side of one of the cabins. Woo! A nice bonus to help us set out on the right foot in the morning.
Back at Egypt Lake we had chatted with Sam, a solo hiker taking the same route we were following. He left Egypt Lake camp in the morning before our group got rolling, but it was nice to connect with him again at the Shadow Lake camp. He fit in well with our crew, sharing ridiculous stories over dinner and around the "campfire". (No fires allowed, but we still wound up sitting in a circle as though there was one!)
We set out as a group on Day 3, climbing up and out of the woods. At 7,500 feet we reached Gibson Pass. A solid hike pleasantly rewarded by stunning views (as if there is any other sort of view out there?!).
The downward trek from Gibson Pass was dotted with three groups hiking up – two on foot and one on horseback. We connected with the horse crew right as we came upon a large fallen tree blocking the path. It would have been quite tricky but doable for us to shimmy over. The horses, on the other hand, seemed stuck…until one of the men hopped off his horse and appeared at the tree with a saw. Ha! Perfectly prepared!
Another highlight from the passing groups was receiving a suggestion for stopping at Upper Twin Lake. “Right before you cross the bridge, take a small path to the left along the shoreline. You’ll wind up in a perfect location for lunch.”
And perfect it was. We settled in for a couple hours of relaxation. Sam decided he was going to finish his hike out to the road that afternoon. He'd gotten somewhat serious cut on his hand and he was ready for a real shower -- understandable. We said our goodbyes and then we set out for camp shortly after.
As it turned out, Lower Twin Lake was equally as perfect as Upper. It had just one slight advantage: it was our campsite for our final night!
TW7 was easily THE best camp of our trip. Tent sites set back in the trees. A dining area snuggled up to the shoreline. And this view...oh what a place of wonder!
We soaked up every last ounce of sun and wild we could experience.
After a quick pack-up of campsites, we meandered along the short hike to Egypt Lake for breakfast with a view. The water was pristinely calm, showcasing a flawless reflection of the mountains surrounding the lake. And what glorious mountains they were! The peace and calm offered a meditation of sorts, a chance to shake off the prior day and start anew.
It was going to be a 10-mile day. After leaving Egypt Lake, the trail almost immediately started going uphill. The ascent of Day 2 was more of a stair climb compared to the gradual ramp up of Day 1. I was partial to the stairs, the definite motion of going up. It gave me a straightforward sense of accomplishment.
Creeping down the rockpile, however, felt like an eternity! Testing the larger rocks for stability and trying to not slide on smaller crumbles and sand – it was a slow and steady journey to the base. After focusing so intently on my small steps down, I didn’t take in the magnitude of this rockpile. Not until I reached the base and turned around. Eyes went wide; mouth opened in awe. This is what I was out here to see.
Leaving the rocks, the trail took us back down into the the trees toward Haiduk Lake. Two-thirds of the way in we saw our first sign of bears: several piles of bear scat along the trail. I tried to reassure myself by noting that none of the piles was ultra fresh, but I still caught myself looking behind me more than I care to admit.
Bears were instantly forgotten though the moment the view opened up to the glacial waterfalls filling Haiduk.
In our awe-induced stupor, we lost track of the trail and opted to follow the lakeshore until we were back on track. Two steps into the chest-high brush was the exact moment we remembered the bear scat. Singing and overly vocalized chatter immediately commenced.
As we tumbled out onto the trail our singing abruptly ended at the sight of seemingly fresh bear tracks in the mud. Excitement. Awe. Wariness.
"Wow, fresh tracks!" "Whoa, look at the size of that print!" "It may be heading away from us, but we should probably still skedaddle on out of here..."
From Haiduk, the trail took us into a mossy floored pine forest and eventually followed along the river leading to Shadow Lake. Along the way we passed the Ball Pass Junction Campsite, which was still closed due to the fires. It had a bit of an eerie feel to it, and whether that was due to the knowledge of it being closed, or because it was seeming out in the middle of nowhere, I'm not sure. I just know I was quite pleased to leave it behind us and I made a mental note to skip that site if I return to this trail again.
Shadow Lake almost felt like a false summit to me. Only in that I was exhausted, hungry, and ready to ditch my pack for the evening. As much as I wanted to sit on the bridge admiring the view for more than a short break, I was definitely antsy to reach camp. One more mile to go...
We rolled up to Sunshine Village and I was filled with antsy enthusiasm. The type that makes you continually feel like you're about to pee your pants. Even after you just peed twice to make sure you really didn't have to pee. Am I nervous? Am I excited? Do I really just need to pee??
All of the other hikers pulling up seemed to be taking the shuttle bus up to the top of the gondola. I started to second guess our plans to start our hike directly from the parking lot.
Two of us wandered up to the ticket desk for a local opinion of our plans.
Them: "We highly recommend taking the shuttle up."
I felt like I had to pee again.
Us: "Okay, we'll hike up."
Flashback to the two weeks leading up to our trip when I felt like my life was going to hell:
Cool Whip had surgery to remove skin cancer tumors and wasn't healing well. My car (our road trip vehicle!) was in the shop and they couldn't get it to run. Our backpacking route was closed due to the wildfires. Add in that I'm not a people person (I'll choose my dogs over humans any day) but I was about to spend a week with four people who I sort of knew but who didn't know each other…it all sounded like torture!
I confided to my mom that I didn't want to go.
Mom: But Banff is your happy place!!
Me: I know, but everything is just hitting so hard all at once!
Mom: Go. Or you'll always regret it.
So of course I went, cuz moms are always right.
And of course we did indeed choose to start our hike directly from the parking lot. Because that's the type of group we were becoming. Go big or go home. And obviously none of us had decided to stay home.
The hike was tough for us, not gonna lie. Not difficult like it was tricky footing or scrambling across rockslides, but some folks were new to backpacking, and some were new to the elevation (not even counting the elevation we were gaining during the hike). We started later than planned, and no matter how close we seemed to be getting to the top, it always seemed to be just over the next crest, just out of reach. It felt like a long day.
By the time we rolled into the Egypt Lake Campground, we were beat.
But we had made it.
We roamed through the campsites looking for three that were positioned near each other for our little caravan and dropped our packs as fast as we could shake them off.
As we sat by the river, refilling our hydration packs before dinner, we finally had a chance to sit back to take it all in -- the calm but epic beauty surrounding us.
Last year the hounds and I catapulted into camping and hiking with a trip to Banff National Park, Canada.
I was instantly obsessed with all of the above and knew I couldn't stay away.
Despite preferring the company of my dogs over humans, my desire to explore more of Banff -- especially the backcountry where dogs are not encouraged to go -- prompted me plan a group backpacking trip.
I started reading about this hike and that hike and those other hikes. Then what about this one or that one? Oh wait, here's another one! Wowza, options galore!
And yet, I kept coming back to Egypt Lake. I felt like I had to include that area in our wanderings. After reviewing a few route variations, I went with a point-to-point option from Sunshine Village to the Vista Lake Trailhead.
Plans: Park Car A at Vista Lake Trailhead. Drive Car B and the crew to Sunshine Village. Hike up Healy Pass to Egypt Lake Campground (E13) for Night 1. Hike Whistling Pass to Shadow Lake Campground (Re14) for Night 2. Hike Gibson Pass to Twin Lakes Campground (Tw7) for Night 3. Hike out to Car A the next morning and pick up Car B.
Backcountry permits and campsite reservations are mandatory for overnights in the Banff National Park backcountry. Sites are available for reservation up to three months in advance, and the park posts a vacancy report that is updated every few days -- which is extra awesome for last-minute plans!
A backcountry site in Banff is enough room for one 3- or 4-person backpacking tent. I don't know the exact dimensions, but I do know one site can perfectly fit a 2-person Big Agnes backpacking tent and a 1-person Big Agnes backpacking tent.
At the end of June I called the listed number and left a message with our requested sites, dates, and quantity of people. Within a day they called back to confirm details and collect the fees. Easy-peasy!
My spare bedroom soon became a disaster zone as I laid out gear to assess options and gaps. No matter how much gear I have, I always seem to need (want!) something new for each trip. Anyone else like that?!
I made a list. I checked it twice. I went online to order a few items...and got sucked into the black hole that is the internet. Aside from purchasing more than I needed, I saw that the Verdant Creek Wildfire was spreading and had caused restrictions and closures in the Egypt Lake area! Eek!
Hold on Kristen, calm down, the trip is a month away -- it should be under control by then.
One week passed.
Three...no restrictions lifted.
The weekend before our trip I gave in to the realization that Egypt Lake would have to wait. Somewhat deflated, I called the backcountry reservation office Saturday morning to alter our plans. Of course they called back while I was in the shower! I left another message that afternoon and waited for the call back on Sunday morning.
Sunday morning arrived and suddenly Egypt Lake was back open!! Wahoo!! Ten minutes after I saw the announcement, Banff Backcountry Reservations called me back! Ha! The gal confirmed we were safe to proceed with our plans! !!!So!!Many!!Exclamation!!Points!!!
Final day in Banff.
I’d finally fallen back to sleep after the bear scare with thoughts of leaving town early to catch a hotel for my final night. But waking up that morning, in the light of day, suddenly I didn’t want to leave quite so soon.
Since Peyto was one of my top interests going into this trip, I figured I’d take the lesser known hike to the lakeshore. Great idea, until we hit construction and accidentally drove right by the trail head.
Well…might as well keep heading north and see what we can see. Like all the way up into Jasper type north! We just barely tiptoed into Jasper with our most northern stop being Athabasca, Toe of the Glacier. It was a short hike up to the ice, and of course CW complained the entire way. She made is extremely apparent during this trip that uphill is 100% not her thing.
Driving from the glacier back toward camp we stopped at what seemed to be every roadside pullout and viewpoint. Why? Because why not?!
It wound up being one of my favorite days. There would be no cars when we parked, so we’d wander down the side of the roadside up to the edge of the river flowing by and just hang out until people started appearing. Then we’d hop back in the car and continue to the next spot. A relatively lazy day of soaking up the sunshine and hanging out. <3
Enjoy these sunset views of Mt Rundle from Vermillion Lake #2 while I share one of my favorite stories from our Banff adventure.
FFWD to 3:50AM that night: Us three amigos are deep in slumber in our tent.
3:51AM: <insert very loud adult man scream/> AHHH! AAAAHHHH!!
<insert man still screaming/> AAAAHHHHHH!!!
Cowabunga dude! Wide awake! Bear in camp!
High alert mode activated: Herc's ears are up and he's sending out aggressive woof signals (deep growl, with a low woof under his breath).
Man stops screaming finally.
CW lifts her head, looking mildly annoyed: What? Is something going on?
Herc belts out his most fierce killer howl!
Yeah, that's right, my thug dogs haven't made a peep the whole week even while the yippy dogs barked all day...until the time comes to protect, then bam! Bring it on bear!
I mean, we're gonna stay 'hiding' in our tent, but if that ferocious furball comes to see us, we're ready.
I know, I know... The princess may not have been quick to rise but I know she'd have teamed up with Herc for a bear beat down. She's my #1 draft pick for bear wrestle-mania.
By the time I woke up and we finished our AM rituals, we didn’t reach Moraine Lake until 10am. Parking lot was already packed! They’re not joking around when they say stuff gets busy at 10am. This must mean Lake Louise is a mad house! <scratches LL off the list>
Started our hike along the lakeshore and arrived at the start of the Larch Valley trail where there this is a lovely sign noting that group travel (4 or more people) is strongly recommended (due to bears). No matter which way I count our group, it was still just two dogs and one skittish girl. Not quite enough to make hiking Larch Valley a wise decision.
So we simply took our time hiking along the lakeshore and enjoyed the gorgeous views.
With Larch Valley and Lake Louise off the list for today, we suddenly had an open afternoon.
Boom (Lake)! (below)
It was a wide trail, a little muddy from the rain in spots, but spacious width made it easy to avoid most of the mess. Downside? What I had thought was the round trip mileage for the hike turned out to be the one-way mileage. Whoops!
About halfway down the trail we came upon a lovely group of older ladies. They loved the dogs!! We stopped and chatted for a bit. They mentioned I was about halfway. The next hiker we came upon was an older gentleman with fishing gear. He agreed with me in that it was a longer hike than he’d expected but that if he could make then so could we.
In reality, it wasn’t that this hike was incredibly long, it was just the misconception of the distance in my brain and that Cool Whip was pulling out her princess act again.
Mud? Are you kidding me? Princesses don’t hike through mud. Rocks? Are you kidding me? Princesses don’t hike over rocks. <insert snooty chin lift and scowling puppy dog eyes>
Of course, the end was worth it. Spectacular view! Boom Lake was beautiful. And it felt like we were so out in the middle of nowhere that it made it even more wonderful. No resorts hidden in the woods, no other trails in sight or any other trace of humans. Just the rugged terrain, two dogs, and a girl. And the rain. Because of course it started raining as soon as we reached the openness. ;) As the rain got heavier I decided it might be a good idea to return to the woods and head home.
In our last 20 minutes of the hike we received our most massive downpour. Not even the trees could stop it. The dogs got nervous and antsy so I pulled out their raincoats. As this was their first experience with them on in the rain I wasn’t sure if it would help or hinder our progress. Luckily they seemed to enjoy the protection and we moved swiftly onward. Exhausted and drenched, we retreated to camp for a much earned lazy evening in the tent.
Continuing on after the doodle dog fiasco, we headed for the Bow Summit Lookout trail.
Except I wouldn’t really call it a trail, considering the small path I’d just come from. This one was more like a road. And you’ll see it in the top corner of a picture or two, it looks like an old farm road!
But we’ll take it, without complaints. Welcome it, in fact.
The trail starts to climb upward, as the term Summit in the name would imply. I’m looking forward to getting my heart pumping from something other than a crazy deranged mountain-goat-dog. Cool Whip, however, is having none of this.
Work hard?! ‘Scuse me?! Um, no mom. Princesses do not work hard.
This uphill nonsense was definitely not her jam. She stopped walking. Yup, the standard unmovable Cool Whip stance: legs stiff, chin jutted out, eyes daring me to try to move her.
Woman! I swear…! I had to coax her, plead with her, offer her snacks…
It took us much longer than it should have, but we made it up. We ran into a few other hikers along the way and traded stories – where we were from, what else was in our plans, etc. One group even recognized us from the day before. Mostly because CW and Herc were the first “real” dogs they’d seen so far, meaning all other dogs were of the dainty fluffy ankle-biter sort. My chest puffed up a little and I gave the hounds a proud mama look.
Day 2: Peyto Lake, one of my most anticipated pit stops of the adventure.
The moment we arrived at the parking lot, the clouds magically starting to produce a sprinkle of rain – very funny Mother Nature!
The main trail was paved, a loop to the main viewpoint and up through the woods a bit. Fairly busy, but while most people seemed to ignore the pups yesterday, today everyone wanted to pet them. We hung out at a bench, letting people enjoy a moment with the hounds and listening to their stories about current and past pets. Dogs have the amazing ability to create an instant bond between two strangers.
Eventually we broke away to actually take in the view of Peyto.
That blue! That view! Wow! Random !! exclamation points !! just to drive home the Wow!!!
I had to see more! We ventured along the loop in search of a side trail to reach another outlook I'd spotted on the map. I saw quite a few small foot paths (animal trails?) but they seemed a bit too wild for me to want to adventure down quite yet (smh @ me).
In my defense, we’d wandered quite a ways down the trail by now and there was no one else around. Chipmunks would dart out without a sound and the dogs would suddenly lunge this way or that! It was a bit startling amongst the otherwise peaceful atmosphere and my nerves were getting a little twitchy as I worried that one of those scurrying chipmunks could eventually be a bear. Yup, small city girl wandering through the big woods. ;)
Finally we came across a side path marked with a sign…oookayyy, we’ll try it.
Bear bells activated - safety first!
100% worth challenging my skittishness! The lookout was RAD! As the only hikers out there, it made it almost surreal. Gigantic mountains, beautiful green pines, epic blue water…no words or photos are adequate. I climbed up onto a big pile of rocks at the edge of the cliff to take it all in.
And then the hellions tried to pull me off the cliff.
There goes the moment.
A chipmunk zipped through the rocks and the hounds tied to catch up. Not today demons, not today. I hauled them back toward the trail hoping the little critter stayed wisely hidden in whichever hole it just disappeared into.
A little extra jittery from the close call with the cliff’s edge, we wandered back into the woods. Oye. The trail narrows and we have to walk single file: Hercules, me, Cool Whip. What a nifty little trio we are, I think, as I also am thankful I'm sandwiched in the middle.
Suddenly there is a thundering stampede sound of something running up behind us!
Holy F*ck I'm Going To Die Being Eaten By A Charging Mama Grizzly!
I whip around and see a white blur barreling toward us -- Holy F*ck I'm Going To Die Being Attacked By A Deranged Mountain Goat!
The beast screeched to a halt.
It was a friggin’ doodle dog of some sort.
Sweet baby Jesus.
Relief floods through my body.
Then it growled at my dogs! WTH?! Buzz off deranged fluffy mountain goat dog!
Finally the owner (still far enough behind the dog that we can’t see him/her) whistles for the pup; it stares at us a moment longer then wanders back up the trail.
One of several good reasons to keep your dog leashed – so you don’t accidentally terrify a newb solo girl hiker! :P
That whole interaction probably happened in about 5 seconds. It easily took a good 10 minutes before my heart slowed down. All I could really do was giggle at myself every time the sound of my own scream echoed in my head. Sheesh. I’d read in multiple places to remain calm and quiet if you come upon a bear…whelp, we now know I won’t be able to do that! Good luck puppers! ;)
Mom, we got this tent life down. Seriously. We have our own camp beds, lots of blankets, AND your fuzzy feet to sleep on – what could be better than this?!
WAY better situation going into this campground than the prior night! No rainstorm, plenty of daylight left, and our site even had a nice grassy area off to the side. Felt pretty luxurious. Add in that the dogs behaved like angels and I started feeling quite confident the week ahead.
I had all these grand ideas about waking up early each morning to either catch the sunrise or at least be up early enough to leisurely enjoy a cup of coffee and oatmeal cooked over my little butane stove. I naturally wake up at 5am at home, so this shouldn't be a problem, right?
Wrong. While I thought I might sleep in until 6am, or maybe even 7am at the absolute latest if the dogs let me, in reality it was really more like 8am or even 9am one day! Gasp!!
The tent was so cozy that we just enjoyed the slow mornings. The puppies were so content being snuggled in their blankets that I couldn't bring myself to wake them right away. And even then, some morning Cool Whip was like a classic teenage girl: No mom, just 10 more minutes. Just rub my belly a little longer.
The evenings were a little different story. Winding down from a day of hiking and lounging before we went to enjoy sunset, a last bout of antics often surfaced. Herc would go snorting and sniffing about to find out how many chipmunks had strolled through camp while we were away, while Cool Whip sprawled out to soak up the last bits of warm sunshine... Of course it's all fun and games until your brother sits on your snout. ;)