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The hills are alive

North America » Canada » Alberta » Banff National Park - 27 June 2011

sunny 19 °C

What do you think of when the Rocky Mountains are mentioned?

Towering snow-capped peaks? Forests of tall, green pine trees?

Rushing rivers and waterfalls? Glacier-fed lakes of blue and green?

Winter ski resorts? Bears?

Coach loads of Japanese tourists?!

Yup, they’re all there – in spades.

And we’ve got the pictures to prove it!


From Calgary, our route first took us up into the foothills of The Rockies. Quickly, the scenery changed. All around us, through the coach windscreen ahead, from the windows to left and right, dark crags, topped with snow even now in late-June, rose majestically from lush green forests at their feet. We’ve seen mountains around the world, but never as magnificent nor as extensive as these. To use the modern vernacular, they were awesome!

Along the way, we made a stop at Two Jack Lake with its beautiful mountain backdrop.


If we thought that was good, our next stop at Lake Minnewanka (which, to save our blushes, Margarith pronounced as ‘minivanker’) was even better. Minnewanka is the largest lake in Banff Park, and the only one on which motor boats are permitted. Technically, it’s a reservoir, created in 1912 to generate electricity.


In the valley of the Bow River, we also saw the strange hoodoos – spires of soft rock, protected by a hard cap at their peak, that have been carved by wind and water over the years to form weird shapes.


Although we spent the night at the little town of Canmore in the Bow Valley, our sightseeing destination was Banff, the region’s tourist hot-spot. Of course, it’s named after Banff in Scotland, the birthplace of Lord Steven, a Canadian Pacific Railway director when the trans-continental rail line was being built through the Bow Valley in the 1880s. His workers stumbled upon a series of natural hot springs, the enormous Banff Springs Hotel was built nearby and the town has never looked back. Today, it’s really a colourful street full of shops and restaurants with a mountain view and some pricey hotels.



At 1463 metres (4800 ft), it’s the second highest community in Canada and surrounded by mountains, Mount Rundle, Sulphur Mountain, Mount Norquay and Cascade Mountain among them. Although we’d been blaming jet lag and early starts for our continual tiredness, on reflection the altitude probably had something to do with it too!

Close by the Banff Springs Hotel are the thundering Bow Falls – ‘falls’ is a bit of a misnomer as the water doesn’t drop Niagara-like and they’re probably better described as a series of rapids. They’re impressive nonetheless.


From Canmore, we made a full-day expedition northwards along the Icefields Parkway. It was a long journey punctuated by stops at some amazing lakes on our way to and from the Athabasca Glacier.

First of these was renowned Lake Louise, site of another huge hotel - the Chateau Lake Louise, and the highest community in Canada at 1530 metres (5,020 ft). This scenic spot was named after Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta. The province of Alberta, incidentally, was also named for her.



It was at Banff and here at Lake Louise that we constantly encountered coaches of Japanese tourists. Everywhere we went, they were there before us or just minutes behind! They loved taking photographs, often with classy pieces of their country’s technology. They usually preferred taking pictures of one another – standing to attention, holding hands with a friend, serious-faced or sometimes giving a two-finger salute, victory-style – rather than of the sights they’d presumably come to see. Sometimes, they vied with one another to take photos of, well, nothing! They particularly loved to walk right in front of others trying to take photos of the same sights - and never once lost face by apologising for doing so!


They also lacked fear: on one occasion, a larger than large coach stopped for a view of some wild black bears near the roadside. Half a dozen of its Japanese occupants got off, approached the bears and started taking photos of each other with the bears in the background just yards away! Banzai!

Rant over. Back to the glacier adventure.

Our goal was the Athabasca Glacier - by virtue of its accessibility alongside the Icefields Parkway, probably the most visited glacier in North America. It’s a massive slab of ice, around 6 kms (3¾ miles) long and between 90 metres (270ft) and 300 metres (1,000 ft) thick. Alas, global warming is beginning to take its toll and, over the past century or so, it has receded by more than 1.5 kms and lost over half its volume. It’s a spectacular sight but, as it continues to recede by up to 3 metres a year, it’s one that our grandchildren’s children may never see.


A coach took us from the Icefields Interpretive Centre to the edge of the glacier itself. There, we boarded specially-designed Ice Explorers. These gigantic buses are found nowhere else in the world. I forget the statistics, but they have hugely-powerful motors yet travel at less than 20 miles per hour to permit them to cope with the steep gradients down and up the moraine and without losing grip on the snow and ice of the glacier.


Each of the massive six wheels is as tall as a man and costs thousands. The photo below shows the track just one wheel made on a cleared area of the glacier’s surface where we were allowed to walk.


The ice melting from above us, poured out as pure water – some of which was eagerly collected in big plastic containers by the omnipresent Japanese visitors. Maybe they were on a tight budget.

Our return to Canmore was by way of Peyto Lake. The amazing bright turquoise water you see in my photo isn’t a figment of Photoshop’s imagination but its true colour. The lake is fed by a glacier and suspended rock particles known as ‘rock flour’ are present in the water at this time of year, and it’s this flour that gives it that vivid colour.


We also stopped to stretch our legs at Bow Lake on the way back.


The scenery was superb, the air was clean and bracing - and, at last, the Nisshōki (a white flag with a big red dot in the middle) was conspicuous by its absence.



It is now almost eight years later and I still haven't completed my series of blogs about our month-long tour of Canada. I will try to rectify that some time soon - but, be warned, it will entail at least another ten stories!


Posted by Keep Smiling 11:01 Archived in Canada Tagged mountains lakes canada calgary banff athabasca_glacier

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by katieshevlin62

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