The Mountains Are Calling…Canadian Rockies-1

Here, the mountains reign, swathed in tones of grey & sepia, crowned by milky white caps of snow. Bedecked by a plethora of flamboyant conifers in the darkest of emerald, they stand tall & proud, as if softly singing a hearty welcome. They appear similar but that’s just the mind playing obvious tricks for they’re clearly not. Some are massive & humongous, emerging stern & strict although not in a bad way, more like a doting father, brave, defiant & protective. Some wrinkled, appearing ancient, ridden with a million secrets for they’ve silently endured the tests of time. Some may come off as dubious too, their pointed peaks peering suspiciously at onlookers. And then there are some that seem tiny….young & audacious, replete with greens, providing home to the wild & the tame. Perhaps these mountains speak a a different language to each but anyone who lays eyes on these towering beauties is promised of forever remaining besotted.
It’s yet another example too, of me blindly trusting the husband’s travel instincts. A year ago as we packed our hoardings to bid goodbye to Bangalore, I caught him smiling to himself whilst looking at scenic photographs. “This is Banff” , he said. “We have to go there!”.  Allow me to shamelessly confess, that I’m more of a city girl…. The dressing, the shoes, the dinners & wines enthrall me more than I like to admit. Not that I shy away from  staying active but four days of hiking shoes & windcheaters was hardly convincing. Having said that, this isn’t the first time he has implored me to see at the world through his eyes and as always it wound up being rewarding.
The place transpires as a photographer’s dream destination and the exhilaration apparent on the husband’s face was akin to a kid squealing in Disneyland. For the rest of us, the scenes fleet like pages & pages of watercolor paintings, with solely mental clicks to rely on because there’s nothing one doesn’t want to remember.

This series is going to be covered in two parts-  Part 1 – Banff
Part 2 – Icefields Parkway & Jasper

Come, travel with us! I promise you a brilliant journey!

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Lake Moraine
The first thought that crossed my mind as I laid eyes on the water was my Amma’s(mom) Mysore Silk sari. (for those of you who don’t know, Mysore Silk saris are a rage in Karnataka. Soft, silky light drapes in vibrant colors that confer the utmost comfort. My mom, among many is a proud owner of a couple of them and maintains them meticulously!). Like the sari, the waters seemingly appeared like a silky taffeta of blue-perhaps an amalgamation of turquoise, azure & sapphire, gleaming in the morning sun. Rings of soaring trees and the Valley of the Ten Peaks replaced the shimmering gold borders of the sari.
Most things in life comes with a price & that includes hiking up a little hill (Rock Pile) bestowing a view that mesmerizes.
I make sure I carry a book with me wherever I go. For the next hour or so, I immersed in the book, encapsulated by this burst of natural beauty, accompanied by silence, the only sounds being the wafts of a flawless breeze. On a lighter note, I think that also allowed for the husband to capture these pictures without a constant chant of, “Done?”, “Done?” in the background! 😉
Lake Moraine

Lake Louise
In the inner recesses of the Banff National Park, there lies surreptitiously a hamlet called Lake Louise, a treasure trove of pristine blue nonchalant waters encircled by peaks & their conifers. The glacial fed waters are imaginably freezing. As the meltwaters make their way down they bring with them rockflour from the mountains, making the water silty. Late spring, most of the rock flour settles to the bottom of the lake over the winter ensuring only a few being suspended thereby creating an intense blue.Come summer, milky streams gush down with more rock flour and the lake mellows to a lighter green.
Lake Louise

Banff Town
Imagine a walk in the early hours of the morning….when calm & tranquil prevail, birds softly chirp away, a crisp gentle wind rustles the leaves, roads lay desolate with only a handful of people, their hands tightly wrapped around a warm cup of coffee and a view of the soaring mountains enwrapped in a white mist as they lovingly overlook every nook & corner of this little town. The main street is home to shops & lodges, the buildings displaying rustic architecture in ochre, green& brown. The prized treasure being the jaw dropping vision of the glorious mountains that appear tangible and yet so far.

The 200 Block of Bear Street deserves special mention….It’s a Woonerff! In other words, a shared street where cars, cyclists & pedestrians share the road. Festooned with benches in browns & pots exploding clusters of flowers, the place screams of spring, summer & all things happy. Clearly, pedestrians have the right of way and cars drive at a very minimum speed.The concept is not unheard of and is popular in Europe albeit slowly gaining popularity in North America. Technically spelt Woonerf but it comes as no surprise that in Banff ,they have a thing for two f’s!

Say hello to Deepak everyone!

Woonerff

Sulphur Mountain & the Banff Gondola
The Sulphur Mountain gets its name from the strong odor of sulphur emanating from hot springs at the lower base of the mountain. The Gondola (cable cars) begins at the shoulder of the Sulphur Mountain, mostly steady, except when the Wind Gods decide to  pay a visit. Temporary moments of frantic cradling and sounds of heaving whooshes can make one shudder at those heights! But, as one travels along the length of the mountain, to the summit at an elevation of 2,281 m(7486 ft), flanked by  towering conifers that lie so close to each other, almost like a tightly woven blanket, the perils of uncertainly hardly matter in those moments. At the summit, the end of a 2300m boardwalk offers a breathtaking, 360 degree view of ice capped mountains, that jut high from the earth, soaring into the sky, as if to kiss the heaven above. The clouds do a little dance over the peaks, creating a veil of mist.
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Johnston Canyon
Where the mountains lie, you hike, the Johnston Canyon being one such place. Admittedly, we’re not big hikers but spirited nonetheless and this 12km hike sure assuaged all our hiking needs for the trip. Home to the Upper Falls, Lower Falls & the Inkpots, the canyon offers a bout of freshness amid the gushing waters and tall shady trees…a relief much needed to douse the summer heat.
Spring water percolates through the sand and river gravel to form five blue green pools, rightly named the Inkpots ( Top Right Picture). Characterized by swirling circles in the sandy pool bottoms, these puddles are worth the long hike. The pebbled ground offers much respite for aching legs as do the vibrant waters, greens & surrounding mountains. But, our gnawing hunger got the better of us and mirages of warm food sent us back down faster than we expected to.
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That completes Part -1 of the series and I apologize for the lengthy narration. I assure you the next one will be shorter and I do hope you liked our experiences with the glorious Canadian Rockies! Stay tuned for Part-2 and before you sign off, do take a look see at a few travel tips…..

My “additional” two cents
– A four hour flight from Toronto took us to Calgary. Banff National Park is about an hour’s drive from there. DO NOT rent cars at the airport since they can be highly expensive. A cheaper alternative is to taxi up to the nearest Car Rental (Enterprise in our case) and rent a car of your choice for almost one third the price!

-You will need a pass to enter the Banff National Park which can be purchased at a toll booth. The cost is around 15 CAD per day and it’s valid in Jasper too.

– I wasn’t kidding about the hiking shoes & windcheaters. The weather here is unreliable owing to the high altitudes and it’s better to carry a warm jacket at all times. The rough terrain undoubtedly demands a good pair of hiking shoes.

-Lake Moraine:  Climbing up the ROCKPILE offers beautiful views of the lake but if you’re not in the mood to be adventurous, the steps at the back make the hike slightly easier.

-If you’re planning on hiking up to the Inkpots which is about a 6km hike(one way), make sure you have enough water & food stocked in your backpack. The entrance to the canyon has one snack shop but none inside.

-Ours was a 5 day trip. Here’s the itenary,
Day 1: Lake Moraine & Lake Loiuse
Day 2: Johnston Canyon & exploring Banff Town
Day 3: Breakfast & a short trip to Lake Moraine followed by a 3 hour drive to Jasper
Day4: Exploring Jasper
Day 5: Return to Calgary and back to Toronto

-If camping is not on your agenda, Banff Town is home to plenty of hotels & lodges. We sojourned at the Banff Caribou Lodge for two nights,  a rustic lodge with a ranch like ambience before heading off to Jasper.

( Check out more Pictures here: Deepak Mohan Photography)