Banff or Bust

Once in a while, you have to just get out there and shake off the dust, see something you haven’t before. With COVID-19 in full swing and fall in full effect, Banff was about the farthest I could get with a single week off. Luckily, my usual trip tactic of “take the cheapest transportation possible and camp out instead of paying for hotels” works pretty well in these troubled times, and is a helpful excuse if anyone questions you! The main objective for this trip was to climb at least one mountain and see the sights in Banff, which I hadn’t visited since a whirlwind trip during Grade 10 band class, which was fantastic but didn’t give us time to do any exploring, hiking, the kinds of the things I love to do. So, all the camping gear got thrown in the car and away I went!

Just west of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, at an abandoned rest stop
Bedded down for the night just on the other side of a small row of trees. Not the quietest spot in the world, but safe enough!

Cross country travel is a lot more fun when you have something to break it up, and this summer’s obsession with geocaching is just the thing. There’s thousands along the TransCanada highway, so you just pick one an hour away and watch the km tick down to finding it. Banff was a very quick two days from Dryden!

View looking towards Mount Rundle from the lookout point just a minute from my campground at Tunnel Mountain. As soon as I saw this, I HAD to have a crack at getting up it….

With Banff being a national park, the good ol’ side of the road camping doesn’t work so well, so the dusty wallet got broken open to pay for 4 nights at the Tunnel Mountain campground. Money well spent in any situation, but even better than usual in case, because as I was setting up my tent in the pre-dusk glow I was approached by my site neighbor, a friendly guy named Brandon with the cutest little 9 month-old German Shepard, Freya. he was looking to go hike a mountain up at Lake Louise the next morning, and that sounded just fine to me!

So, off we went, only to find that the masses of tourists had beaten us to the spot, all congregating at the valley that had the autumn larch trees in full bloom. Luckily, “Mike” the parking guy and his partner in traffic direction were all too happy to tell us about the hike to “Saddleback Pass”, a less well known spot right at Lake Louise that wasn’t as overrun. And so, with a little local knowledge, off we went!

Brandon and Freya
Through the Larch trees, up towards saddleback pass
The mountains beyond, absolutely massive and gorgeous

After seeing the mountains all around, and feeling strong still, we headed past the pass, and towards the summit of Mount Fairview. Mike the parking lot guy had been right, there were a fair amount of people coming down the mountain, but nowhere near the throngs at our initial destination.

Heading up towards the summit. The sheer scale of the mountains around us was staggering
One more shot of the grandeur…
And , Summit!
Freya really was a sweet pup

So, I snagged a geocache cleverly hidden at the top of the mountain, and took the time to get a few bragging rights photos! Freya really was a trooper, and did an amazing job of getting up the mountain, even over the last summit push at the top over looseish rock and steep switchbacks. Never had to be carried!

I can’t say how much I enjoyed having Brandon’s company on this climb. Happiness and accomplishment is better with company, and it’s just neat to find other people out in the world that you connect with for activities and random adventures like this.

We parted ways at the top, sadly, as I was hellbound to gallop back down and make it to Banff on time to see the sunset views from a lookout on Mount Norquay, so we parted ways there at the top of the mountain.

We were all the way… right up there! In the foreground, the classic pale blue of Lake Louise
Sunset on a Mount Norquay meadow, looking down at the lights of Banff

As fit as you might be, climbing a mountain after a couple years in the “flatlands” will wear you out, so the next day I decided to continue pursuing some geocaches in area, and rest up before I went after the other mountain I wanted to climb, Mount Rundle, hanging over Banff. So, off to Sundance Canyon for the day.

Bow River Valley, looking West
Looking north from the Bow River towards some of the other peaks in the area
Sheer beauty in Sundance Canyon
Looking north again, from Sundance Canyon.
A last look at the next day’s climb, Mount Rundle.

The next day, and the last one of my trip, was dedicated to trying my darndest to reach the summit of Mount Rundle. With my rented trekking poles and my Dad’s loaned down jacket, I set off an hour before sunrise to make the most of the morning….

The mountain was quiet that morning, nobody else that I could see was on the mountain, but as I crested the “Dragon’s Spine” and looked up towards the last loose scree push to the summit, I could see another climber sliding down the slope towards me. He stopped in a little cloud of dust for a chat, there standing a dozen feet apart in the early morning, and had the lovely kind of conversation you can only find in situations like this. He was due in another city that afternoon, and had wanted to cross this peak off his bucket list for a long time. Turns out, he had left the trailhead just a few minutes before me, but had already gotten to the peak, and made it partway down. What a legend!

On I pushed, to the summit…

And so, with my push to summit satisfied, back down the mountain I went, to spend an exhausted but happy night sitting by the little campfire at my campsite, before I started the two day drive back to Dryden. Vacations are never long enough.