Dear Adventurous Reader,
I am new to the mountains. They have been in my dreams, set upon the horizon which I have not been able to chase. The thought of being within the peaks of a tall mountain range has been calling to me for years, and this journey through Canada will take us through some of the most memorable mountains we have seen.
We have been through the Australian mountains at Kosiosko, and it was fantastic, and we flew over the mountains in New Zealand, and I wish we could have spent more time there. But, the Canadian Rockies, and a few days with our drive heading east, this should be fantastic.
Banff. A skiing village in the mountains. With Germanic facades, one way streets and deer that feed in nice, clean garden beds along the street. An unexpected village, filled with unexpected things.
We came into the town, after finding the Lake Louise camping ground had closed for the winter. Dusk has passed into night, stomachs are growling, and no motel has any rooms in our price range. "Try Tunnel Mountain." A concierge suggests as we are leaving a run-down motel. I dislike the idea of camping when there could be a room somewhere, so I ask Jacqui to check out one last motel, just to see the prices... $240 per room (plus tax).
We went to Tunnel Mountain Campground.
Setting up tents in the dark is difficult. Setting up tents in the dark, while discussing bears visiting during the night, well... that scares half of the workforce. With Elijah helping out, suggesting to "biff-up" all the bears, and Joash finding his way between tasks and hiding in the car, we do manage to set up our tent.
The older boys have a good go at whinging about the "hard ground, to which my motivational suggestions include: "If the ground has you defeated you'll have a flat tent for the night...”, or "Maybe if you keep complaining the ground will get weaker...”
Once our tent was up, and I hold onto the superior ground of beating, three whinging boys to set up a tent, in the dark, I went to help them out. The ground was more difficult where they were, and Nathanael returns from finding a rock to beat the pegs into the ground. “See, you can solve your own problems.” I prompt, he smiles and knocks the pegs into the hard ground. They got the job done.
We retreat into our thin tents, with thoughts of bears exploring our camp ground. We had done everything to stop them coming into our tents, didn’t we?
Waking up in the morning, the air is freezing cold, the tent has ice lining the inner walls, and when I breath out I see breath-vapor rising. We slept in a bag, with clothes and a (toque)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toque#Canadian] (that is a Canada Beanie) and it was still cold.
Outside everything is still, quiet. I love stepping outside to survey the land, after arriving when it is dark. Everything is new, and unexpected, compared to my guesses in the dark. In the pale, morning light I can see the many camping areas, with people waking. A couple of dogs are close by and Ezekiel mistakes the growl in the night for a bear, which starts the “bear finding” discussion again. A couple slept in their car, because the cheap tent they had purchased broke when they were setting it up, in the dark.
The stove comes out, time for a coffee to warm up. Slowly, everyone crawls from the tents to join me at the picnic table, and before I know it hot chocolates are on order. Then my milk is all gone - I had become excited by the idea of milk in my coffee, last night when buying milk - before I get to coffee. At least I had coffee, but my hopes of milk were shattered.
Lake Louise and Hot Springs
Lake Louise stretches, with her flat blue surface between high peaks. Not a wave is blown across the water, only canoes make their way from rocky shore to rocky shore. The aqua-blue is magnificent, the ripples the only thing stopping the reflection of the mountains in the water. Snow covered mountain tops jut against the blue sky, with barely a cloud in it.
Just behind a gap, where it looks like a mountain would flow into another in a small glimpse of the receding Mount Temple glacier. The solid block of snow hadn’t moved during the summer months. The cold of the morning has vanished, and the sun is bright and warm. The kids grab what stones they can find and throw them into the glass-like lake, and we sit on the rocks, allowing the many tourists behind us take photos.
For the afternoon we bypass sightseeing to find the hot springs, back in Banff. We drive up out of the village, Cold mountain air, juxtaposed with the hot, hot water. An afternoon of sitting in hot water, while the steam inches from the surface, and drifts into the air. An afternoon of comfort, while looking at the mountains and the snow.
The children, disregarding the relaxing setting, begin to climb out of the pool, and leap into it, much to the frowns and scowls of the adults in the pool. Adeline finds it delightful, a cunning grin as she looks down, and in she goes; jumping a little, but mostly falling into the water. A splutter as she surfaces, and right back to the ladder.
Trying to stop her only causes her to move to another location. Then, a cunning grin and another jump.
The day grows longer, the light starts to fail, and the mountains become more blue, with alternating streaks of orange of the setting sun. Getting out of the pool is difficult, the cold air wraps around us, and encourages us to go back, into the warmth. So, like a carrot to a donkey, we suggest hamburgers at Eddie’s Burger Bar. We were ready to go super fast.
Up. Way up. The view is spectacular. We are surrounded by tall, snow covered peaks. Surrounded by more mountains. Trees climb up and up, until the white begins, a line of snow starting where the trees stop, and then it is white until the start of the sky, a beautiful, blue backdrop.
We have taken a gondola ride up to (Sulfur Mountain)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulphur_Mountain_%28Alberta%29]. The gondola is smooth, rocking gently as we are taken to the top, Elijah is excited, peering from the glass and wondering how far up we are.
We walk around the improvements going on at the restaurant, and find the pathway that takes us up to the Meteorological Observatory over on Sanson Peak. The pathway has been raised and is on boards, or metal grates, which keep us from the snow.
Snow. Real, soft snow. Our children are all excited, running from pile to pile, of white patches of snow that had recently fallen, taking handfuls to either throw or eat. Once we get to Sanson Peak they are not looking at the view, instead they reach through the fence to find more snow. Zeke builds a snow-man. Adeline grabs hands of snow and stuffs it into her mouth. Elijah gets a clever shot at Nathanael who didn’t expect to get hit by a snow ball.
Me? I look around at the view. Up here everything looks marvellous: the distances are vast; the peaks seem to be at your eye level; the town of Banff is small and the cars are insignificant.
It is a different perspective. The town of Banff is not a confusing layout of streets, filled with tourists, it is an insignificant town, nestled in between the mountains crafted by a skilled architect, with an eye for beauty and hands that crafted time itself. Majesty is in the mountains, beheld at every peak, and stretched between the shapely horizon. What lays behind, in the distance, has been obscured by the beauty and fantasy of what lays before our eyes.
They stopped our progress, with their cruel and unpredictable ways. They hindered our exploration of lands beyond our own. They stand, immovable, and yet they mock our frail bodies with they glory.
Time to go. Along the pathway, coaxing Adeline to keep moving, rather than sampling the snow. Back to the gondola, where Levi asks what would happen if the cable breaks, and I try to explain as slow as possible to allow us chance to get back onto the ground. It feels a little too real explaining what would happen, while the gondola rocks in the wind.
It is time to move onward. The east is calling our name. Friends and family, time to head towards home for the winter. Time to leave the mountains.
I look back toward the summit, which I can no longer see - the mountain is too tall. From the bottom looking up, now I know I am missing out on something - the special view, that the gondola took us to, has vanished. I know the secret that the summit has, I remember that view that stretches for miles in every direction. I look around and feel flat, as if adventure had grown grand, and then become normal again.