Friday, February 28, 2020

More ice falls - Lake Louise



Our plan Sunday was to do all there was to do at Lake Louise. It was our first time out there, and again Alex whined and complained until we got to the waterfall. We knew it was at the far end of the lake and we saw the line of ants in the distance making it impossible to lose our way, but we didn't realize until we got there that the falls were behind the stand of trees we had been tracking during the walk (thus we never really knew how close or far we were from our destination).


The climb to the falls is practically straight up. None of our photos sufficiently represent the steepness of the grade, which is a great shame. I went up half the distance and the kids raced all the sway to the base of the falls. The fun for them was in sliding back down on their butts. The incline was so great a couple of the adults who got a bit off balance raced so dangerously fast we feared they would plunge into the thin ice at the bottom of the hill - there was actually some water at this point so the lake itself was absolutely a hazard.  The kids loved their ride so much the went back up and slid down again.

This warranted some hot cocoa, which we found at the Chateau Fairmont Lake Louise. I do have to give the Fairmont credit, it is very well set up for all the day trippers who are not spending fantastic sums of money to stay at the hotel. On our way to the car to pick up the ice skates - the hotel clears a pretty good sized portion of the lake for two rinks, one for pickup hockey games and one for ice skaters - the kids discovered a massive pileup of snow they could not resist. They spent the next hour building a massive fort within the snow mounds while Terry and I skated and admired the mountains.


We also discovered around this point that Zoltan's boots are not at all
waterproof and his socks were soaking and his feet cold. I gave him my socks and went barefoot in my boots, because that is what mothers do. Especially when they wear the same size socks. His boots are too small for me or I probably would have switched those too.

Next up - sledding. Yeah, we really weren't done yet. We debated staying long enough to catch the sunset but dry socks in wet boots soon become wet socks.

Dinner was a disaster. We originally wanted to get back to our fave Park Distillery and hadn't figured on Banff being so crowded there was nowhere to park within a reasonable walking distance from the restaurant. So we forged on to Canmore. Where our 20-30 minute wait to be seated (reasonable) became an hour wait (unreasonable). Zoltan was famished and freezing so I worried a bit about him. when we finally got back to the hotel he actually did not complain about having to take a shower, looking forward to the prospect of lots of hot water. Bedtime came quickly that night. We worried whether he was getting sick from the exposure (yeah, yeah, cold weather does not lead to colds. However, I had a scratchy throat that day and with his defenses down - from being so cold for so long, as well as worn out and late on eating - he could have caught it). In any case, we planned a much more low key Monday before driving home. And that was lucky for us.


Tuesday, February 25, 2020

More ice falls - Canmore


We celebrated President's day with our first overnight in the Rockies. We stayed in Canmore, at a hotel that was 15 minutes away from one of the hikes we planned: Grotto Canyon.  When we pulled into the parking lot - having scored the very last spot - we discovered that we were missing one set of ice cleats and Zoltan had no handwear.

So we decided to see if we could check in early. It was fully booked the night before, it was just checkout time, and therefore no. The gentleman behind the desk very helpfully mentioned that Canmore does boast a Canadian Tire and they sell ice cleats and gloves and mittens. Off we go!

With shopping done and our eyes still on that prize, back to Grotto Canyon we go. As we had hoped, folks who had gotten there earlier were starting to leave and we were able to park the car. Alex did her usual tween thing of whining and complaining and reminding us of how much she hates hiking.  Until we got to the river.

The cool thing about this hike is that it is literally impossible in the summer, as much of the hike is on top of the frozen river and alongside the falls. I kept staring at the waves of ice underfoot - it was as if the river instantly froze in the process of flowing. (I was also very happy we decided to buy another set of cleats, as my bright idea of me and one child each wearing only one cleat would not have worked well).  The cleats we found were a tiny bit too big so they kept slipping to the side during one particularly slippery and steep part of the river, so I did not adventure quite as far as the rest of the family. Zoltan, even with his sturdy cleats, managed to slide down part of that steep, slippery river. It was terrifying to watch but he said it was exciting and just a little scary.

The hike was sufficient adventure for the day so we went back to the hotel, checked in, and let the kids have a run at the hotel pool. We dined at the Iron Goat, which is fun to say, and hit the hay in preparation for a long Sunday.

Monday, February 17, 2020

An Ode to the Ice Cleat


So, I'm not really writing an ode. Although it would rock. We have had experiences with Yak Trax but it was nothing like the joy the ice cleats brought us during the recent hike through Johnston Canyon in Banff (not to be confused with Johnson Lake, also in Banff, but currently closed for the season).  On a number of occasions I would look at my fellow hikers holding on for dear life to a railing or a side of the cliff and wonder why they were being so dramatic. At one point Terry showed me the sheet of ice that covered the path I just tromped down. I had not skidded a millimeter. Oh, ice cleats, why have I only discovered you now?  And, for added joy, they are one of the few items that are actually less expensive to buy in Canada!

All the tourism literature and bloggers compare it to Narnia/a winter fairyland and it is a pretty fair comparison.  I've now officially made it a personal goal to find and hike all trails that involve frozen waterfalls in the two-hour radius around Calgary.

The trip to the Lower Falls is about 1/2 mile and to the Upper Falls another mile beyond that. If it weren't for the fact that you pass directly by the Lower Falls I'd say give it a skip. The Upper Falls were absolutely breathtaking. We watched an ice climbing crew preparing, and a few individuals summiting the frozen waterfalls.  One family with a toddler and a dog looked to be preparing their own climb and we were very interested to see how they managed, but things were proceeding slowly and we moved on.  Side note: Terry disagrees about which waterfall was nicer.  He enjoyed the lower falls and the cave you could go through to get a better view.  The photo at the end is from the lower falls. Side note: Lynne would describe the "cave" as a hole in the rock.

A decent section of the trail is an open-grate catwalk with railing. Just before the last catwalk to the Upper Falls, there is an option to head off the main trail and head down toward a smaller falls.  This was the ultimate discovery and a highlight of the trip. Not only was the frozen fall spectacular; not only could we walk within a few feet of a deep blue pool being constantly refreshed from an apparently (but obviously not entirely) frozen fall; but also we were able to sneak behind a different frozen fall and catch a glimpse of the world from that unique angle.

We created a new verb during this trip - "snowbanking"- which means throwing yourself into a snowbank and taking a rest.  The hike did have its strenuous moments and Terry and I really felt how out of shape we are, so the kids' requests for snowbank time were honored about half the time.  The photos show each kid "snowbanking." They asked every 5 minutes or so, and for a three mile round trip they probably snowbanked a dozen times or more. Towards the tail end we got a bit nervous about getting out of the park before the sun went down.  So the request to "snowbank" we honored a little less often.