Travel Time with Roger Tweed: Hiking in Banff National Park

Travel Time with Roger Tweed

On August 12, I picked Roch up at the Calgary airport and we headed out on the Trans Canada for Banff, stopping at a Mr. Sub on the outskirts of Calgary. You see Mr. Sub signs on the boards at hockey games and on the outfield walls at Toronto Blue Jays games on TV, and I must say that our subs were very good. Once you get to the west of Calgary the Rockies begin. The mountains are all around the Trans Canada, and they are very impressive.

We went straight to Lake Louise, which is west of the town of Banff where we would spend that night. Lake Louise is fed by the six glaciers that cover Victoria Peak (the lake is named for Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter). Chateau Lake Louise was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway, and several of the peaks surrounding the lake are named for CP officials of the era. The angle of the sun washed out some of our pictures, but the place is as beautiful as you are led to expect. You can hike all the way around the lake, but between the bugs and our needing to get to Banff and our accommodations, we made this stop a bit brief.

I should point out that as you drive along the Trans Canada and enter the boundary of Banff National Park (at least from the east) all traffic must go through park entry lanes and pay the park entrance fee of C$9.90 per person per day. Our Parks Canada toll taker was all set to charge us for one night apiece when I made the mistake of telling him that we would be staying in the park for 5 nights, so our fee became C$99.00. You tape your receipt to the inside of your windshield. As we learned as we exited the park (east bound), no one checks your receipt as you leave and I’m pretty sure that no one checked the receipt on our windshield while we were in the confines of the park. So word to the wise (although you didn’t hear it from me), when you enter Banff National Park on the Trans Canada don’t mention that you will be staying in the park for more than one day so that you don’t have to pay for more than one day. There does not appear to be any mechanism to check on those staying for longer periods.

On the way back toward Banff we stopped at a scenic turnout to gaze at several peaks including Mt. Rundle (10,000 ft). The scenery was just wonderful. We also stopped at the Redearth parking area on the Trans Canada, which is where we would begin our 8 mile hike to Brewster’s Shadow Lake Lodge the next morning. As we walked out of the parking lot to the trail head, the bugs immediately began their assault. It was as if our opening the gate leading to the trail was like ringing a dinner bell for the insects. Our next stop was Brewster’s Mountain Lodge on Caribou St. in Banff. The town of Banff was started by the Canadian Pacific Railway as well. Like Vail and Telluride, Banff is a quaint looking town with shops and restaurants and lodging venues lining the few main streets and the town itself is surrounded by magnificent peaks. We checked into the lodge (pretty much a hotel but a bit more rustic in decor) and headed out to dinner while taking in the sights. The sun was still out past 9 pm here, so we had ample time to poke around. Dinner wasn’t bad although the service was a bit slow (tourist place during the height of tourist season). I bought some post cards and found some insect repellant that was 30% DEET (don’t know what DEET is, but from the tone of the warnings in the product instructions I am sure that using it has paired a few years off of the end of my lifespan. I learned from being in the Adirondacks in the summer of 2002 that you need to have it.)

After breakfast it was time to check out. I put my bag and back pack behind a chair in the lobby while checking out at the desk. After getting the receipt I looked to where my bags had been, but they were gone. The woman sitting in the chair pointed toward the entrance and I ran outside to find a group that had been in the lobby having their bags loaded into a van run by a car service. I told them that I suspected that they had my bags, and they were quickly identified and returned. The car service had swept up all the bags in the lobby for this group and unknowingly swept up my bags in the process. That was a close call.

With that excitement out of the way, we were headed back to the Trans Canada and the Redearth parking lot. As I put on my hiking shoes and separated the items I’d be packing up to the lodge from those staying in the car Roch was talking with a woman who had just biked down the bikeable part of the trail. Turns out that she was Allison Brewster Niehaus who runs the Lodge with her husband Bryan. She said she had just cooked breakfast at the lodge and she was now off for the week. She radioed to the lodge that we were on our way up the trail. Also at the trailhead is the corral for the horses that are used to bring supplies to the lodge every 4 days in the summer. For the winter season, provisions are brought in by snowmobile.

And with that, we hit the trail. Over the 8 miles you gain about 1,500 feet in altitude (going from 4,450 feet to just over 6,000 at the lodge). We set a very good pace, and the trail was in good condition the whole way. The early going on the trail is a continuous but not very steep incline. There are small bridges over drainage spillways and a decent sized bridge over Redearth Creek immediately followed by another bridge over Lost Horse Creek (named because one of the Brewster’s horses broke away up this creek in the 1920s). This bridge and the wilderness campground just beyond mark the half way point of the hike to the lodge. We were making very good time and just began to encounter folks hiking down the trail toward the parking area at this point. The trail is well wooded, and there isn’t much scenery to take pictures of from the trail. You can hear Redearth Creek running along side, but the trail climbs well above it as you go on.

We came to the bicycle parking area (where lodge employees park their bikes), which is about 1..25 miles from the lodge. There is a bench here and as we sat down we met James and Emma from Adelaide, Australia who were there eating their lunch. James and Emma are on a three month holiday, and had already been in Alaska and Los Angeles among other places. They are now making their way east and their holiday will end with them in Europe before they return to Australia. Bryan Niehaus had driven them from the parking area on Rt. 93 (where they parked their rental car) to the Redearth parking lot. When they were to leave on Wednesday, they would hike out on the path to the north through Gibbon Pass to their rental car. The reason the bike parking is over a mile from the lodge is that the trail at this point becomes almost vertical, and is the most strenuous part of the trek. You could not ride a bike either up or down this part of the trail. We pressed on and arrived at the lodge after 3.5 hours on the trail (3 hours of hiking and 30 minutes of water breaks and talking with James and Emma). Not a bad start to our week of hiking.

At the lodge we were assigned to Haiduk cabin, and after stowing our gear we partook of the afternoon tea. The lemonade and ice tea, along with the cookies and other snacks laid out were quite welcome to folks just off the trail. Also, the staff was very knowledgeable and service oriented. The first staffer we met at the lodge was Casey, who is now starting her second year at the University of Calgary (a chemistry and linguistics major). She pointed out the peaks surrounding the meadow to us and gave us some recommendations for hikes. The lodge is located in a beautiful meadow in the shadow of Mt. Ball, Isabella Peak, Cathedral Towers and the Ball Range. Shadow Lake is about 1 km from the lodge and feeds the stream that runs through the meadow. The original lodge building was built by (you guessed it) the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1928 as a way station for those travelling on horseback between Yoho Chateau and the Chateau at Mt. Assiniboine. We hiked out to Shadow Lake before dinner and found it to be a beautiful and tranquil place. Mt Ball has glacier ice on its upper levels, and at least one glacial waterfall about mid-level. Loons congregate on the waters of the lake and the setting is wonderful.

Dinner that night was magnificent. Pumpkin soup, roast pork loin, salad and roasted vegetables. I don’t remember what we had for dessert. Breakfast the next morning was also wonderful, and after breakfast you can pack your own lunch from the spread of fresh made bread, cold cuts, and vegetables along with trail mix and granola bars (also made at the lodge). If I had a complaint about the lodge, and I don’t really, it would be that there is too much food available. By our last night there I really didn’t want to eat very much.

This has gone on so long that I will have to write another part to cover the next three days of hikes and our hike back down the trail. This will also allow me to include more pictures (of the ones I took before my camera broke on that Wednesday).