Travel Time with Roger Tweed: Banff National Park (Part 2)

Travel Time with Roger Tweed

Finally, after all the delay, here is the story of our hiking experiences in the Shadow Lake area of Banff National Park (one of the 4 oldest National Parks in the world!).

On Tuesday (8/14), our plan was to hike from the lodge to Gibbon Pass and beyond. With breakfast out of the way and lunches packed, we put on our gear and headed to the trail. Or at least what we thought was the trail. The map was a bit imprecise and it looked like the northbound trail turned off of the main trail (the one we took into the lodge) just before you arrived at the lodge. Heading in that direction we found two trails that led in the right direction, but one ended at the horse corral and the other seemed to dead end. As it turned out, the trail to Gibbon Pass and beyond to Rte. 93 began right behind our cabin. And with that knowledge we were off once again.

The weather called for showers, and we chose to hike to Gibbon Pass because this would be the shortest hike of the week. It is only 3 km (1.8 mi) from the lodge to Gibbon Pass. But over that short distance we would gain the same 1,500 feet in elevation that we had gained over the 8 miles we had hiked from the Trans Canada to the lodge the day before. It was a steeper and slightly longer hike than the final 1.25 miles of the previous day (the section that bicycles can’t travel). It took a long time to cover the distance, with several breaks were needed due to the elevation gain. Most of the trail is vertical with switchbacks, but as you get up higher there are a few meadows with impressive arrays of wildflowers. The bugs seemed to be out in force as well. Finally, it looked like peaks could be seen ahead and that the land was leveling out at the top of the trail. And there we were, in Gibbon Pass. The pass is a lovely meadow running between Copper Mountain to the east, several glacial peaks to the north, and Mt. Ball and its peaks to the west. We saw a marmot dashing along the trail to the east, and took a lunch break while we were at the pass. After taking some pictures it was apparent that storm clouds were gathering, so rather than hike any further it was time to head back to the lodge. Fortunately, we were mostly under the tree canopy as the rain started to intensify. We met up with a family from the lodge heading up the trail as we were returning, and then closer to the lodge we met a group who were hiking to a camping area beyond the pass. As it turned out, they were going to be rained on for much of the afternoon. The rain really started coming down as we returned to the lodge, and there were several heavy downpours in the meadow occupied by the lodge throughout the afternoon. But by 5 pm, the sun was back. The hike to Gibbon Pass was very strenuous. I am told that to hike all the way to Rte. 93 involves more elevation gains along the way. I don’t think I’d like to take that route either into or out of the lodge. This hike is also where my camera batteries started to die, and I could have kicked myself for leaving my AA battery charger in my car in the parking area.

On Wednesday, the morning temperature was in the low 30s (Fahrenheit). Our plan was to hike to Haiduk Lake (about 5 miles from the lodge), which was only fitting because we were staying in Haiduk Cabin. I may have mentioned last time that the man who named most of the major geographic features of the area used themes. Right after he had used up his Egyptian-themed names (Pharoh Peaks, Egypt Lake) he started on Polish-themed names. Haiduk Lake sits below Haiduk Peak. It is said that when using the word “haiduk” the geographer, who was not Polish, thought it meant tranquil and was a feminem term. In fact, haiduk would come from the Polish “hajduk”, a term for a uniformed Footsoldier. This derives from the Hungarian “hajduk” meaning a drover or cattle working serf. An army of such serfs fought against the Hapsburg Emperor in 1604-06 and were rewarded for their service with emancipation. Anyway, our 5 mile hike would take us past Shadow Lake, alongside Cathedral Towers and then along a creek bed (we would cross the creek 3 times) until we reached a campground and intersection. To the right would be Ball Pass (and the British Columbia border), and to the left would be the path to Haiduk Lake and beyond to Egypt Lake. Along the way we were leading or trailing a group of 10 from the lodge. This group was made up of several individual groups (and a few individuals) along with their hired guide. The folks had arrived at the lodge at various times on Monday. Shortly after we crossed Shadow Lake and were taking pictures of Cathedral Towers, my camera gave out. I thought it was just dead batteries but did hear it make a funny grinding noise when you turned it on. I later learned that something is blocking the lens from extending when you turn the camera on. I believe that the hike is longer than 5 miles because it took us almost 2.5 hours to get to Haiduk Lake and the trail was neither difficult nor steep. There were several downed trees in one clearing, and some of our fellow hikers were convinced that this must have been the result of a “micro burst”. The Weather Channel at work. The creek along the trail was running very quickly and was very beautiful, and there was a long meadow near the lake with a large pool in it that was absolutely lovely (but no moose sightings). And the side views of Cathedral Towers were something to see. Haiduk Lake is very placid. We were not the first of the days hikers to get there, but everyone who arrived took the opportunity to have lunch in this serene setting. A family of Grebes arrived and moved along the glass-like surface of the lake, which is fed by glacial runoff from Haiduk Peak. After lunch, Roch and I headed back to the lodge. We stopped at Shadow Lake and I used Roch’s camera to take a picture of a loon gliding along the lake. Unfortunately, the loon turned his/her head just as I took the picture ruining the profile shot.

On Thursday, rather than go to Ball Pass which would have meant going over 3 miles along the trail we had just hiked the day before, we set out for The Waterfalls above Shadow Lake. Casey, one of the lodge crew, had mentioned that this was her favorite hike. You hike along the lake shore and then follow a rough trail marked with red blazing (in this case, red ties attached to trees). A group of loons were making their familiar loon calls on the lake and as we approached the lake shore they caught sight of us and it looked like they were running on the lake to get away from us. Many absolutely gorgeous views of glacial ice along the peaks of the Ball Range lining the opposite side of the creek. At about 3 miles into the trek you reach the first two waterfalls, which are very nice. You can hike up and around these two waterfalls to some additional waterfalls and an amphitheater, but we decided to hike back to the lodge instead.

Thursday night, our final night in camp, just about everyone was gathered in the Library, which was the original lodge building built by the CP Railway in 1928. This room has a wood stove, and the nights were beginning to get chilly. You are required to remove your shoes when entering any of the lodge buildings, and one of the group of ten remarked how one pair of hiking shoes (mine) resembled his as he was gathering up shoes before leaving. The next morning after finishing breakfast, I looked at the place just inside the dining hall door where I had placed my shoes and they were gone! It was my bags disappearing from the hotel lobby in Banff all over again. I went to the porch and found a pair of hiking shoes that looked a little like mine (they were actually more expensive) and figured it must have been the same guy I had heard last night who had my shoes. I noticed that an older woman who was with the guy in question (I think she was his mother. They were also traveling with a youngster I believe was his son) was still in the dining hall so I asked her where he was. She thought he was in the large bath house, but after two other men came out of there I asked her which cabin she was in. She told me that she would ask him to come down to the dining hall. When he arrived he was wearing my shoes. “Your shoes fit better than mine” was what he said. I hadn’t tried his on, but they didn’t look big enough for me. We traded shoes and with that Roch and I made ready to hike the 8 miles back to the parking area and then drive back to Calgary.

We said our farewells and hit the trail. The weather had been cold enough at night that bugs were not much of a factor anymore at and around the lodge. As we stopped and availed ourselves of the bench at the bicycle parking area I noticed a couple just ahead of us who were also heading toward the parking area. We caught up to them shortly after resuming our hike. After the halfway point we stopped for a water break and the couple stopped to talk with us. They had been hiking for a few days and had been at Ball Pass during the rain showers on Tuesday. They had stopped at the lodge earlier in the week and had received trail tips from the cook (Brian Niehaus’ older sister). We over took them one last time as we continued down the trail. Eventually, we could hear the sounds of traffic (for the first time in 4 days), then you could see the traffic, then you could see the horse corral, then the parking area, and finally my car. A lodge guest from Edmonton had told me the night before that he didn’t remember seeing a black Accord in the lot when they pulled in on Thursday. There were some bugs in the parking area, but not as thick as earlier in the week. We had made the trip down in a total (with stops included) of 2 hrs 50 minutes. Not bad at all.

While we were getting ready to hit the road, the couple we had passed along the trail arrived at the parking area. They asked us if we would take one of them to the Sunshine Ski Resort, a few km off the eastbound Trans Canada, where their car was parked. Since they were fellow hikers I told them we’d take them both. I don’t normally pick up hitchhikers, because I don’t want to die. But I remembered how Bob Smartt had had such a problem hitching a ride back to Logan Pass in Glacier National Park along the Going to the Sun Road two years ago, and I figured that these folks wouldn’t have been hiking more than eight miles on the off chance that they could steal a car. However, when the road to Sunshine was a lot longer than they had originally said it would be, I did start looking in the rear view mirror a lot, and I slowed down to keep traffic with us as much as possible. Turns out, these folks were from Regina, SK. Although they are skiers, they don’t like the slopes at Sunshine. Hiking to the Redearth Creek parking area instead of back to Sunshine saved them about an hour of hiking. We saw a group of sheep along the road leading to the resort. And after dropping the couple off we hit the road for Calgary making one stop at a McDonald’s on the outskirts of Banff for drinks.

The Sheraton was just as nice the second time, and it felt good to wash the trail off. We had dinner at a very reasonable Italian restaurant about a half mile up Barlow Trail from the Sheraton (a recommendation from the desk clerk). The next morning Roch took the shuttle to the airport and I headed back to Minot. Along the way I passed through Yellow Grass, SK where Canada’s highest recorded temperature (114 F) was recorded on July 5, 1937. I had passed through on my way west as well, but I didn’t know what that funny perforated sign said until I saw it on TV in Calgary that night. The border crossing into the US was completely uneventful, and I had so carefully calculated my gas usage (I wanted to limit the amount of expensive gasoline I would buy in Canada) that I figured I didn’t have enough gas to get to Bowbells, ND (20 miles from the Route 52 intersection) so I bought gas in Lignite, ND at a gas station that was about as in the middle of nowhere as you can image. At the time all regular unleaded gasoline (with or without ethanol) in North Dakota was $3.79 per gallon except in Fargo, where it was in the high $3.50s. It was 998 miles from my fill up in Calgary to my fill up in Fargo.

On my way back to DC I spent Monday night in Indianapolis as a guest of Jeff and Alicia, old friends from the University of Chicago. I must tell you that Indianapolis was a very pleasant surprise to me. What a beautiful city, especially the area along the White River. River Walks, the NCAA HQ, the IUPUI Medical complex, Monument Circle and the War Memorials are all very impressive. We even drove by Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University. Eagle Creek Park is one of the largest urban parks in the US, and along the canal walk that we took were a memorial to the USS Indianapolis and a very comprehensive series of panels listing every Congressional Medal of Honor winner by time frame. This exhibit is permanent, and has narrators describing the acts of heroism performed by various recipients. I really liked everything I saw.

I left Indianapolis at 2:30 the next day (Indiana now uses Daylight Savings Time just like the rest of us (except Arizona)) and got to my house at 11:25 pm. It was a great trip!