After having some San Francisco plans fall through for Memorial Day, I knew I had to take advantage of the long weekend and go on a little adventure--Banff it was. I have been just itching to go back ever since our last trip 2 years ago. At first, I was a little skeptical on going there by myself; but the more I thought about it, the more I knew I needed to take this trip solo as I have never driven 10 hours to another country before on my own. If you know me at all, I am actually terrible at long distance driving--I get super sleepy/bored and my eyes doze off risking a crash. However, I knew I had to make it happen, no matter what. I got Ellie (my trusty little Honda Element) inspected by my brother-in-law before she was off to drive 600 miles to Banff. I contacted photographer friend, Paul Zizka, and arranged to stay with him, his wife and little one in town.
Thursday, May 21st, 2015:
I finished work at 9am and headed straight for the border. Little did I know, I was going to be be expecting a little delay through customs. Maybe people just get unlucky with certain officers, but the lady told me to pull up to one of the parking spaces to have my car searched. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, so I parked and walked into the building. Another lady called me up to the counter and asked me every little detail on why I was going to Banff. She had a notepad and was writing everything I was saying down as notes. She then asked if I had a cell phone and if she could have my passcode. I took a seat while she headed out the door. I sat there anxiously because I was afraid they were going to take away all the food I had spent so much time and money preparing before the trip. After a nerve wrecking 15 minutes, she came back and told me to "Have a great trip." I was so relieved to be let go, but I literally couldn't tell what they searched in my car, if at all anything. Those sneaky little spies. I googled an article where a man was arrested at the border for refusing to give up his passcode. I guess if you have nothing to hide, there's no reason for you to not give it to them. Who knows, I never knew border control could be so intense.
The rest of the drive through BC was the most beautiful. Some of the parts looked just like eastern WA. As I got closer to Alberta, the Rockies just grew in size and the more excited I was to finally be there. About 130 miles outside of Banff, my check engine light turned on. I was a little worried, but Ellie sounded and was running just fine, so I figured I could make it all the way to Banff okay. I made a little detour to Lake Moraine because the sunset light was so nice around 8pm. The lake was still frozen over, but it was still so majestic as I had last remembered. I can't wait to come back when the snow is melted to hike through the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
I made it Paul and Meghan's around 9pm. It was SO good to see them--they were just as lovely as when I first met them 2 years ago. They welcomed me into their precious little log cabin-like home right in the middle of town. They generously let me stay in their guest bedroom and left me a spare key for me to come and go as I needed. After dropping my stuff off, Paul asked if I wanted to go out to Lake Louise to shoot that night. Even though I had been driving all day, I had to take the opportunity to shoot with the master himself again! We headed out shortly after. It stays light out in Banff till around 11:30pm; it's pretty awesome. I've never been to Lake Louise, so I finally got to see it...in the dark. We shot until 12:30am and then headed back since we both had to wake up early to do car things in the morning.
Friday, May 22nd, 2015:
I woke up early the next morning to little Maya talking in her crib. She is 2 now and is so big! Such a little cutie. Meghan gave me a few numbers of local body shops to call--I ended up speaking to nice lady in Canmore that took walk ins. As I was half way almost there, I noticed that my light turned off and was relieved that it was probably just the gas tank cap or something (though I had already checked several times before). So I turned around and visited the Green Spot on the way back to take in the bright sunny morning.
I got back to the house and planned out my little day in Banff to visit all of the best lakes we had visited before, but this time in the day! It included Lake Louise and the most majestic drive down Icefields Parkway to Bow and Peyto Lake. Man, I am in love that road--I think I just want to live there. It was great to actually see in the light this time too. The sun was pretty harsh, but Bow was incredible--still a little frozen but oh so lovely. You are SO close to the mountains and have this amazing view all around you. Then I went to Peyto where the trail was covered with slushy snow, but I think it was my most favorite. The blue color was unreal. It was also still thawing out, so you could see the ice breaks in the water--I loved it so much.
I headed back to Banff and had dinner with Paul, Meghan and Maya. Meg made us a lovely little dinner of salad, quinoa and chicken. Oh how much I love me some home cooked meals. I had went to the Visitor Centre earlier to figure out a backcountry trip, but the people told me most places still had avalanche warnings, so I ended up just going with the Lake Minnewanka permit. In the evening, I looked at the map with Paul, and he gave me some other ideas on how to make the best of my trip since I already had bought my permit for the location.
Saturday, May 23rd, 2015:
For some reason, I didn't even think about the bears in Banff...but they are EVERYWHERE apparently. I got a little nervous but after hearing much wisdom from everyone and did a little research, I was more confident in heading out into bear country on my own. Meghan gave me some bear spray and I was off. I got to the Lake Minnewanka parking lot and started walking in the direction to where I thought I should be....then the the trailhead finally began. There were definitely a million people on the trail. I was a little relieved because there would be less bear activity the louder the people were. After breaking through the trees, the view of the lake was so beautiful. The whole trail pretty much winds around the edge of it, so there are water and mountain views everywhere. It was mostly flat with some rolling hills but nothing crazy.
So when I reserved my campground, the closest one left that was open was LM 11. Banff names the sites in kilometers, so my campsite was around 7 miles from the trailhead. When I was talking to Paul, he suggested I set up camp first and then backtrack the trail to the Aylmer Pass Junction back at LM 8. I was the very first one at LM 11, so I immediately picked the closest spot to the water and pitched my tent. Once again, the soil was super super hard, so I had to use rocks to pitch it (I ended up ordering new stakes when I got home). I took out as much weight as I could from my backpack and headed back to the junction. This area had bear signs up, and it was little terrifying but no bears were to be found due to the busyness of the trail. During berry season, you are required to hike with at least 4 other people and carry bear spray. By the time I reached the junction up to the lookout, I had already walked 8.7 miles. I think with that, and the sun blazing down on me, I was completely exhausted before I even started climbing.
I pushed through finally made it to the top of the lookout--it was SO AMAZING. The water was so blue and smooth. Boats would often drive by and create ripples through the calm water. Thankfully I still had lots of daylight, so I wasn't too worried on getting caught in the dark. On my way back down, I could feel my feet and shoulder aching terribly. I literally felt like my feet were going to break off my ankles. It was already starting to get a little chilly when I arrived back at camp. They had a specific spot for cooking and hanging our food away from our tents--it really felt like luxury. There is something I love going solo traveling because it makes you much more vulnerable on meeting other people who are out there doing the same thing as you. I ended up cooking and sharing a campfire with a couple from Ireland whom are now Banff locals, 2 brothers and a cousin from Edmonton, and a guy who had been traveling around the world for the past 9 months from Switzerland. Everyone was so friendly and had these accents that I sometimes could not follow. It's funny because I was just this average American who was just on a little vacation. We sat around the fire till around midnight, and I took a few dusk photos before bed.
I debated on getting up at 2:00am or not. I was afraid to walk into the pitch black darkness and see some bear eyes reflecting back at me. And man, every time decide I probably should, I am so glad I did because the sky was absolutely amazing. SOOO many stars with a little bit of cloud and light pollution from Canmore. I was surprised to see as much light as there was, but it created some really pretty colors.
Sunday, May 24th, 2015:
I took an easy morning and woke up to the sun gleaming into my tent. I really love condensation-free camping. I was little bit sore this day but was excited to get my pack on and head back into town. I said my goodbyes to my fellow campmates and was off. So far, I hadn't seen any wildlife except a million bugs (I also got eaten alive through my pants and had no idea). I saw a tick but flicked it off my tent--those things are nasty and quite terrifying. I also saw a garter snake slither by as I almost stepped on it. I definitely started to feel the pains again as I approached closer to the parking lot. There were a million people out at the day use area. I think I finally made it back to the car with a total of 23 miles within my two days combined. It was longest I have ever hiked in that timespan. It was super hard, and I didn't even climb that much. It really opened my eyes to what thru-hikers have to do to make their daily 20's. I don't want to be discouraged because I know you just have to work up to it, but it was definitely one of the hardest things I've ever done--even if it was just walking. I am looking forward to getting some more long distance training in this summer though! As was driving out on the Lake Minnewanka scenic loop, I saw a huge herd of bighorn sheep. They massive and looked so fake. This was probably my animal highlight of the trip.
I texted Paul and Meghan when I got back into town, and they were doing a little family BBQ at the lake. I decided to meet them at the house since I was completely covered in dirt and decided to take a shower. I spent my last night in town hanging out with them, and it was the most wonderful. We watched a Dr. Seuss episode with Maya before she went down. I really enjoyed being part of their little family for a few days in Banff. It was great seeing Paul and Meghan be parents--they love and care for Maya so well. Meghan is a talented writer who runs a very inspiring blog on the transition from an outdoor adventurer to parenthood and what it's really like to bring a little one into the picture while still pursuing those adventures. I want to grow up to be just like them! I know it's not easy, but I so passionately want to take my future children outdoors to experience life to the fullest when you're not distracted by modern day technology. We stayed up chatting that night as Paul finished packing because he was leaving early the next morning to the Yukon for his workshop.
Monday, May 25th, 2015:
I packed all of my things for one last final time. I had to drive to Canmore because my check engine light came on again, but it ended up shutting off by the time I got to the shop, so I couldn't get it checked. So annoying, but figured I'd be okay to drive all the way home and I was. But on my last day in Banff, I decided to car camp at Two Jack Lake. The campground was pretty dead the whole day as the weekend had just passed. I pitched my tent and literally just spent the entire day relaxing, napping and reading in my tent. The rain was off and on and a small storm passed by, but I stayed dry the whole time. It was such a nice way to spend my last day in Banff reflecting on the evidences of God's grace in my life and how my life has been completely changed ever since moving after college. It's times like this where I fully need my solo time to just think and pray about the things that are currently on my mind that can be easily distracted in my everyday life. I think sometimes people don't understand why I have to get out alone so much, but it's something I really crave and need in order to go back to real life. I hope someday all of my friends can experience solo wilderness for a period because it will completely change your view of life and confidence in self-sufficiency.
My drive back to the states was bittersweet, and it was the first day it finally started raining/becoming overcast--it felt like I was in PNW. I always feel like I leave a part of me in Banff when I have to go home; this place will always have a special place in my heart. Paul and Meghan made my revisit to Banff so welcoming, and I even started to feel like a local. I love that little family so much and am so grateful to know their little growing family. Who would've thought Paul's workshop 2 years ago would completely my whole life and where I wanted to pursue my photography. Until our next adventure together.