ADVENTURE JOURNAL - ALBERTA
When you think about the west, you might think deserts, cacti and cowboys and you wouldn’t be wrong but the west can also be glaciers, frozen canyons and snow covered mountains. Believe it or not this cold, northern side was the sideI wanted to discover for myself and after exploring Alberta in the dead of winter I’m so glad I did. Getting there wasn't easy and after a long day of winter driving, delayed flights and missed connections, I finally met up with Charles in Toronto and got on a flight to Calgary. Getting off the plane set the pace for the rest of the trip. It was cold, really cold, like an extreme-cold-warning-frostbite-risk kind of cold and there was snow everywhere. Other people were clearly not stoked about the winter conditions but my first thought was: I hope this weather lasts and can I please just be in the mountains already? The answer was pretty much yes. From Calgary the drive to Kananaskis, our entry point to the Rockies, was only an hour. It was an hour in scary blowing snow complete with whiteouts but luckily for me I was on co-pilot duty and got to focus on taking in the views the whole way. The minute we hit the designated national park zone I had my camera in front of my face and that’s where it stayed for pretty much the rest of the trip. After a few pitstops along the road for what I thought were amazing views we hit our main hike for the day: Johnston Canyon.
By some miracle the cold temperatures were a little less aggressive when we pulled into the trail head and we decided to do the full 5km loop to the upper falls look off. The trail to the upper falls was beautiful and easy going, the trade off for the easy scenic hike was that it was full of other tourists. At the lower falls we actually had to wait in a lineup to go through the cave to the waterfall look off, but you know what they say about good things being worth the wait. After going off-trail in a few locations to check out some smaller pools and rivers the sun was starting to set. We were already on our way back to the car so we ran the whole way, hoping to squeeze in one last location until I got totally distracted by the world’s cutest cabin on the crest of snowy hill. As I ran up the hill I promised I would only be a couple of minutes. At the top of the hill I discovered the Johnston Canyon Resort full of picturesque bungalow cabins which were closed for the season making it that much more beautiful. With the untouched snow, total lack of people and soft golden light the place was the definition of peaceful and I had to take more than a couple of minutes to soak it all up. When I got back to the car late, we tried to hustle to a last location, only to discover the road was closed for winter maintenance when we got half way there so I was off the hook for missing sunset at Moraine Lake.
The next morning we got up to catch sunrise at Lake Louise. Luckily for non-morning-person-me, winter sunrise in the mountains is 8:30am so it’s a little less painful of a wakeup time than it could be. Given the early hour and minus a million degree weather I was surprised to see a ton of other tourists and photographers chilling along the edge of the frozen lake but once the sun started rising I could see why we weren’t alone. The tips of the mountain lit up in the craziest shade of pink possible, reflected back on the ice and still blue water of the lake. After getting our shots we had to decide whether to hike the trail to the Lake Agnes teahouse which I had been looking forward to since we booked our flights. After some rational thinking we decided to skip the hike because the weather was just too cold, even with too many layers of clothes on to count. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a disappointing moment, but it wasn’t one that lasted long.
Our next location took us out of Banff and into Jasper, which ended up being my favourite region, hands down. Stop number one was at Sunwapta falls and this is where I got really happy about the cold front we were in the midst of. Instead of being limited to look off points over the trail’s epic canyons and waterfalls we were able to walk through the canyons right up to the waterfalls on thicker ice that wouldn’t usually be there. After taking a break literally sitting on top of the frozen waterfall we turned around to rush to our next location, Athabasca Falls. En route I was thinking there was no way that Sunwapta could be topped. Walking along those canyon floors felt like being on another planet and the bright blue falls were so unlike anything I’d ever seen I didn’t think the next falls could be any more breathtaking. I was definitely wrong. In Athabasca we were able to walk along the ice covered canyon floors again, but this time we were able to climb from one lower waterfall up to another higher one. It was hard to leave Athabasca and by the time we got back to the warmth of our ride the light was gone and another day of exploring was over.
Waking up in Jasper marked the last day of our trip through the rockies. Our alarms were set for another sunrise wakeup and even though I knew it would be worth it, getting up was a challenge. Something about the cold mountain air made me it that much more tempting to sleep in but with the promise of hot coffee nearby I pulled myself out of bed. Our first stop at Medicine Lake was totally accidental, but in my experience those are usually the best stops of all and this one was no different. From there we drove to Maligne Canyon and then back into to Jasper to warm up and get some food. Getting ready to leave we were in for a longer drive home, Jasper to Calgary is roughly a 5 hour drive, but with all the amazing landscapes along the Icefields Parkway it took us the whole day. At sunset we took a last detour to visit Emerald Lake because I obviously have a thing for cute cabins. Because I wanted the perfect light we spent the better part of an hour on the edge of the frozen lake. Watching the sunset behind the mountains as the cabin light turned on to complete the scene was the perfect end to a whirlwind trip through the mountains, a place I’m already dreaming of rediscovering with more time in a different season.