Days Five and Six

Day 5
Hike… what hike…

Morning one of the camping portion started fine with some bad coffee and lots of sugar. As we all crawled out of our tents for the first time in about 14 years, I realized with good gear it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. Age is more in the brain than in the body at this point.

As you can see, Doug is the morning person…

Today’s agenda included a hike and after a brief discussion of just how old and unfit we might be the Plain of Six Glaciers was decided upon (by Doug mostly as he’s the delusional one). 5.3 km one way to the tea house with a 365m elevation gain. The first portion around the lake is totally flat and choked with tourists but a nice easy warm up. A couple of kilometer in we discovered a lovely waterfall where we paused to cool off and soak our kerchiefs.

The path had nominally been following the river to this point but it began to branch off and follow the west side of the valley. After a bit more hiking I decided it was time for a sit and some water. It was at this point I cleverly announced to Zak that I had carried our mutual pack for the first bit (the flat bit remember…) and it was his time to play pack mule–it’s good to be a parent!

After a series of switchbacks and a neat spot where you walk a narrow path on the edge of a cliff we reached the Tea house with about a million other tourists. Its kind of a neat spot with a house that was built to house old CPR guides and their families as they guided the century’s first tourists up these mountains. Zak bought us some lemonade and we relaxed whilst watching the 3 striped squirrels and chipmunks.

Picturesque as it was it was still too crowded and didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment so we headed up a further 1.6 km to a lookout that promised some spectacular views.

This trail was much less crowded and offered some great scenery and we were soon above the tree line. After arriving Zak bailed and spent his time trying to rearrange the scree into a more organized system while Doug and I head up the moraine ridge to peer up the glacier and check out some remnants of snow.

Zak’s ephemeral art

I was amazed at all the flowers and found some most excellent Silene acaulis in bloom. Stuff does better up there than in my garden!

After about an hour give or take, we decide to head home and started to make our way down. Down was when I was really thankful for the walking sticks I had hauled all the way up. They spent most of the hike in strapped tot eh pack but the twisting descent was murder on my knee and the stick were a joy to use. I paused just as we hit the tree line to get an image of the wild Aquilegia (columbines) and managed to get this picture as Doug passed by.

A much quicker hike down, a glimpse of a weasel, a lot of tourists and no rest breaks found us back at the Chateau and then down the hill to the campsite. While I had really wanted to go climbing while in Louise, the timing hadn’t worked out and we hit the hay pretty damned content.

Day 6
Drive Dammit…Drive!

The next morning we awoke, packed up and hit the road running. Lake Louise is about the worst place to start from if you want to go to Waterton. You either go east or west a whole lot before you can head south. Doug had expressed a desire to see Buffalo Jump and that would also take us a long way off the most direct path. This early in the trip, I was still wound pretty tight and the driving held very little appeal for me.

We followed the Number 1 past Canmore and headed south to Kananaskis Country. I had been a while since I had made the trip and had forgotten how beautiful it was. A recommended drive especially on a weekday with no traffic. Since we needed to swing east we didn’t follow the trunk road south, but headed along the 541 to Longview, then south along the 22. Another recommended drive if you’ve never done it. Not so much about the scenery per se but about the contrast: the mountains, foothills and prairies are so compressed in this spart of Alberta that the effect is quite mind boggling.

At one point or another we picked a secondary road and swung east again. The great thing about the prairies is that (barring river ot two) the roads almost always go somewhere, so maps are less than necessary. When we met up with the Number 2, we swung south again until Nanton. As we cruised through town we spotted the The Nanton Lancaster Society Air Museum and decided to stop for lunch.

The museum was great with the Lanc, a old Snowbird and tons of displays about the old training bases in southern Alberta (where my father had trained). We didn’t have enough time and eventually hit the road again. Highway driving until it was time to turn off to the Buffalo Jump site. Leslie, Zak and I had visited years ago but it was new to Doug. Off in the distance we could see a few wind turbines and we were all “wow, look at that!”

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump is a world heritage site (apparently run by the native community) that is world class all the way, from its astonding architecture to its rich and informative exhibits. Another absolutely must-see. The views are amazing and it really gives you a sense of the landscape.

Travelling on from there along some back roads, we started to feel a bit foolish about our excitement over seeing the turbines because they started cropping up everywhere and were closer and closer to the roads. I hadn’t realized how prevalent they had become since I was last in the south. We stopped briefly at the Old Man river dam and then headed south through Pincher Creek. Another place you need to go in Alberta to get a sense of geography, is Waterton. After a few hundred kilometers on the bald-ass prairie you turn a corner and POW: right in the middle of the mountains. We stopped at a view point where you can spot this amazing transition from a distance.

Waterton found us camping right in town and after we set up, we had a quiet evening after a busy day.