Camping in the Lake Loise campsite, surrounded by an electric fence to keep bears out, we are up at eight for granola, yoghurt and coffee. Although it is mid August it is a nippy zero Celsius so we are wearing all the clothes we brought. The sky is clear blue. This is my fourth annual Rockies excursion with my old friends from hippy days in 1970’s Vancouver, Paul, Helen and Shelley. This time is different because we are in Banff National Park which is on the world map for natural beauty. We see hundreds of people on these trails instead of one or two. It is a total-immersion multi-cultural experience.
View from Lake Loise Lodge
All armed with a can of pepper spray in a quick access holster to deal with the one-in-a-million chance of a close encounter with a grizzly bear, we arrive at Moraine Lake (6180ft.) by 9:30 for a quick latte before our hike. The lake is a shimmering intense turquoise blue and shutters are clicking like machine guns.
A short step brings us to the trail head where, happy coincidence, a park warden is admitting only parties of four or more. We are instructed to hike in a tight group as grizzlies have poor eyesight and will mistake us for one large animal. A few yards up the trail and we forget about it. This trail is a freeway of trails, wide enough for two abreast and covered in imported gravel. We go up through the forest in long zig-zags with teasing glimpses of the peaks and the lake. In an hour the forest gets more interesting, different trees, further apart, with moss and blueberry bushes in between. One tree is a type of larch called tamarack with branches like tarantula legs. The top branches have small upstanding cones which look like perching little birds. Helen tells us that, unique among conifers, they are deciduous, turning bright yellow in the fall. The other trees are sub alpine fir, tall and spindly with clusters of bigger cones on the top, black with gobs of resin sparkling on them.
Soon enough we are above the tree-line and see the ten peaks ranged around us. The gradient slackens as we head into a bowl. While we see the remnants of glaciers on the mountain tops the landscape is classic glaciated: steep-sided, U-shaped valleys with hanging side valleys, terminal and lateral moraine ridges. The rock is all sedimentary, sandstone, limestone and shale showing as stripes of different colour and texture.
As we come into the bowl with it’s small lake we see the trail up to the col of Sentinel Pass (8560ft.). The rocks on the side of Mt. Temple (11600ft.) on the left look like soldiers standing to attention, guarding the pass. We talk to a young couple coming down who spent the night on the summit to see the full moon and the sunrise. Helen asks, “How ever did you sleep?” “We didn’t!” the girl says. The trail zig-zags up a very steep scree slope, steeper than the normal 45°. We can see several parties on the way up and more at the saddle. This trail is narrower and to pass one person has to lean into the slope.
Then we are at the saddle! Suddenly a whole new vista opens up before us. We are standing on a ridge between two different worlds. There is a strong wind blowing up from the other side and we quickly don fleece and windbreakers. We are on top of the world and have all the time in the world. We took three hours to climb up and have all afternoon before us. We picnic lunch then hang out taking pictures, wandering up the saddle in both directions. A few hardy souls scramble to the top of Mt. Temple but that is another 3000ft. climb and one or two continue down the other side but that is a really long walk out. We are more than content as we gaze at the exotic castles, spires and anthropomorphic rocks of the far side. Close up, too, the rocks are exotic in form, texture and colour, enhanced by orange and green lichen.
Notice the climber
As the sun swings towards the west changing all the shadows we decide to head down the hill. Soon all extra clothing is off and we have a relaxing stroll down the gentle slope. We hear a rumour of a bear siting just below the tree line. Some parties coming up had turned back. This makes us more alert and circumspect as we move, eight-legged-moose-like, into the forest. With no sign of any bear we soon relax again and in no time we’re back at the lake.