Banff was one of the destinations on our trip I was most excited about.
During my pre-holiday Pinterest binge, it was all too easy to find incredible photos of the imposing mountains and azure lakes of the National Park. It was a massive wilderness for us to explore and climb and ramble through.
And wild it certainly was; on our first night in Banff, I woke up for my usual early morning wee (bladder the size of a pea, I swear).
I unzipped the tent and stumbled blearily into the frozen darkness of the campsite, tottering towards the lit paths that led to the toilet block.
Just as I reached the light, so did someone else. Or.. something else.
A wild dog jerked its head up from the trail it had been following and stared right at me. I have no idea whether it was a wolf or a coyote - in any case, I was out alone in the middle of the campsite with a carnivorous wild animal.
We watched each other, both statue-like. And then the wolf/coyote put its head back down to the ground and followed the scent into the shadows.
Now, I was still sleepy enough to prioritise emptying my bladder over potential death so I carried on my way to the toilets, where I woke up fully in the bright lights and then freaked out about having to go back to my tent when there were wild predators around. But you know, I survived and all so...
However I nearly died again the next day when I climbed this:
Once again, Michele and I made the decision to pack as much hiking as possible into the day. We had 5 and a half hours at the lake and we had found a 5-6 hour hike we wanted to do so goodbye beautiful chateau hotel and drinking in the sunshine, hello steep, steep trails.
We started by climbing up to Mirror Lake, walking as quickly as the horses and mules that carry people between the lakeside and Mirror Lake. The higher we climbed, the deeper the blue of the lakes.
We made it up to the little teahouse at Lake Agnes within the hour and stopped there to have a pot of maple tea to warm our throats against the cool mountain air.
From that point onwards, the hiking trails emptied out.
The climb up to the teahouse at Lake Agnes is quite steep and lots of people (lots of sensible people) leave it there, choosing instead to take a nice slow walk back down to Lake Louise where they can spend the rest of the day sunning themselves, enjoying the cafes and gift shops...
On the other hand, I can't complain. The landscape was all the more beautiful for being emptier..
We probably saw the same dozen people over and over as we each walked on, paused for lunch or views, walked on... etc. The trail wound around the back of Lake Agnes before climbing up a very steep and gravelly path on the other side. This was the final haul up to the top of the Beehive and the most strenuous part of our hike!
But the views were totally worth it.
If I'd been on my own I would have marched right past the side track that took us off the main trail towards the viewpoint - thank goodness for other people!
We were so high we could see for miles and miles and miles. I didn't want to come down.
(Not after putting all that effort into climbing up anyway.)
Shadows of the clouds scudded across the lake's surface which was dotted with the tiny ant-like silhouettes of far-away canoes. We met a guy up there who had been backpacking his way around Canada, driving between places, living out of his van and doing odd jobs to get by. He was a great guy - I love the people you meet on top of mountains.
Especially this sort:
As we chatted, ground squirrels and chipmunks tried to steal our lunches, jumping into our hands and backpacks. I'm guessing they're pretty well fed seeing as they seem to know exactly what Nature Valley granola bars are!
Before long we had to tear ourselves away from our secluded spot of paradise, keeping mindful of the time. Luckily the path down to the next spot on our hike was all downhill (mind you, I can't imagine it going any further uphill judging from those views!)
We were practically running by this point.
By the time we reached the next teahouse, we had an hour and a half before the van was due to leave. Sadly that meant no time at all for a tasty treat (which is kind of what had been keeping me going so quickly the whole time!)
Instead we drained the rest of our water supplies and practically ran back down to Lake Louise.
Our legs were screaming.
Yet somehow we couldn't stop striding forwards. By this point, we were so used to marching on, our legs wouldn't stop.
And soon, the famous hotel came into view as we rounded the last corner.
I didn't take any photos but basically, imagine Disneyland. Shops, cafes, restaurants, all variations around a theme of the great West and nostalgic adventure. I bought a few post cards and some maple tea (it's delicious!) and then we trudged slowly back to the van as I felt DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness - it's pretty much a constant in my life) set in once and for all.
Believe me, I slept very very well that night - and didn't even get up to go to the toilet! Which is a shame because I would have loved to do some more wildlife spotting...