Part I - Calgary through the Canadian Rockies



Day 1 – Starting Out - Calgary to Banff
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Day 2 – Rainbows in Banff - Rest Day
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Day 3 – A Two’fer - Climbing Mt Cory & Mt Edith
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Day 4 – Moving on in Unsettled Weather - Banff to Lake Louise


Day 1 – Starting Out - Calgary to Banff




By Bike:
  • Distance: 97 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 4,380 ft
My plan for the day was to take a red-eye flight from Salt Lake City to Calgary, so that I would arrive early in the day, giving me a full day to ride. My objective was to cycle some 65 miles or so to some campgrounds just short of Canmore. The idea was better in theory than in practice - a whining infant on the flight helped give me a 24-hour sleep deficit before starting my ride.

I touched down sometime around 5:30 am. I had carried two of my panniers, full, onto the airplane, and everything else was neatly packed inside my bike box or my Andanista Wild Things mountaineering pack, which were picked up without incident at the baggage claim. With a roller cart fully loaded with the gigantic bike box and all my equipment, I faced the next crux in the day’s plans – customs:

Customs Officer: “So how long are you planning on spending in Canada?”

Me: “About a month”

Customs Officer (looking suspicious): “Reeeeally? And where will you be staying tonight and what will you be doing during your stay in Canada?”

Me: “I don’t know exactly where I’ll be staying tonight; hopefully somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. I’m planning on cycling and hiking my way to Vancouver.”

Customs Officer (raising an eyebrow): “Uh huh . . . well . . . on you go (waving me through)”

So far so good.

Assembling my rig, however, was another matter. I set up shop on the loading/unloading curb of the terminal, unpacking all of my bags and bike frame from the box, and I spent the next hour and a half repacking things for the ride and assembling my bike. Pumping the mountain bike tires with a hand pump was very trying, and something I really hoped I’d only have to do this once. Assembling the front rack with my small, awkward multi-tools was also tedious. At least I was providing entertainment for the Pakistani taxi drivers that had begun to gather around my scene, taking an interest in the mess. Naturally, they all thought I was crazy.


Starting out from Calgary International Airport

By 7:30 I was set up and cycling my way out of the airport terminal and on the frontage road towards Calgary. The morning was amazingly clear, and it was surreal and somewhat intimidating to see downtown Calgary in the distance, and the Rocky Mountains, still further away, rising high above the Great Plains. I felt more than a little intimidated. This was my first trip to a foreign country completely alone with no one waiting for me (as foreign as Canada is), and the plans for my first day seemed huge. Biking all the way across Calgary as just a warm up seemed a large task. I felt a tad vulnerable and exposed. Could I really make it all the way to Canmore? What was I getting myself into? Well, I was finally committed, and this added to the suspense.

Once I got into a good cycling rhythm, I forgot about my worries and began enjoying the experience. I was gradually getting used to handling my bike with its heavy load, which was a good thing since I was about to experience my next challenge - Canada’s ambiguous freeway system. My understanding (Canadians, please correct me if I’m wrong) is that many of the freeways in Canada are distinctly different than U.S. freeways in that they aren’t limited access. Basically, large boulevards eventually had overpasses, underpasses, and onramps built onto them, and most of these routes still allowed pedestrians and cyclists. Plus, there wasn’t much of a good alternative route left once these boulevards had been converted.


Approaching downtown Calgary, with my route in the foreground

So with the high rise buildings of Calgary looming large, I found my way onto the “freeway”, hugging the right shoulder as much as I could. I could really feel the wind from passing vehicles, not only from their size, velocity, and proximity, but also because with all of my gear, my bike had a lot more surface area to catch the side wind. As I approached the river crossing on my route through the downtown, it appeared I had no option but to go up the highway bridge that arced over the water. This felt sooo wrong, both because the shoulder got a lot smaller (although I still was able to stay out of the traffic lanes), and also the feeling of cycling on a narrow overpass felt like it should be illegal (anywhere in the U.S. it sure would be). I sprinted on this part to get it over with as fast as possible, and soon I was spit out onto the downtown streets and onto the riverside promenade.


Calgary Riverside Promenade

The promenade offered both a very nice way to see some scenic parts of Calgary and a clear through-way through much of the city with no cars to contend with – only early morning joggers and skaters. My getup was very suspicious in this urban environment, and at one photo stop a cute woman in her late 20s, probably on her way to work, approached me to ask what I was up to:

Woman: “So where are you cycling to today?”

Me: “The Canadian Rockies, on my way to Vancouver.”

In a response that became typical along my trip, she was at first surprised, next questioned my sanity, then took interest, and finally wished me a pleasant journey.

Eventually I crossed the river, cycled up my first mild hill (ugggh!), and found a Denny’s near the West end of town where I had a leisurely and ample breakfast. This brought up another problem as there weren’t many places to lock up a bike on my trip, and even if I could, locks would do nothing to protect all of my valuable and vital equipment that I had in my panniers. As would happen on many of my stops, the employees where nice enough to let me wheel my rig partway inside where it was out of site outside and where I could keep an eye on it.

Next I was on my way out of town, entering the next critical point of my journey – finally leaving the city and hitting the open road. I had expected this leg of the journey to be rather straightforward – just a lot of flat ground and perhaps some bad headwind. What I hadn’t counted on was how much the terrain could roll at just a low enough relief that I missed it on my topo-map survey. Although the hills were mild, the ride from Calgary to the mountains was anything but flat, but rather, it was an endless series of 80-100 ft hills.


Prairie Cycling

Still, they weren’t so bad if I shifted to the correct gear, and on this trip I was to follow a new, more meditative strategy that I would tell myself: “Ignore your speed, only focus on the now, and pace yourself so that you can go all day. Sustainability is key here, not time. If you feel like you are working hard, ease up or lighten the gear. Eventually you will get to where you are going. And NEVER use the granny gear – if you really need to use it, then you don’t have a prayer making it over the ‘death pass’.”

Another surprise along the road was experiencing the effects of traffic on a touring rig – especially the effects of semi-trucks, small trucks, and RVs. On an unloaded bicycle on most roads, these are just intimidating nuisances, but when they are moving at high speeds, the turbulence they kick up really packs a punch, especially on a touring rig. First, a front wave of compressed air being driven forward by the vehicle hits you, knocking you forward and then away from the vehicle as it passes you. Then you enter the low-pressure suction zone behind this wave, which sucks you sideways towards the vehicle.

Finally, there is the rear suction of the vehicle, which smacks you from behind again as the vehicle passes. This whole dance of wind forces plays out in about 0.5-1 seconds and with a touring rig it was strong enough to cause a crash. You have to counter lean and steer, while controlling the inertia of the touring rig as it inevitable just moving side to side. This was even the case when I was 5 or 6 feet away on the shoulder. Even passing RVs could cause a crash from a moment of carelessness.


My sweet rig

Another unexpected hazard is the constant encounter with small cracks, holes, and debris on the shoulder. Such small hazards cannot be seen from far away and are invisible to cars. But they are large enough to cause a crash or a flat on a bicycle and you really can only see then a few seconds before impact, so you had to be ever alert of the road surface while riding. Between the road surface hazards, and vehicle hazards, cycling was not something that could be done carelessly. Constant attention had to be paid with lots of reacting. However, as the miles wore on in my trip, this attention and reaction became more automatic and part of the background, just as much of the hazard considerations are in climbing – sort of a semi-conscious attentiveness and reaction.

The miles reliably ticked by, and occasionally I would get glimpses of the Canadian Rockies getting ever closer – things were finally becoming real. I was making much better time than expected, and by early afternoon I was approaching Canmore. At the time of this trip I was ignorant of proper sports nutrition for ultra-endurance events, and since breakfast all I had eaten was 2 cliff Bars and a couple of GUs. Not only was I famished, but I began to hit the wall big time. I barely manage to crawl into a gas station a few miles short of Canmore, bought a lot of salty carbohydrate-loaded junkfood and Gatorade to clean out my palate and replenish my energy and pigged out in the back parking lot before falling asleep tangled in my bike in some shade behind the store.


They're getting closer! I think?

Mountain, just outside of Canmore

Gap Peak

Nearing Canmore


About an hour later I awoke and, feeling much better, decided to forgo the closer campsites and push on into Canmore for an early dinner. After a nice filling dinner and conversation with a random U.S. expat that I met at the fast food joint, I saw that it was still only 6 pm, and that the Banff campground was only another 15 miles or so away – I could easily make it there by nightfall. The prospect was too tempting and I was feeling too good to stop early, so I merged what I had conservatively planned for 2 days and continued on towards Banff. On my way out of town I came across another solo touring cyclist who was just finishing a ride of his own from Vancouver to Calgary! After getting some valuable beta on road conditions and the pass he cycled over to Kamloops (he didn’t come via the dreaded ‘death pass’, but one that was still notorious), I continued on to Banff National Park.


Mountains above Canmore

I made it to the turnoff from Canada Highway 1 as it started to get dark. After one last unexpected hill (painfully steep) to get up to the hilltop campground (and then another hill along the way), I made it into the campground about an hour before sunset. I felt really beat, but surprisingly fresh considering how much I had cycled. My previous distance record, set during my training rides in July, was 54 miles, unloaded. Today, my first day of the tour, I cycled 97 miles with around 80 lbs on my bike!

With no campsite reserved, and a desire to avoid the high price for a spot, I cruised the campground looking for some people willing to share a site. One benefit of touring solo is that it is much easier to do this if you’re alone. In no time I found a campsite that was being jointly shared by a number of solo and paired adventurers who were happy to have me as company. Technically there were too many people on the site, but we agreed I would sleep in my bivvy sack just over the hill crest and pack it up each morning so that it wasn’t obvious how many people were sleeping at the site. A couple of the people had just finished working for the summer and where cycling around Banff. Another guy had just finished his summer off in British Columbia, and hitchhiked out here on a whim to find work in Banff and explore the area before heading back to school in Ontario.

After getting settled, I got back onto my unburdened bicycle and continued cycling towards town. I was told there was a convenience store about 2 miles down the road, and I was desperate for tasty food and beer. At the store I met another touring cyclist who had just finished a ride down from Jasper. He showed me some video he recorded on his cameras of all of the bears he saw along the way. I hoped to see some wildlife, but hopefully not too much of that type! After glorious beer, I came back to the campsite for a nice fire, more beer (my friends had invited more friends), and an early sleep in order to be rested f and up early the next day to climb Mt Rundle.

Day 2 – Rainbows in Banff - Rest Day


On Foot:
  • Destination: Tunnel Mtn
  • Distance: 8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,020 ft
I awoke to cloudy skies and rain. Noooooo! It looked like Mt Rundle was out of the picture, since it is a good haul, and tempting fate with thunder or wet rock seemed like a bad idea. Today would be an unplanned rest day, and I guess I needed it.

Rainy day in Banff

Being lazy, I took a campground shuttle into town where I spent most of the day wandering around doing errands and getting to know the place. At one point I stopped in at the ranger station to get some info on a possible day hike. Right before I left on my trip, my dad strongly recommended that I try to find my way into an area in Yoho National Park called Lake O’Hara. The lake was 10 miles away from the highway, but the road was closed to cars and bikes. The only way to get there was to hike, or take a reserved shuttle. Reservations often needed to be made weeks in advance. Once up there, the only camping available was available only by reservation 6 months in advance, and it usually filled up 6 months in advance. This makes the area relatively inaccessible to most people, but my dad suggested that I still try to find a way to get in there.

Hiking 20 miles on dirt road just to get to and from the Lake seemed like a raw deal, so I was considering hiking over the continental divide on a 20-30 mile day hike, but which route? My dad was certain that you could hike up to the Abbot Mountain Hut from Lake Louise, but from what I could tell from topo maps and Google Earth, this looked very unlikely. The ranger I spoke with said this way was not advisable since the canyon headwall to gain Abbot Mountain Hut from the East was called “The Death Trap”, as it was about 60-degree alpine ice, heavily crevassed, corniced, and within range of the regular rock and snow slides pouring off of Mt Victoria. I had another route in mind via Moraine Lake, but according to the rangers, this also required travel on a glacier that I would not want to do solo.

However, I was in luck. While the ranger was trying to discourage me from attempting to day hike to Lake O’Hara solo, a reservation at the Lake O’Hara campground was canceled. The ranger came back to me with an offer to take the site, which I did without hesitation. Based on my plans, I wouldn’t be finished in Lake Louise by then, but I could always come back before continuing West. The rangers in Yoho would even be nice enough to take my bike up in their pickup truck, despite bicycles not being allowed up there. This was for my bike’s security, and as long as I wasn’t caught riding it, they were fine with it up there.

Just to make sure I understood how to store food properly for some of my en route peak bagging, I checked with the ranger on this. It turned out, after explaining my unique bicycle situation, that this ranger was the one I had spoken to on the phone a few weeks earlier when I was planning the trip! I guess he didn’t think I would actually go through with the trip when he said I could hang food, just out of sight of the trailhead, because all of a sudden he said I couldn’t do that. The only option would be to leave food at the campground lockers, forcing me to make my peakbagging plans solely on basing out of campgrounds.

The ranger repeated the warnings about British Columbia’s desert but was happy to see that I had since prepared for it. After hearing about the weight of my bike, he also was really concerned about me cycling over Roger’s Pass, the next major pass after the Continental Divide. I knew it would be a doozy, but still nothing compared to the ‘‘death pass’’ later on. After showing him my printout of the route profile to prove that I knew what I was getting into, he seemed content, we chatted a bit more, I asked again about trying to reserve a campsite in Lake Louise (he insisted that I would have no problem getting a site, so no need to bother), and then I took off to wander more.

As I walked through town, I found a very nice riverside trail system. The system links up with marshes to the north, and follows the river down to some waterfalls just south of town. Along the way are some nice informative signs about the area and nice views of the Banff Springs Hotel across the valley.

By the time I reached the end of the trail at the rapids, I was close enough to Tunnel Mountain that I decided to wander up it for some panoramic views. Tunnel Mountain wasn’t really a mountain in my opinion, since it is just a small hill that rises 700 out of the town of Banff. The trail was steep but very well maintained, and I saw several train runners on my way up.

Once I gained the summit ridge I began to catch glimpses of nearby Mt Rundle through breaks in the trees. I came across one of these views just as a magnificent rainbow had formed in the valley below, its complete spectrum of vibrant colors stretching from the left side of the valley clearly across, terminating at the base of Mt Rundle. It was surreal to see such a perfect rainbow from up high, and especially with such nice composition! I had just enough time to snap a couple of photos before it disappeared – despite seeing many people on the trail that day, I think I was the only one who ever saw the rainbow.


Rainbow by Mt Rundle, seen from Tunnel Mtn

After a short nap on the summit, I descended to the road and walked back to the campground. I arrived shortly before sunset. Rain had been on and off that day, but nothing too bad. The rest day was rejuvenating for me and I felt ready to tackle the next day’s objectives, weather permitting: Climbing Mt Cory and Edith. I turned in early so that I could be up before sunrise for an early start for a very long day.

Day 3 – A Two’fer - Climbing Mt Cory & Mt Edith





By Bike
  • Distance: 22.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft
On Foot
  • Destinations: Mt Cory (9,191’), Mt Edith (8,391’)
  • Distance: 10 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 7,500 ft
Today I was up before sunrise to get an early start on my first day of climbing in the Canadian Rockies on my cycling tour. For today, I had decided to climb Mt Cory. It was a fairly easy but scenic scramble, and looked to be a good warm up for getting familiar with the area. Looking in Alan Kane’s “Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies,” he had a brief mention of being able to drop down to Cory Pass from the summit of Mt Cory, which sounded straightforward. This would put me only a hop, skip, slip, and a jump from the summit of Mt Edith, so I decided to tack that one on for the day too. If all went well, I would try to traverse as many of Edith’s 3 summits as I could.

I packed up camp and locked all gear that I didn’t need for the climb in one of the spacious campsite bear lockers and stowed the rest of the cycling and scrambling gear for the day in two lightly packed panniers. As I started riding, I still felt a little sore from my first day, moving painfully slow on the hills.


Still, the air was crisp and fresh, views were spectacular, and the 10 miles to my “trailhead” went by fast. I write this in quotes because there is no trailhead for the south ridge route that I took. It is entirely cross-country and one starts from a roadside pullout on Canada Highway 1a. Due to the loop I planned to make with Edith, and figuring walking along the road would be nicer at the start of the day rather than the end.


View from the beginning of Cory's S Ridge

I stopped riding where the road to the trailhead to Cory Pass intersected Highway 1a and found a place to hide my bicycle a short ways off in the trees. Walked by bike about 30 feet away from the road through some bushes, locked the wheels to the frame, and draped my handy camo-netting over the bike and gear. From the road it was completely invisible – my system seemed to be working out perfectly.

I walked along the road carefully looking for the landmarks described for the start of the route. One had to be careful to pick the right spot, as too soon will miss the ridge, and too late will put climbers on a number of the other sub-ridges that are dead-ends. About a mile in I easily found it by matching what I saw from the road to my Google Earth printout (hooray for landmarks!) and took on up the slopes on a nicely defined use-trail. The brush wasn’t too thick, and loose scree was only encountered in a few places as I climbed the headwall of the ridge, which rose very steeply from the valley. The transcontinental railroad and highway fell away below me very quickly, and I had clear panoramic views of the surrounding peaks after about an hour of fast hiking.


Mt Rundle and Banff

Just before I gained the ridge I caught up with two lady scramblers who had parked at the turnout below. They quickly fell from site as I passed tree-line and gained the barren rocky ridge.

For such an easy route, it is still very worth doing as it is very scenic. The texture and color of the rock strata is very nice as it repeats itself in seemingly endless parallel rays. The upturned layers have also eroded into some very interesting rock formations and give the ridge an interesting architecture. The ridge often looks a tad harder than class 2, but slots in the cliffs parallel to the ridge keep providing ways to wind through.

Being at a bend in the Bow Valley, the ridge also has a lot of prominence, providing stellar views of Cascade Peak, Mt Norquay, and the summits of Mt Edith to the east. To the south are nice views of Mt Rundle rising above Banff, and you can clearly see Mt Assiniboine. It is only an 11,000 ft peak, tiny by California standards, but it is so rugged, and the low valleys in the Canadian Rockies give special status to such peaks, as any 11,000 ft peak in this range has a huge prominence, often between 5,000-6,500 ft. To the north you could clearly see all of the summits above Highway 1 stretching as far north as Lake Louise, with the 11,000 ft Mount Temple being easy to spot.

Cory's S Ridge

The route was going straightforward, but near the summit the ridge began to look more rugged and I was lured off the crest and onto a deceptively easier looking path on the east side of the slopes. This turned out not to be the way to go as I quickly found myself on my first bit of frighteningly loose and steep scree in the Canadian Rockies. Here the soil was hard-packed with rocks creating nice ball-bearings, and the slope seemed steep enough to really get going if you fell. I slowed down considerably as I nervously crawled through this section, gradually learning how to use my trekking poles to help move through such terrain.

I couldn’t get off the slopes as the way above got much steeper, so I pressed on, expecting to find a weakness back up to the ridge. Finally I found one, although it was a very thin class 3 scramble with very loose rock, with the nasty loose slopes beneath me, so I still climbed very cautiously back up to the ridge, topping out right on the West summit. Next I traverse to the East summit, which is a short ways away along a knife-edge ridge that is usually corniced. Today it wasn’t, but there was a very steep snow crest on it, and my ice axe was very helpful for safely ascending the face onto and across this traverse. I made the East summit just as the lady scramblers, who had stayed on the ridge and therefore didn’t waste time, were reaching the West summit.

The East summit was far more exposed than the equally high West summit, with drop-offs on 3 sides. How could one get to Cory Pass from here? The route down to Cory Pass was described as leaving from the East summit about 200 feet towards the summit saddle with the West summit, descending a chute to the pass, so I reversed my path back to the saddle and then began picking my way down the scree-covered slopes funneling into a chute below. The lady scramblers must have been wondering what I was up to here, as this turned out not to be a well-traveled route.

South East from Summit

North West

North

Assiniboine

It was very hard route finding down the slopes as there were many cliffs and slabby barriers in the way, and I had to be cautious not to get too close to those hazards, or boxed in where I would have to re-ascend the loose scree. As I knew I was a good ways West of Cory Pass, I kept expecting to see a break in the rocky ridge to the East where I could stop descending and traverse over. But no break appeared. I kept doing down, the terrain becoming steeper and route finding more complex as I went. This was not was I was expecting for the day, and the guidebook had made no mention of this. The only signs of life here was part of a deer skull melted out from some avalanche debris, and eventually I reached the bottom of the chute as it fanned out into the larger canyon for Cory Pass. At this point it was obvious that I had dropped far below Cory Pass. I saw the trail gradually ascending to it on the other side of the canyon, and it looked to be about 1,000 ft above me. Crap!

The SE Face

Looking back up

Cool Strata

The 'little' detour

In order to avoid losing any more elevation than I had to, I cut across a sliver of forest, taking care to not get into too thick of brush, since I was bushwacking alone in bear country far off the beaten track. I then ascended the main rocky was of the canyon and picked my way straight up a sandy ridge back up to the trail just below the pass. This added a hard extra 1,000 ft of gain for the day, which I was not expecting. Now the day was getting late and I had to hurry to summit Edith and make it down before dark, since I still had a 10-mile bike ride back that I didn’t want to do in the dark.


The Sundance Range from Cory Pass

I could see why Cory Pass was a popular place to hike through. From the pass you have spectacular views of the Sundance Range and Valley, 40-Mile Creek, and rugged Mt Louis. Mt Edith’s highest and most northerly summit was only about 500 ft above the saddle, but time-wise it was much further away than I had expected. There was a nicely worn use-trail that cut up the ridge through the scree, approaching the exposed base of the summit block in a small alcove.

Mt Edith Route

Mt Edith Traverse

Backside of the summit

Mt Louis

There was one chimney in the alcove that looked doable for scrambling, except it was a 15-20 ft high off-width crack, and it didn’t look like the class 3 advertised for the summit. My guidebook said that the summit block crux was climbed via south-facing chimneys, so I picked my way down and around the summit block to the south side. Here the chimneys were flared, angled, and vertical to overhanging. They looked like hard 5.6-5.8 to me. Around the corner – well, there was no corner as there was only a very large cliff on the other side of the summit crest. I figured the guidebook had south-facing mixed up with north-facing and tentatively tried the first chimney that I found (which apparently is the right way).

The off-width chimney was just wide enough to wriggle into at the bottom, and then climb halfway embedded up the crack. My first attempt failed as I couldn’t do it with my pack on – too confining. I left my pack and (sadly) camera at the base and tried again, sweeping gravel off holds inside the crack and kicking out loose gravel and scree on footholds. The top transitioned into some nice stemming and then some crimpy face climbing to get out of the crack, followed by easy scrambling to a false summit.

The real summit is very exposed – one has to down climb off the steep backside of the false summit into a notch (crimpy and edgy class 3), and then up some steep slabs with some slightly more secure thin cracks to the high summit. This entire section has good exposure, fractured loose rock, and bad fall consequences, and as I was climbing solo out here, it took me a little while to work up the nerve, ignore my fear of heights, and sneak over to the summit and back.

On the descent I found rappel slings on the side where the guidebook said you should ascend – definitely not the way to go, but a good option for saving time for a traverse of the summits. At this point it was late enough in the day, I was moving slowly enough, and the loose rock had me nervous enough that I decided to forgo traversing to the other summits. Maybe it was because I was climbing completely alone, far away from any real security, that made me so tentative, or that I just haven’t been scrambling on loose rock in a while, but I was surprised at how loose the rock seemed to me here. It was worse than anything I had encountered in most of the Western ranges in the U.S., and seemed only slightly better than the rock in the Cascade Range!

Luckily, down climbing was easier and soon I was reunited with my pack and hustling down the trail, racing daylight. I turned on my I-Pod to some hustled down the trail, passing two backpackers heading up about halfway down to the valley. My feet were aching and I practically limped back to my bicycle. Today was a much longer and more tiring day than I had expected! Surprisingly, I felt much better being back on my bicycle, and I made it back to my campsite just after dark.

Exhausted, I was also famished and my touring food seemed inadequate and unappetizing at the time, so I asked my campmates about places to eat in town. They recommended a place, but warned me that the shuttle t town would stop running by the time I would be returning from dinner. So back on the bicycle I went, racing to town just in time to find to find all of the restaurants closing. My last hope was a bar, which surprisingly had good food and even better beer on tap. I thoroughly enjoyed my carb-loading beer fest, ate nearly 2 dinners, and once refreshed, biked back to camp and turned in around midnight. This was all right as the next day I had decided only to cycle the 40 miles to Lake Louise and forgo any plans to hike or scramble, so I could have a leisurely day.

 

Day 4 – Moving on in Unsettled Weather - Banff to Lake Louise





By Bike
  • Distance: 43.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,180 ft
Today was to be an easy day. I would pack up camp and set out again on my touring rig for a 40-mile ride to Lake Louise. Based on topos, the route looked really flat. Because I wanted to see some wildlife on my ride, and because I was getting tired of the noise and wind blasts along the main highway, I decided at the spur of the moment to ride on Canada’s Highway 1a, which paralleled the main highway but was much smaller and more heavily wooded.

When I woke up, it was apparent that the day wouldn’t be as straightforward as I had expected. The rains had returned, but today the sky looked much more threatening. I was determined not to get caught in a deluge on the way to Banff, since I would have very little protection from the rain and little reprieve to dry out and warm up as I had no vehicle, tent, or motel room to escape into. This could especially be a problem since it was still getting down to freezing at night.

Still, I only needed half a day of dry weather to make it, so I planned to sneak in my ride between bouts of bad weather. The Canadian at my campsite that was looking for work had found a job in town at an outdoor clothing store, and he was fine with me cycling into town and leaving my touring rig at his work while I got breakfast and waited out the weather. Then, if things looked better, I could pick up and go at a moment’s notice.


Uncertain weather

I spent the morning hanging out at a nice breakfast joint n town call Melissa’s Restaurant, recommended to me by the locals and buzzing with business. I had a nice chat with a lone man that was there for surgery (apparently Banff has some great surgeons drawn there for the outdoors) and was ready to go when a deluge started. So much for cycling! So I decided to hang around, reading and living off of coffee refills. Hanging out there, alone, in my unusual cycling clothes brought some attention. In addition to the lone man I talked with, I caught the attention of Jacquie, a pretty waitress that was serving me coffee. Gradually over the morning I told her about my trip, and also about my Denali climb (which another co-worker of hers took a great interest in). She was familiar with San Francisco after traveling there for some teaching seminars, was from Easter Canada, but spending her summers working in Banff and getting into the outdoors and vibrant art community there. When I finally decided to leave to avoid taking up too much space, she gave me her card to keep in touch. My, Canadians are friendly!

The rain had stopped and the sun was peeking out, but the clouds still didn’t look too friendly. I figured I’d wait an hour more and see how things were developing, so I hung out at a coffee shop across the street from where I left my bike. The weather stayed dry, the clouds were slowly getting better, and the road had dried out, at about 1pm I hopped on my bike and took off.

Oddly, the 7,500 ft day of hiking and scrambling the day before, while leaving my legs sore and tired for walking, didn’t do much to me for cycling. I felt refreshed from my traumatic first day and made good time. Occasionally the clouds would look more threatening, but I lucked out and never felt a drop of rain the entire day. Still, the day wasn’t without more surprises. One downside to taking the smaller side road to the main highway was that it followed the landscape more – lots of winding, which was nice, but there were also no road cuts.

The road would go pretty flat for a while then hit a ridge coming down from the mountains. Here the road would just angle slightly and climb straight up the steeply at 5-8% grades, dropping just as steeply down the backside as soon as the crest was reached. Similar to my ride across the plains, these hills were only about 200 vertical feet in height, just below the resolution of topo maps, but they were very intensive, psychologically demoralizing (since I descended as soon as I finished climbing) and added up to some 2,000 feet of elevation gain where I had expected only about 400 ft!

Near the end of my ride, these steep hills had taken their toll and I was tired, even though I had only been riding about half a day. I knew I was close to Lake Louise when I came across a lone cyclist that was doing a little foray out from town. The cyclist was having some problems with her cycling gears, so I welcomed the opportunity to stop and help out. After she was set on her way, I quickly made it into town and then over to the campsite.


Mt Temple seen from Highway 1a

As I approached the campsite entrance, things didn’t look good. The road was lined with signs saying the campground was full! Damn that ranger in Banff! Apparently this was a major holiday weekend in Canada, which the ranger hadn’t considered when he told me not to worry about making reservations. The station attendant said Castle Mountain still had space, to which I gave him a look, told him about the ranger in Banff, and also pointed out that I had just cycled from Banff in my fully loaded touring rig, the campground was 10 miles back the way I came, and that sunset was in about 30 minutes. Ergo, this information would be helpful to someone driving in a car, but not to me. Then the ranger took pity and gave me permission to just wander the campground and see if I could find someone who wouldn’t mind sharing a spot. He gave me some recommendations on where to look and let me on my way.

Searching was a bit stressful as I was in a hurry to find a place to bed down before nightfall, and I made rounds to every campsite in the area, and the few that looked promising had campers that weren’t interested in sharing. I made a 3rd final loop and saw a new camper who had just got back, who was old (but not too old), male, and alone, so perhaps would be open to sharing the cost for his site.

The man’s name was Andre, a Swiss who was taking a year off from work to travel through North and South America. He had bought a car for the trip, which he planned to sell in the U.S. as he didn’t want to be driving it down through Mexico and South America, where expected to end his trip sometime in June 2009. He was more than happy to have the company for the next couple of days and we got along great talking about the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, my latest travels and plans, as well as his. Andre was an active guy, running at least 10 km a day, even on his long driving days, and he had been seeing a lot of the area on his runs. Apparently Andre had already been through Kamloops, so upon hearing my plans asked:

“Why on earth would you go through Kamloops? There is nothing to see there and the few trees there are all brown!”

Brown trees? Come on, it can’t be that bad . . .

Part 0 - Cycling and Scrambling from Calgary to Vancouver

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Part II - Lake Louise & Lake O'Hara Areas

Part III - Mishaps in the Middle Ranges

Part IV - British Columbia's Desert?!

Part V - Crossing the Coastal Range to Vancouver

Epilogue



Links