We were just out Calgary when we first spotted the Rocky Mountains on the horizon.
Watching them approach took hours.
Finally, we arrived in Banff. Banff National Park was the first national park in Canada, and the town was the first town incorporated within a national park in Canada. It’s also the most visited national park in Canada, and unlike most of the other visitors’ centers we visited, it’s clearly set up for processing large crowds quickly. The staff were still helpful and friendly. As for the town itself, it’s a pretty hip, expensive place, and we didn’t spend much time there. If we had more spending money and fewer small people who don’t like walking, it’d be a great place to linger.
We stayed at the “Tunnel Mountain Campground II,” the only one with RV hookups. This mountain, which is not Tunnel Mountain, was one of the enormous peaks which surrounded us each day.
The land around was very old pine forest with lots of exposed rock and these scrubby little ground juniper plants.
Animals in the area are clearly very used to having people around all the time. We saw Mule Deer for the first time. I grew up with White Tailed Deer, of which there are many in Banff as well, but it was fun to see a different variety. They have little black tips to their tail, which was the easiest giveaway, but they’re also a bit bigger. This one was bold as brass. I had to get right up to it with dog in tow before it moved off the path.
On our first full day there, I was mountain-hungry. We were full of energy, and coming straight off the fun of climbing the hoodoos, I thought the kids would enjoy climbing a mountain. We set our sights high: here we are at the base of Sulphur Mountain.
We discovered very quickly that when our kids say they like climbing, what they mean is scrambling up rocks and things. They do not mean walking on a trail, especially for hours at a time. They look cheerful enough in this shot of our lunch stop, but the whining had already been going on for ages.
Most of our view was lofty pine forest on a steep grade, as we turned one switchback after another.
This beautiful open view showed the path of an avalanche that had occurred not too long ago. It was neat seeing the paths of many past avalanches on this trip, and learning how to spot the sort of bowls and curving mountaintops that are likely to collect snow that will avalanche.
As we climbed, there was more and more snow on the trail. There were also lots of people on the trail, and our overly-friendly under-trained dog wanted to greet every single one. Whether they were terrified of dogs or not.
Before long the trail was entirely on snow. Jared was the only one with proper footgear for that sort of hiking. The indentation of packed snow that was our trail got more and more treacherous, especially when passing other groups. There were several narrow misses where I thought Sisko was going to send someone sliding down the mountainside.
We kept it up for about two hours. Finally, at one switchback, we encountered a friendly group of ladies heading back down from their morning climb. They were able to look at their Fitbits and tell us that we were not yet halfway up. At the same moment, Sisko found the one giant dog turd that had not been picked up by its owner, and rolled in it. It was a huge dump, and it got in his harness, his leash, his fur… it was awful. I already knew the walk down the hill would be terrifying: being pulled uphill by a dog is kind of nice, but being pulled downhill is awful, especially on compacted snow, in slippery shoes, while frequently passing other people. So we made the wise choice to cut our losses.
We learned a lot that day. It was disappointing for me: I thought we were going to have one kind of trip, with lots of hikes and exercises. “Expectations are planned disappointments,” Rachel likes to say, and I had planned myself a lot of disappointments. Our week at Banff was about running into those limitations, hard, and slowly learning to embrace them. I got the excellent advice from my godmother, Jared’s aunt, who raised her kids doing trips to the literal Swiss alps, to not ruin my kids for hiking by pushing them too hard. Enjoy the mountains in our own ways.
By a great mercy, the foot of Summit Mountain is also the location of Upper Banff Hot Springs. Plus side of the RV: all our stuff, including swim gear, was near to hand. (Along with an outdoor shower to bathe that nasty dog.) When we got to the pool, that first moment of 40 C water after that long hike was pure, word-defying bliss.
Upper Banff Hot Springs was crowded, and it was just the one really hot pool, without even chairs around the pool to sit in when you needed to get out. And you do need to get out, often. It’s easy to get severely overheated in 40 C water. That’s what ended our visit, actually: MiniMighty got quite woozy.
But all in all, we counted our first day in Banff a success. We learned a ton, we kept our heads, and the conclusion was glorious. Hot water and fresh air are the best.