Unfortunately the Rocky Mountaineer didn’t have internet and very soon we board our liner the Holland America Nieuw Holland. As the Internet on board is 0.75c US we have decided we will just enjoy the scenery and switch off. We are then flying straight home to Perth Australia with a 24 hour trip so it may not be until we are home until I can catch up.
The Rocky Mountaineer was fabulous. You must do it once in your life.
And our liner came in at 5am this morning and looks magnificent. I am just so excited for this next stage.
So until we can meet again, think of me sipping Champagne on my Stateroom Verandah watching the world of blue icebergs and pristine waters float by.
Our last day in Banff and the day before we jump on board the Rocky Mountainer and head back down to sea level. What better way to start it than up in the sky in a helicopter.
We headed out to Canmore, a town outside the National Park as helicopters are not allowed to fly over Banff. The town has a growing population of about 12,000 after becoming more known during the Winter Olympics broadcasts and tourist information.
As only people who have jobs in Banff can buy a house in Banff it is the closest to the National Park that a holiday house can be bought, making it increasingly popular for that reason as well.
Sitting in the Bow Valley at the base of the surrounding Alberta Rockies it is a pretty town with just as many summer and winter activities as the Park.
At the Alpine Helicopters we were shown a safety video, weighed as a group, assigned a seat then it was takeoff to fly around the Three Sisters; Hope, Faith and Charity. We had a female pilot, Leslie, from Perth Australia.
On the bus back to Banff we had a great image of the mountain coming towards us. Huge!
In the afternoon we did a Discover Banff tour. Probably the most disappointing of the tours we did as it is probably more suited to families.
We first went to Johnston Falls and it was a lovely walk along the path that followed the river and at one point, along the outside of a rock face. The Lower Falls weren’t as impressive as some we have seen. With a lot of people on a narrow track near the falls and many taking selfies it caused jams and more time than expected. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to get to the Upper Falls which would have been the best of the two.
Next was the Cave and Basin Historic Site. Interesting historically as this was where the hot springs were found. Once there had been a karge pool but the sulphur ate away the concrete despite many attempts at repair and a brick path now outlines the perimeter now covered up. The cave where they found the springs was again interesting historically, but again more for families.
For dinner we went to the Waldhays, a Banff Springs Redtaurant. We had been to the main restaurant, Fairview, the previous night but the Waldhays killed it. The Charcuterie plate was amazing; bison, elk and deer with Canadian cheeses. The best food we have had in Canada. And the location at the bottom of a hill at the back of the Hotel was very Swiss, in keeping with its menu.
An exciting day tomorrow as we head the Rocky Mountaineer and head to Vancouver.
It is a short road trip today from Lake Louise to Banff. Only about 60 kms. That still doesn’t mean we have an easy day as they have to keep us busy until check in.
We stopped for a walk along the south side of the Bow River to the falls.
The next stop is a Gondola ride – yes another. Even those in the group who are terrified of heights are getting better with going up the slopes. This one takes us up to 2280m to the top of Sulphur Mountain, named for the hot springs at its base.
There are magnificent 360 degree views. At one point you look down onto where we are staying at the Banff Springs Hotel – it is huge.
Sitting atop a peak in the distance is the historic Weather Station. The building was constructed in 1902 and sits at a height of 2291m above sea level.
There are 360 steps upwards to reach it and at first Chris decides not to go. The timber walk is well constructed with 5 steps and a long landing another 5 or 10 steps and another landing, making it a gradual climb down and then up to the next peak. We are about half way and he is about to give up when we come across a lady, about his age, with a walking stick who is slowly making her way upwards. Now he is joining me to the top!
It is one last steep push to the building itself and then we are there. The building is a simple construction with stone walls two feet thick and a steep roof. The building is now sealed off but a glass panel allows you to see inside. It looks like the original furniture is in place in a simple layout of bunks, a desk and chair and a sink preparation area. It must have been hard work hauling it up the mountain back in the day.
Norman Sanson, the official weather observer from 1903, climbed the mountain over 1,000 times. Wow!
Once back down the bottom we head into town so we can all drop our laundry off to be cleaned – great deal at $18 a bag instead $50 at the hotel – and to grab some lunch.
Back on the bus we head to Surprise Corner…..and there it is, Banff Springs Hotel.
We finally arrive at the Hotel to be greeted by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police – retired. He seemed a really nice guy and tried to be engaging and funny but the day of walking had begun to take its toll on all of us. Once down and still we all struggled to stay awake. I could hear snoring to my left so I gave Chris a jab and startled him awake but it was the guy beside him! It was a relief to stand up again.
Now we get our keys and we are allowed in. We are very happy with our room on the corner of the building with views out to the front and side.
We went for a wander around the Hotel. I am finding that I never end up exploring enough of where we are or take enough photos as I always think there is tomorrow. But tomorrow comes and your feet don’t hit the ground and the next minute you know you are back on the bus snapping away in misty light. But it is enormous with grand fixtures and lots of shopping inside and some lovely spaces and beautiful views outside. But Lake Louise is a hard act to follow I have to say.
With three public floors of sitting spaces, eating places and spending mazes there is a saying that you haven’t been to the Fairmont if you haven’t been lost. Well we have been to the Fairmont!
This morning we had a walk around the resort both inside and out to see where we are staying before we are out and about for our activities.
We first went to Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks. The centrepiece is the crystal clear blue green lake and certainly rivals Lake Louise for grandeur. Our guide is certainly one who believes it is the ultimate Jewel in the Rockies crown. The colour is breathtaking. These are untouched photos taken with an iPhone.
Following this we went to the Lake Louise Ski Resort for another ride up a chairlift. At a height of 2088m above sea level we were able to look out across to Lake Louise and the Hotel in the distance.
The Parks Interpretive Centre had a vey good display of animals and probably the closest we will get to the real thing for most of them.
At the bottom of the mountain we had lunch in site. There are certainly some very substantial timber buildings that look out to the mountains and ski slopes. It must look very impressive in winter.
In the afternoon we met with one of the Fairmont three hike guides, Mike, we gave us the history of the resort as well as the lake and the mountain.
Following this we had a group photo with Lake Louise and the majestic mountains behind us.
I thought that Victoria had stolen my heart but I think I would be very happy sitting by Lake Louise forever. I only wish that we had an extra day here with nothing planned so that I could do just that for at least a day.
It was suggested that we rise early to see the landscape change as the sun rises. I will let the pictures do the talking.
We happened to be looking at the mountain when a piece broke off the glacier. If you look closely at the photo below about half way down and a third in from the left you can see the ice falling down. 16 seconds later there was a loud crack like thunder. We learnt later that the amount that broke off was about the size of a two story building.
By 6.30 we were frozen. Time for breakfast and to get on with the rest of the day.
We were lucky to enjoy this time with just a few people about. Later in the day the shores of Lake Louise were packed with visitors over the long weekend.
It was a day of contrasts in weather and activity today. From four seasons in one hour; sun to snow, along with canyons, waterfalls, glaciers and pristine lakes.
You wonder how you can ever be surprised after seeing so much but it just keeps getting better each day. And we haven’t got to the Inside Passage up to Alaska yet!
The Rockies sure do deliver on everything they say they are, and more. It is the grand scale, both in size and number, that is overwhelming.
Our first stop was at Maligne Canyon. It is the deepest canyon in Banff Mational Park. In winter the waterfall freezes over and brave souls climb down the 30m wall of ice.
A little way up the road and there is the Athabasca Falls. Still pictures belie the energy and overpowering roar of the icy water as it spills over the edge and crashes on to the rocks below. So a video for you as well as pics.
The plan had been to go on to the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre at the Columbia Icefields. We arrived and the sun was still shining but just off to the side a storm was quickly building.
We were taken out by a bus to the Glacier where we boarded the massive Ice Explorer to take us on to the Glacier itself. As we were boarding I mentioned to Chris that by the look of the skies we might be the last tour.
The storm broke right in front of us with thunder and lightening. It was too dangerous to go out on to the Glacier so we sat right for about 15 minutes while it went from rain to snow. It looked like it was lifting and we would get out but then there was another lightening strike so we had to turn around and come back to base.
Back at the Centre it was complete bedlam. It was a long weekend in summer and on those days about 6,000 people go through on a day. It seemed like there was that many trying to jam inside out of the weather.
We waited to see if the weather was going to clear for us to go on the Skywalk but it just wasn’t to be. We were already close to an hour behind schedule so we had to get back on the road. Check out the Brewster website to see what we missed out on.
We had heavy rain for a while but by the time we reached Peyto Lake we were back to blue skies again.
The colour is quite amazing. When the ice first melts the water is clear. The glacier grinds on the rock under crushing it into fine powder. This is called Rock Flour and the layer of water between the glacier and the rocks washes it down to the waterways. The water is at first clear but as more Rock Flour is washed down the sediment blocks put the reds, oranges and yellow light and reflects back the blues and greens. It first turns blue but at the end of the season as it starts to get cold again it has changed to green.
The day of so many vistas is topped off when we arrive at Lake Louise.
The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is impressive to say the least. We don’t realise yet though that the front is really the back.
Our room is lovely but it isn’t until you pull the curtains back that you get that WOW moment. It is going to take a lot to beat it, that’s for sure. We are lucky to have a front row seat on the fifth floor in the middle of the building.
It was after 10pm when I looked out the window and it was as if the lake had been lit up. Such luminosity. A double WOW!
We have been told that is worth getting up early in the morning to see the lake put on a show so we have set the clock for 5.30am.
We thought that we had an easy morning today to be able to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the resort. But not to be with an 8.20am start for our day trip up the Maligne River to Spirit Island.
Our guide, Wes, had been a Parks Ranger for 42 years working in Jasper National Park. We were so fortunate to spend the day with him and he was able to quickly spot wildlife or immediately tell us which bird was calling out.
We were travelling through the Athabaskan Valley in Alberta and saw the Pyramid Mountain and Trident Range.
On the way we passed Medicine Lake. First Nations used to call it Bad Medicine Lake as it fills with water and then over summer disappears. It has been discovered that there is limestone caverns under the lake and the water seeps through and feeds the waters and lakes downstream.This includes Lac Beauvert at the Fairmont Park Lodge where we are staying.
As the water feeding into it from Maligne Lake slows down by the end of summer Medicine Lake is emptied.
I think the pictures say it all about Maligne Lake. Another stunningly pretty area which is often used in promoting the Rockies. The Lake freezes to over a metre in depth with over 5 foot of snow on the ground and 20 foot on the surrounding slopes.
Not only was the scenery spectacular but there was more of those amazing clouds.
I realised when I was back at the resort that I hadn’t taken many pics of where were staying.