We came to Banff to spend some time with Sam. But we got much more than we expected in this wonderful town.
Sam has been working in Banff since late last year. He was eager to show us around some of his favourite places in this stunning town in the Canadian Rockies.
We started the day by climbing Tunnel Mountain.
At over 1,600 metres in elevation, this “small” mountain is popular with hikers and mountain bikers because it’s right in the middle of Banff and offers great views of the surrounding valley.
We stopped at numerous vantage points along the way to check out the view.
Below us, the Bow River snaked past pine-covered hills and the local golf course.
Banff is a pretty place.
At the top we enjoyed a brief rest in the friendly red chairs that seem to adorn many of the hilltops in Alberta.
This was a quick climb – it wasn’t even morning tea time. As we walked back down the hill, an even taller peak, Sulphur Mountain, towered above us to our left.
That was our next destination.
Max elevation: 1693 m
Min elevation: 1416 m
Total climbing: 449 m
Total descent: -447 m
Average speed: 4.11 km/h
Total time: 01:33:10
We walked about four kilometres in about an hour and a half. During that time we gained about 350m in elevation.
This is a quick walk – perfect for most fitness levels, especially if you’d like to see some great views and don’t have much time.
I’ll rate it 6 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
To start our next adventure of the day, we needed to catch a gondola up a mountain.
Below us we could see the little hump of Tunnel Mountain in the middle of town, with the Bow River flowing around it.
It had seemed so high when we stood on top of it – but as we looked back over vast forests of pine trees, it seemed much smaller.
It was cold.
When we reached the top, I zipped up my bright red jacket to keep out the wind. Sam walked ahead without any sleeves. Maybe spending a winter in Canada makes you immune to low temperatures? I shivered just looking at him.
Before the advent of satellites, this summit was once the site of a laboratory designed to study cosmic rays.
Today it’s a popular tourist spot.
Chipmunks abound, ever hopeful to receive a free handout from passers-by.
I joked with Sam that we could pretty much see his house below us on the main street in Banff.
Spots of snow still clung to the hillside around us, and on distant mountain tops.
This might be summer, but the weather was still unpredictable.
Max elevation: 2322 m
Min elevation: 2260 m
Total climbing: 233 m
Total descent: -221 m
Average speed: 3.52 km/h
Total time: 00:36:02
I recorded our track because I was curious about how high we had come. We reached about 2,350 metres in elevation.
This is an easy outing with stunning views – anyone can do it. The only minor challenge is the thin air at the top of the mountain. I noticed that my lungs had to work harder when I walked up stairs, and (of course) it was much colder.
After a twenty-minute trip up the Trans Canada Highway we arrived at the turquoise waters of Lake Louise.
Glacial ice grinds “rock flour” out of the surrounding boulders as it moves. This tinges the water a stunning aqua-blue color, which is noticeable in many of the lakes in this part of the world.
We followed a shoreline trail south towards the glacier at the southern tip of the lake.
The trails grew quieter as we distanced ourselves from the busy car park near the hotel.
I heard him before I saw him.
High above us, a crazy climber clung to the cliff. A thin rope the only thing separating him from a long fall.
Sam loves to climb as well, but we convinced him to limit his exploits to safer rock walls closer to the ground.
As we neared its far side, we could see where the light brown water from the glacier entered the bright blue lake.
An enthusiastic chipmunk emerged to shake my hand and welcome me to Lake Louise.
These Canadians really go out of their way to make tourists feel welcome!
At the end of the lake we had to cross meltwater via a boardwalk.
An avalanche had recently rumbled through here. It had snapped the tree trunks as if they were twigs.
As we tiptoed around on ice and snow, I marvelled at the power of nature.
It was an easy three kilometre walk to the end of the lake, taking us less than an hour.
We had more to see and do, so we made this our turn-around point and headed back to the car.
Max elevation: 1783 m
Min elevation: 1718 m
Total climbing: 478 m
Total descent: -474 m
Average speed: 5.88 km/h
Total time: 01:48:17
This was a flat six kilometre walk which took us less than two hours to complete.
It delivers some amazing views for very little effort.
I’ll rate it 4.5 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter.
Sam’s friend, Matt, shares my love of mountain biking.
He kindly offered to take me for a spin by the Bow River.
Banff boasts an impressive waterfall in the middle of town.
We started our ride by rolling past it. I couldn’t resist the temptation to show how light my Trek duallie hire bike was.
Rain fell continuously, so I donned my waterproof gear and thumbed my nose at it.
Matt is French Canadian.
In his musical Québécois accent he warned me that there was a slight chance we might encounter bears among the pine trees.
I wondered which of us could ride faster. In a predator / prey situation you don’t have to outrun the predator, only the slowest beast in the herd. Was that me?
We followed some tracks through a pine forest to a cliff overlooking the river.
On the horizon, the exclusive Fairmont Hotel poked its turrets above a wide forest of pines.
Below us, a narrow wooden footbridge crossed the Bow River.
After a couple of false starts, we found a steep single track and skidded down it towards the riverbank.
This was different from what I was used to. I’d had a lot of unique experiences over the last few weeks. Riding a bike through pine trees in the rain by a rushing river – that was another wonderfully novel experience for me, and I loved it.
We pushed our bikes over the narrow bridge.
Matt was having a good time, and so was I.
“What will you remember about today?” Matt asked.
“I’ll remember how it made me feel,” I replied.
That seemed to resonate with him.
That river looked cold.
We climbed out of the river and up on to a fire trail.
I had a vague recollection that this was where the “Tour Divide” mountain bike race had started the day before.
My friend Dave, a former competitor in the race, had urged me to watch the start of the race, but I wasn’t able to make it.
Now, a day later, I looked down at dozens of MTB tyre tracks on the muddy trail in front of me.
I wondered where the riders were now.
The rain continued to fall.
So did the temperature.
I started to feel cold.
Matt felt the same, and suggested we head back into town to warm up.
My fingers were sore from my cold wet gloves. We decided to shortcut through the Fairmont hotel in an attempt to get out of the cold quicker.
Snow in summer. Who’d have thought? No wonder I was feeling cold. Matt and I burst into the nearest pub and ordered some hot chocolate – anything hot that I could wrap my hands around.
Half an hour later I sat in the hot tub at the hotel and thawed out.
Max elevation: 1480 m
Min elevation: 1403 m
Total climbing: 477 m
Total descent: -490 m
Average speed: 12.38 km/h
Total time: 02:06:55
We rode about 15km in two hours. This was a short ride in wet and cold conditions – something unfamiliar to me.
I’ll rate this one 7 out of 10 on the tough-o-meter due to the weather.
Thanks, Matt, for the memorable ride, and good luck with your long-distance cycling trip to California.