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The Canadian Rockies Experience

I recently returned from the Canadian Rockies which was the single, best experience I have had for some time. It’s possibly the most amazing experience of my life. I have no kids, I’m now divorced so I can say that safely!

I vlogged the whole trip so please consider signing up to my channel for those. Since I’ve still to go to Florida this year, and I want to edit them differently to how I’ve done things in the passed, they’re going to be released later in the year.

Until then, we have this blog of my experience.

It Was More Than A Trip

I commented during the announcement of the trip that it was more than just a trip. It was more than just a typical holiday.

It was a holiday that would just not have flown while I was married. Well, it might have flown in my ex-wife’s 18-month ‘outdoor girl’ phase before she moved on to another re-invention. I wasn’t bitter or annoyed that I’d not got to do this trip years ago, as you prioritise things that make both of you happy, and I can’t even say it registered on a conscious level I wanted to do it, once I made the decision it was all consuming.

It also felt like my solo Disney World trip in that it would in some way define my single status journey. The solo Disney World trip helped transition me into a better place during my divorce process. This trip sort of cements my single status purely because it is an experience that is only happening because I am single.

Was I Expecting Too Much?

There was a danger I was expecting too much. Once the decision had been made I’d gotten more and more excited about the trip. The experience it would deliver. The wondrous sights I would see. It had reached a level of expectation in my mind that only got more and more epic the more I planned it.

There was a part of me that thought there was no way it could be that good and I was setting myself up for disappointment.

Peak excitement hit during the last full week before we left. Looking back that weekly vlog had levels of excitement that were pretty crazy. The excitement level dropped as the holiday got closer as I dealt with the final preparations and the doubts it would meet expectations started to enter my mind.

This feeling dulled my excitement for most of the 36 hour journey to Banff.

Then we joined the Trans Canada Highway, saw the mountains in the distance, and watched in wonder as the render distance revealed them as we got ever closer. Then the excitement kicked in. It was awesome and fantastic and a pure sense of adventure kicked in.

The whole trip was fantastic. Every day we saw something and said this is going to be best thing we see. The Canadian Rockies would then say ‘hold my beer’ and show us something the next day that was even more mind blowing.

It surpassed my expectations and that in itself was astounding.

It Did Not Feel Like A Holiday

In truth it didn’t feel like a trip or a holiday. Jack and I discussed this numerous times. It just felt like we were there. I’m not 100% sure why that was but I think a few things contributed to the feeling.

It wasn’t structured like a holiday. It wasn’t orientated around a ridiculous commercial environments be it theme parks or a city. As a result it didn’t have that false, out of reality, feeling that a lot of holidays have. It just felt like we were happily doing hikes and sites like you would at home, in the countryside, but with ever more epic vistas.

There was no resort. Yeah, we stayed in hotels, but this felt less disrupted than being in a highly themed resort, an all-inclusive resort or a city hotel with the associated noises outside. It just felt like we existed there doing our thing on our own time-scales and in our own way. We had no real schedule but our own.

The use of a rental car helped with this which I’ll discuss later.

The Weather Is Crazy…Don’t Panic!

All the way up to the period we were going the weather was showing sunshine or cloudy but, most importantly, a virtually zero chance of rain. Then when we arrived it changed with a slight or larger temperature drop and much higher chances of rain.

Quick research on the weather change had people saying just do it, it changes constantly and if you cancelled for that in September you’d never go. They were right, as the weather was perfect. Specifically, the weather was perfect at the places we went to.

In the first three days in Banff we only got caught by one light shower, we just put our waterproof jackets on for twenty minutes. What we got instead was gorgeous low, lying cloud that didn’t obscure views but enhanced the views immensely. The trees also had the mist and wet look that gave every forest location a gorgeous ‘British Columbia’, X-Files feel. It was brilliant.

When we hit Jasper it started snowing. This proved awesome and made that part of the trip perfect. It didn’t get in the way of anything we wanted to do but for an aborted trip to Maligne Lake as the road had too much snow for me. As an example, we went to the Athabasca Glacier on a very snowy day, but when we got there and by the time we got on the glacier it was blue skies with sun. The glass walkway was covered in mist but by the time we got to it was pristinely clear. Similarly the snow covered environments made some of the places we visited…glorious.

Basically, don’t panic about the weather. Just go and do what you want to do and dress accordingly. You never actually know what you are going to get at the location your ultimately doing your activity at.

Ultimately, we were glad we didn’t just get blue skies with the sun in the sky (and it being cooler was really helpful for all the walking). The weather made the trip and was an essential part of it.

Getting Around The National Park

There are ways to navigate a Canadian Rockies experience without having a way to independently travel via a rental car. I just wouldn’t recommend it. The reason I wouldn’t recommend it is someone else has too much control of your time.

The majority of popular sites in the Canadian Rockies can be reached by paying someone to take you there as part of an excursion. They choose the time though and it often means a time every other excursion is turning up. This means crowds. It also make it more challenging to coordinate another excursion on the same day.

You lose your independence.

Using the car we had targets we wanted to hit every day. Places we wanted to stop on the Icefields Parkway. We were able to throw these together in a highly dependent way. Hit the first place for the day early and there is every chances you’ll be leaving that place just as all the coaches are turning up. Doing this meant we have totally crazy experiences like having Sulphur Mountain totally to ourselves. It made the trip as experiencing some of these sites while they are a busy is a pain and totally removes from the feeling of serenity and remoteness.

It also allows for plans to alter, we were jumping in and out of the car at all sorts of unscheduled spots because we could and it defined the road trip. If you travel the Icefields Parkway via an excursion all that is defined by someone else.

Rent a car. If I can drive in Canada and ultimately find it a liberating part of the experience than anyone can.

The Three Best Things

The whole experience was one of ever more awesome sites and experiences, but if I was forced to pick out three best things it would come down to the below. It’s worth noting they have their reasons for being in the list and are taken from a list of things we did that had me running out of superlatives to describe them.

The Serenity of Boom Lake

We visited numerous lakes on our trip. It’s the Canadian Rockies, they feature highly on the sites to see list. Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Emerald Lake and we tried to visit Maligne Lake but it got snowed out. We also stopped at Hebert Lake, Bow Lake, Waterfoul Lake and Peyto Lake along the Icefields Parkway.

The one we will probably remember the most is Boom Lake.

The reasons for going to Boom Lake were simple: it was a hike to a remote lake, one not destined to have a horde of other visitors coached to it. It exists, surrounded by mountains, at a height, at the end of a hike that is surrounded by forest. You don’t see any great vistas until you get to the lake.

The reason for doing it was the reason it was great. We pretty much had it to ourselves. After a group of four college students left we shared it with one other person, who just sat and took it in like we did. Yes, Moraine Lake was clearly the most beautiful, and we did avoid the crowds, but the serenity and remote feeling of Boom Lake will probably stay with us forever.

Jack literally sat on a rock for twenty minutes contemplating his life at Boom Lake.

The Drive of a Life Time

The Icefields Parkway is described as one of THE road trips you must make in your life time and they ain’t kidding. We had big hopes for the Icefields Parkway, it wasn’t just a drive of 3.5 hours it was an epic adventure in which we were happy to spend most of the day getting to our destination jumping out and experiencing things long the way. We had stops and randomness planned for both the journey to Jasper and the one back to Banff.

It was an event of the trip and it was everything we hoped for. You just see sight after sight on that road and it’s very hard to comprehend and take in.

It was pure excitement and adventure. The sites from the car window, the random stops along the way due to just being stunned by what we were seeing, the epic planned stops, leaning out of the car window taking photos – which was an experience on the more snow covered experience on the way back. It was just something else. Like living in a film or something. It was was crazy exciting awesome.

If Jack had his moment of reflection on life while at Boom Lake, I had it while driving the Icefields Parkway.

Sunshine Meadows

Sunshine Meadows has a rather innocuous name. A name that doesn’t make it sound that exciting. It wasn’t even on our list of things to hit. We did it on our second last full day during the period in Banff we had nothing scheduled for so we could be flexible.

We probably would not have went to it if I’d not used the Lonely Planet Guide in my planning. I had it with me and Sunshine Meadows was on list of things you had to do at the start of the book. We punched it into the Sat Nav and off we went.

It’s hard to describe the sights you see at Sunshine Meadows.

It’s essentially a ski resort, but it also a series of hiking trails. The key thing is the hiking trails are at a height and above the tree line. Well, above the tree line. You’re taken by bus up what feels like one of the worlds most dangerous roads. Once you’re at the base you go up via a ski lift to the hiking trails.

What you see is beyond belief, you fee like you are literally at the top of the world and the hikes are like walking across the top of the mountains. I literally shed a tear that day as it was everything I wanted to experience but thought was beyond me in terms of the hikes that delivered them.

Sunshine Meadows is important because I suspect many people miss it. It in no way had the traffic we saw at other sites and it was by far the best experience of the trip. You get to see two lakes literally at the top of the mountains. You get to walk at mountain height which normally demands hikes that are beyond a lot of people. You also get to see larch trees without doing longer hikes involving elevations or being restricted due to bears.

It delivers everything.

Did Anything Disappoint?

No holiday is perfect, but it’s way too harsh to say this one wasn’t. All these things listed here are very minor. In a way, it’s less that these things are were bad or negatives it’s more that just the rest of it was so awesome these things were not as awesome!

Herbert Lake

If I was honest, Herbert Lake was always speculative punt. Even reviews of it on Trip Advisor were a mixture of people saying it was awesome and those really not getting it. Safe to say you can put us in the not getting it category.

It’s possible a time of day and weather thing. When we say it we thought it was just a big pond that represented nothing spectacular. Pretty sure everyone else who stopped there thought that as well as they walked around looking for ‘something else’ was they they were seeing ‘could not be it’.

I’d just give it a miss on your Icefields Parkway journey unless you specifically know the time, weather and magical moment it’s worth seeing and you happen to align with it.

The Valley of the Seven Lakes

I think our experience of Valley of the Seven Lakes was influenced by a few things. In truth, it’s not as awesome as some of the other things you can see, but we also did it as the second thing in our day so I was reaching my walking limit and then we chose to do pretty much the whole route which turned out to longer than I’d expected.

It meant I’d got tired of it, wasn’t really getting anything from it, quite a bit before the hike was over.

It’s not a bad hike. Not all the lakes are a great but a couple of them are really nice. There is a lovely jetty on one of the lakes that allows for killer photos or video but the trouble is even when the place isn’t that busy everyone knows it and stops and creates a queue and a hustle factor to get your moment. I wanted that moment but I can’t deal with that sot of thing.

The views of nature are…okay. Possibly they’re better than I appreciate, but at this point we’d seen some pretty ridiculously epic stuff.

Lake Louise

There is no doubt that Lake Louise is beautiful, the problem is as lakes go it’s a Disney attraction. It didn’t have the serenity of Boom Lake and Moraine Lake pips it considerably in terms of beauty. It is so ridiculously packed the inflow of cars and coaches is constant exactly like a Disney park.

We went September, I can’t even contemplate how busy this place gets in the peak summer months. It’s main car park is massive. It then has an overflow car park 1-2 km away. People flood to the place and you can easily find 20-30 people sort of politely trying to get into position in that perfect photo taking spot. You can then walk the lake but it never feels like you are alone, it’s more a stream of people and this was in September!

It’s not that we didn’t like it. It’s not that it’s not beautiful, we just didn’t think it is the best thing you can see. I’d argue if we’d missed it out we’d not even had seen ourselves as missing anything essential.

I get that there are a range of key hikes leading out from Lake Louise, but the lake itself has a popularity advantage but there are better options. We enjoyed Lake Louise as adjunct to Moraine Lake, rather than an experience in itself.

I guess it represented everything I didn’t want the trip to be. I wanted to feel like I was doing a bit of ‘remote hiking’, and while I realise we did a very lite version of that, Lake Louise was so far from that it felt wrong.

And, Finally…

The experience we had in the Canadian Rockies is hard to describe. It’s probably best to describe it in two ways.

In the first instance, both myself and Jack are usually ready to go home as our holidays come to an end. I’m not one for seeing the holiday location as my home or trying to pack last minute things in or getting upset because I have to return to my mundane life. This was not the case with the Canadian Rockies trip. We did not want to leave. We were not ready to leave. This was nothing to do with the trip only being 9-nights as what we didn’t want to leave was just…being there.

Second, both of us are considering our life choices as a result of that trip. Jack is younger, and at a different stage in his life so his decisions may be bigger, but we both left reflecting on life. I’m not sure how it is going to impact me yet, they’ll probably be smaller changes. You just can’t help doing that. At some point you will see or do something that is so awesome, epic, wondrous or serene or all of these at once you will find yourself being highly self-reflective. Well, you will if you’re a person conscious of yourself, I can’t say that was true for everyone at the Disney attraction that is Lake Louise.

Our experience in the Canadian Rockies was that good.

About Ian O'Rourke

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