Dani and I woke up at 08h00 to much colder temperatures than either of us had expected. With the day before peaking in the high 70s, I was a bit shocked to see the high 30s on my thermometer. She, a true Florida girl, was frigidly cold, lying in the sleeping bag with a long sleeve top, my REI quarter-zip fleece, and my Patagonia down jacket on, still on the verge of shivering. As the sunlight crept its way through the sky and began to cast shadows on the tent, I convinced Dani that we should get up and get a move on the day. We packed up lethargically, still in awe of the mountains that surrounded us, filtered another two liters of gorgeously clear and delicious mountain water, and headed up to the communal picnic tables to eat a small breakfast. We spoke again with Jessica and Jessica, the two women we had met the night before, and talked more about long distance trails, the National Parks we were visiting, and how it was absolutely necessary for Dani and myself to visit British Columbia for more exploring. By the time the two of us were on the trail it was nearly ten, but the opportunity to talk with two provincially-local hikers was unique, enlightening, and well worth the time.
After hot sandwiches, cold drinks, washing up, and a quick outfit change, we were turning out of the parking lot and making our way south on Alberta-93, or the “Icefields Parkway”. With over 200km until we reached Banff, the drive would take us on a winding route through some of the most impressive mountains and landscapes I’ve ever laid eyes on. The road changed elevation frequently, taking us from a just under a mile high to well over 6,500’. We followed different river systems, each seemingly more vibrant and turquoise than the last, and gawked out the window at the monstrous rock formations that make up the Canadian Rockies. As I drove, Dani used our dash-mounted iPad to reference GPS software for the heights of the peaks that surrounded us – many were well over 10,000 feet tall. About an hour into our drive we arrived at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Center, a jam-packed tourist destination where we had the opportunity to walk up towards the ever-receeding Athabasca Glacier. I was not surprised to see that despite multiple signs warning of crevices people have fallen down and died, visitors were still stepping well beyond the marked boundaries, crossing over ropes to get a “better” view or just to take a selfie. We snapped a few photos, spent a moment or ten in awe of the scale of the glacier and the impact it has had on the surrounding area, and then walked back to the car to carry on with our drive.
The rest of our drive was continually gorgeous and relaxing as we made our way south. We’ve been making the most of my Sirius XM satellite radio, not having to worry about switching out iPods or CDs, and settled on “Siriusly Sinatra”, a station dedicated to Frank and the rest of the Rat Pack. The sun shone through the open sun roof and Dani took a brief nap as the car began a 2 mile climb to the Bow Summit parking lot for Peyto Lake. After a short hike up a paved path we found ourselves on a wooden deck overlooking Peyto itself; one of the most vibrant lakes in the Rockies, it boasts an incredible turquoise hue that stands out against blue skies and evergreen trees surrounding it. I snapped a few photos and we bathed in the sunlight before walking back down to the car for the final stretch to Banff.
Setting the tent when we got back to Tunnel Mountain, we climbed in and heard the sounds of other campsites still milling about. Darkness settled earlier over the camp than it had further north in Jasper, but it was a welcome change for my body clock. We’ve got no immediate plans for tomorrow, and I think we’ll make use of that fact to have a more relaxing day in town and around the immediate area. I hope Banff is as incredible for us as everyone who has been here says it will be, but so far I’m just wishing we were able to spend more time in Jasper.