Mark took this photo of me at Lake Louise as I seemed really deep in thought. In reality I was navigating some stones in the lake and was watching my step. That being said I like this photo a lot.
Well with all of my photos from Banff and Yoho National Park posted, I thought I would write what we are thinking of for next year.
The big difference is we are doing a short trip on July 1st long weekend to Yoho National Park to hike Lake O’Hara. Lake O’Hara has very restricted access but is considered one of the best hiking areas in the world. So the plan is to drive out and the camp in the rustic Lake O’Hara campground before hiking the trails for two days.
We will take a longer vacation later in the summer. We will also take Marley along for this one.
Day 1: Drive to Banff, get out and hike up Tunnel Mountain. Die a little on top. Walk back down. Get back into car and drive to Lake Louise campground.
Basically we never did do this during this year’s vacation because my ankle was so swollen that it felt like it was going to snap. I want to do this next year. As for the campground, I loved the Johnston Canyon Campground but Lake Louise Campground is closer to Yoho National Park and there are no reservable spots in Yoho.
Another idea from this year that was derailed because of my ankle. If all goes well, three mountain tops and one cup of tea in two days. I am more excited about the mountain tops than I am the tea to be honest.
Day 3: Yoho: HIke to the the Twin Falls
Day 4: Walk the Past Trail
It’s not a long trail but I have always wanted to hike the Walk the Past Trail in Yoho. It is near the Spiral Tunnels and it is littered with the carnage of runaway trains and exploding boilers that plagued the Big Hill during it’s existence. This history geek in me is looking forward to this. Since it won’t take long, I plan to check out Emerald Lake in Yoho as well.
Day 5: Columbia Ice Fields
I haven’t spent anytime in Jasper National Park so this will be fun but we are planning to take the Columbia Ice Fields tour as we relocate camp from Lake Louise to the Columbia Ice Fields Campground.
Day 6: Hike to Wilcox Pass
One of the best hikes in Canada, this high alpine pass should be fun.
Day 7: Athabasca Falls and Exploring the town of Jasper.
Day 8: Mount Edith Cavell trail
Day 9: Edmonton and then home.
First of all, thanks to Mark for the photo. I generally hate photos of me being taken which is why I am always behind the camera but the problem with being a part of a family of photographers is that they have cameras as well.
Now you will notice the pockets in my shorts being wet. It has just poured and was cold so I put my hands in my pockets. This resulted in them looking like this. You win some, you look like an idiot in others. Thanks to Mark for capturing the essence of what it means to be a dad.
I am off to find my cool, from this photo it looks like I lost it.
Some of you have asked how the gear we used on our trip worked. Here are some thoughts.
- Our Chevy HHR doesn’t have luggage racks so we bought a CCM rooftop bag from Canadian Tire. The reviews were poor because they said it wasn’t water resistant at all. So we tossed our sleeping bags and some tents into some heavy duty garbage bags. We had extended periods of rain from Rosetown to almost Calgary. When Mark and I opened the bag at the Johnston Canyon Campground, it was completely dry. I am not sure what we did differently that those who had soaked bags but it worked great.
- Nikwax Tent and Gear Solarspray: Provided waterproofing and UV protection to the tents. While Mark and Oliver had a great high quality tent, Wendy and I were using a $100 tent from Walmart. When it rained one night I was laying there going, “this should be leaking” and it never did. So two thoughts from this: Walmart tents are not bad for car camping and waterproofing your tent and tent fly is worth the money and energy. Nikwax says that spraying UV protection on the tents will add years of life to your gear from backpacks to tents.
- We bought a Walmart two burner camp stove instead of a Coleman stove because they were 1/2 the price, the reviews were excellent and I couldn’t tell any difference in build quality or design between the two. It worked great. We didn’t bring my Primus Classic Stove or Mark’s MSR Pocket Rocket but in hindsight, we should have just for making coffee and boiling water.
- If you have a Coleman Stove or need some propane canisters, the Real Canadian Wholesale Club has the cheapest canisters in Saskatoon. They are around $4. We bought three of them and thought we may need some more but we only used one and a bit.
- I bought Marley a red Niteize LED light for her collar. She is a black dog and at night, is invisible. She doesn’t like her natural advantage compromised but I can see her. Other campers got a kick out of her as well. We weren’t planning to do any night hiking but I put one on Oliver and Mark’s backpacks. If we got caught out after dark, I want to see him. Either way every night when Mark would take Marley for a walk though the campground, you could see this blinking from all over the place.
- I had bought Wendy a couple of travel tea presses over the years and she offered to use one for coffee. Big mistake. I might as well just chewed on grounds. The end result was not a single coffee. We bought a GSI Outdoors Coffee Press last week. Wendy can drink tea and hot chocolate, I want some black coffee.
- We have some nice lightweight sleeping bags but while the air was hot, the ground was cold in Banff. It got colder at night which meant with the air mattresses, we froze. Wendy who has never camped before, ever realized that you needed some blankets between you and the air mattress to keep warm. After Oliver was sick one night and we gave him one of our blankets, we froze. We upgraded our sleeping bags this week to some four pound sleeping bags. I had no idea you could sleeping bags for tall people but you can. Mark and I both got tall four pound bags and since Wendy is confident that she will not hit a growth spurt at 46, she got a regular sized bag. Oliver already had one.
- Wendy loves her Olympus OM-D E-M10 II camera but with smaller mirrorless cameras, you have smaller batteries. Wendy brought an extra battery along but in reality she could have had four or five. Meanwhile I had two in my Pentax K-3 DSLR and grip and had two extra batteries and never had to use them. Yes mirrorless cameras are smaller but that size in part comes from a smaller battery.
- The hammocks were wonderful. I am glad I bought them. There is something about a nap in a hammock after a long hike on a cool summer afternoon. The main difference between mine and Wendy’s hammock is hers had hammock straps while I had to use some cordage to tie mine up. For ten dollars they are worth it and are easier on trees.
- I bought a heavy duty pot, tea kettle, and frying pan for the gear. Looking back, we may just go with our camp kitchen setup for next year. They took up a lot of space although a decent frying pan seems worth it.
- No one packed my camping chair but the Compact Lite chairs I bought for Wendy, Mark and Oliver worked out great. They take up almost no room. The ones I bought for them are too heavy for hiking but the Helinox Chair One looks great.
- Get yourself a great camp light. Wendy bought me a 300 lumen light from Walmart for Christmas. It lit up our tent brilliantly and was so useful when looking for something in the car or the campsite at night.
I should have posted these sooner. When you take several thousand photos on a trip, you have to edit several thousand photos. When I mean edit, I mean hit the delete key a lot.
In our last full day in Banff National Park, we planned to hike some of the trails around Moraine Lake. Those plans were changed when almost all of the trails in the Valley of the Ten Peaks were closed because of grizzly bears. That disappointed Wendy, Mark, and Oliver but I had a plan B, even if they didn’t know it yet.
As we drove up to Moraine Lake, the sign said the road was closed and three cars ahead of us did the U-turn and drove back down the road. A Parks Canada employee walked up and waved us past the closed sign so upward we went. It’s an amazing drive and show a forest that we had never seen before.
We finally got to the full parking lot and parked about a 300 metres down the road which was pretty good considering at times, that road has people parked on it for miles.
After turning my back on Oliver for about a second, he thinks he is in the Logdrivers Waltz and is jumping from log to log to go up the rock pile. Luckily the kid has skills and made it back to shore.
Canoes can be rented for about $60/hour or you can take a well maintained path to the stream/waterfall at the far side of the lake. We decided to walk.
This is the end of the path but Wendy and Mark decided to test their luck and balance and keep going.
Marley decided to test her luck as well and wandered out into the water, fell in, got wet, hit her head and swallowed some water before getting out. There was a Russian researcher there who had just gotten his permanent residency papers this week and was celebrating with his wife. They loved Marley’s clumsiness and we had a great chat about the mountains, Trump, Putin, and dogs while waiting for Wendy and Mark to return.
I need to explain these photos. Last year while at Sawback, I told the boys that there is a Cooper tradition of dunking you head into glacier waters the first time you head to a new lake or body of water. There is no tradition, I just wanted to see if I could make them dunk their heads in the water. This time Wendy and I were no so lucky as they made us dunk our heads in the freezing glacier water.
Just before I did this, I think I said, “Mark hold my camera but no need to photograph this.” He listens like his mother.
Solid hat don’t you think?
Did I mention I didn’t wear a hat in the Banff heat (and no shade) the day before. I was burnt.
Me taking a photo of a person taking a photo.
Don’t worry, it wasn’t a real bear.
While in the Gift Shop, I picked Wendy up a Moraine Lake t-shirt while Mark got her two bear figurines that made her day. She was still on a high from seeing the black hear the day before. It wasn’t quite as large as this one.
Several of you who are parents seem surprised that Mark enjoys going on family vacations still. Many of you hated going with your parents at that age and some have kids who are resenting going on trips with them.
I don’t have a secret but here are some things I have done so Mark wants to go on vacation.
- Scott Theede suggested we purchase Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies which is a book that evaluates hiking trails in the Rockies so you don’t take bad ones. At first glance it seems expensive at almost $60 but it worth it when you consider it is 677 pages and if you are like us, refer to it often. I have read the book cover to cover and so has Mark. In fact he wants his own copy. When we planned this trip (and are already planning the next one), I had Mark plan it as well. I spent a lot of time getting his input and helping him figure out what he wanted to do and seeing how that can happen. Mark suggested going to the Banff Upper Hot Springs and spent some time researching fun things to do. He was also a part of decisions like, “Do we take the dog?” It was Mark that convinced us that we should. At the same time he also said, “I’ll help the dog on the Banff Gondola”, a decision that seemed a lot simpler in Saskatoon than it was in line at the base of Sulpher Mountain.
- Mark and Oliver were comfortable in their own tent. I kept hearing from people how much they hated sleeping in the tent/camper with their parents and how much of a different it made even as adults to have their own space. Mark and Oliver have their own space. They have their own duffel bags, sleeping bags, air mattresses, compact chairs, and gear. They really appreciated having their own space. It was worthwhile. Parks Canada campgrounds only allow for two tents per campground (although I saw some that had a third small one) but I was clear to Mark that if he wanted his own space separate from Oliver, we would make that happen, even if it was a different campsite for him. I’ll post the gear that we have for the boys in a later post.
- I bought Mark the gear that he wanted. In case it rained, he wanted a new deck of cards, a decent lantern for his tent and a great coffee mug. The cost of all of those things was very low when you consider that they all made camping nicer.
- I checked out the day’s itinerary with Mark every morning. Now we have everything planned out a long time in advance but he appreciated the quiet conversation we had about what we were going to do and what ideas he had to make it better.
- Despite being in the mountains before, this was the first trip he ever took where he was in awe with what he saw. He fell in love with Castle Mountain and wanted to hang out and linger longer at the lookout. He wanted to risk life and hypothermia by climbing up a stream and waterfall at Moraine Lake. I just let him soak it in at his pace. Same with Oliver. Oliver’s camera is waterproof and at a certain time he sat on a rock taking underwater photos and was having a blast.
- He had his own money from work but appreciated shopping with Wendy and I as he figured out what he wanted to get. 95% of that time was mocking what we saw but I know he did appreciate the suggestions on what to get. My only disappointment was that he never got a onesie.
For next year we have started out debate about what we are going to do (the big picture is using Lake Louise Campground as a base camp to explore Lake Louise trails and some trails in Yoho National Park before pushing towards Jasper). We are working on a budget and making a list of what gear to upgrade before next year. He is a part of all of those discussions because I want it to be something we all like, not just Wendy and I.
After a day in Banff, I took everyone for a drive up Mount Norquay because Wendy and Mark wanted to see and sit in a Parks Canada Red Chair and I knew two would be up there. At that point, I didn’t realize the upper Moraine Lake trails were closed because of grizzly bears and I hadn’t thought of going to into Yoho to see Takakkaw Falls yet (nor did I think they would have some red chairs.)
On the way to the chair, I got a phone call asking for Wendy. She just got the word her father had died. While she processed that news, a sports car pulls up and a guy and girl pop out because they want to pet Marley. It was so weird and random but it happened that entire day.
Wendy soon joined us and as a family we walked down to this meadow and took in the views of Banff and the Bow Valley.
I should also take some time to point out that earlier in the day on the way to Banff and Sulphur Mountain, Wendy had her own bear sighting. We were driving down the Bow Valley Parkway and a black bear popped up over the guard rail. We had seen another black bear and we are pretty sure we saw The Boss, a giant grizzly bear beside the road but they were in the middle of a bear jam and out of principle, we didn’t stop. Wendy just mocked people for being stupid. So when we saw this bear and we were by ourselves, Wendy was so pumped up. It was hilarious and she was on a high all day.
I am not sure how it happened but it looks like Mark got a hold of my camera.
I was accused of giving Mark the finger here but I think the photographic evidence is solid, I was just pondering what a bad kid he is.
We met this guy (or gal, I really have no idea) on the way up. Wendy took some photos and we kept going. On the way down he (or she) was in the exact same spot. It was probably pondering what a bad kid Mark was as well.
It’s me so you knew I would post about some architectural photos from downtown Banff. Most of these will appear over on Bridge City but you’ll get to see them here first.
We headed out to Lake Louise for the day while in Banff National Park. We got up early from the Johnston Canyon Campground and headed down the Bow Valley Parkway. The plan was to hike up to Lake Agnes Tea House but my ankle was still swollen, I was still running a fever from being taken off the medication for my ankle. We got there in good time and got a good parking spot (Parks Canada staff running the parking lots makes it run very smooth). As we walked up the path to the Tea House, I realized that a combination of rain, a fever, and a messed up ankle, I needed to understand my limits. We’ll head back up there next year.
Before anyone feels sorry for us, did I mention we were still on the shore of Lake Louise? It’s pretty spectacular view and we were about to find out that our fellow tourists were pretty great.
From there we headed down the mountain and stopped at Laggan’s Mountain Bakery and Delicatessen.
Everyone I know that has been to Laggan’s raves about how great it is. You have to see and smell it to believe it. Wendy picked out some Jamaican Patties and got use some of the best pizza I have ever tasted. The bakery is worth the stop if you are even close to Lake Louise.
After hiking to Silverton Falls and checking out some of Castle Mountain, we came back to the campground while Wendy slept off a headache in her hammock. After dinner, we went back to a now empty Johnston Canyon and hiked up to the lower falls.
As we crossed this, we learned that Marley hates heights and really hates boardwalks. She refused to walk across it unless I told her it was okay. She would constantly look back at me and wait until I told her it was okay and then she would walk very low to the ground. This scene was repeated over and over again throughout the hike. As long as she didn’t look down, she was fine. If she did, she wasn’t happy.
Growing up in Calgary after my dad left, we had no money at all. Johnston Canyon was our summer vacation. We would come up and hike the canyon and then have lunch at Sawback before heading back home. It has always been a special place to me. We always hiked it on a non-peak day so it never was packed like it is most days in the summer with people parked for miles in either direction.
Hiking it after dinner when the hordes have left was the Johnston Canyon that I recalled growing up. Only about 20 people on the trail, let’s of room to explore, no idiots with selfie sticks whacking me on the head. There were just a few people wanting to pet Marley which was a trend that would only escalate as the week went on. It was a lot of fun.
If you are going to go in July or August, don’t go during the day. Go early morning (before 8 a.m.) or in the evening (after 7:00 p.m.). It is a way nicer hike on an empty trail.
On the second day there, we had planned to hike Johnston Canyon in the morning and then do Silverton Falls in the afternoon. As Wendy blogged, I ran a high fever with an ankle feeling like it was going to snap for most of the trip. She was exhausted as well so we slept in. By the time we got up and going, the line to Johnston Canyon went a kilometre or so down the Bow Valley Parkway in each direction. We hiked it last year and it was insanely packed with tourists.
Instead I drove down towards Castle Mountain and pulled into the parking lot for Rockbound Lake. There is a short hike to Silverton Falls which I had never done and it looked like fun. As we pulled into the parking lot, we met this camper from Wicked Campers. The paintjob stood out just a little bit.
With Mark turning 16, he is thinking of the kind of vehicle he wants, in part so he can travel with it. We had a long discussion about GMC Safari’s and Chevy Astro vans on our way along the trail.
After 400 metres or so, you come across this stream running down from the waterfall.
Then you start to climb up to the falls.
A rockslide took a toll on the trail at this point.
Finally you get the falls which unlike Johnston Canyon, have no safety railings along the path.
It’s a great view across the Bow Valley.
Finally it was back down the flank of Castle Mountain and back to the parking lot. The hike is under a kilometre long and we met a total of 12 people on it which is far different then Johnston Canyon.
Well we are back from vacation in Banff National Park and later Yoho National Park. It was a great week but once that almost didn’t happen. A few weeks ago they took me off my antibiotics because they thought they had killed the infection (again) and of course we know what happened. In three days I was overwhelmed with fevers and extremely sick just before the holidays. So I was back on my medication but it takes weeks for it to catch up to the infection.
The day before we were to leave, I was really sick. It had gotten worse and I was really suffering. I went to be knowing that all I wanted was to sleep for the next week.
I got up early last Sunday and felt even worse. I talked to Wendy and said that her and the boys should go without me.
They loaded the car and went to leave. I had gotten some sleep and felt a little better. I didn’t feel strong enough to go but I had some food and talked it over with Wendy and decided to go. I did warn her that I may do nothing more than sleep all week. She was okay with that.
We had intended to leave Saskatoon, contact some friends and grab some coffee as we passed through town. Now we left Saskatoon really late and it was going to be a rush to get to the campground before nightfall.
Sadly we were very early onto a horrible motorcycle crash. Guy on a road bike, wet highway, looks like he lost control. When we got there, he was lying on the highway and being held down. It was a horrible sight but ambulance was on route and First Responders were already there.
This was Wendy’s and mine tent. I know it’s massive. It is an eight person tent that I picked up at Walmart a few years ago. I am not a big fan of Walmart tents but I bought some Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarProof and applied it. The SolarProof protects the tent from UV radiation at higher altitudes while making it waterproof. We did get some heavy rain a few days and nights and we never had a leak all week. Several times I found myself laying in it and going, “this should be leaking” but it wasn’t.
The tent doesn’t come with a ground sheet. So I decided to pick up some tarps. I measured the tent spent $3 on tarps from Dollarama and used Gorilla Tape to fasten them together created one. The ground sheet saves the bottom of the tent and acts as a bit of a vapor barrier between the tent and the ground.
We had some tents already but my brother Lee gave this tent to the boys when he upgraded. The 8 person tent served as home for Wendy and I while Mark and Oliver lived in the smaller five person tent. It’s a three season tent with a big vestibule. They loved having their own space. The fact that it came from their uncle and aunt made it even cooler for them.
The only complaint was we never had a night where I felt 100% confident that we would not get rain. Oliver really wanted to “sleep under the stars”. Either that or he really wanted to see what else was going on while he slept in the tent.
An eight person tent is too big for two people but one can stand up in it and there was room for our queen sized air mattress. Since I had a dog sleeping in my arms every single night, all of the space we could get was needed.
I had purchased Wendy a hammock for Mother’s Day. I gave strict orders to the boys that this was Wendy’s hammock.
I had my hammock as well.
According to this, I was late giving the edict that this was MY hammock. By the time I went to lay in it, it had already been infested.
You have no idea how hard it was to get them out of this tent. There was one of them in it the entire time we were there. Mark called it a Bear Taco.
This is Wendy getting everything set up.
Something is wrong with this photo. There are only three lawn chairs. Obviously they were packed when I wasn’t planning to come out.
Wendy had some help from Marley in setting things up.
This is the view from the back of the campsite. Just through the trees is the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway which thrilled all of us when it rolled through between five and ten times a day/night. Some might have found it bothersome but we loved it. The railway were such a big part of the story of Banff National Park, it was cool to hear them roll through, even if it didn’t make for the best alarm clock.
I had originally wanted to stay in the Castle Mountain Campground because of it’s location but you can’t reserve there. In hindsight staying in a place with a hot shower was the right decision.
There were only four showers for 100+ campsites but it was enough. There was a bit of a lineup in the evenings but most people took really quick showers (although Wendy waited as a women took a 40 minute shower one morning). The one oddity of the campground was there was two plugins in each washroom which were always being used as people charged everything from laptops computer to cameras and phones.
Parks Canada staff kept the washrooms immaculate although one of them said, “It’s not that hard, people are really good here.” I’ll take her word for it but the fact remains those washrooms were the cleanest of any campground we had ever seen.
The campground wasn’t that large and was extremely quiet. We were surrounded by Americans and Europeans for most of it. It was hectic in the morning as everyone got up and got going, then it was silent for for most of the day as everyone was gone. It got slightly busier at night but mostly people flaked out after a long day of hiking. There were two cycling clubs there who were working out together in the mountains all day long. Most of the noise was people slowly cycling by. If you are looking for a nice campground, this is it.
We used to come to Cave & Basin National Historic site quite a bit when I was a kid. It wasn’t as big of deal back then and it was much more poorly lit as you entered the Cave part (which I loved). So having not been there since 1983, it was nice to head back and see what has changed. Of course taking the boys back here was great and they enjoyed it quite a bit.
After the crowds of Lake Louise and Johnston Canyon, a quieter venue was a great way to kill an hour or so while the boys learned about the history of the place and it’s roll in the founding of our National Parks.
The green roof of the Parks Canada gift shop which has an assortment of Parks Canada and Banff gear that you won’t see anywhere else in the town of Banff. It alone is worth checking out.
If for some reason you want to see some more photos of Cave and Basins National Historic site, check out my album on Flickr.
While in Banff National Park, Wendy and I took the boys up to Johnston Canyon which was insanely busy. The parking lot was packed and by the time we left, people were parking over a kilometre in both ways down the Bow Valley Parkway. We had plans to take the boys to the upper waterfalls.
So as the sign says, it is a 1 km hike to the first falls. Yet when I started the Map My Hike app on my iPhone, it said that it was 4k with a return hike.
I think I have met these three people before.
They enjoyed the walk. They weren’t tired but the progress was at a standstill because there was a group taking selfie’s up ahead.
This is my favorite shot from the hike.
A Parks Canada employee has what looks to be a long and wet day ahead of him.
This is the legendary lower falls of Johnston Canyon. We had planned to go to the upper falls but as the photos show, the crowds were brutal and the antibiotics I had to deal with the infection in my ankle hadn’t beaten the infection back very far. Combined it meant that it would be a long hike and since we are coming back next summer to hike to the inkpots, it wasn’t a big deal to call it a day and dodge the selfie sticks back to the car.
I think we can all agree that I nailed this picture of a chipmunk.
Did I mention that the trail was packed. This is the main reason why we didn’t go to the second falls. So many people (and my ankle was really hurting me). Also, most of the people we passed on the trail were looking at their phones. Apparently world class scenery and nature doesn’t compete well with Angry Birds.
If you want to see more photos from Johnston Canyon, check out the full set on Flickr.
Sawback is a small picnic area on the Bow Valley Parkway between Banff and Johnston Canyon. It used to be small and has gotten smaller since Parks Canada has moved the tables near to the roadside turn off and allowed the vegetation to take over old picnic areas.
Growing up, it was my favorite place in the world. We used to take a yearly trip from Calgary (and later Saskatoon) to Johnston Canyon and then picnic at Sawback. I was looking forward to taking the boys there and was quite disappointed when all there was left was some picnic tables near the parking lot.
It wasn’t the picnic areas that make it so great, it was the babbling brook of glacier runoff that make it so much fun to explore as a kid. I knew that didn’t go anywhere so I followed an overgrown trail into the bush and 50 feet into it I found the brook.
Mark and Oliver did exactly what I did year ago and this jump across it and get all wet.
This shot was right after I had scolded the boys about making faces every time I tried to take their photo.
So while the picnic tables placement kind of sucks, we will return in 2016 with a proper picnic blanket and food.
I told Mark that there is a sacred Cooper tradition of dunking one’s head into the glacier water that ran out of the Sawback mountain range. He put his hands in, screamed from the cold…
And dunked his head into it.
After he got out and was struggling with hypothermia did I tell him that he was the first of the Cooper’s to do such a thing. Yes, I am a horrible father.
All of the snapshots I took at Sawback can be found in their album on Flickr.