We hiked through the night and arrived at one of the crown jewels of the Canadian Rockies – Mount Assiniboine, known for it’s likeness of the Swiss Matterhorn.
Day 82: Canmore, AB > Mt. Assiniboine Trail @ Big Spring Camp (almost)
Woke up and drove to the Banff Springs Hotel for a day of work. We camped out in the coffee shop all day and barely moved. After some interesting developments happened at Rocket Fuel, we left Banff a little later than we had hoped and began making our way to the Mt. Assiniboine trail head. We drove through Kananasis country in search of wildlife. I saw one bear for a few seconds, but no moose, goats or sheep. I guess they didn’t like the songs we made up to lure them from the forest. At the trailhead, we packed our packs, but barely made it on the trail before 9pm. My camelback spilled all over & soaked my sleeping bag. This was NOT a good start to our 17 mile hike. With darkness looming in bear country, we had bear bells jingling and bear spray at the ready. We kept the conversation going to keep from getting spooked or from spooking the grizzlies. After 5 miles, it was pitch black. We saw signs that mother grizzly bears were raising their cubs in the area. Caution! Danger! We were finally too scared to go on, so we pitched our tent near a ranger’s hut & I went to sleep in my wet sleeping bag wearing full Gore-Tex. It was going to be a long night.
Day 83: Mt. Assiniboine
I woke up miserable in a dewy tent & just wanted to get moving. John had not slept well either & just wanted to sleep. We struck a somewhat unhappy compromise as he slept while I made our coffee. We had 12 miles of hiking ahead of us to get to our destination. The first 5 or 6 were through dense forests lined with some of the hugest mushrooms I had ever seen. We then started climbing parallel to Marvel Lake. Beautiful wild flowers lined the hill & the deep blue lake below was framed by glaciers. We started up Wonder Pass, and after a mile of steep incline, reached a stunning alpine meadow that took us across the continental divide. Finally, we descended through fields of wild flowers, and made it to Mt. Assiniboine Lodge just in time for “backpackers tea,” where they served up tea, beer and wine to weary hikers. John and I drank a few brews and made friends with some of our fellow campers. We stumbled down the trail towards Lake Magog Camp and found our spot for the night. We cooked dinner in the food shelter. The whole crowd at Lake Magog was friendly and kept us entertained. We went to bed with a view of Mt. Assiniboine in front of our tent & a meteor shower above our heads. I set an alarm for 1:00AM, and saw streaks of green flying around in the sky.
Day 84: Mt. Assiniboine > Whitefish, MT
Woke up to sunshine over the mountain and I couldn’t sleep another wink. I ate a leisurely breakfast while John slept. Then, I took a jog down to the lake and jumped in the cold water for a swim/shower. I’m getting to like this way to bathe – it’s invigorating! I got back to camp & we packed up. We said goodbye to our new friends Sophie and Ryan & hi-tailed it back to the lodge (a half hour hike) to catch our helicopter ride back to the trailhead. Yes, I said helicopter! At one point, I didn’t think we were going to make it, and ran to the helipad. Who wants to miss a ride that would take 17 minutes in exchange for 17 miles of hiking?! Well, we made it, and my first helicopter ride ever was miraculous. To watch the terrain that we had just toiled and trotted through the days before fly fleeting below our feet was like a slow exhale. Marvel Lake lived up to its namesake, nestled among groves of evergreens. Once on the ground, we hiked the short 2k back to our van and were eager to drive South. With no cell connection, we consulted our atlas, and decided to take a route through Glacier National Park at sunset. They almost wouldn’t let the van into the park because of a 21-foot length restriction (we’re 23 with our back step), but the nice lady at the gate gave us a break. We drove the “Road to the Sun” and feasted our eyes. The road was winding and narrow – we now understood the strict vehicle size requirements. Steep cliffs dropped revealing canyons lined with waterfalls, glaciers & big horned sheep. We drove on towards Whitefish, MT, where we were happy to put the van in park. We ducked into the Great Northern Bar, and were stunned by the change in our surroundings. Welcome to Montana! The music played and the beer flowed. We left around 11:00am, just as the party was getting started. We had another long day of driving ahead.