The Icefields Parkway, the Highway to Heaven
Banff National Park, Alberta
There is a big difference between being torn from your dreams by alarm clock early in the morning for work and waking to sit on a warm bus to view the best the Canadian Rockies have on offer. Now, to some 8:15am is a fairly normal time to wake up but Banff is not New York. It does like to catch some sleep from time to time. The sun is only beginning its battle against the dark of night; the cold is at its most potent for over-abused and tired bodies. Nonetheless off we shuffled, hands in pockets to the hotel where we would jump into our tour bus.
Our driver Bob entertained us with Rockies stories and bad jokes as we made the 40 minute drive to Lake Louise to pick up two more sightseers. Of course, this gave us the chance to stop in at the Fairmont Chateaux Lake Louise for a coffee, much needed muffin and a chance to spend half an hour staring at the recently frozen and as stunning as ever Lake Louise. This place – named after old Queen Victoria’s daughter – is so beautiful that if the Lake was a woman, I would marry it…and maybe occasionally cheat on it with Moraine Lake. We took the necessary photos and reluctantly plodded back onto the bus as the clouds gathered around us.
Other than Banff being home to the Banff Insider, there are other reasons it has such claims to fame. Hikes, horse back riding and skiing are some of the more obvious things but it also boasts some of the best fishing in North America. Showing the same sort of responsibility as his son, George Bush Sr. often used to disappear from the oval office without telling anyone. Chances are he was sitting quietly salmon fishing in the Mistaya River according to the ever informative Bob as we made our way past Hector Lake – the second largest Lake in Banff National Park.
Though I have made this trip several times, this time my brain as well as my eyes was furnished. I saw Crowfoot Glacier which actually used to look like a Crow’s foot but the unfortunate bird has lost a toe since due to global warming – I knew there would be casualties. The Bow Lake Viewpoint is one of the best and least crowded places to get a good view. It was also here that we managed to get our best sightings of wildlife with jousting Bull Elks putting on a great show. We also managed to see the deceivingly named mountain goats climbing the slopes. When I say “see” I mean that due to me forgetting my glasses, I saw white dots move like snow balls in the distance. I am told they were impressive though.
There are so many places to stop and admire the art of nature on the Icefields Parkway. By the time we had passed Snowbird Glacier, Mistaya Canyon, Peyto Lake and the incredible weeping wall, we had almost forgotten that the climax of our journey was only around the snowy corner. Ice Explorer buses waited to take us to the Athabasca Glacier – one of the must-see sights in North America where the ice is as thick as the Eiffel tower is high. Despite my heavy lunch in Lake Louise, I was confident I could make it without the ice cracking.