Day 3: DOUBLE TAKES
Despite me waking up at 6am and Julie waking up an hour later, it wasn’t until about 8:20am when we left the accommodation. The skies were still overcast, but at least it wasn’t raining. It was, however, quite cold as evidenced by the ice on the car’s roof and hood.
The now-familiar drive north on the Hwy 1 went pretty uneventfully. We eventually just spontaneously decided to make a stop over at Lake Louise not knowing if the weather would hold up (and this wasn’t saying much as it was more of a testament to how crummy the weather was yesterday). We had to at least see this lake as well as Moraine Lake while we were here, and why not do it now?
Anyways, we arrived at the already busy car park at 9:15am. After a few paces on a pretty muddy path (we realized later that we parked on the spillover parking space as opposed to the lower car park closer to the Fairmont Hotel), we were right on the icy lakeshore walkway.
Under the current conditions, it seemed like just an ordinary run-of-the-mill lake. The low-lying clouds and the dense cold air didn’t help matters regarding our viewing experience, but at least we could say we were here. Of course we took what photos we could, but it wasn’t anything eye-popping as far as we were concerned.
I did overhear a tour guide mention that she hoped the clouds would lift later in the day. She then showed her group a picture of Lake Louise on a clear day, and there was supposed to be some glacier in the rear of the lake that obviously wasn’t visible this morning.
So after spending about 45 minutes here while consuming a couple of hot chocolates to ward off the frigidly cold morning, we got back to the car at 10am and then proceeded to drive towards Moraine Lake knowing that we weren’t expecting much in the way of nice views.
The drive to Moraine Lake resembled a Winter wonderland. But what made this really seem out of place was that technically we were still in Summer! Autumn was a couple of days away, but something just seemed off about the weather we were seeing, and I wondered if this was Climate Change in action.
At 10:20am, we were at the still-busy car park where we quickly got out of the car and then walked to the shores of the lake where there were lots of logs washed ashore on the lake with snow all over them. Not surprisingly, the mountains overlooking the otherwise serene lake were not visible thanks to the low clouds shrouding them.
On the way back to the car, we did notice some people atop some hill. I took a mental note to go up there if the weather would ever improve at this spot. We’ll see whether it happens or not given our foul luck with the weather so far.
At 10:30am, we left Moraine Lake and then proceeded to drive to Emerald Lake, which we missed yesterday thanks to the foul weather. The drive once again meandered through the same construction zones as yesterday (seemed to be a common theme on this trip in addition to the clouds) so progress was slow. But at least we anticipated only going to see the Emerald Lake and any other incidental attractions we missed the first time around.
So at 11:25am, we finally made it to the Emerald Lake. The weather down here seemed to be clearing up though clouds still dominated the landscape concealing most of the mountains surrounding the area (each with a fresh new layer of snow).
However, Julie managed to step into a pothole on the road leading to the bridge and twisted her ankle. At least she was able to put weight on it, but being a former basketball player, I know how painful ankle sprains can be. It was loose enough that she was still able to walk though she did use me as a crutch so her tender ankle didn’t bear the her full body weight.
Despite this mishap, Emerald Lake was probably the best lake of the lot that we had seen so far. But that wasn’t saying much considering how cloudy Lake Louise and Moraine Lake were. It was almost considered the best by default.
After having our fill seeing this lake, Julie retreated to the car, but I saw from a map sign here that Hamilton Falls wasn’t much further away. So I decided to make a run for the waterfall so Julie wouldn’t have to wait long.
A sign near the trailhead next to the car park said it was 0.7km to the falls. They didn’t tell me that it was pretty much all uphill though. At least it wasn’t terribly steep. And after maybe about 15 minutes or so, I made it to the base of the waterfall but not after a little bit of scrambling to earn a view of the falls. I was encouraged by a couple who were on their way back down when they gave me the heads up about the need to scramble for a better look.
It turned out that this waterfall wasn’t flowing too well. It was also twisting and mostly concealed as it cut through a narrow gorge against the vertical cliff face. I guess this would’ve been a pretty decent waterfall under better flow (which I’d imagine would’ve occurred in the early Summer), but I didn’t know the deal was with the man-made wall right at the base of the falls.
So with haste, I took what photos and movies that I could of this falls before making a quick descent back down to the car park. It turned out that I caught up with the couple that I saw near the falls.
When we conversed a little more, I learned that they were from Calgary. They didn’t think the falls was that worth it, but I took the high road and told them it was good exercise.
With a little further conversation, I also learned from this couple that the weather we saw yesterday and the day before was more like what they would normally experience in November. They said September would normally be the best time of year to come to the Canadian Rockies, but apparently this year was a whole different animal.
They even said that their Summer was practically non-existent as it rained consistently throughout the normally benign season. That would corroborate the hail damage on our car that the Budget guy said happened in July of this year.
Ten minutes later, we made a quick stop over at the Natural Bridge. This place looked like it could be considered a waterfall as there was one that disappeared into a hidden gorge with its outflow going under a natural bridge and rejoining the Kicking Horse River.
At the same time that we noticed this attraction, we also saw some of the mountains in the background start to reveal themselves as the clouds mostly lifted. I think the one behind the Natural Bridge that we saw was Mt Stephen, but I wasn’t totally sure. When the sun came out, we even started to see some color in the river itself!
At 1pm, we were back in the car and we were about to make a beeline for Peyto Lake, but then Julie decided that maybe since we were down here at Yoho National Park, we ought to give Takakkaw Falls another shot since the weather had improved dramatically since yesterday let alone this morning.
So back we went up the Yoho Valley Road, went up the switchbacks that tested the turn radius of our rental car, and returned to the now seemingly busier car park for Takakkaw Falls at around 1:25pm. On the way to the car park, we saw what appeared to be the Yoho Glacier way in the distance to the north.
Next, we hastily walked (to the best of our ability given Julie’s bum ankle) to the familiar overlook of Takakkaw Falls before crossing over the bridge to get on the path leading the base of the falls. And not surprisingly, we were able to take photos of the falls in peace and even set up a few tripod couple shots.
So back we were taking more of the familiar photos of the falls that we took yesterday, but now there were even more people at the base of the falls serving as photographic subjects. There was even one crazy dude in an orange shirt who climbed partway up a wall adjacent to the falls.
Eventually we returned to the car at 2pm. Now, it was getting late in the afternoon (at least it felt that way), and we definitely had to act quickly in order to get to Peyto Lake under the improving weather.
The drive went uneventfully for the next hour as we eventually made it to the car park for Peyto Lake and Bow Summit at 3:05pm. There was still some snow hanging from the trees surrounding the quite busy public car park, but the sun was out, and we had glimpsed many snow-covered peaks and lakes en route. So we were pretty confident that we ought to see this lake with its surrounding landscape in good photographic shape.
Eventually, we made it up to the wooden overlook, which was quite crowded. But as we glimpsed the lake between the gaps amongst the people, we could tell right away that this lake was every bit as advertised. It was just that our only complaint was that waves of tour bus patrons would take the short walk from a different car park reserved only for handicapped people and tour buses. The rest of us had to earn our view.
We probably spent at least a half-hour to an hour waiting for people to stop hijacking particular spots on the lookout platform while trying to take in the scene that unfolded before us. Sure the lake itself didn’t exhibit the blue-green color we saw on numerous posters (including one of Peyto Lake that we had bought a long time ago), but it did show some reflections.
The bottom line was that we had finally saw a lake that appeared almost as advertised, and it was about time!
At 3:55pm, we were back at the car. For once, we were satisfied tourists when it came to the lakes that we went out of our way to leave the sunny and warm weather of Los Angeles to brave the frigid, almost Winter-like Autumn weather of the Canadian Rockies.
At 4:05pm, we made it to the Num Ti Jah Lodge. Here, we saw the scenic Bow Lake backed by attractive snow-covered peaks. And unlike the Peyto Lake experience, this place was much quieter and serene. Even though the goal here was to get distant views of the Bow Glacier Falls, we both thought that Bow Lake and surrounding mountains as well as the hint of the Bow Glacier against the sun were the real stars of this show.
By 4:25pm, we returned to the car. Now it was time to head back in the direction of Banff. But along the way, we made stops at the Crowfoot Glacier, which was once a three-armed glacier essentially reminding someone of a crow’s foot. But these days, the glacier had retreated so much that we hardly saw any of the crow’s toes nor was the glacier itself all that impressive in its current state.
Once we left this glacier viewpoint, we decided to return to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake to build upon the momentum of the Peyto Lake experience. Who knows if we’d ever be able to see those other lakes in a photographable state. We just had to try to see what was in store for the double-take on those two lakes.
At 5:10pm, we returned to Moraine Lake. Once again, the car park was pretty busy, but as Julie went right for the lakeshore, I headed right up to the familiar overlook atop a rocky hill looking down at the lake. Once I made it up there, I was blown away at the incredible panorama that lay before me.
Now this was the Moraine Lake that was advertised!
Indeed, depending on how intense the afternoon sun was, the lake provided hints of the glacially deep green-blue color while the clouds that once shrouded the peaks overlooking the lake were thinning out.
If not for the afternoon sun getting right in the line of sight, I could’ve spent until sundown to continue snapping photos while Julie was back at the car park. It was too bad that Julie couldn’t join me on the 0.3km walk to the top thanks to the inclines that would’ve been hell on her ankles as well as for the baby.
Eventually at 5:40pm, I returned to the car. I guess there was only so many photos I could take of the lake, but at least now I considered the moment was seized. We both couldn’t wait to see what Lake Louise had in store now.
Sure enough when we arrived at the shore of the lake, we could see the clouds were mostly gone and we could see the glacier that the tour guide was talking about earlier this morning sitting in back of the very reflective lake. Meanwhile, the sun was descending behind one of the peaks on the right side while kayakers or canoers were gently paddling about the calm lake while serving as photo subjects juxtaposed against the grandeur of the lake scene before us.
By 6:30pm, we were back at the car. Once again, we were pretty happy with our experience though we wished that the weather would’ve let up earlier in the day when the morning sun would’ve been perfect for taking photographs here.
At 7:15pm, we were back at Banff Town. With the fading light of the day, we could see the mountains started to glow orange and red as the wavelengths of light grew longer as the sun set deeper behind the Canadian Rockies skyline above town.
After a fairly reasonably priced dinner at the Rose and Crown Pub, we then did some quick grocery shopping before returning to our parked car. And by 9:05pm, we were finally back at our accommodation to call it a day.
But oh boy, what a day it was!