Another surprisingly comfortable night in the van. We fell asleep last night snuggled up in our sleeping bags and duvets, watching the glowing embers of our fire pit through the open side door... And listening to the loud snoring of the man in the text next door!
Van life hit a bit of a low this morning, with repeated fruitless searches for lost belongings in our crowded home and cold water in the ladies shower block. After a full and frank discussion regarding the relative merits / disadvantages / costs of a motorhome versus the van we agreed to press on! Hot tea with scrambled eggs and avocado helped to boost spirits!
Another day of hiking today - this time we planned to drive north to Lake Louise and follow the trail either to Eiffel Peak or Sentinel Pass. Turned out that, bring s bank holiday Monday, every tourist in Canada had the same idea.....
Having just taken a very deep breath in the camp site, I now had to take several more as the lady on the advice line at the Lake Louise information centre told me that not only were there bear warnings throughout the area, but the Moraine Lake area was so busy that all the car parks were already full...
We drove on crowded roads north to Lake Louise. When we reached the turn to Moraine lake we joined the queue to be allowed into the area - one car out, one car in. Fortunately several large coaches came out and so our queue streamed in. All along the approach road, vehicles were parked all ways - in ditches, on gravel banks, halfway across the carriageway.... As expected, the car park was full, but to our very great joy, a space appeared under our noses as a Chinese family returned to their car and drove away.
The bear warning signs were everywhere - 'it is mandatory to walk in groups of at least 4 adults...make lots of noise...don't allow a space of more than 2-3 metres between individuals...carry pepper spray... '
Well, we carried pepper spray. The trail was so busy at first that it seemed impossible for a bear to even think of wandering into our path. (Bears are naturally timid and not aggressive, if they sense the approach of a group of humans, they tend to scurry away. The the risk of attack comes when you catch one by surprise, particularly if it has young cubs nearby. So, make plenty of noise and stay in a group.)
So we set off on a perfect sunny day, lots of people about but after only a few metres walking we were separated enough to enjoy the walk, with plenty of people in front of us to give the beard adequate warning.
Walking in Canada is different from our experiences elsewhere. There is a general air of friendliness that is not overwhelming. Whereas in Britain and Europe a friendly smile and 'Hello!' will suffice, over here it is customary to exchange a few words 'Where are you from?' and 'Where are you walking to / walking from?' etc.
The initial sun and the up hill walk soon had us peeling off layers. Unfortunately as we approached the junction of paths between Eiffel Peak (first choice route - 11.6 km / 1225m elevation) and Sentinel Pass (second choice route - 11.6km / 723m elevation) we could see dark clouds rolling in, and shortly after that it started to snow. And then it started to snow heavily, followed by a clap of thunder. Suddenly, climbing to the top of a 3084m peak seemed much less attractive than the 2611m Pass!
We wrapped up in all our warm clothes and strode on, through the Valley of the Ten Peaks, past the lake and up the switchback path to the top of Sentinel Pass.
By the time we reached the top we were covered in snow and so were all the rocks around us. As we stood at the top, the view of the valley beyond looked eerie but spectacular in the billowing grey mist. Then, suddenly the mist lifted, the clouds thinned and watery sunlight started to illuminate the red, gold and grey rocks of Paradise Valley, and in particular, Sentinel Rock. Behind the sunlit rock sentinel, white fluffy clouds started to rise - a photographer's dream!! Chris did handstands for the camera, see above!
The return trail was a joy - we watched the snow melt as we stomped down. Chris ran on ahead to continue his training and to allow him some time in the office!
As we walked back down through the forest we could see glimpses of Moraine Lake through the trees. It was turning into a sunny evening but even without the sun earlier, the lake had appeared blue due to the reflective properties of the glacial flour in the water that absorbs red and yellow pigments but reflects blue and green. At the bottom of the trail we found Chris working away at his lap top on a bench overlooking the lake. We followed a low level path to climb into the promontory at the lower end of the lake - another photographers dream! We drove on to Lake Louise Village and to the Fairmont Hotel, half thinking of afternoon tea but then decide that we would actually prefer a cosy campsite cuppa and chocolate brownie around our campfire! We wandered along the beach at the southern end of the lake and imagine what stunning views there must be from the bedrooms in the hotel towering above us. The lake stretched away from us, a beautiful glowing turquoise green, even below the overcast skies.
After a brief stop off for provisions we headed back to the Lake Louise campsite for tea. This was an impressive campsite - a huge area of forest divided into small private plots between the tall pine trees and surrounded by bear proof electric fence! Our plot was close to the river which we could both see and hear, rushing past, through the trees.
10 minutes later the tent was up, the gas stove on and the fire pit loaded with wood. 5 minutes after that, we were sitting around our fire enjoying tea and brownies.
The weather was overcast, the bench was wet and the logs were slow to burn it it was still a happy and memorable few moments as Chris vigorously fanned the flames to make an inferno!
Bill and I then set about making camp whilst Chris settled into his mobile office for an hour.
Dinner tonight was fillet steak wrapped in bacon chargrilled over an open fire, with cous cous, baby carrots and snow peas, followed by toasted marshmallows cooked on skewers! Best campsite supper ever!
After sitting chatting around the fire for a while, Chris returned to work, and B and K settled down in the tent, reassured by the yellow gleam of the electric fence, just visible through the trees!