Surprisingly, we felt quite bright and breezy and up for a challenge when the alarms went at 4am (11am UK time) and so by the time Chris appeared at our door we were already dressed in winter running kit with backpacks ready and bear spray in its holster! On our way from the cabin in the pitch darkness we bumped into a startled yurt camper called Heather, on her way to the facilities clutching torch and bear spray!
Excited and optimistic about our early morning adventure we spotted a couple of stars overhead and hoped that the sky would clear in time for sunrise at 5.30am.
After a short drive across the bridge we entered the forest, parked and set off up the trail, head torches illuminating the forest path criss-crossed with gnarled pine roots. We brushed our way through the wet spiky branches as we climbed upwards, our warning cries of 'Hey Bear!' echoing out every minute or so. As we ran we carefully watched our footing so that when Bill was decked by a mighty bear claw across the front of his head he hit the ground with a mighty roar sufficient to scare off any ursine predators for a considerable radius. It turned out that the mighty bear claw was the same tree trunk that C and K had ducked under without noticing..... Once blame had been established, and we removed the bits of tree from Bill's scalp, we continued onwards and upwards!
The darkness was complete, but even so, as we climbed up and out of the forest above the tree line into the alpine, we became aware of a cold misty cloud enveloping us.
The sky remained dark as we scrambled up onto the rocky ridge, our running poles clattering over the stones. No risk of bears up here. At the first peak (8,366 ft / 2,550m) we stopped for a quick breakfast of cashew nuts and water, sheltering behind the weather station and surveyed the horizon for signs of light. Our head torches sent atmospheric white beams of light out into the cloud as the first flakes of snow started to drift down in front of us. No sign of sunrise yet, although we were aware of a general brightening of the sky. We stopped for photographs and then ran/scrambled on, following a narrow path along the top of Tent Ridge, the scree slopes falling steeply away on either side.
As we reached the second peak we could see each other clearly, and as we stood and admired the panorama around us, banks of dense white clouds moved and parted to reveal snowy mountain peaks and conifer covered slopes below us. On a clear day the views must be beautiful. In this early morning, moving, misty landscape, glowing with diffuse early morning light, it was simply breathtaking!
To add to our happiness a couple of large partridge-like birds scuttled along the rocky ridge in front of us. They posed for photographs before taking off one at a time and flying away. White-tailed ptarmigan - as unconcerned by our presence as we were delighted by theirs.
All around us the rocks were covered in fresh snow and we ran onwards and downwards, along the ridge, poles really coming into their own now, back down towards the forest below.
As we ran, the clouds cleared further, revealing watery sunshine and the blue water of Spray Lakes and Engadine Lodge in the distance below. We progressed down the steep slopes, scree-running, bounding and scampering in turn until we were safely back inside the forest (and bear territory - 'Hey Bear!').
More photographs and then a quick look at our watches..... 8.15 .... 45 minutes until breakfast service ended! We were never sure that we could complete the route in time to be back for breakfast but now this seemed a real possibility. We set off through the dripping forest (light rain but no snow down here) over mossy and muddy terrain, soft and gentle after the rocks and loose scree.
By 8.45 we were at the bottom and Chris raced on to start the van, we leapt in and arrived at breakfast, slightly pink faced and sweaty with five minutes to spare!
I can't remember enjoying a breakfast so much. Quite apart from a quiet smugness of achieving our goal, and post-outdoors glow there was a cracking breakfast menu to enjoy! Raspberry crepes, breakfast quesadillas, fresh fruit, raspberry soft scones, yoghurt and home made muesli. All enjoyed in the comfort of the lodge, looking back up at the snow covered Tent Ridge.
There was still a couple of hours to check out so plenty of time for a hot shower, a snooze and a mug of tea on the comfy sofas by the fireplace in the lodge... And planning when we can come back here and do it all again!!
After such a great start to the day, it could only go one way and a trip to 'Canadian Tyre' to buy a replacement inverter certainly provided a leveller!
We then checked out the Canmore Highland games before setting off north to Banff. Curious to see men in kilts firing muskets and playing bagpipes so far from Scotland.
We enjoyed the sumptuous picnic provided by Engadine Lodge as we drove to the visitor centre in Banff town centre but spirits dropped as our plans to climb sulphur mountain were dismantled by closed trails/ bear warnings and an over priced cable car, then plummeted further as our first and second choice camp sites proved to be fully booked (the guide book said no prior reservation was not necessary or indeed possible...) Spirits rose again as we squeezed our way into the 'Village 1' camp site at Tunnel Mountain and happily collected a load of free logs for our camping fire pit.
In the event we probably found a much better camp site and certainly a better trail to hike.
C-level Cirque trail rises up through forests of aspen, lodge pole pine and spruce, overlooking Lake Minnewanka. The C-level refers to the days when the lower slopes were a mine and the path rises up between the old mine workings. After emerging at the top of the forest we found ourselves at the base of the impressive cirque towering above us. Chris took the opportunity to stay in his mobile office and work whilst we hiked up. He then ran up to join us and we went on together up the top section of the trail, scrambling under the base of the cliff and up to the 'North wall perch' to admire the spectacular views over Lake Minnewanka, the town of Banff and surrounding mountains.
The same schedule applied on the way down and by the time we got back to the bus, not only was it nearly dark but Chris had done some more 'Digital Nomad' work!
By this time, the combination of jet lag and an early start was taking its toll on Bill. With the extensive choice of restaurants that Banff has to offer we headed into town for dinner, but when our first choice of restaurant was full and required a 15 minute wait to be seated, that was 16 minutes too long and we moved on. K and C enjoyed a fine Greek feast whilst a very sleepy Bill only just about stayed awake long enough to finish his!
Back at the camp site, we were determined to make the most of our fire pit, and a briefly rejuvenated Bill soon had a fine blaze going before hibernating, curled up like a dormouse in the back of the van! K and C meanwhile tried to pretend ignorance of the 'No fires after 11pm' sign, before also retreating into our sleep nest!