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Mountain Soul – Canadian Rockies

mountain-soul-3Quieter than Lake Louise, yet equally stunning, this lake is blissfully cradled in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, its jewel-like cast the result of glacial meltwaters tumbling from Wenkchemna Glacier. Sitting by the iridescent water, Moraine Lake Lodge is a rustic haven of understated luxury, perfect for exploring this staggering landscape – especially in the quietude of dawn before day-trippers arrive. Braving the cold I rose early and watched ghostly reflections of sentmel-like peaks appear on the crystal water before glowing golden under the rising sun. Here was my silent solitude.

Studying the twisted banding on the ever-present rock-faces I could only imagine the extreme forces that had shaped them. Even to a geological novice they revealed a layered time-capsule of the earth’s history, their present stoic beauty contrasting this tortured past. These mountains are in a state of constant flux and I listened to distant echoes of ‘whooshing’ avalanches and ‘clicking’ rockfalls as they continued to move and resettle, at the whim of the earth’s fickle moods. Like an eternal game of Snakes and Ladders, tectonic forces move the mountains up as erosion abrades them down, the scene-­shaping both incremental and sudden yet invariably spectacular.

mountain-soul-4Hiking is the best way to experience this ancient and remarkably accessible wilderness, but with winters lasting up to eight months and the climate temperamental (snow in the middle of summer is not uncommon), it’s important to take advantage of fine weather and be prepared for unforeseen changes – something I probably should have been a little more aware of. Having hiked the popular Lakeshore and Consolation Lakes trails through moss-carpeted forests, I decided to face the challenge of trekking to Eiffel Lake and Wenkchemna Pass. Fewer hikers take these higher trails over alpine tundra and glacial moraines so I was certain that exhilarating panoramas could be enjoyed in isolation. Hiking with a partner (bears forever on my mind), we ascended through the gossamer-misted undergrowth, watching the turquoise lake disappear below and admiring the wildflowers along the route, Indian paintbrush, goldenrod, wild gaillardia – their names as exotic as their hues. Thrushes trilled, squirrels rock-hopped and a porcupine ambled along the track. Above the tree-line the sun shone on windswept scree and the glacier­-laden Ten Peaks were revealed in their entirety. Then seemingly out of nowhere fog appeared, snowflakes hindering our ascent as we became quite apprehensive about finding the path back. Finally at the summit, the engulfing icy brume caused us genuine concern and we were ama2ed that conditions could change so dramatically. Adrenaline pumping we slid and scrambled down the mountain, urged over the boulder field by thoughts of steaming coffee and warm-from-the-oven biscuits by the Lodge’s fireside. Yet as quickly as the snow appeared it dissipated, the sun shining again as we met fellow hikers and regaled them with tales of our predicament. They were amused at our imaginations.

Farewelling our lakeside retreat, we set off towards Jasper on the Icefields Parkway, one of Canada’s crown jewels. Following a wide river valley, this 227 kilometre road has plenty of stops along the way to admire the dramatic scenery from. Herbert Lake’s morning reflections awe while the precipitous Crowfoot Glacier, hanging over Bow Lake, is magnificent in scale and beauty. Athabasca Glacier sits on one of the largest icefields in Canada, signs along the barren 2one pathway chronicling its intriguing retreat. At the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre snow-coach tours onto the glacier can be booked, the snow and ice accumulation on its surface all the more fascinating up dose. Sunwapta Falls are quieter than Athabasca Falls, the lower ones perfect for watching plumes of foaming white water further erode the ancient rock-surface.

Once at Jasper you can paddleboat on Pyramid Lake, hike Maligne Canyon from any of the six bridges crossing its fast-flowing water or head to Maligne Lake, the region’s longest, deepest and some say most spectacular waterway. Deciding to forgo the boat tour to Spirit Island, I hiked (partner again in tow) up the Opal Hills loop, this time prepared for anything. The forest’s silence was only broken by our dapping that warned bears we were in the vicinity (and that they should stay away) and attracted an inquisitive marmot who shadowed us much of the way. The forest eventually opened to a magnificent sub-alpine meadow overflowing with wildflowers, a group of mule deer feeding on the lush vegetation, fearless as we walked right past them. The weather stayed warm, the bears stayed away and we took the time to breathe, pleased that we had found our little patch of wilderness.

My visit to the Canadian Rockies had only scratched the surface but helped me understand the region’s draw. This landscape is immutable, moulded by the elements over eons and humbling in its splendour. Whether on a tourist bus or alone, this enduring grandeur is yours to enjoy.


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