Photo Essay
Hiking in Banff
By Marc Simard

  Banff's backcountry, through the eyes of a geographer  
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  For a city dweller like me, there is no describing the feeling of sleeping in the backcountry after walking 20 or 30 km to get to your site. It is truly awesome to stand, at night, surrounded by peaks rising some 5 to 6 Thousand feet above you, the moon casting its light, and with silence so deep that you have the impression it hurts your ears.
 
     
  My journey began some years ago when I worked in Banff for a season. Through these pictures I can show you a bit of what I saw and learned while hiking in the backcountry.  
     
 
Here is a view of Moraine Lake. I'm standing on what is believed to be a moraine, hence the name of the lake. Actually, Lake Louise seems to also owe its existence to a moraine that dammed the glacial melt water coming from the small glacier nestled at the hilt of the valley.  
Moraine Lake
 
  Did you know that the color of the water in many of the lakes in Banff and Jasper is caused by the silt contained in the melting glacier water that feed them, reflecting sunlight in just the right way? In spring, and when it is overcast, the water is crystal clear. So, to get that color, you need sunshine and a glacier's silt leaden meltwater.  
 
 
Spray River
  Spray River is just south of Banff Springs Hotel. From a geographical or geomorphologic points of view, you can see that the river cut right through geological rock formations that poke out of the river bed at an angle, showing the erosive capabilities of running water and also the forces that come into play during mountain building.
 
     
 
A classic image of Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks. These are the peaks on our 20$ bill. Moraine Lake is about 20 km from Lake Louise and yet it attracts a fraction of the sightseers that go to the park. There is a lot of great hiking in this area.  
Moraine Lake
 
     
 
Sentinel Pass
  There is also great hiking and superb scenery in Sentinel Pass. This pass separates the valley where Moraine Lake lies from a valley called Paradise Valley. As I recall, at the crest of the pass, you stood at over 8000 feet.
 
     
 
From that altitude you can see mountains for miles. As we looked back from where we stood, we could see The Valley of The Ten Peaks. Once at the valley we looked down towards the main Bow River valley.  
 
     
 
Bow River Valley
  Many of the valleys like Sunshine, Ten Peaks, etc. perched over the Bow River Valley are perpendicular to it. When those valleys where carved by glaciers there was a main glacier flowing down in the Bow and many tributaries flowed into it.
 
     
  The geomorphologies of those valleys are dead give-aways. When you drive down the parkway you notice the valley bottom is flat and has rounded edges and there are many valleys opening at right angle to the main one but a thousand feet higher up. That is so because the main glacier, being bigger and heavier than those that lead into it, gauged much deeper into the rock.   
 
 
Peaceful hiking in an alpine meadows atop the Sunshine ski resort. If you're adventurous, you can head out into the backcountry from the alpine meadow. This is what I did when I headed out to Assiniboine Provincial Park.  
Alpine Meadow
 
     
 
Mount Assiniboine from Og Lake
  That park sits across the Alberta border in B.C. It is also across the continental divide. It's a small park that has its namesake Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. Its particularity is that its summit looks like a pyramid and it seems to stand out like a sentinel among the other peaks. There is a lodge at its base accessible only by helicopter, hiking, or skiing. The hike to Og Lake was long and tiring but it was rewarding. As I recall it was between 20 and 25 km of walking up and over the divide and back down into B.C.
 
     
  It is also a great cross-country ski trail, but not for the faint-hearted. I can still remember hiking down a very steep pass and traversing an also very steep avalanche prone slope and being very happy to be across.  
     
 
There are beautiful images around the Columbia Ice Fields. As you near the Ice Fields the landscape becomes barren and desolate. Trees thin out, rock fields and glaciers appear. The air has a bite to it. The Youth Hostels that can be found along the Parkway cater to cross-country skiers in winter.  
Columbia Ice Fields
 
     
  The hostels offer modest accommodations with little or no amenities. They usually have a sauna so you can wash and a kitchen to cook your meals. You go to bed early, rise early and leave early.  
     
  One of my more memorable experiences was when I hiked in the backcountry some 20 Km past Mount Norquay. I made it to the designated area for camping and pitched my tent. Park attendants came by around supper time to warn campers to be careful with food and other smelly stuff because grizzlies were sighted in the area and we should be careful not to attract them to our site. I did as suggested and went off to bed. Sleep doesn't come easy in bear country. You tend to be overly preoccupied by any sound you hear. I eventually did fall asleep. I was woken up by my friend some time later because she kept hearing growling sounds. Tents are a pain in those situation because rip-stop nylon is not much of a match for a hungry grizzly and with the fly over the tent you cannot see out unless you open the door. So, there we were, holding our breaths and waiting to hear were the sound was coming from and what it might be when suddenly, we heard growling again, in the tent. It was my stomach...  

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