A week in the Canadian Rockies!
25th February 2017
After nearly a year of day-hikes and a couple of overnights around Vancouver I finally felt ready to start organizing bigger and more challenging adventures, and it seemed to be the perfect time to finally discover the Rockies - which had been on top of my bucket-list for years.
This region is so vast and full of exceptional places that it took us some time to organize a sort of road map of what we could do in the only 5/6 days we had. On top of that it was also particularly challenging to find information about backcountry activities to do in winter - apparently not that much people love to sleep by -20°C!
We finally opted for a mix of well-known destination like Banff, Emerald Lake or Abraham Lake and some more adventurous activities like winter camping at Elk Lakes. We quickly found out that we would have to be very flexible and adapt our plans on a day basis depending of the weather conditions. A rule of thumb for winter planning seems to be having to plan double of time for any activities that you would do in summer, as you will encounter closed roads, avalanches areas, winter storms, fresh trails and shorter days. Here is a recap of this amazing week.
DAY 1/2 - Winter Camping at Lower Elk Lake
We left Vancouver a Wednesday night hoping to escape a serious winter storm that would have prevented us to drive to Banff. We eventually went through it but it took us 24 hours to arrive at our first destination in the evening. We tried to hike a bit at night but we soon realized that we would have to split this hike in two and camp on the trail for the first night.
After a good night of sleep we continued our hike to the Lower Elk Lake which we finally reached just in time for the sunset. While I was clearing an area under the trees to pitch our tent, Ashley was prepping our campfire. Watching the wood burn after suffering for hours carrying it on our back was such a great feeling, and eating our marshmallows was the ultimate reward of the day.
DAY 3 - Mount Rundle / Banff
The next day we hiked back to the parking lot with lighter backpacks and more energy. Knowing that a big poutine and fresh beer were waiting for us in Banff probably helped a lot too!
We slept in the car next to the Vermillion Lake just outside of Banff to catch the sunrise on the famous Mount Rundle. The full-moon and cloudy night didn't allow me to catch the starry night photographies I was hoping for, but the sunrise was simply incredible.
DAY 4 - Lake Louise / Radium Hot Springs
Another day that proved us how flexible you need to be in that kind of road trip... We originally planned to head to ice-skate on the beautiful frozen Abraham Lake 2hours in the north of Banff, but quickly found out that the Icefields Parkway was closed due to snowfall...
It was our first clear and sunny day since we arrived so we decided to head to Lake Louise which happen to also have a well-maintained ice rink! Ice-skating with Ashley in this incredible place surrounded by out-of-scale mountains was definitely the highlight of our trip!
And what better way to finish such a great day and enjoying our last night in the Rockies than chilling in the Radium Hot Springs!
DAY 5 - Emerald Lake
After a last night sleeping outside somewhere in the middle of Kootenay National Park (and some last minute adventure trying to pull the car out of the snow/ice after we got stuck on a parking lot at 1am), we did a last stop to Emerald Lake. Just the time to take some photos and choose which cabin we will rent the next time we travel to this wonderful place, and we were on the road back to Vancouver.
So many things could have gone wrong, but after this week I can not be anything else than proud of how we have been able to adapt to the elements and make this an amazing experience! I couldn't have dream of a better partner to share those moments with and I'm really looking forward to our next adventures together and with our group of friends in B.C.
Some important stuff we learnt during this week:
- Always plan more time than you think you will need, especially in Winter where you can easily double the amount of time/energy needed for a summer activity. Setting a tent in winter might require 2 or 3 extra hours if you have to clear 2 meters of fresh snow, and you won't want to do that after the sunset
- Be flexible! Planning a road-trip or even a day-hike is really important if not even mandatory if you want to have a safe adventure, but you will have to be prepared to adapt at any minutes as you cannot control outside elements like road and weather conditions. Having a plan-B or C will be very welcome when you have to change your plan at the last minute. It might even become the best moment of your trip!
- Be ready for the worst. Especially during winter, be ready and have enough water/food for at least 2 days (depending on your activity).