Mid-May and there was still too much snow around on the Icefields Parkway and surrounding areas. I’d crept into Waterfowl Lakes campground overnight (as once again it was closed) and found too much of the white stuff to put up my tent. Even getting to the sheltered picnic area was a major expedition and I spent a cold night with just a few lethargic mosquitoes for company.
The climb up to Bow Summit was slightly steeper than the previous climb (to Wilcox Pass) and I ended up using my ‘bail-out’ gear, yet still managed to do it without resorting to walking. My plan had been to wander off and visit Bow Lake and Crowfoot Glacier, but I would have had to leave the bike behind a fair ways (because of the snow) and the glacier path was closed up anyway. Dropping down the other side, the descent was pretty tame and it was a good while before I reached the valley and the beautiful Bow River, which I would then follow for the remainder of the Parkway.
My next brush with wildlife came as I passed two Bighorn Sheep who seemed in no hurry to go anywhere, as cars and RV’s stopped to take pictures of them. I also spotted what I think may have been fish eagles over the wider sections of the river, but these were too far away to take photos of.
I was coming to the end of the Icefields Parkway at Lake Louise and reflected that in hindsight I wish I had waited another week or two. Yes the bonus of the campgrounds being closed was nice, but so was just about everything else (closed) and it was (weather wise) still too early in the season for all but a few hardy souls. That being said, it is still the best road I have ever ridden, bar none.
Lake Louise was (if I’m honest) nothing like what I remembered, but then it was over 30 years since I was last here. Close by Herbert Lake was supposed to give panoramic reflections in its crystal clear waters of the whole mountain range, but like many of the other lakes was not just iced over, but covered in a thick blanket of snow. It was beautiful, though I pined for the reflection I had been promised by my guide and decided I would keep the memory of my first visit here rather than wander off on the (mostly closed) trails.
Although Lake Louise marks the end of the Icefields Parkway, the road to Banff offers more stunning scenery as it follows the course of the Bow River and rolls along the banks of numerous lakes. It is idyllic for cyclists as it is all gently downhill, the hard work having been done on the previous ascent of Bow Summit. For me, this was the most beautiful place I have ridden my bike and given the places I have already been on this journey so far, that’s quite a statement.
I was here in the closed season and some tourists had also made the trip out early, taking advantage of the cheaper prices and deals that were on offer. They could be seen either being guided round the various tourist attractions that were open, or out on the lakes and rivers in boats or canoes. Rafting on the Bow River is another extremely popular attraction, but back with cycling and I’m pleased to report you’ll see (local?) leisure and racing cyclists everywhere you go and I’m told many touring cyclists when the season begins in June.
Approaching Banff the roads were almost devoid of traffic, something that would change in a few weeks time. I have to say though that I have found the Canadians some of the most respectful (to cyclists) drivers encountered and I had no worries about my safety, even on the roads without shoulders. Obviously there are exceptions, so care should be taken at all times, but it really is great cycling.
Banff is a very picturesque town and bustling with outdoor types. The café’s are a great place to hang out (I did so in Starbucks!) and check your emails, before deciding on where to spend the night. Still in the National Park I could not legally go wild camping, so made my way to the local park and chatted with a group of mountain bikers, who were more than happy to point me to a spot where I could hide myself away. As I thanked them and pedalled off, I heard one of the group shout “watch out though, there is a grizzly in that area”.
By the time I reached my overnight camp it was falling dark (this was a deliberate ploy on my part) and I quickly erected the tent and made a start on the evening meal. I had been worried about mosquitoes being in the woods next to a small stream, but it was still a little too chilly and those that did try and make an unwelcome visit were quickly dispatched due to their lethargy. After cleaning up and packing away (all food has to be sealed so as not to smell) I drifted off to sleep with no effort, only to be woken some time later in the early hours. I could hear a snuffling and guttural sound close by and knew instinctively it was the grizzly nosing around, so put on my headtorch and made a lot of noise as I got out the tent, flashing my light everywhere. I never actually saw the bear, but heard it making it’s way through the woods. I wasn’t scared, but have no doubt the grizzly probably was.
Only a short ride from Banff I had arranged a stop in Canmore with a Warmshowers host, Katja & Yves. However they were away and had left me in the capable hands of their friend Marc, who helped me during my rest days and ensured I got well fed. It felt good to sleep in a proper bed again and have a nice hot shower. Next morning I spent time trying to fix up my solar panel which had finally given up working, along with the battery pack which had been repaired in China. This repair was now broken and after unsuccessful attempts to fix things, I left the whole thing with Marc to try and sort for me, then post on.
The ride out of Canmore was quickly diverted onto a rather splendid cycle path which took me all the way to Calgary. It followed the main highway, but cut through parks and wooded areas keeping me away from the busy traffic. It was nice to just relax and enjoy the trail along with the other cyclists, of which there were many, including whole families out for the day as it was still the public holiday.
I’ll tell you all about Calgary and leaving behind the mountains in my next blog. More soon…