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Adventures with wildlife and a steep climb

Banff, Canada

So here's the deal..............we pop over to Lake Louise to go up in the gondola for some marvellous views, go back to Lake Louise and have a picnic en-route then have a nice walk along the lake. We should be coming back late afternoon, so we'll take the old parkway road which is apparently more scenic and we may see some moose or elk in the meadows there. OK – but of course it didn't quite pan out like that Wild animals have the irritating habit, I have discovered, of hiding until they are sure that you are totally unprepared then popping out, winking at you and then disappearing, leaving you with a shot of their rear end – if you're lucky. Except, that is the little charmers that are ground squirrels and chipmunks, who pose with style to shame Kate Moss but with less attitude.

Our day was bright and sunny and relatively clear. So off we went. Our gondola was not so much a traditional cabin, more of a bench attached to some poles hanging off a bit of wire. (All run by Aussies it seemed – perhaps it is a job requirement?) This of course was much better for photo opportunities should they occur down below – and occur they did. A grizzly bear mum and her cub were enjoying the late morning sunshine snacking on some buffalo berry bushes about ¼ of the way up the run almost immediately underneath the chair. Fortunately someone going the other way told us and this time we were prepared! We got some good shots between us. At the top we wandered down to the wildlife initiation centre where there was a very good exhibition about Canadian wildlife; it was shocking to discover that most bear deaths are not natural in Banff NP; most are caused by the rail as bears discover that scavenging along the railway line is quite lucrative and either ignore or try to argue with the train. A few are killed by cars, though these are likely to be smaller, younger bears. The message was a simple one – if you want to be able to continue to see bears or any other wildlife, they must retain a fear of contact with man. So don't try to feed them or get close to them.
On the way back to the gondola we took some shots of a lovely pair of yellow bellied marmots doing their thing while we stood unobtrusively watching them. By the time we got down, Mrs Grizzly and cub had gone, but we got some more good shots of the same marmots prancing around the lawns in front of the main buildings. From the bottom, it was obvious where all the ski runs are in the winter, but as they run through grizzly territory, it is probably as well that the bears sleep during the winter.

On the way to Lake Louise itself, we stopped for a picnic lunch to fortify ourselves for the afternoon excursion. I knew Sue really fell for the guide book talk of Lake Agnes being beautiful, unspoiled and less visited than Lake Louise (this would not be difficult as I am sure that I read 10,000 visitors a day is not unheard of), but I thought that a 3½ km hike with a 400m elevation gain sounded rather heavy going, so rather hoped she would cool on the idea. I pointed out that 3.5Km was about 2 miles; a fast walk on level ground would take 1hr; climbing would probably take twice as long. Not a bit of it and off we went, there were several times on the climb when we both felt like calling it a day but plodded on, taking rests to get our puff back before plodding on again. Some parts were particularly demanding but OK taken sensibly. I don't think 10,000 people were going up the trail but there were quite a number. At last after 1¾ hours we got to the top. The lake was indeed lovely, the view spectacular, the drink of pink lemonade at the teashop tasted of (slightly warm) nectar (it is remote and only solar powered). The sense of achievement, priceless. After a recovery period, we started our treck down, stopping at mirror lake which frankly looked more like a muddy puddle to me. We finally got down quite exhausted in about an hour. After a warming down walk back to the car, we returned to Banff along the old parkway in the hope of seeing some wildlife. No chance!! We passed 'Moose Meadows' with no sign of the eponymous animal and while the road was certainly more interesting than the highway, we didn't spot any spectacular viewpoints.

Back in Banff, we decided to walk(!!) the couple of blocks to the high street and find a restaurant for dinner. While we were waiting for our first course to arrive, there was a lot of commotion in the street outside. Looking to see what it was, with crazy tourists running toward some attraction with camera shutters blazing, there was a young elk looking thoroughly startled by the attention.

We didn't have any cameras other than my phone and I took a quick snap from my table heeding the advice that morning but was astounded to see people running towards the poor beast who very wisely hightailed it out of the vicinity. According to the guidebook seeing elk in the high street is not that uncommon and people are killed each year by getting so close the animal feels cornered and threatened, dealing with it in the only way it knows how.

I was prepared by the guidebooks to hate Banff as a tourist trap, but rather like Queenstown in New Zealand, I think it has more to it than meets the tourist eye. True most of the activity is centred on an extremely commercial high street but it does its job with a modicum of charm and manages not to look seedy; despite the activity it is clean and tidy. Our B&B was only 2 blocks from the high street but in a quiet residential neighbourhood; that's clever.

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 18, 2010 from Banff, Canada
from the travel blog: Go west, then go west some more.
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Hi Folks!

I hope you enjoy your last night in Canada (at least for the next couple of years). It certainly looks like you've had an awful lot of fun and seen some amazing things over the past three weeks (and hopefully the week before that too!)

Have a safe trip home, and I'll catch up with you on Sunday!

Lots of love.x

permalink written by  Ollie Johnson on August 19, 2010

Thank you Ollie & Ang, we have had a truly wonderful 4 weeks. Looking forward to catching up with you on Sunday - hoping that the current 2hr 40 delay doesn't get extended by Thos Cook Airlines - or else we may only just be home in time!!

permalink written by  rickandsuejohnson on August 20, 2010

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