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Sunshine With and Without the Canine
By Jane Cassie
For Travel Writers' Tales

There are fringe benefits for being a dog owner. As well as free kisses and pampering you get more exercise, especially when hiking the trails in Banff's Sunshine Village.

"Sorry, there's no exception to the pet rule," the straight-faced ticket seller says from behind the counter. "None are allowed onboard."

We're at the base of this ski resort, a short drive from the town's hub, where, for a price, a shuttle will whisk us up to the 2195 meter level (7200 feet) to scenic ridges. But heeling politely between us, and looking up with apologetic eyes, is Kalli, our tag-along pup. "There's another option," my husband says, when glancing at the map. "We can hoof it all the way on foot."

I sigh at Brent's idea, partly with frustration and partly trepidation. Can I manage the 18 km round-tripper to Healy Pass? I might be okay if it was a level playing field, but the elevation gain from this parking lot is 655 m (2150 ft).

"With all the hiking we've done this holiday, it'll be a breeze," he reassures me. It's true and my buffed-up quads are proof. From the Kootenays to Banff, we've paced everything from walk-in-the-parkers like the Bow Falls Trail to mountaineer challenges such as Cory Pass. And have truly been rewarded with visual overload in return. This Healy trek ends up being no different.

There's no way of disguising the length, but for the most part, this incline is gradual. Healy Creek weaves in and out of our view and while canopied by evergreens we bisect the occasional blueberry field, cross a few bridges and ogle at rugged peaks that pop into the backdrop. A primitive campground dots the 5.5 km mark, a fork to Simpson Pass is just before kilometer eight and flowery meadows sprawl over the sub-alpine. While Kalli goes ga-ga over the gopher holes that burrow through this scruffy groundcover, Brent prepares for bigger game.

"Three grizzlies have been tagged on this ridge," he says, while reaching for the bear spray, "it's unlikely we'll see any." In spite of all the previous warnings we've had on this trip, my wrist bells go into full action. I'm soon noisier than old Saint Nick.

But we safely traverse the open meadow, elevate to Healy Pass and pan the expansive landscape. To the northeast, living up to its name, is the Massive Range, southeast is beacon-like Mt Assiniboine and northwest are the shimmering jewels of Scarab and Egypt Lakes. We sit and try to take it all in before making the descent.

"Going down will be easier," Brent assures me, "We'll even have energy for another hike tomorrow." Kalli wags her tail in agreement. Little does she know, her legs will be getting a rest!

We make arrangements the next morning for her to stay and play at Veronica's, a doggy daycare that's a short drive from our Tunnel Mountain campsite. And while she's romping with other canines, we're tromping Sunshine's alpine.

After taking the five kilometer bus drive from the lower parking lot, we gain 500 meters elevation and save an hour and a half tread-time on our hiking boots.

Over twelve kilometers of gravel pathway score these upper meadows. Placards along the first section reveal information about the vegetation, flora and geography. We're welcomed to the Continental Divide, a Rocky Mountain landmark that separates the water flow from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And we discover why so many skiers flock to this area-ten meters of powder cloaks this terrain each year. But the growing season is nothing to write home about. Although the wildflower meadows rage with color in summer, it only lasts about forty-five days.

Our manicured path rises and falls as it slices through the rugged groundcover. And while meandering over this high country we're privy to a postcard slide show. A massive granite wall called The Monarch, the craggy summit of Mount Howard Douglas and the great Mt Assiniboine, snow cloaked and poised like a faultless arrow-head. Some of these mountain masses harbor receded snow drifts, others wear striated age-lines and a number are home to tranquil lakes.

At the base of Quartz Hill (5km/3miles into the trek), we enjoy a snack and serenity. "We could keep going," Brent says, after checking his watch. "Another hour or so and we'll be at Citadel Pass where the vistas are spectacular. What do you think?" But we both know the answer. We have to pick up our pooch by 4:30 and time is running out. "Veronica also offers overnight care." I pipe up. "Maybe next time we're hiking Sunshine, Kalli would like to have a sleep-over."

We hope you've enjoyed the past five monthly articles and tagging along with us on this holiday. By the end of this trip we hiked a hundred and fifty kilometers and did a total of 40,000 feet in up and down elevation.

And if we ever have a future opportunity, we'll be back to do it all over again!


Useful resources: Banff Lake Louise Tourism Travel Alberta Parks Canada

PHOTOS by Brent Cassie

1 Walk-in-the-park trail of Bow Falls
2 Healy Creek weaves in and out of our view
3 Rugged peaks pop into the backdrop
4 Brent prepares for bigger game
5 We traverse the open meadow to elevate to Healy Pass
6 Posing at Healy Pass
7 Yippee, Veronica's Doggy Daycare
8 Gravel pathway score the upper meadows
9 Massive granite walls and craggy summit views
10 At the base of Quartz Hill for a snack and serenity
11 Kalli helps choose the next trail

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