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By Jane Cassie
For Travel Writers' Tales

Banff National Park - Lake Louise Area
The majestic Rockies lovingly embrace Lake Louise. Steeped with height and beauty, they tower above the quaint village, cocoon our cozy campground and set the scenic stage for our hikes in Banff National Park. After a short 25 kms (16miles) drive from our last stop at Yoho National, we've been able to de-hitch our home, lace up our boots and hit the trail.

"Check the sign, Babe," Brent says, at the Eiffel Lake trailhead. Plastered next to bold text is a mug shot of a mean-looking grizzly. My bear bells suddenly take on a staccato beat. I glance at the holster can of bear spray attached to my husband's belt. I just hope he can use it like a six-shooter if the need arises.

"It says, by law, we have to hike in groups of four or more beyond this point." I read aloud. "Do you think the four extra paws we've brought along will suffice?" Although Kalli, our year-old Schnauzer is a great hiking hound, she clearly doesn't meet these requirements. Fortunately, Karen and Dave, a couple from Invermere do. And after leaving the aqua-green Moraine Lake behind, we chat while ascending together up ten switchbacks and 320m (1,000 feet).

There's a fork at the switchback's summit, and while our new-found hiking buddies head to Sentinel Pass, we tag along with others going to Eiffel Lake. Within minutes we're out of the trees, traversing a sunny slope that's overlooking the Valley of Ten Peaks. Tiny Moraine Lake is now far below and rising from its silty shores are 10,000 foot-high mounds that loom over the predominant Wenkchemna Glacier. Some have steep crevices doused with avalanched snowfields. Many are striated and etched after eons of weathering. All are stunning.

Even our leashed trail-blazer is impressed. With her nose to the ground stone, our pup leads the way -across open meadows fringed with golden larch, over sketchy sections of rubble and rock. Plowing through snowdrifts, sniffing at wildflowers, alert to nearby critters; ground squirrels in the woodlands, mellow marmots in the sub-alpine and rock rabbits who screech from their stony alpine homes.

We stop for lunch on a rocky platform that offers a pretty panorama. The bedrock slope where we dine covers the entire hillside, and encircles the below shores of Eiffel Lake. Setting the backdrop and erupting from the verdant valley are those ten peaks -powder dusted to perfection and ever so pristine.

The trail continues beyond for heartier hikers -another four kilometers of trekking into the high alpine and they'll meet the Continental Divide. We, on the other hand, decide to retrace our steps. And while sauntering back over the view-boasting slope our group number diminishes. Some have fallen back, others have moved ahead. By the time we reach the switchback junction there's just the three of us (and that's counting our canine). I think about the pack rule and wonder if our pup will dub as a bear protector.

"Do you want to join our group," the fit-looking German asks. "We're heading up to Sentinel Pass." Although my feet have endured more natural step classes this past week than I thought possible, it is our last day at Lake Louise. And it's only three kms to this popular spot. How hard can it be?

Sunlight glints off the golden stands that border our Larch Valley trail and the ten mammoth peaks that we had recently zoomed in on now beautify the backdrop. We gradually ascend to a lake-dotted meadow and soaring to the heavens, just beyond, is an uphill climb that will truly test my previous words. Razor Z-sharp switchbacks etch the steep pitch and from this lower viewpoint we can make out an ant-size human chain.

Although dubious of my footing and balance, I have my trusty poles and pup to propel me along. Breath, then step. Don't look down. While repeating this mind-calming mantra and tethered to Kalli I eventually make the grade to this highest hiking pass in the Rockies.

From the wind-blown 12,000 foot apex, I'm breathless. And whether it's from the thin air or wowing vista, there are two things I can be sure of. Thanks to the steady stream of hikers on this trail, my husband's six-shooter skills won't be necessary. And because of the four extra paws we've brought along, I'm assured of getting help back to sea level.

To keep following us on this hiking holiday, check out our final article next month: Sunshine With and Without the Canine

Useful resources:
Banff Lake Louise Tourism
Travel Alberta
Parks Canada


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Images by Brent Cassie
1. Our de-hitched home takes a break at Lake Louise Campground
2. mug shot of a mean-looking grizzly
3. Karen and Dave, a couple from Invermere, become our hiking buddies
4. Moraine Lake is embraced by towering peaks
5. 10,000 foot-high mounds loom above
6. pretty panorama of Eiffel Lake
7. Golden stands that border our Larch Valley trail
8. Hikers traverse up razor Z-sharp switchbacks leading to Sentinel Pass
9. Posing on the highest hiking pass in the Rockies
10. Kalli poses too!


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