Four Days in the Canadian Backcountry

The most exciting part of our two week Canadian vacation/puppymoon was definitely our 4-day backcountry trek. Wildfires nearby caused us to have to reroute, and there was a lot of confusion among hikers if we were allowed on the trail or not. We never saw a ranger the entire time. We also never saw a bear (thank God), but we learned all about hiking in their territory – complete with carrying bear spray, learning the different types of reactions bears can have, and how to tell the difference between them. I now have a whole repertoire of trail noises to make as we hike to warn them of our approach. It was a totally new experience!

Our trek started out hitchhiking. We left our car at the end, and had to hitchhike about a 30 minute drive via 2 highways to the start of the trail. It was a humbling experience. Every car that drove by felt like a targeted, personal rejection. After about 20 minutes, we got picked up by a nice woman driving into Calgary for a dentist appointment. It was a 3 hour drive one-way for her. As you can see in the photos, the smoke still hung heavy in the sky and burned our lungs once we got hiking.

We walked for another 20 minutes on our 2nd leg to the trailhead until we were picked up by two friendly but non-English-speaking French tourists.

Day 1

Sunshine Village to Egypt Lake

The trail started out at the Sunshine Village ski resort. I’m sure thousands of people have walked past it without ever knowing it was there. Quickly, a steep uphill gave way to a rolling trail through dense, dark pine forest.

View from our tent on Day 1 at the Egypt Lake site.

Day 2

Egypt Lake to Shadow Lake

We don’t have many pictures of Day 2 because it was miserable and rainy and hard. When we got to the site we planned to stay at, Pharaoh Lake, it was deserted, soggy, and depressing. So we made the call to trudge forth to the next site, knowing that all five spots there were booked but hoping one of those parties would see the forecast of all-day-rain and cancel. Apparently they did! We set up our tent and ended up having a wonderful night at Shadow Lake.

We met really great people along the way on this day. Including these Canadian guys, who we had met the night before. They invited us under their tarp for dinner, and we got to hear the story of how they met a mama Grizzly and her cubs on the trail (the same trail we were on, about 30 minutes behind them) that morning.

This night brought a thunderstorm like we’d never heard before in our lives. Being in a valley, the thunder echoed off the mountains in a never-ending roll. Pretty freaky but also pretty cool.

Day 3

Shadow Lake to Twin Lakes

Breakfast in the tent on the morning of Day 3 because it was so cold!

Morning of Day 3 the smoke finally cleared! We got our first clear view of the week.

And we found some friends to take our picture!

This day started out COLD but included some incredible views and surprises.

Gibbon Pass

Due to getting rerouted, we could have done a long day 3 and made it back to the car a day early. Or, we could take our time and draw it out for 2 shorter mileage days. We decided to see what the next campsite was like and then decide.

Lower Twin Lake

Upper Twin Lake

The campsite (above) at Twin Lakes was pure paradise. We made a hot lunch (such a treat!) and passed the afternoon wandering the area, watching for wildlife, and reading. A few day hikers came through, but we had the site all to ourselves. Which sounds great, but was actually a bit scary when it started getting dark. Eventually, two Canadian women and their dog came by to stay, and we felt comforted by their presence.

Hanging the bear bag with all of our food and toiletries. Bear hangs were provided at all the sites.

We also felt comforted by their fuel canister! Little did we know, our hot lunch was the last hot meal we’d be able to have. When we went to make dinner, we realized all our gas had gone. We had plenty of food… but one can really only eat so many Snickers bars for dinner. Sounds fun? It’s not. I think I ate 3 – based on the calories I figured I needed to replace that day. I haven’t eaten one since. So when we saw the women in the morning, they let us use their canister to heat up our soup for breakfast (our favorite!). And we traded them some Snickers and beef jerky! Everyone won.

Day 4

Twin Lakes to Vista Lake/Trail’s End

Cup o’ Soup for breakfast. Nothing better for cold hikers.

Getting on our way in the morning of Day 4. This is steps away from our campsite.

Feeling small and grateful.

Arnica Lake was only about 45 minutes into our day’s hike, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check out the shoreline so we explored here for awhile.

But even once we put our packs back on, it was tough to leave.

The trail continued to wind through thick pine forest, and then descended steeply into the final valley to Vista Lake.

Water refill.

The most refreshing kind of face-washing experience.

The last stretch! We reached the parking lot about 30 minutes later.

End of the trail with Vista Lake behind us.

Because we opted for some shorter days to stretch our trip out to four days, we got wrapped up in time to hit Banff town for some burritos! Another French hiker finished a multi-day trek at the same time as us at the trail’s end, and we gave her a ride to the train station. It was great to celebrate our accomplishments together with a complete stranger! We were all euphoric and excited for real food in the near future.

Post-trek sustenance.

Knowing how little information there is about backcountry trek planning, if you’re thinking about hiking in Banff, leave us a comment with any questions! Hiking these trails was a great experience. We went in mid-September and saw few people on the trail each day. Each site had a least one privy, bear hangs, and a food prep area a safe distance away from the tentsites. Most sites only had about 5-7 spots. There was ample water on the trail, and we purified with AquaMira drops, but some hikers opt not to purify here at all. Trail markers and signage were good for the most part. You do need to procure a backcountry permit and spots at the sites in advance.

Thank God for mountains and fresh air. These days were challenging but fulfilling and stretched us in new ways. We’ll definitely be coming back to visit Banff again!

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