Hiking, Eating, Drinking and Elking in Banff

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Whenever I get ready go on a trip I always have a moment when I think,  “What the hell I am doing?  Why am I leaving my home, my dog, my very comfortable bed and my easy life to do this?  Am I crazy?”  Yes, I always reach this point, and I’m always tempted to say the hell with it all and stay home…but I don’t.  I always go.  But then, I’ve always had this thought when I’ve tried something new-off to college, new job, etc.  I always have a moment of trepidation, a small failure of courage…fear of doing something new-anxiety…but I always …go.

On this last trip the thoughts came to me at 2:30 in the morning on the day I was to fly out to Calgary.  2:30?  Damn straight!  That’s the time I had to get up to be ready for my ride to the Cleveland Airport at 3:30.  Damn terrorists…used to be able to get to the airport…anyway…back to my story.

My friends took me to the airport in pouring rain, the flights were fine, I landed in Calgary, met my hiking friend and went to get the rental car. Hmmmm.   I had arranged a great deal on the car, had called to make sure they took debit cards and was all set…except when we got there, the very nice young woman at the counter told me that Dollar Rental Cars doesn’t take debit cards in Calgary.  How the hell is that a thing???  Seems they have the chip in Canada and …anyway…  We could have used my friend’s credit card but she didn’t bring her driver’s license.  Don’t ask me why.  Ended up it cost us both an extra $100.  I’m still dealing with the rental place, but…nothing will happen.  Ahh well…we got a very nice car from National because they took pity on us and started out across the high plains of the Canadian Shield to Banff National Park.

Flat, flat, flat, cows, flat..grasslands…..jeeeeezus!  Mountains!  Real Mountains!  The Rockies rise straight up out of the Plains…it’s all flat and grasslandy then…mountains!  We “ooooed” and “aaaahed” and missed the turn off to Banff three times.  Lots of trees up there.

We eventually found Banff and did some grocery shopping-surrounded by snow capped mountains and fir trees…miles and miles of fir trees.  Up the Trans Canada Highway we went to Castle Junction and into our hostel-the HI-Castle Mountain Hostel.

It is half way between Banff and Lake Louise, just at a little crossroads-cabins and a small gas station/store across the road.  It’s nestled back a small gravel road from the highway, all quiet with Castle Mountain standing sentinel high above it.  All you heard was birds, the wind in the trees…peaceful, quiet…OMG!!!  What is…???  Seems the train tracks are about 100 yards from the hostel.  Trains go by about 6000 times a day-and night.  You get used to it.  Hey!  for $20 a night…  Most of the time it is quiet there.

There are fourteen beds in each dorm(one male and one female)and a wonderful common room with windows on three sides, a wood stove, cushioned benches…down from a great kitchen.  Took our shoes off, claimed our bunks, marked our food and put it away and headed out to climb Castle Mountain.

The next morning we took the Bow Parkway down the twenty miles to Banff.  Oh yeah, saw animals!  We saw a bear!  Just a black bear, but it was the first one I’ve seen since I was ten!  We saw a herd of mountain goats too.  Never saw another animal on the Bow Parkway-got to be a joke.

Banff is busy!  Very upscale, very crowded, very noisy.  We were so happy we were out in the sticks.

We hiked every day, although I didn’t climb the high passes.  Highest I went was a 1000 foot climb and that was enough!  I really don’t enjoy walking and am so very glad my hiking friend has a new boyfriend to hike with so I don’t have to go with her when I go to England!  I would much rather sail or take train journeys!(or meet my friends for lunch)  But I did the low level hikes then sat and read while I waited for her.  I read a book and half another by a friend of mine.  Good books.  One day…  😉

By the way, I realized yesterday that one of the things I most enjoyed about the hostel was the lack of TV/internet.  In the evenings after supper we would read..so yesterday I turned off my phone, sat on my front porch in the sunlight and read for three hours…and it was nice.

It’s gorgeous in Banff National Park!  I couldn’t take a bad picture!  I loved the Consolation Lakes the best because very few people hike out there and it isn’t a high climb.  It’s just out of the way…and over a shitload of rocks.  I had such a sense of peace there.  I’ll get the picture I took there developed.  Oh, Moraine Lake, Lake Louise, Bow Lake and Peyto Lake are glorious-but we were surrounded by jabbering tourists at all of them.  Give me a less dramatic but peaceful place!  My friend went to the Lake Agnes Tea House and did the Plain of Six Glaciers hike with a group of five people from the hostel. I rested at the hostel.  I include that in my vacations now-take a day for myself and not hike, and I feel better for doing that.banff

They had the best time-the six of them!  Michael, Michelle, Judy, Erin and Aaron and my bud Pam.  The pictures were wonderful.  No, I wasn’t jealous!  I don’t like hiking up that high!

The hikes were grand, the scenery was magnificent, but none of it would have meant as much as it did if it weren’t for the people I met.  That’s what is so wonderful about staying in hostels-the people.  I wasn’t sure about this place, because I’ve only stayed in hostels in the wilds of Scotland, but after the first day it all kicked off.  Judy, Michael, Michelle, all the young German hikers(so many)then Lena at the end just made the trip so very special.  I can see mountains any day, it’s the people who stick with me.  We stayed at the hostel for two weeks, and each few days brought a new group of people to talk to, to laugh with, to share stories with…to enjoy their company.

There were nights around the stove, nights out on the road looking at stars(and  bear), nights at the picnic table drinking Canadian beer and listening to indefatigable young German lads planning to backpack over mountains.  Finding out that three young German women were spending a month in the Rockies before going back to train to be teachers.  Sharing some hints from my thirty-seven years in the classroom.  “Never show fear.”  “Never tell them it’s your first year.”  “You are the adult.”  Finding out that they are from Passau!  I’ve been to Passau!

Judy, who hitch hiked across Europe in 1955 and who has been around the world nine times.  Lady’s got guts!  She’s inspired me to stay in a guest house in Dublin this September!  Alone!  I had planned to travel with a friend, who has had to back out…but with Judy as my inspiration I’ve booked a cottage on the sea, then the guest house.  Quiet woman who, in her 70’s, still hikes.  She has stories to tell.

Michael, who smiles with his heart, who brightens up a room just by being there, and who has hidden depths.   I will meet Michael again.  Come to Ireland Michael!

Michelle, who surprises…who surprises.  And who still surprises.

Beth Ann who goes off backpacking alone-depending on a few days without a shower to create an “aroma” that will keep the bears away.  Last I heard she was headed for Alaska.

My god!  Germans!  They come over in small groups, buy a car, drive around Canada for months, sell the car and either get their visa to work in Canada or go back to become teachers.  Quiet, fast asleep by 11:00, up and out by 8:00…climbing mountains, walking miles, smiling, young…all the Germans!

And finally Lena.  Lena, who is not home yet, and who plans to surprise her mother by getting home a few days early.  We saw her walking down the road to the hostel, and we both remarked at her guts-hitch hiking alone…then she walked into our hostel.  Guts!  Hitch hiking alone across Banff…been in Canada since January, slept on beaches, bussed across the Plains, camped alone.  We gave her tea bags, we helped her set up in her campground, and loved listening to her tell her tales.  She found a campsite by a stream and didn’t want to leave.

Yes, I’ll remember the mountains and the lakes and the bears and Eric the Elk, but mostly I’ll remember the people, and be glad I stayed in the hostel in the woods.

About C. A. Metzger

I write travel books and am working on a detective novel set in Cleveland in the 1930's.
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2 Responses to Hiking, Eating, Drinking and Elking in Banff

  1. lgflannigan says:

    Loved reading about your adventure and all the people you met. Wonderful.

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