Sunday, January 11, 2009

Banff and Calgary - Day 3


I woke up just after 10am to an upset stomach, which I evacuated in the washroom. I didn't quite remember what time we were supposed to meet, so I just assumed it was 10:30. As I was going back to lie down for a few more minutes after brushing my teeth as part of my wakeup routine, there was a knock on the door. As I opened the door, I was greeted by the beaming faces of Kim, Cameron (who everyone called Smitty), and Darryl, all dressed and ready to go. I was shocked! How was it possible that they got up on time? I got dressed quickly and put together a day pack, and was out the door by 10:30. They seemed just as surprised as I was that we were all here. Well, that is everyone except Mark, the other Kiwi, who apparently just pulled his sheets over his head and said "Oh, f*** Lake Louise..." and then refused to come out from under from his sheets when they tried to wake him.

After walking to town and asking around at three car rental places, we found a car from Budget for $120. This was much more than we expected, but we decided it was worth it. When the girl at the counter asked us which one of us is driving, Darryl amusingly said "Oh, we're from New Zealand," with a grin on his face, to which the girl glared back and and replied in a disgusted voice "What's that supposed to mean?" It turns out that she was from New Zealand as well, and somehow they didn't pick up on her accent. In fact, it feels like half of the people working in Banff are either Aussies or Kiwis. These kinds of amusingly dry, awkward situations seem to happen quite a lot around people from New Zealand!

With that, we started our drive toward Lake Louise. The scenery along the Trans-Canada Highway was beautiful. The highway followed the bottom of a lush jade green valley, covered under a dusting of snow. Beside the highway ran a perfectly clear aquamarine brook glistening in the sunlight flowing over smooth eroded rocks. The snow and crystal clear ice covering parts of the brook squeezed the water in interesting ways, and imbued the stream with a crisp and tranquil quality. Framing all of this, on both sides, where the tall, dramatic snow covered peaks of the Canadian Rockies rising up to form steep rocky cliff faces as if they were there to carefully contain all of the beauty and prevent it from spilling out. I also noted the carefully constructed and fenced overhead wildlife passes filled with grasses and trees to help the animals of the forest cross the highway safely. If I were an animal, this is where I would choose to live.

After a while, we turned onto a smaller road, winding around hills and brining us closer to the mountains. At the end of the road, we reached a parking lot beside Chateau Lake Louise. Although much more modern and less ornate than the Banff Springs Hotel, it was still very imposing. It stood alone at the end of Lake Louise in the middle of a forest like a warrior refusing to give up its ground long after its comrades had retreated. We walked around, took some photos, and had two guys from Qu├ębec take a photo of us together. I also observed some distinctive birds around. They looked very pudgy and were not afraid of people, and willingly landed in the palms of hotel guests lounging around and feeding the birds.

The view across the lake was very inspiring. The mountains around the lake formed a V-shaped valley on the other side, with glaciers high above a cliff, intermittently hidden by low lying clouds drifting across the peaks. The pine trees growing on the valley climbing up the hills formed dense areas of seemingly impenetrable forest on the shallower slopes, while other areas too rocky for any plant life was left barren, filled with snow and rocks. The lake itself was a pristine, glistening sliver of white, as the lake had frozen over and had accumulated a layer of snow.

Although there were "Danger! Thin Ice" signs all around, we decided to venture on to the ice to slide around for a while as we saw people working on the ice, spraying water on the areas close to shore to prepare a skating rink for hotel guests. Darryl commented that this must be one of the worst jobs you can get, as you have to stay out in the cold all day, and when others ask what you do, your response would be "Uhh... I get to water the lake." At first, we were very cautious on the ice, but eventually realize that the ice was pretty thick, and saw others walking and skating farther away from shore. From here, we began a long walk across the lake toward the other side, taking us right up the middle of the lake.

We walked for a long time. I must have not been used to seeing empty expanses this size as I felt like we were walking toward the other side but we weren't getting any closer. On the way, I noticed some very interesting patterns in the snow covering the frozen lake. It turns out that as the ice shifts, cracks form across the surface. Water seeps through these cracks, melting the snow cover on the ice before re-freezing. This leaves large ribbons across the lake, and you can tell how recently the crack was formed by the width and colour of the ribbon. Around the crack, there are ice crystals of various shapes and sizes depending on the weather conditions during which the crack formed. Although I know it was probably safe, it was still quite unsettling to be walking over cracks in the ice that ooze water under the pressure of your weight. As we got close to the other side of the lake, I noticed the ice was getting thinner due to the water from the stream emanating from the melting glaciers. We walked to shore and followed a trail along the edge of the lake to the shore opposite to Chateau Lake Louise. As we walked, we went off the trail once in a while to explore the surroundings, climbing up steep snowy hills to explore icicles and other sights.

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