Brian Oh: {food, travel, photo}

Canada (i): Of Pressure & Time

All of my trips in the past year have mostly been to large cities. I've been looking for an opportunity to do the whole commune with nature thing for a while. A few weeks ago it looked like work would be slowing down for a bit and my boss was going on vacation, so I booked a flight to Calgary and set out a few days later. Before I get to the main point, I should comment that Calgary is the most obnoxious immigration checkpoint I've ever encountered. The officer grilled me on what I was doing in Canada and regarded me suspiciously when I informed him I was traveling alone. He took my phone and swiped away without showing me what he was looking at, ostensibly looking for evidence that I've been researching things to do in Canada. Unsatisfied, he then instructed me to retrieve my checked bag and show him my hiking shoes. I complied, but I've never been so dumbfounded at how ridiculous airport security can be. In Canada of all places! 

When that ordeal was over, I went over to Hertz and picked up my ride for the weekend (a Jeep Compass). Loaded it up, dialed in the first episode of This American Life-I loaded the 20 most recent episodes (481-500)-and set off west toward Banff. It's a straight forward, 1-hour drive to Banff. I arrived in the early evening at around 5pm. I stocked up on supplies at the town's Safeway, found a cheap hostel (I hadn't made any reservations for the weekend before hand-another red flag for immigration it seemed), and then stopped in a local tavern for dinner. While at the bar, Ryan, the bartender, recommended I hike the nearby Tunnel Mountain trail and catch the sunset over the town of Banff. It was a great recommendation. An easy 3 mile hike up a local peak for a spectacular view of the valley. I headed back to the Bear Street Tavern for a beer afterward and discussed other activities with Ryan for my weekend. I also met a guy that had just finished biking from Jasper to Banff that morning with his father (who had fallen and broken two ribs the night before).

The next morning I headed north on the Trans-Canada Highway to Lake Louise. It's one of Banff's most famous attractions and it's easy to see why. Walking up from the parking lot, Lake Louise appears like a flash. An electric blue pool shrouded by clouds and dramatic peaks. The shockingly bright and mirror like surface of Lake Louise is really hard to describe. It's the cold, android blue of Daniel Craig's eyes in Casino Royale... er... It's the vibrant turquoise of a freshly cleaned and unspoiled toilet first thing in the morning... um... It's the artificial, Kool-Aid teal of the freezer packs your mom used to put in your lunch...

...  OK, maybe none of those are artful analogies, but you get the point. The vibrant, perfectly still surface of glacial water kind of made me want to walk out onto it and let myself slowly sink at its center until I was encased in it like a giant marble.

There was a slight drizzle, but I zipped up my North Face and set off on the Plain of Six Glaciers trail. It's a 7-8 mile hike that leads around the lake and straight up to the glaciers that feed it. Walking along the valley carved over millions and millions of years by giant walls of ice, it's hard not to feel the enormity of time. Like looking out over the ocean. Or up into a dark, star filled sky. 

It rained for the first few hours of the hike. By the time I got near the end, I was soaked and cold. Thankfully, there's a teahouse near the top. I spent an hour there enjoying one of the most welcome cups of coffee I've ever had. I waited out the rain and from there, there's another mile along a rocky, unmaintained path that takes you right up to the glaciers. It's not terrain I've ever encountered before. The valley is barren and desolate from glacial erosion. A stark, gray wasteland echoed by the oppressive clouds overhead.

Once I'd taken it in, I head back down the trail to Lake Louise. The rain hadn't started again, thankfully, until I got back to my car. For the rest of the evening it rained fairly heavily. So, I simply drove around Banff for a while. Saw a huge waterfall (Takkakaw Falls). Even overcast and drab, Banff is a sight to see. Nevertheless, I had a solid day of sunshine the next day as I headed further north to beat the rain and it's even more magnificent in the sun.