And another of the high passes - Over the hills and far away - CycleBlaze

June 24, 2016 to June 25, 2016

And another of the high passes

From Rampart Creek to Saskatchewan Crossing, up to Bow Summit, and down to Lake Louise, Banff and Canmore

The landscape widens and brightens as on the following morning you approach Saskatchewan River Crossing, the midway point of the Parkway:

Big rollers N of Saskatchewan Crossing
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After a 2nd breakfast at Saskatchewan Crossing, we had a long tough slog up to Bow Summit Pass (2067m), a steady 6% for 35 kms into a brisk headwind.  There were a few brief brushes with grotty weather--lowering skies spitting wind-driven rain--but it soon became clear that the weather gods had thrown all that onto our path just to check our readiness: each time we stopped and donned our rain gear, the weather lifted.  As on Sunwapta, the last ten kms or so were hard work, down to third, then second, and finally 1st gear.  Happily, the sun broke through as we reached the pass. I was relieved to hear Andrew declare he found it tough--he's very fit, and two decades younger than me!

Throughout the climb, the landscapes continued to command our  attention:

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Eventually, the descent begins, and then you remember that hills, unlike headwinds, do give back.  Just past the summit, I stopped for 15 minutes and chatted with the flag signaller on a road crew while I waited for the upward motor traffic to pass. He was cheerful, and curious about my ride, and I remarked on the beauty of the view.  He said, and I can understand this, that he never tired of it.  And, it was never the same view twice, such was the weather in the mountains.

Hills do give back, eventually. The descent from Bow Summit Pass.
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With the descent to the valley come lakes.  The one below comes complete with Num-ti-Jah Lodge, its A-grade chili a filling and warming lunch after the haul up to the pass.

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The 42-km run-in from Bow Pass to Lake Louise village is an easy two hours of riding, almost all of it on downgrades with sweeping vistas of peaks and forests in the afternoon sunshine. 

Not everything was beautiful and serene, however.  Congested traffic forced me to stop some 15 kms north of Lake Louise:  perhaps 20 southbound cars had queued up, waiting for a young black bear to cross the road from the right-hand side.  The bear was agitated, moving quickly this way and that, unable to cross because a northbound van seemed to block the way.  Andrew, who had been ahead of me, had been watching the scene for 15 or 20 minutes. He said that there were two bears, and that the driver of the van had opened the door, walked across the road with his young daughter, and had taken photos of her near the bears.  Then, he and his daughter returned to the safety of the van. One of the bears had disappeared into the bush, while the other remained on the roadside.  I was aghast -- what was the father thinking??  If one of the bears had been a mother-with-cub, one of the tourists could have been badly hurt, or worse.  Eventually, the remaining bear, still agitated, fled into the bush as well. 

Lake Louise village is a couple of kms south of the junction of the Icefields Parkway and the Trans-Canada Highway, #1.  It's a modest little place, set in the valley of the Bow River below the famous and beautiful Lake Louise and the less famous but more beautiful Moraine Lake, with their surrounding peaks and diminished glaciers.  The hostel in the village was full, and the campground showed a sign saying "Full", but the intended audience was motorists--we found ample space within the section of the large wooded campground set aside for bikers and hikers. It had been a few years since I camped in a National Park, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the fee for the two of us (just less than $30) was a much better deal than Ontario Provincial Parks offer--in an Ontario park, a cyclist can pay as much as $40.

Lake Louise was a marker on my tour, the southern terminus of the Parkway.  After four days of riding, two short and two more typical days, I was not yet into a rhythm.  The demands of the two high passes especially were telling me that I hadn't yet found the right balance between distance, time and effort, and my food intake.  Andrew and I found a simple but satisfying and large meal at a village restaurant that evening, and I made sure to jack up my calorie consumption.

Lake Louise to Canmore, pushed by a tailwind

The evening weather was fine, so I did not rig my tarp at our campsite.  Then, of course, it rained during the night, so our departure in the morning was delayed while the tents dried in the cooking shelter.  Andrew took advantage of the delay to ride up to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake; I chose to stay far from the madding crowd.

Mid-morning with my gear packed, I rode on towards Banff via  the Bow Valley Parkway, the old highway 1A, which parallels the TCH.  It's a quiet forested road with looming peaks to the east, used by cyclists and by motorists who enjoy a 60 km/h speed limit.  I enjoyed an easy ride at a moderate pace on a cool moist day, sharing the road with dozens of cyclists, both roadies and touring riders. Andrew caught up with me at a coffee break near Castle Rock, and we continued into Banff for lunch.  The  day brightened and the famous alpine skyline greeted us as we passed Vermilion Lakes on the northern outskirts of the village:

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We paused in Banff for a meal and shelter from a brief shower, before continuing east to Canmore.  There, we'd camp for the night and restock with food before continuing south towards Kananaskis Country and Highwood Pass.

A bikepath connects the two villages--due to be extended to Lake Louise, I understand--so that cyclists can avoid the TCH.  The weather gods provided the first serious tailwind of the trip, and we covered the 27 kms in about an hour, while the sun, squalls and clouds played tricks around the peaks to the south of the path:

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We camped in the northwest corner of Canmore at the Wapiti Campground, a sliver of land between the TCH and the Bow Valley Trail, and arterial road.  We enjoyed the campground's good showers, found a good value supper at a restaurant, and replenished our supplies at a supermarket which was open until 9 PM -- all this well before sunset :)   Despite the nearby traffic on the Trans-Canada, we slept well enough, until around 4:00 AM.  Then, we were wakened by a loud, ugly drunken argument among some campers within earshot--curses, racist epithets, and threats of violence.  It lasted for perhaps 10 or 15 minutes, and then one of the two main (male) antagonists walked away.  It was squalid stuff to hear, and jarringly at odds with the setting. (Or maybe that happens on a Canmore Saturday night?)  As we checked out at 8 o'clock, we told the owner what had happened, and where the racket seemed to be taking place.  He said he had heard nothing.

Today's ride: 180 km (112 miles)
Total: 407 km (253 miles)

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