Wow, what a hike! Non-stop hiking for over 5 hours!
The Sunshine Meadows, a world-renowned skiing destination during winter makes a 180 degree shift and becomes a lush green meadow, uncovering flamboyant alpine flowers stretching like a sea and three beautiful lakes during summer. During winter, gondolas take visitors up to the top of the mountain in a jiffy. During other times of the year, the gondolas enjoy their much-needed hibernation and a shuttle bus resumes the job of driving passengers up through the windy, narrow roads to the meadows.
The drive up to the meadows was a pretty boring one. Not that I expected a whole lot anyway. I was just glad I didn’t a heavy breakfast. My stomach didn’t go queasy during the drive.
Finally we reached the Sunshine Meadows trailhead and introduced ourselves to our knowledgeable tour guide and the tour group – a retired sweet couple from Netherlands. I love these kinds of guided hikes with a small tour group especially when they are free.
The hike started with a trail that goes uphill, through the trees and plants that have acclimatized themselves in the alpines where the blooming seasons are very short (just 2 months) and where the winters are icy cold, bitter and quite merciless.
Part of the reason why these meadows are so rich in vegetation is due to the volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama (that gave birth to the Crater Lake in Oregon, USA) over 6000 years ago! Apparently, the ashes from the explosion of this volcano took over a decade to settle and it formed the basis of the rich vegetation up in the Sunshine Meadows, which is over 800 miles from Mount Mazama.
On the way, we crossed the Continental Divide, which separates Alberta from British Columbia.
After walking further on the trail, we came upon a beautiful lake called the Rock of Isle. Unlike many other lakes in Banff and Jasper, this lake is not glacier-fed and hence not turquoise blue in color. It is actually formed by underground water. So, not as pretty as other lakes in Banff and Jasper, but it was still gorgeous. The glacier-covered mountains immaculately serve as its backdrop.
After passing the Rock of Isle, we heard squeaky sounds from a bush nearby and stopped to peek in. Two baby chicks, were calling out for their mommy. The mommy relentlessly picked food, stuffed it and flew over to its chicks to feed them.
Leaving the chicks undisturbed, we hiked further and reached the Grizzly Lake, which was probably named because of the grizzly bears that cross this lake to the other side and walk away into the mountains.
A little past the Grizzly Lake, we stopped at the Simpson Viewpoint to see the breathtaking valley stretching as far as the eye could possibly see. It would have been the perfect place to stop for lunch, but unfortunately the zillions of mosquitoes that inhabit this place, drove us away.
We continued walking until we reached the third lake, Lake Larix. It was gorgeous, with a deep green color. A log by the trail served as a good resting point to take out our salads and sandwiches from the bag.
With that, our guided tour ended and we started walking back to the trailhead. The return journey was painful because we were exhausted by then and the trail back was an uphill journey. On the way back, there was a short 1km detour trail to a popular and highly recommended viewpoint. “We’ve already hiked for over 3 hours, 1 km round-trip should be a cakewalk”, we thought to ourselves. Wrong! Boy, that was so wrong!
The trail was very steep and as we were walking up, I saw a viewpoint deck up above the mountain and I never believed a half a kilometer trail could actually take you to a viewpoint that is all the way up above, perched on a tall mountain. Well, it actually did! The trail was that steep. We hiked and hiked, gasping for breath so much that I couldn’t have a conversation with my husband. Well, no energy to even nod my head when my husband was talking.
“Will this viewpoint be worth the hike? I hope it is” was going on in my mind. And finally we made it to the top, the Standish viewpoint. A 360 degree view of the glacier covered mountain range all around and a view of the 3 lakes in the Sunshine Meadows. What do you think? Was it worth it? Here’s a picture! You tell me 🙂
The walk back to the Visitor Center was easier, but by then my feet and legs were aching like crazy. The day was amazing though. Over 5 hours of non-stop hiking. “We deserve a good dinner”, we told ourselves and went to Rocky Mountain Flatbread to grab dinner and end an amazing day in Banff!