We left from Kicking Horse for Lake Louise. Fully expecting this to be a busier, more touristy location, we were pleasantly surprised by the charm of the small town. We stopped by the Lake when we arrived for some fun. It was winter so we didn't get to see much in way of the turquoise waters, but there was a lot of winter activity happening.
The Fairmont owns the land right beside the lake, and they organize a lot of winter fun. We arrived right after there had been an ice carving festival, and the shiny sculptures lined a path as people strolled by. There was a mini ice wall built on top of the frozen lake, as well as a skating rink bustling with activity.
After checking out the lake, we went to vet the ski resort and try to find a place to camp for the night. It's a much smaller mountain than I had expected, and the parking lots were spread out but we didn't find a designated overnight lot, or a place that would be far from the crowds and the noisy snowcats. What we did find was an amazing deal for a night's accommodation at The Great Divide Lodge. This lodge is owned by the same people who own the ski resort, and so they're able to offer an amazing packaged deal where you can get a lift pass PLUS one night's stay... for only $7 more per person (What?!?). Not only do you get your own private room, but they have shuttles to take you to and from the resort, as well as a sauna -- perfect for relaxing after a day on the hill. It would have been ridiculous to NOT take advantage of this deal. If anyone is going to be going to Lake Louise, I highly recommend making use of this package.
As with most ski resorts in Canada, pretty much every employee we interacted with was Australian. At the GDL, they were even more laid back and relaxed than at the busier lodges, and they even allowed us to use the lodge's laundry machines since they were having a slow day. They also let us use their sauna and change rooms to freshen up after we came back from snowboarding, even though we had already checked out that morning. Super nice and accommodating people, we would definitely go back there!
As we were leaving Lake Louise, the shuttle driver told us about an ice cave somewhere in the Columbia Icefields. Mike was already wanting to check out the glaciers, so we aimed Trucko north to spend some rest days between snowboarding and drove into the darkness.
We arrived at Bow Lake in the middle of the night, so we didn't get to check out our location until the next morning. All we knew was that it had trails nearby, and a lake, and a toilet! Done deal! Two other cars pulled up and spent the night there as well, and early in the morning other cars arrived as we were just emerging and getting breakfast ready.
We had quickly settled into a routine where I would prepare dinner at night, we would eat, and then we would pile into Trucko's bed for the night -- me first, because Mike is a gentleman, and my extremities were almost always numb even before dinner was fully cooked. Mike would put my boots in the cab, and then come to bed with his boots stashed in a nylon bag to prevent getting our living area dirty. Then in the morning, he would get up first, and perhaps start boiling water for tea, while I would try to get my freezing self dressed and ready for the day. Winter truck life is COLD, and luckily he deals with it much better so I can spend as much time as possible trying to stay warm. I'm a lucky girl!
As Mike was making breakfast, he noticed others showing up at the parking lot and taking off toward the lake - people with snowshoes and... was that ice climbing gear? It was! Seeing that Bow Lake was in fact a very popular place to be in the middle of winter, and noticing how sunny it was, we decided to spend the day here and hike along the trails. We could see frozen waterfalls in the distance that the ice climbers were headed for, as they walked across the frozen lake.
Now, I love mountains, and I love climbing, but ice climbing... that's something I don't think I'll ever have the guts to do. I don't even know if I am physically able to... I wouldn't trust my numb fingers to hold onto anything! We could only watch in awe.
As we were hiking around the lake, I almost stepped on this white little snowball that was hobbling around verrrrrryyyyyy sloooowwwwlllyyyyyyy.
The White Tailed Ptarmigan is a bird that sticks around for the winter, its coat changing from a summer brown to a bright winter white when the weather changes. It very rarely flies, and burrows in the snow for a nest. Comically, this bird also moves at a snail's pace -- much like you would expect if this was the official bird version of a sloth. This is a strategy to preserve energy during the cold months when food is difficult to come by. There was a pair of these who kept a cautious eye on us, but refused to exert themselves and fly away because we weren't overly threatening. Their little feet are even covered in wide feathers that help increase their footprint to provide natural snowshoes.
Fortunately, the weather at Bow Lake was unexpectedly warm. We were treated to a nice sunny day with another frozen lake -- warm enough that we removed our gloves and jackets as we were hiking, and afterwards we lounged in the sunshine while reading and even doing yoga. (Well, I did some yoga at least.)
We spent one more night at Bow Lake, and then headed towards the Columbia Icefields... finding more ice climbers along the way. It's fun to watch them! Here they were climbing in full view of the road, and the acoustics were so good we could even hear them talking to each other.