Monday, January 14, 2013

A Christmas Road Trip to Banff - Part III

Hey there! You've just entered the third and hopefully final part of a recap of our pre-Christmas trip from Vancouver to Banff, Dec 21-24. If you didn't read the first two parts, then you should only continue reading if you're one of those people who likes to pick up a new book and flip straight to the last chapter. If that's not you, then read Parts One and Two before continuing. If that is you... weird.

When we last left our heroes, Bailey and Dave were just falling asleep to the soothing sounds of the Ghostbusters movie, cozy in their bed in the King Edward Hotel in Banff on the night of Saturday, December 22...

We turned off the movie (still un-finished) around 10:30, hoping to get a good night's sleep before our early rise to climb Mt. Rundle the following morning.

Around midnight, some bros came home from (I assume) the bar, wasted and inconsiderate as could be, arriving in the hallway outside of our hotel room with flourish. Turns out we were so fortunate as to have reserved a room on the same end of a small hallway as a whole group of 20-somethings whose three rooms literally surrounded us on all sides. For the next three G.D. hours I listened to them going in and out of different rooms, slamming the doors, swearing at each other through the hallway, loudly calling out to one another "WHO HAS THE LIGHTER? DO YOU GUYS HAVE THE LIGHTER?" These guys were really acting like this was their first time staying at a hotel without their parents, although they sounded like they were in their mid-20s.

I was growing increasingly livid - as Dave slumbered seemingly quite peacefully beside me - but couldn't bring myself to get up to yell at them. Something about their shitty voices made me think that if I went out and yelled at them their behavior would only get worse. But the cherry on the proverbial cake was when some dumb broad started knocking on our door at 3AM and attempted to open it. That was the straw that broke Bailey's pissed off back, and I unabashedly hollered, "WRONG FUCKING ROOM!" at our door. Of note is that this is the only reason Dave woke up at all. The darling. I finally called the after hours service desk at this point and complained. The ass-clowns in our hallway chose this time to shut up. Finally with some peace and quiet, I was on the verge of falling asleep at last, when our telephone rang. It was the after hours service guy calling me back to let me know that he'd gone into our hallway to check it out but hadn't heard anything. Thanks, man. Getting this return phone call at 3:30AM when things had FINALLY settled down is exactly what I was hoping for. Exactly.

Needless to say, when the alarm went off at 7AM, Dave turned it off and we did not get up. No Mt. Rundle after all.

We woke up again around 10 and I ran down to Evelyn's to get us some bagels and coffees while Dave packed the car up with our snowshoes. If we weren't going to climb Mt. Rundle, we were at least going to get in some aggressive hiking - something to get our blood pumping after the stunning-but-leisurely snowshoe walk through the Cave & Basin Marsh Trail the day before. We decided to hike Sulfur Mountain, which would be a nice strenuous hike with supposedly great views of the Bow Valley.

The trailhead for the Sulphur Mountain Trail was right beside Banff Upper Hot Springs, but we did not stop to see those this time. They're probably awesome. The view from the parking lot:

trailhead sulphur mountain trail
.  view of cascade mountain from the banff upper hot springs parking lot .
It was a 5.5km hike (about 3.4 miles) to the summit, with 28 switchbacks winding us up to an elevation of 7,486 ft, for a total elevation gain of 2,300 ft.

Along the way, the trail kept swinging back and forth beneath a gondola that also runs up to the summit:

sulphur mountain gondola

sulphur mountain gondola

We exchanged several waves with gondola-riders. The lazy bastards.

The views along the path were really astounding, especially when the blue skies came through:

sulphur mountain trail

sulphur mountain trail

sulphur mountain trail

sulphur mountain trail

fairmont banff springs hotel from sulphur mountain trail
.  view of fairmont banff springs hotel from sulphur mountain trail . 
sulphur mountain trail

sulphur mountain trail

It was a perfect hike - challenging but not grueling. Exercise, definitely... but totally enjoyable! I was really hoping we'd be able to ride the gondola back down, slightly out of fatigue and slightly for the "riding a gondola down a big mountain" giddiness factor. At the summit there was much more of happenin' scene than I'd anticipated. I figured there'd be a small shack of a building for the gondola, but there was a pretty big building that had a restaurant, cafe, gift shop, plus the gondola loading/unloading area. It was bustling with all the people who'd been waving at us as we hiked the mountain from below them.

summit of sulphur mountain
.  at the summit .
sulphur mountain summit view

The coooooolest part of the summit was this long, doozy of a boardwalk system that followed a short ridge from the gondola/restaurant area to Sanson Peak, where there was an old weather observatory station that we could peer into.

sulphur mountain boardwalk
.  boardwalk running from gondola up to sanson peak, in the distance .
There were multiple observation decks along the boardwalk where I was able to put my camera's panoramic function to good use:

sulphur mountain summit view
.  click for larger versions  .
sulphur mountain summit view

sulphur mountain summit view
sulphur mountain summit view
.  looking back at gondola/restaurant from sanson peak .

sulphur mountain summit view

Dave treated us to grilled cheeses and hot chocolates at the summit restaurant, and we ate our lunch with more wonderful mountain views from the windows of the building. As it turns out, the good "folks of the mountain" offer free gondola rides down the mountain for anyone who hikes up during the winter. Bingo!

We enjoyed our leisurely ride down, snapping a few pictures and even spotting our car in the Upper Hot Springs parking lot as we neared the bottom of the mountain. Which was thrilling.

view from sulphur mountain gondola

view from sulphur mountain gondola

For dinner in town that night we found a real gem... The Old Spaghetti Factory. It's totally just a chain restaurant but it was probably the most affordable meal that we've eaten at a restaurant since moving to Canada. It was packed with families and kids of all ages - obviously where all the low-key tourist families flood to in Banff. All of the entrees were not only super cheap - they all came with a side salad or soup, warm bread, coffee/tea, and spumoni ice cream.

The ice cream was good and all but that didn't mean we couldn't shoot over to Welch's Chocolate Shop again for a nightcap of sweet, sweet diabetes goodies. I got another one of their homemade chocolate bars - this one was a swirled mix of mint and milk chocolate. David got what seemed to be a homemade version of a Crunchie, which is a chocolate-covered, honeycomb-esque, toffee candy bar that is readily available here in Canada. We walked around town a bit more buying a few souvenirs and Christmas presents, then took our treats back to the hotel and enjoyed them while we finally finished watching Ghostbusters from the warm comfort of our bed.

We woke up early-ish on Monday - which was Christmas Eve - because we wanted to make sure we got onto the road much earlier than we had on Friday. We had no idea what kind of driving we'd be able to expect along the way and preferred to not be driving in the dark if the weather was bad along that one horrendous stretch of Rt 5 (please read that tale here... although you really should have read that already, since you're now eyebrow-deep in Part 3).

I went to Evelyn's one last time to pick up another morning's worth of bagels and coffees while Dave packed up our car for the drive home. Sad to leave the winter wonderland but pleased to be facing what appeared to be fine weather for our trip, we made our way out of town and back onto Rt 1 in the early morning darkness. The 500+ mile drive home took about 10 hours - a solid 2 hours less than the drive to Banff had taken us, because the weather never turned ugly.

route 1 banff
.  the only picture i took from the drive home  .
That night we wrapped up a ton of Christmas presents that we'd gotten ourselves and I arranged them beneath our tree...

christmas tree

FYI - Dave spent the entire next day on Christmas preparing me gobs of good food - from eggs and bacon in the morning to a roast chicken/veggies/stuffing/gravy dinner to real stove-top hot chocolate made with light cream for dessert. Mmmm.

Overall, a fantastic way to spend the holiday. Banff was breathtaking and I'm so glad that we went there. I hope that this long, drawn-out tale about our trip has inspired at least one person to put Banff, Alberta on their list of places to check out!! 

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