Banff Gondola, Takakkaw Falls and Duffey Lake

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After visiting the Columbia Icefields, we travelled to the town of Banff and stayed there overnight.  The town of Banff was intended to be a tourist destination from its very inception.  The town is situated in a valley in the Banff National Park, enclosed by the beautiful and rugged Rocky mountains.  The city streets are lively with tourists and is lined with top class restaurants, bars and shops.

The town boasts of the Banff Sightseeing Gondola, located just five minutes from the Town of Banff, on the shoulder of Sulphur Mountain.  The gondola ride offers a marvellous view of the town of Banff as well as the mountains around.

On the morning of August 08, 2016, we boarded a four-seater, glass enclosed gondola at the base.  The glass bottom of the gondola provided us with a 360 degree panoramic view of six scenic mountain ranges around Banff.  Below us, as we were moving up was the walking trail leading to the summit and there were many hikers enjoying the same view.

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After about 10 minutes in the gondola, we reached Sulphur Mountain at an elevation of about 7,500 ft.  It felt like being on top of the world as we stood on the spacious main level observation deck.

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We got on to the Skywalk, a kilometer long walkway, created out of cedar wood platforms and steps, leading up to the Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station.  As we ascended to the top, it offered us with some incredible views into the valley.  There were information boards placed at all the viewing decks explaining what we were seeing in front.

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The Sundance Ranges was the most prominent of the mountains around the Sulphur Mountain, standing up majestically tall.  Sundance is a sacred ceremony for the Aboriginal people who lived and travelled through these mountains  for many centuries.  The ranges got its name from the many Sundance sites at the base of these mountains.

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On top of the summit was the Sanson’s Peak Meteorological Station.  In the early 1900’s, Norman Sanson climbed a trail up the mountain every week.  For nearly 30 years he recorded the weather data at the historic stone building that is still standing.

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From the summit we had a mesmerising view of the Moraine Lake, cupped high among the lofty mountains and the Bow River which originates from this lake, flowing through the Banff town.

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On our walk back, we were greeted by a flock of Big Horn Mountain Sheep.  They were grazing on the lichens that had grown on the piers of the wooden walkway.  There were many squirrels or marmots running all over the walkway as we descended.

After enjoying the scenic beauty the Sulphur Mountain offered, we returned to the base on the gondola for our onward journey to the Takakkaw Falls, the second highest falls in Canada.

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Takakkaw Falls, fed by the Daly Glacier, is a waterfall located in Yoho National Park, near Field, British Columbia.  Its highest point is 302 m from its base, but the water’s true ‘free-fall’ is only 260 m.  It is a major tourist attraction in the summer as the melting glacier keeps the volume of the falls up during the warm summer months.  In the fall, the water flow slows down and the raging falls narrows down to a ribbon of ice awaiting summer to set it free.

As we drove off the highway through many hairpin bends to the falls, we were greeted by the tremendous thunder of Takakkaw Falls.  The Yoho Valley access road to the falls is closed during winter due to high-frequency of avalanches.  The road is only open from June through October for the summer season.

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We left our car in the parking lot and made our way through a forest track, walking for about 10 minutes, we reached the base of the falls.  As we got closer to the falls, we were blasted by the deafening sound of the water pounding against the rocks.  The walk was enjoyable as it offered a clear view of the falls throughout and the light spray from the falls really refreshing.

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As we inched closer to the falls, we were drenched from head to toe.  The falls appeared to be in slow motion as the wind in the area literally carried the water away from the rocky face.  The falls being high, a large amount of water never reaches the base as it is carried away into a mist that creates many interesting shapes and swirls.

From the breathtaking falls, on our drive to Whistler, we entered the Lil’wat Territory.  Lil’wat is an aboriginal group of people and also one of the largest Indian reserves by population in Canada.  Líl̓wat artifacts dating back to 3,500 BC have been found in this area.  Lil’wat’s connection with the land has been both economic and spiritual, with a harmonious relationship with nature — a value that remains strong today. They harvest wild fruits, hunt deer and fish.  They have passed on their traditional arts, ceremonies and beliefs over the generation and teach their children St̓át̓imc language even today.

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We halted at Duffey Lake.  The lake is called by the Lil’wat as ‘Teq’, meaning ‘blocked’ or ‘stuck to be in the way’.  This name comes from the log jam at the Eastern end of the lake.

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The Western end of  the lake is  called Sd’akw and beyond that is the Cayoosh Mountain.

We Canadians are blessed with an abundance of natural wonders with enough lakes, mountains, waterfalls and rivers to keep us exploring for our lifetime.

Maligne Lake and Spirit Island

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The first place we visited on our tour of the Rocky Mountains in our August 2016 trip was Maligne (loosely translated in French as wicked) Lake  and Spirit Island.   This magnificent lake is located in Jasper National Park, Alberta.  The 46 km drive to the lake from the city of Jasper is on a  road built along the glacier valley running between the Maligne and Queen Elizabeth mountain ranges. Towering glaciated peaks and turquoise coloured glacier lakes dot the route on the banks of rushing Maligne River.  The drive offers plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife such as elk, moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer and bears.  The road ends at a Jasper National Park facility from where the boat cruises for Spirit Island begins.

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We boarded a cruise boat for a  90-minute boat cruise to Spirit Island.  This cruise  was, named the “Best Boat Tour in Canada” by Reader’s Digest.  The boat was Captained by a young lady and our tour guide, also a young lady, gave us a lot of information about the lake and the surrounding areas as we cruised to the Spirit Island.

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Maligne Lake, the second largest glacier-fed lake in the world and the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies. Ringed by snow and ice-capped mountains, the 22 km long lake stretches past serene Spirit Island up to the melt-water channels of Coronet Glacier.

The lake was carved out by glaciers and the lake is fed and drained by the Maligne River, which enters the lake on its South side and drains the lake to the North into the Medicine Lake. An open forest of pine and spruce around the lake is home to moose, caribou and many other species of wildlife. Hiking and cross-country skiing trails abound making this a popular destination throughout the summer.

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Maligne Lake was originally known as ‘Chaba Imne’ or Beaver Lake by the native tribes who lived near Jasper. In 1907 Mary Schaeffer  learned of the mysterious lake and located it.  She later wrote about her adventures, making the area a popular tourist attraction in years to come. She first traveled to the Canadian Rockies at the age of 18 with her friend Mary Vaux.  Here Mary met Charles Schaffer, a medical doctor who was pursuing his passion for botany. They married a year later and returned to the Rockies each summer until Charles’ death in 1903.  The best vantage point from where the lake can be observed with all its beauty has been aptly named as Schaffer’s Lookout after this courageous woman.

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The highest peak in the area is Mount Brazeau (11,386 feet), stands at the South-East of Maligne Lake. The East side of the valley is made of steeply dipping limestone beds which is part of the Queen Elizabeth Ranges, named in 1953 to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II as Canada’s sovereign.

Queen Elizabeth II became queen upon the death of her father King George VI on February 6, 1952.  Over the ensuing days, she received proclamations of allegiance from all of her realms – Canada being the first to do so, beating the United Kingdom by about two hours.  During the coronation year in 1953, Canada offered a grand gesture to mark the occasion by naming the mountain range after her.  The Queen has till date not set her foot in the area, but the mountain range stands testimony to Canada’s loyalty to the Commonwealth.

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After about 14 km (30 minutes) cruise on the clear turquoise green waters of Maligne Lake, we reached the Spirit Island.   One of the most popular pictures in the Canadian Rockies is the image of Spirit Island in the middle of Maligne Lake. There is no road or trail access the island. Tour boats or private, non-motorised craft are the only means of reaching Spirit Island.

According to some accounts of First Nations (Aboriginal Canadians) mythology, Spirit Island gets its name from two young lovers from feuding tribes who used to meet secretly on the island. However, when the young woman eventually confessed her affair to her father, one of the tribes’ chiefs, he banned her from ever returning to the island. Heartbroken, her lover continued to return to Spirit Island throughout his life, hoping to meet his lover. She never returned and he eventually died on the island, where his spirit still resides.  The aboriginals still hold the island sacred and tourists are not allowed to step on it.  The aboriginals offer prayers and conduct rituals on the island.

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The boat cruised at a pretty good speed, but had to slow down to reduce the wake for the passing canoes.  There were many adventurists who on their canoes were making a trip to the Spirit Island.  The Jasper National Park facility rents canoes.  When a tour boat crossed our boat, the Captain would warn passengers of the following wake.  As our boat traversed over this wake, it gave everyone a roller-coaster effect.  Had the boat not slowed down to a near stop, one can well imagine the plight of those canoes.

The lookout over Spirit Island, a small isle of trees linked to the mainland by a low, rocky isthmus, provides one of the most famous sights in the Canadian Rockies—and is surely one of the most recognised mountain scenes in all of Canada.  The cruise is a must do for all nature enthusiasts visiting the Rocky Mountains.