Having returned from Mount Robson, and spent a comfortable night under a roof, we turned out attention to what we would do next. The weather around Jasper had become wet and cloudy, so Jim and I started south on the Icefields Parkway. We decided to try our luck hiking in Banff National Park and chose the Moraine Lake area. Along the way we admired the scenery.
The rainy skies of the previous night eventually gave way to periods of sun and clouds. The spells of sunshine showed off stands of aspens in their autumn foliage, and the golden aspens sharply contrasted with the dark evergreen forests.
The parkway was virtually deserted. We stopped at the waterfalls and the animal lookouts, as well as at the Athabaska Glacier.
We briefly stopped at Lake Louise before camping near Moraine Lake.
I recall Moraine Lake and the Valley of Ten Peaks as being less developed than on my last visit, but Banff, except for the townsite, was too. The Trans-Canada Highway, completed in the nineteen sixties, and increases in the Canadian population and foreign tourism have changed that.
In 1989, when I revisited the area, there were tourist accommodations in the form of a motel or cottages, but at the end of September 1967, there were few visitors, and I don’t remember anyone else on the trails. Off season hiking accentuates the wilderness as one often seems to have parks all to oneself. That’s what it felt like in Mount Robson.
Jim and I decided to hike up to Sentinel Pass, through Larch Valley. Larch Valley owes its popularity to a relatively easy hike and, in the autumn, the color of its trees, which turn color before losing their needles.
Larches are common coniferous trees in the northern hemisphere, with many species. If you visit the Alps in October, where the European larches cover whole mountainsides, you will be struck by the color.
The European larch has naturalized where I live in New York, and is common, but in Europe it is a mountain species.
Like its European cousin, the alpine larch of North America also grows at high altitudes, and has the distinction of being the oldest living tree in Canada, with one specimen thought to be 2,000 years old.
The October skies were overcast, but some of the high peaks were visible. The alpine larches had turned color, and as we continued up the long switchbacks to Sentinel pass, the highest peaks such as Mount Temple became cloud bound and the visibility decreased. At one point, a mountain wall provided echoes and we spent some time shouting out nonsense and then listening for it.
I think that there may have been snowflakes when we arrived at the pass, but there wasn’t much wind and the weather was mild, considering that high passes are often windy places. I have since read that Sentinel Pass, at an elevation of 8,528ft., has the reputation of being the highest point in Canada that can be reached by a hiking trail. We did not know that at the time, but chose the hike for the views because of its high altitude. As it turned out, the views were limited, but it was an interesting hike, and Larch Valley, a bit past its peak color, was still beautiful.
Hiking back down was uneventful. Jim took me to the train station, probably in Calgary, and then drove back to Montana. I got on a CN Pullman car for the two-day ride east. In a few days, both of us would meet again in Hemet, California, to train for Peace Corps service in Morocco, and new adventures in a much less familiar place.