Rocky Mountain Splendour

Our cycling trip through the Rockies with Ellen and Elmar – the Els, for short – continued in smokey fashion. From Crowsnest Pass we headed down to Sparwood where we picked up the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

Grassland north of Elkford.
Grassland north of Elkford.

Old highway 43 goes north from Sparwood and is a lovely route for cycling with almost no traffic. It briefly merges with the new highway but we quickly turn onto a logging road running parallel to the Elk River, leading to the mining town of Elkford. The final bit into town was on a stretch of single track that wasn’t really designed for loaded touring bikes, but “what the hell, why not?” we said, and down we went. It was fun and we only had to push in a couple of spots.

Riding into Elkford.
Riding single-track into Elkford.
Too steep to ride.
Too steep to ride.
Lunch on the Elk River.
Lunch on the Elk River.

From Elkford, the trail leads north into the Rocky Mountains national parks. The smoke still blanketed pretty much everything but despite the hazy conditions, the scenery is gorgeous and awe-inspiring.

Smoke blankets the mountains in Alberta's Peter Lougheed Park.
Smoke blankets the mountains in Alberta’s Peter Lougheed Park.

We camped in some lovely places along the way but sadly did not see much wildlife, except a cow moose standing beside the bathroom at a trail head where we camped south of Banff. Ellen didn’t see it in the dark and nearly walked into it as she headed to the loo. Elmar saw it, though, and yelled at her and they cam trotting back to the camp site.

Smokey sunset near Spray Lake Reservoir.
Smokey sunset near Spray Lake Reservoir.
A clear day along the Spray Lake Reservoir, probably one of the nicest bits of trail we cycled.
A clear day along the Spray Lake Reservoir, probably one of the nicest bits of trail we cycled.

After four days of smokey cycling from Crowsnest, we finally got a clear day cycling around the Spray Lake Reservoir, giving us the longed-for views of the splendiferous Rockies. Later that day, we arrived in Banff where we checked into a hotel and took a day off to rest, have a steak and stock up on groceries. The town bustles with tourists and is not the sleepy mountain village I remember from the 80s.

Vermillion Lakes in Banff.
Vermillion Lakes in Banff.

We continued our journey on the Icefields Parkway, cycling past imposing Castle Mountain to the town of Lake Louise. This was the end of the road for us as Jan and I needed to turn back south. We said our farewells and promised to meet up with Ellen and Elmar again further north at the Bowron Lakes to show them one of BC’s most amazing places.

Jan and Elmar heading north on the Icefields Parkway approaching Castle Mountain.
Jan and Elmar heading north on the Icefields Parkway approaching Castle Mountain.
Lake Louise.
Lake Louise.
Ellen, the cupcake lady.
Ellen, the cupcake lady.

We retraced our steps as far as Castle Junction where we turned west into Kootenay National Park, climbing 1,680-metre-high Vermillion Pass. Riding down into the Kootenay River valley, the scenery opens up with gorgeous vistas. We found a lovely spot to camp where the Simpson River joins the Kootenay River. In the morning, while having breakfast, a large, grey wolf wandered into our camp but trotted off when it saw us. It’s always special to see an animal, especially a top predator like a wolf. Sadly, these events are increasingly rare.

The Kootenay River.
The Kootenay River.
Our camp spot on the Kootenay River at the Simpson River confluence.
Our camp spot on the Kootenay River at the Simpson River confluence.

Until now, the weather had been warm, sunny and smokey from the many forest fires but suddenly, it seemed, summer was over. It turned cold and wet making cycling along the highways not a pleasant experience as the spray from cars and trucks ensured a good dousing. However, in the afternoons, the rain usually stopped and the sun warmed our cold, wet bodies until we climbed a 10-kilometre-long pass above Radium Hotsprings. At the top, it hailed and rained, and the temperature had dropped substantially. We donned all our clothes for the 12-kilometre descent in a cold downpour.

Relaxed Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Radium Hotsprings.
Relaxed Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep in Radium Hotsprings.

By the time we got into Radium, we were both slipping into hypothermia and not quite coherent as we stumbled into the Husky gas station restaurant. The waitress had to ask us several times if she could get us something. After some coffee and a bowl of beef-barley soup, our senses slowly returned and we stayed in the restaurant to warm up, dry off and eat some more lunch before cycling another 40 KM to Fairmont Hotsprings where Jan and I had booked a room for the night to celebrate our 12th anniversary.

Absolutely knackered after a long, hard 98-kilometre day, we dumped everything into the room, stripped off our wet clothes and ran for the hot pool. It was probably one of the nicest feelings imaginable for our cold, tired bodies.

Refreshed from our one-night stay at the spa, we carried on south in the rain as far as the historic town of Fort Steele. We sought sanctuary in the museum’s coffee shop to warm up with a coffee and a huge cinnamon bun. Instead of taking the highway, we took a shortcut on the Wardner Road, a meandering route without traffic running through rolling farmland and Norbury Lake Provincial Park.

Fall colours.
Fall colours.

The weather cleared up by the time we got back on the Crowsnest Highway and a nice tail wind blew us to the tiny town of Elko, the end of our Rocky Mountain ride. Cathy and Walt, our friends from Whitefish, MT, met us there the next day, kindly bringing our car to us as we had run out of time to cycle all the way back to collect it. We had hoped to do some cycling together in the area but the weather just wasn’t cooperating.

All in all, a great ride despite the smoke and the rainy weather during the last days. Here are a map and some more photos from those days.

Click on the map to zoom and get details.
Click on the map to zoom and get details.
Rockies elevation profile
Rockies elevation profile
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4 thoughts on “Rocky Mountain Splendour

  1. Dear Paul and Jan
    Wath a lovely pics you make we enjoy it very much.
    Thanks Simon and Leni Parents from Ellen and Elmar.
    Have a good time together.

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