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Banff; Up Sulphur Mountain; A Tent with a View; New Friends; Two Mountain Lakes

Our campsite in Alberta’s Banff National Park was in Tunnel Mountain Village 2. That doesn’t sound very “glamorous”, does it? The sites themselves weren’t anything to write home about, being laid out down wide paved roads where you parallel-parked next to picnic tables and electrical outlets (no water or sewer connections). But the up side was this view from our coach, looking at Mt. Rundle, 2,949 meters/9,731 feet.   
Need I mention that My Lovely Bride is an exercise fanatic? I was thinking about sleeping in until noon, until I was rudely awakened with a “Get yer boots on, Lazy Butt, we’re goin’ hiking!” Hiking is one thing, but a forced march up Sulphur Mountain, where most sensible people take a skiers’ gondola up the 45 degree mountainside, isn’t exactly what I had in mind to replace my weekly beauty rest. Here’s the view from the parking lot. For the record, I hadn’t even had my second cup of coffee, but My Darling Drill Meistress showed no sympathy, so up the mountain we went. 
About halfway up the 11% grade, I was wondering if the cardiac EMTs would be able to get to me in time, and MLB was as chipper as could be. Seems she had just found a new way to use her mantra meditation techniques to avoid any fatigue whatsoever. Sometimes I wonder if she was sent to me as penance for sins in a past life.  Smack!  “I’m just kidding, Sweetheart!”  
It was a two hour trek up, but the view from the top of Sulphur Mountain was spectacular. That’s the town of Banff and the Bow River in the valley far below. Luckily I met this lovely hiker who was kind enough to pose for me, even though it was cold and windy up at the summit; she even offered me lunch! 
One of the amazing sights at the summit was this weather observatory, which Norman Sanson opened in 1903. He continued collecting weather data for over 30 years, climbing up the mountain regularly even into his 70s. 
Rudy and Gretchen couldn’t make the hike with us, but we met this cute Dachshund Bailey and his dog mom Whitney, who had taken the gondola up. Bailey sure looks like he is enjoying life.  
As if that hike weren’t enough for the week, I suggested that I might take an overnight backpacking trip up to a remote glacial lake… or was that My Lovely Bride’s idea? Anyway, the next day she dropped me off on the Trans-Canada Highway at the trailhead, and I struck off into the deep woods for a two hour hike. It was a forbidding environment, and I knew that a hungry grizzly waited behind every tree for a dinner of tourist flank steak. I heard a noise, something coming down the trail, and had my hand on my can of bear spray… and there she was… a savage mother grizzly, protecting her cubs? No, it was a twenty-something girl in ponytail and gym shorts doing a trail run, all alone, not even carrying bear spray… Sigh.
I arrived at Taylor Lake and found that the stunning setting lived up to the vivid description provided by Travis, the tourist bureau rep, who had hiked up here recently. Taylor Lake sits in a bowl under Mount Bell, with Panorama Ridge on the northern side of the lake. I set up my tent near the lakeside, with one of the greatest views I’ve ever had from a tent.
Then it was time for another gourmet dinner… freeze-dried beef stew, a handful of peanuts and a glass of Cabernet from my Platypus container. (Okay, so to save weight I didn’t bring a glass, and drank straight from the Platypus, but it added a nice touch of civility to an otherwise pretty boring meal. Freeze dried foods only have one redeeming feature – they are very light weight.)  I thought about listening to music with earbuds during dinner, but I felt that would be sacrilegious, because the only sounds to be heard were the occasional chirps of birds or ground squirrels and the muted roar of a glacier-fed waterfall at the far end of the lake.
I had noticed that there was only one other tent at the lake that night, so I wandered over and met Jean and Natalie, two school teachers, originally from Quebec, but now living and working in nearby Calgary, Alberta. Jean teaches math and science, and Natalie teaches Phys-Ed. We must have chatted for an hour or more until mosquitoes began attacking us; fortunately my DEET bug lotion did the trick and kept most of the biting bugs at bay.
In spite of the fact that Suzanne had dropped me off in the wilderness far from any village, much less town or city, I asked Natalie to take my photo to prove I had actually hiked up to Taylor Lake, and wasn’t carousing at the local Hooters… she thought that was funny, since the nearest Hooters is about a thousand miles away. You may notice that I was not in shorts and a tee shirt; the temp was quickly dropping into the low 40s that night, and this was mid-August.  
I was up before the sun to get ready for a hike farther into the mountains. While preparing breakfast (yep, freeze dried eggs and hash browns with Starbucks Via instant coffee), the first rays of sunlight were lighting up Quadra Mountain in the distance. 
Taylor Lake was perfectly still, and the reflections of the sky, trees, mountains and snowfields, even in this subdued early dawn’s light, took my breath away. I wanted to share the moment with Jean and Natalie, but they were still snug in their sleeping bags in their tent; this being the last week of summer vacation, they would be keeping bankers’ hours today.
The hike up to the next lake only took an hour, even taking time to talk to two mountain climbers whom I met on the trail who were on their way up Mt. Bell, thousands of feet above Taylor Lake. Their route had a 5.3 rating, which meant that they would need the ropes they were carrying.  O’Brien is a small lake, and quite marshy around its perimeter. My Merrell hiking boots and socks were quite wet by the time I reached this viewpoint, but it had been worth the effort to get here. Because the shoreline is either very steep and rocky or swampy, there are no campsites here. 
I arrived back at my campsite and prepared for the hike out, but had to dry out my tent on some bushes, since condensation had built up on the rain fly of my mountain tent during the previous night. While it dried out, I watched the two climbers proceed up Mt. Bell. Here they are on a knifedge ridge with about 700-800 feet vertical to go to the summit. Even though they were about a mile away, it was so quiet and the acoustics were so good that we could hear them talking as if they were just across a large room.
I packed up my gear, said goodbye to Jean and Natalie, and started to head down the mountain to the trailhead, but first, one last photo; and this is why I go off alone into the mountains… here is where I find peace and tranquility…

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