Review of “Roaming the Rockies” Trip: Day 3
Day Three: The Columbia Icefield
Day three of my adventure started off on a sad note because I had to say goodbye to Emerald Lake Lodge, and I’d barely had time to look around. I’d wanted to try the inviting hot tub that I passed every time I walked to and from my cabin. I discovered a little trail down by the creek on my last morning, while heading to breakfast, and I was sorry I didn’t have to to explore it. The meal (the breakfast buffet) was included with the trip, so I fueled up for the chilly day ahead. My luggage was gone by the time I got back to the room; it would travel on the bus along with our group to our ultimate destination in Banff.
The highlight of the day was a visit to the Columbia Icefield, although the trip to get there was an experience on its own. We were treated to more gorgeous scenery while Mitch, our local expert, told us about the history and features of the area. Adventures by Disney trips usually involve a local expert so you learn lots of fun facts about the places you visit.
Our route wound through the national parks, which always means potential animal spotting opportunities. Unbelievably, we saw not only a mama grizzly and her baby, but also a black bear, although the latter ran off before anyone could get a photo. There are only about 60 of each type of bear in that area, so seeing them was a special treat.
We made several quick stops for photos, and I saw something I haven’t seen in many, many years: snow! Sure, I see the man-made variety every year at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights, but it’s much different when it’s made by Mother Nature and it adorns the ground all around you. I had to make my first snowball in years.
As we drove further, I was treated to a sight that I’d all but forgotten. When I lived in Chicago and used to go horseback riding in the forest preserves in the winter, I’d always loved the look of the white-frosted trees just after a snow fall. The forest stretched out before us was iced with fresh snow in that same way.
Fueling Up Before the Ice Walk
It was a long journey, but by lunchtime we were pulling into the parking lot at the ice field visitors’ center, with the Athabasca Glacier looming in front of us in all its glory. We had lunch at the buffet restaurant, with a gorgeous view of the glacier outside the windows. The buffet was a very eclectic mix, designed to appeal to everyone, but with a special nod toward the many Asian visitors. Therefore it had things like salmon, Italian pasta, and lots of Asian dishes like sweet and sour pork, noodles with vegetables, and spring rolls, along with typical more typical items.
The meal wasn’t bad for your standard buffet, but the brownies made my taste buds sing. They looked like your typical little chocolate treats, but they had a distinct maple flavor. They were so good that I grabbed a second one, justifying it to myself by deciding that the extra sugar would be more fuel for warmth out on the glacier.
We had some time for shopping in the gift shop along with lunch, so I bought a sweatshirt with an ice explorer vehicle on it and a 2013 Canadian Rockies calendar. I was surprised but pleased to see new calendars already, since it was only June. I thought it would refresh some fond memories in the new year.
Soon it was time to meet up and board the first bus. Then we’d transfer to the special ice explorer vehicles to get up onto the ice field. The explorers have huge (and I mean HUGE) tires that let them move safely on a harrowing downhill journey. It’s something like a roller coaster, but in very slow motion so you get to savor every scary moment.
“Brrrr!” said the Floridian
The glacier makes its own weather, so you never really know what’s going to be going on out there till you arrive. We were very, very lucky to have a nice, sunny day, just as we had for the rafting. Obviously it wasn’t warm, but even with my thin Florida blood, I was relatively comfortable. Of course, I was layered in shirt and sweatshirt, topped with the heaviest jacket I own. Since I live in Florida, that’s not too heavy, but the layers gave added protection.
I made another snowball at the ice field, and I couldn’t resist the urge to make a snow angel. One person in our group even took his shirt off (briefly)! I can’t even imagine how cold that must have felt, but it made for a great photo opportunity.
You can only walk in a pre-determined area up on the glacier because of the danger of crevasses. It’s a big enough area to get an idea of the sheer magnitude of the ice field and to get plenty of photos. It was a never ending canvas of bright white landscape that was downright blinding at times.
We stayed up longer than normal (it’s usually a 20 minute stop) because of some filming, since it was a media trip. I felt the old, familiar tingling in my fingers when we got back on the bus that I haven’t felt since my Chicago days. I’d forgotten what it feels like to get mild frostbite and then to have your extremities thaw as they warm up after a chill.
Staying in a Castle
It was a three hour drive to our next destination, the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. Everyone, kid and adult, was exhausted from our play time on the ice. We made a couple of stops, including at the Lake Louise visitor’s center, and I had a sudden flashback to arrival day. It looked much different during normal visiting hours. The stores and center were bustling with tourist activity, and the day was much warmer.
Our guides put on “Brother Bear,” an appropriate choice since the scenery in the movie was inspired by the Canadian Rockies (and since it features “Bob and Doug McKenzie” moose voiced by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis). They also played some games and passed out snacks to make the time pass more quickly. Soon enough we arrived at our home for the next two nights.
The hotel looked very much like a castle, with gorgeous mountain scenery just outside the windows. The room was smaller than my quarters at Emerald Lake Lodge, and of course there was no fireplace, but the bed was just as comfy. The hotel is located in town, rather than isolated like Emerald Lake, but I could still see a lovely backdrop of mountains since it’s still in a national park.
Dinner was on our own, and many people in our group walked to downtown Banff to explore its multitude of dining options. I was exhausted and also wanted to catch up on some work, so I opted to eat at one of the hotel restaurants. It was very pricey, but the convenience was worth it. I ate a risotto dish, capped with a glass of Riesling, did some writing, caught up on email, and collapsed into bed. I knew I needed to rest up for the next day, which promised to be very active: bike riding, going up the mountain in a gondola, and swimming in the hot springs. Then, alas, it would be farewell dinner time as the adventure drew to a close. Continue to Day 4