So here’s something strange about me: I love nature, I love being outside and enjoying the best that Mother Nature has to offer, but I’m not necessarily outdoorsy. What’s the difference you ask? Well, outdoorsy people can live in a tent, commune with nature and be happy. I like to stay in a lodge overlooking the people communing with nature. Minor difference, but such is life. That’s why I was a little unsure about an ambitious ice hike through the backwoods of Alberta, but I shouldn’t have worried; it turned out to be one of those once in a lifetime travel moments.
We were in the Banff area enjoying a long weekend, exploring the best non-ski options around. We don’t ski but still wanted to see and enjoy this beautiful part of Canada first-hand and the ice walk came recommended from everyone around town. We bundled up in an outrageous amount of clothing and boarded the Discover Banff Tours bus for the drive through the snowy woods until we reached the launching point to explore Johnston Canyon.
Johnston Creek has cut through the limestone rocks in this area to form canyon walls, as well as waterfalls, tunnels, and pools. The area is popular in the summer, with cabins available for rent, but the in the winter the area transforms and attracts ice climbers and hikers from around the world. We started the adventure by placing spiky ice cleats over our shoes for better traction. Even though some areas of the walk are on steel bridges, much of it is across icy pathways.
Our guide for the morning was Pam, a South African expat who has been leading tours through the park for years. A photographer by trade, Pam has an excellent eye for helping spot the most picturesque spots on the trail and her sense of humor and knowledge of the area made the hike a true joy. She was also no-nonsense, an important quality in a tour leader and we started the trail without a moment’s pause, all of us eager to see the famed frozen waterfalls.
For two hours we walked along the frozen trail, keeping an eager eye open for the elusive snow hare and the not so elusive squirrel. Along the way we passed frozen waterfalls and parts of the creek that were partially iced over. It was stunning, nothing more or less can be said. At the pinnacle of the adventure was the massive, and frozen, upper waterfalls, suspended in action at a time well before that day. Ice climbers were careening about the canyon walls in feats of endurance far beyond my own capabilities.
We paused for a few minutes to enjoy some hot chocolate thoughtfully prepared by Pam, and snacked on a cookie as we caught our collective breath and admired the snowy wonderland all around us. The walk back seemed to go faster, as it always does, and by the end of the four-hour adventure we were exhausted, but in a good, completely content way.
I may have been skeptical at first, but seeing the frozen landscape of Alberta in the dead of winter is one of those remarkable travel and indeed life experiences I know I’ll always keep close to my heart.