Pride Travel’s Rocky Mountain Rail Journey Through Canada – Day 8: Lake Louise and Yoho National Park to Banff
Day 8 – Lake Louise and Yoho National Park to Banff
[Nathan:] Today’s wake up call for me comes at the ungodly hour of 5AM. What seemed like a great idea last night, getting up to take pictures of the sunrise’s light hitting Victoria Glacier, seems like unintentional cruel self-inflicted punishment this morning. So much so that I only wander over to the window, not outside, and while having only one eye open took a few photos. [Marc:] You can definitely tell that these photos were taken with one eye not-so-open and in a semi-comatose state. Although we’ve ordered room service at our prior Fairmont hotels, this morning’s breakfast at the Chateau Lake Louise seemed more civilized, perhaps due to the majestic glacier just outside our window. We lazily whiled away the morning, napping again after our initial wakeup, and refilling our reserves for the next two active days ahead.
All packed and ready to go, we headed to the lobby for a quick internet connection to post yesterday’s blog… when we heard harp music. That’s right, the Chateau had a live harpist, with a huge full classic harp, strumming away at the chords. My angel had arrived, and she was bedecked in red velvet and shimmering gold cloth. A harpist! For those of you who don’t know how rare and special live harp music is, do a google search on the words “harpist” and “job” to get an idea of why. We come to discover Ms Deborah Nyack is a world-renowned harpist who has studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London, and New York’s Eastman school of music, and has played for political dignitaries and royalty alike. Her website is www.harpangel.com. This was a sublime backdrop for any author or artist to compose prose to, the notes filling the vaulted ceiling in the lounge and echoing throughout the lobby. This cadence was only broken by the incessant chatter of large clumps of foreign speaking tourists oblivious to the melodies they were suffocating. Ah well, no wonder the poor dear took her break just as the gaggle of clumps culminated right behind me. But wait, what’s this I hear, she has returned renewed and will not be deterred! Twice fold the sound resounds throughout the hall and I need but only look out the window at nature’s majestic wonders for the moment to be complete.
Checkout was seamless as usual and within moments we were on our way to Banff. As we prepare to enter Yoho national park, our driver Chris, the same Chris as yesterday, again notes that wildlife is plentiful on the road and we should keep an eye out. He has promised to stop or slow as appropriate to allow for picture taking and viewing; we’re excited at the prospect of seeing a bear or two. Alas, the animals would remain uncooperative throughout our tour again today; a sure conspiracy of Animal Farm proportions.
Our first stop was at the Natural Bridge, an area where the Bow River has dug its way through the bedrock creating a overpass across the river with dramatic raging white waters rushing underneath. Chris asks that in order to preserve the nature and for safety reasons to use the man made bridges to cross the river and take our photos. There was one guy from another tour who of course insisted on climbing onto the bridge to take a picture; needless to say he was not on the rock arch very long before crowds were yelling at him requesting that he climb down. This was not, though, for the preservation of the natural area but simply the fact that he was in everyone’s way while they were photographing the bridge and falls. Jeering completed, we were able to capture good photos without an unseemly tourist blocking the views.
We make a second special stop in Yoho, the spiral tunnels, in order to try and catch a freight train going through. This is a particularly important an relevant stop as our journey from Banff back to Vancouver will take our train through the pair of spiral tunnels we were viewing today. Described in a railway timetable of the day: “The whole thing is a perfect maze, the railway doubling back on itself twice, tunneling under mountains, and crossing the river twice to cut down the grade.” The tunnels are not truly spiral, but are more like a large series of loops that serve the same purpose as switchbacks that allow the train to drop altitude at a gentler grade. The governing rules over train transportation dictate that a grade can’t exceed 2.2 degrees in Canada. Originally the Canada Pacific Railway had received a special permit to allow them to lay track at 4.5 degrees. This temporary line was extremely costly and dangerous. Several people were killed when the trains descending would lose control, not to mention the costly expenses to the rail company. Due to these increasing costs, Canada Pacific hired a crew to come up with a solution, researching some solutions from Europe. The answer was the spiral tunnel, first developed in Switzerland.
After our scientific ‘Discovery Channel’ stop with fascinating background around the rail and the engineering marvels behind the trains, we continue to Emerald Lake. This is an absolutely gorgeous spot that would be perfect for a summer wedding or a special event. One of our favorite picturesque spots on our journey along with Lake Louise and the Athabasca glacier, this is a truly majestic place and again unique for communing with nature. We start our final leg into Banff and our stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.
The Banff Springs Hotel is another grand, old, hotel used by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The building reflects the Scottish heritage of the owner the railway at the time that it was built, with a certain Scottish castle feel overall. Everyone in the staff has a Scottish inspired uniform and the end-effect is quite charming. Similar to Lake Louise, the hotel is practically self sufficient with many shops offering sundries, supplies, haute couture, souvenirs, and even a 24-hour Deli allowing for late night activities and jaunts around town without worrying about food and restaurant times. Remember that due to the season and the northern location, the sun does not completely set until late evening at 11pm or so; one can easily be out sightseeing into 9pm or 10pm with plenty of sunlight for photos. We partook of the self-service ‘Castle Deli’ for swift dinners on both evenings in order to maximize our time out in Banff, and recommend it for the quality and convenience. Keep in mind that with quality comes price, however, so all items are priced accordingly for a 24-hour convenience shop within a five star resort.
Tonight’s treat are pre-reserved two-hour Spa treatments at the Banff Hot Springs building, offered by the Pleiades Spa. Oh where to begin; we had such a spectacular time. While the Spa is not the most lavish we have partaken in, what it lacks in facilities, it more than makes up for in treatments and charm. This is a boutique spa mainly with a steam room and treatment rooms. Our combination treatments were an Aromatherapy Body Treatment, consisting of a deep exfoliating sea salt scrub and rehydration, coupled with an Aromatherapy full body massage. While not the most exotic, nor the most refined, our treatments were superb. Our Sea Salt Scrub by Venette was absolutely uniquely the best exfoliating scrub IN OUR LIVES! Never before had we had a therapist that was so skilled at removing and smoothing our skin as by the repetitive and downright tiring motions to the point of slight redness in the skin. This is not a treatment for the faint of heart as it is rather aggressive since one of the benefits was to increase circulation. Thoroughly scrubbed and salted, we took a brisk break to steam off then shower off the salt in preparation for our hydration treatment. The Aromatherapy Body Treatment’s second half consisted of re-oiling the skin with the same aromatherapy oil lightly, the following on with a pure aloe vera gel to seal in moisture. This concluding sealant leaves the skin so soft and gentle. Not to be outdone, Scott our massage therapist, worked his way through stress and pains and our sore traveling muscles. Every knot and muscle was worked thoroughly and released. The net effect of both treatments is a sublime and heavenly glow. For it’s exceptional team of therapists, Pride Travel recommends the Pleiades Spa in Banff.
Scrubbed, hydrated, and thoroughly gelatinized, we return to our bed with big smiles and contented bodies.
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