“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” Frank A. Clark
Our time had come to pack up and leave Johnston Campground in Banff, Canada. We may have felt a little melancholy about leaving this magnificent place, but we were on our way to make reservations for a site in the back country… We were STOKED!! 😀
On the road and on our way back to the Visitor Center at Field, we were told we could leave our trailer overnight in their parking lot. There was a cute little post office in Field where I was able to mail out some postcards to family, then we drove the switchbacks up the mountain and back to the Tak Falls parking area. Here we loaded our packs and began this exciting new chapter in our lives… Staying the night in a tent in GRIZZLY BEAR TERRITORY!
Were we nervous? A little. Were we nuts for doing this? Some people would say definitely, yes! Hoisting the weighted packs, cinching up the straps and taking those first, gear-laden steps made us feel like genuine, rough and ready hikers! Of course, being Canada, we were not allowed to carry firearms for protection, but we had two cans of bear spray and Phil’s yeti stick… oh, and a whistle. 🙂 We were NOT naked and NOT Afraid! (For the most part.) 😉
We had just started our hike when I heard some movement off trail, just inside of the woods. My heart skipped a beat when I spotted a brown-colored animal just a few yards away! I froze, and Phil whispered, “It’s ok, it’s just an elk.” Watching this beautiful creature, totally adept in her environment, while she, in turn, stared at us…we couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder at this graceful and majestic member of the deer family. I wondered what other animals we might see down the trail.
We arrived at Laughing Falls campsite in only 1.5 hours! A very active grandmother and her granddaughter had chosen the most coveted site, but we found another that suited us just fine, nestled in the trees, between the Yoho and Little Yoho rivers; the latter being where Laughing Falls originates. We admired these two brave, strong ladies and felt some comfort in having other humans in the vicinity.
We quickly set up camp and checked out the rest of the area, hanging our smellables well out of reach from bear, hooked to the cable and pulley system. Loading our day packs with water, filtration bottles, trail snacks and bug repellent, we ventured up the Yoho Glacier Trail where we found ourselves in the middle of beautiful old growth, primeval pine and cedar forest. It was SO quiet and a bit spooky… I found myself carefully watching the boulders ahead, and occasionally glancing behind, for the lurking shadows of mountain lions. We found sign of elk and mule deer, but thankfully, no big predators. The trail was a fairly strenuous one with a decent incline and we stopped at a crystal clear mountain stream to fill our water bottles. We use a filter that goes on top of Dasani , AquaFina or Smart water bottles. (Not all water bottles accommodate these filters as we found out, to our dismay, in the Appalachian mountains… but that’s a whole other blog waiting to be told. We sometimes learn the hard way, lol!)
A few minutes shy of two hours, we came out of the woods and onto the side of the mountain we had been climbing. Ahead of us stretched a breathtakingly, magnificent sight! A great canyon opened up before us and the Yoho River was quite a distance below, curving and twisting like a giant, silvery snake. On the other side loomed another mountain with sparkling white glaciers blanketing its crown. It was an enormous expanse of rock and icy snow, and we were right at the treeline. Our intentions had been to walk on the glacier, but it was already 8:00pm and we didn’t want to be out on the trail after dark. We talked it over and decided to turn back around (after sitting and taking in the glorious sight for a short time). Back through the wild and ominous forest we went, placing our feet carefully along the trail and watching the underbrush like hawks!
Dusk accompanied us back to camp and we walked to the bear pole, lowering our dry bag where we stored the Mountain House dinners… lasagna and beef stew. We had worked up a mighty fierce appetite, and after bringing our purified mountain stream water to a boil on our back country camp stove, then filling the food bags and letting them sit for 10 minutes, we inhaled those delicious, freeze-dried meals! Cleaning up after dinner was easy… just wash off our spoons in the river, fold up the empty food pouches and stuff them in our ziplock bag designated for trash, put away the tiny camp stove and voila… time to brush teeth and head to bed!
After polishing our pearly whites, we loaded the smellables into the drybag and pulled it back to the top of the bear pole. Then, we got ready to crawl into our sleeping bags and spend our first night in true wilderness. We talked about where we wanted to hike in the morning, then feeling very tired, kissed each other and said goodnight. As I lay there thinking about bears wandering around the nearby forest, the thought popped into my mind that I may not have gotten all of the “smellables” out of our day packs, and they were lying not five feet from our tent!!
I could not remember, for the LIFE of me, if I had put the insect repellent in the bag that was hanging on the pole, OR, if it was still in Phil’s day pack. Phil had not yet fallen asleep, so I tapped him on the shoulder and in my sweetest, angelic voice, softly said, “baby… I’m not sure where the bug spray is.” A long pause before he answered with, “What do you mean? Isn’t it in the dry bag hanging from the pole?” “I’m not sure if we put it in there or if it’s in your day pack,” I replied. “Well, I suppose we’d better make sure it’s in the dry bag,” Phil stated matter-of-fact like.
We got dressed and peering outside of our tents into the blackest of black… no moon or stars to shed any light… we retrieved our headlamps from inside the tent, then made our way across the campground to the bear poles. We checked the dry bag and did not find the bug repellent, so we hiked back to our campsite, searched the day pack and sure enough, it was in a side pocket. Taking the “long” walk back to the bear pole, we lowered the bag, again, and stuffed it away. We both felt much better knowing for certain all smellables were far away from our tent.
Shedding off our clothes, we crawled back into our tents and made ourselves comfortable. A few minutes later, I had another terrifying thought… the huckleberry lip balm I had stuffed in Phil’s day pack… had it been found and put in the dry bag??? I had a sickening feeling it was still in the day pack, sitting within a few feet of our tent! But hadn’t Phil just checked through his entire pack?? Wouldn’t he have found it and placed it in the smellable dry bag? Agonizing over whether I should mention this now to Phil, I wrestled with the decision. If I do say something, he’s not going to be a happy camper. If I DON’T say anything, and a bear is drawn to our tent because of the irresistible smell of huckleberries, I’ll be in worse trouble! “Honey, I’m worried we may not have gotten everything out of your day pack after all…” I exclaimed with fear and trepidation. “You’re kidding me, right?” said Phil disbelievingly. I answered his question with another question, “I’m pretty sure you didn’t find the Huckleberry lip balm that I had put in the bottom of your bag when you were looking for the bug spray, did you?” “Are you SURE it wasn’t put away already??” Phil asked, in a very controlled tone. “I think we need to double check,” I reasoned. “I really don’t want to be the cause of a bear rummaging through the campground.” I mean, what bear in its right mind would NOT be drawn to the sweet smell of huckleberries?? We had to make certain…
Rising from our sleeping bags for the second time, donning our clothes once again, Phil went through his day pack and found the evasive little tube of deliciously smelling lip balm in the bottom of his bag. “OK, now… is this ALL of our smellables?” Phil asked wearily. My mind replayed the packing of all of the gear, food, anything with a scent that was put in our backpacks and day packs and I could think of nothing else that we should be searching for . “I’m sure,” I replied boldly. “Alright then,” said Phil, “let’s walk back to the bear pole and put this away.” After we got back to the tent, we chuckled a bit about the situation. “Get some sleep,” my most understanding and patient husband said, and then hugged me reassuringly. After a few minutes of tossing and turning, we were able to go to sleepy town and slept like babies.
We awoke to the sounds of fast-moving water flowing over large, granite rocks in the cold, mountain streams next to us, and a beautifully, warming, sunny morning! We had made it an entire night… just the two of us…in one of North America’s wildest and most rugged mountain terrains!! A feeling of gratitude and accomplishment washed over us as we stood admiring the alpine environment all around. Total immersion into nature is the only true way to experience the great outdoors, and we felt we had gotten a taste of it… a taste that would leave us hungering for more.
We packed up camp, making sure to leave it just the way we had found it… clean and pristine. On the hike back that took us just over an hour, a couple walking towards Laughing Falls asked us if we had camped overnight there, what it was like and if we had run into any bears. We were now the experienced hikers, giving advice and direction… a warm feeling of pride and accomplishment surged inside of us as we looked at each other and smiled. 🙂