Last year I posted about our visit to Egypt Lake area southwest of Banff; Caught in a Riot. That time we spent a few days at Shadow Lake Lodge, a hike or ski-in destination that was originally built in the 1920s as an outlier of the Banff Springs Hotel; part a circuit of rest houses for horseback travel into the wilderness.
This scheme also included the famous Skoki Lodge, accessed from Chateau Lake Louise and honeymoon destination of Will & Kate.
Another backcountry cabin that appears on the map is Sundance Lodge along Brewster Creek, 16 km outside Banff townsite. This location was familiar to me as a horseback destination during the summer months, but apparently a change of ownership has led to recognition of the untapped market for winter visitors as well. It too was constructed in the 1920s by the Canadian Pacific Railway; one of two stop-overs for those heading to the primo destination of Mt Assiniboine and the Assiniboine Lodge.
This should have been a picture of a big, beautiful, black wolf that crossed the road in front of us while driving down the Bow Valley Parkway near Banff. He climbed the snowbank (see his tracks left of the flagged tree) then turned to stare as we stopped directly beside. Just as I raised the camera, "poof", he's gone into the pines. It turned out we were to cross paths with this fellow again .
Looking back at Mt. Rundle. We knew the 10 miles in would be on an old access road, packed by the snowmobiles that delivered supplies to the lodge. We also knew it would be extremely icy due to recent warm temps so the skis were left behind in favor of hiking boots and snow cleats. With only 200 m to gain, it was a relaxing four hours to arrive at our destination.
Main guest cabin on right was built in the 1990s.
Original 1920s cabini now used as the cowboy bunkhouse. Although the two staff were very attentive upon our arrival, we were the only guests for that night, I was itching to explore and spotted a cross erected on the hillside above the lodge. "What's is that", I asked Steve the cook. "Where they buried the last person who pissed off the cook", he said with a big grin. Hmmm, well I climbed the slope to discover for myself.
The view was nice.
And Steve wasn't kidding. I can enjoy a good joke and I'm sure they heard my laughter down there. Turns out Steve was a genuine character; a retired ship's cook on a Coast Guard icebreaker based at Baffin Island, he had more stories than I could absorb in just two days. And as a New Brunswicker of Acadian background, he knew how to tell those stories to maximum effect.
Steve in his kitchen, with John the Cowboy looking on. John and I discoverd that we'd both enjoyed reading the obscure writings of an old trapper named A.L. Karras. John said he'd never met another person who'd read his North to Cree Lake so we had an instant bond. During the winter season he was the handyman and wood-chopper but clearly fed-up with winter and wanting his horses back.
After a hearty dinner with wine and some great conversation, we retired to our pine bed with feather duvet for a nice quiet sleep under the light of a waning moon. When given our choice of breakfast time, I think Steve was surprise we asked for 7 am. But we had plans to hike far down the valley and daylight was our limiting factor; with a 9 am start we would have to turn around no later than 2 pm.
With borrowed snowshoes, we set out first on the snowmobile trail and then a simple ski-set track. This was a tremendous advantage as stepping off to either side would result in sinking down to your knees in the soft, wet snow.
Turtle Tom's cabin (don't ask how it got that name, nobody knows).
We had discussed our wolf sighting with Steve and John, and they revealed the black wolf was known to frequent this area. Sure enough, recent wolf tracks were spotted along our trail. That is my size 10 boot for scale! The distance between his front and back prints measured about 4 feet, not including head and tail...a big fellow indeed.
By 1 pm we'd reached the end of the trail, which surprised us. Steve had told us that a pair of Park Wardens had made those tracks on their way past the lodge, heading to their patrol cabin. His story was intriguing as they apparently passed rather late in the day with many kms still to travel, but came back out around 10 pm with the cryptic story that their cabin was unable to warm up so they were heading back to town. I rather speculate they got lost in the dark, although with the benefit of daylight and a map we figure they were within 300 m of their cabin. I tried to venture out on the virgin snow but quickly gave that up. Time for lunch, anyway.
Spot the hole-in-the-wall? That night we were joined by five more guests and chatted late into the night. All of us were leaving the next morning. A hearty breakfast of oatmeal, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, cinnamon buns and lots of coffee provided fuel for the journey, along with a bag lunch of chicken salad wedged between two gigantic slabs of fresh-made bread; a real two-fister. All-in-all, a worthwhile trip as we ticked the Sundance Lodge off our list of must-do destinations.
Advance notice! I'm heading back to Tibet for six weeks beginning mid-April for another attempt at Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain. There will be welcome silence for a period, but I promise one hell of a trip report .