As the icy grip of winter fades into memory and long dark nights mellow into refreshingly cool and sunny evenings, many will mourn the passing of another ski season. There are those, however, whose thoughts are turning to other pursuits. These are the folks who are digging out their hiking boots and dusting off that big old backpack, rummaging around for that long unused tent and wondering where they may have stored their trusty little portable camp stove. It is also the time of year when thoughts turn to the re-awakening wildlife that calls our backyard home. More specifically, the emergence of the bears!
As we stepped from the shuttle bus that had taken us from Banff to the top of the gondola at Sunshine Village Ski Area, we shouldered our packs and headed for the trail that would take us, for 30 kilometres, into the heart of Assiniboine Provincial Park. I was heavily armed, of that there was no doubt. In an easily accessible side pocket of my overstuffed backpack was an airhorn capable of reaching decibels of alarming intensity, and in the other side, a fresh can of bear spray. In the unlikely event of a battle with a local bruin, these are essential components!
There is something refreshing about a park into which one cannot simply drive.
Tucked neatly between Banff and Kootenay National Parks, no roads penetrate Assiniboine. This high alpine provincial park is home to what is known as Canada's Matterhorn. Mount Assiniboine's distinctive, triangular peak has been luring climbers for over a century.
But it's a long walk to get there! Or, a short flight in a helicopter to the cozy, full service lodge nestled beneath its towering peak. But more on that later.
The trail meandered easily through the high alpine meadows. Although it was still summertime, a light dusting of snow had fallen overnight, reminding hikers that in the Rockies, when it comes to the weather, anything goes! We were within clear sight of a number of other hikers, and I was well within my "bear comfort zone". For a while.
Beginning in Banff National Park, the trail to Assiniboine crosses the provincial border from Alberta to B.C. where the landscape changes considerably. A weak sun was trying to penetrate an ethereal early morning fog that hung like a cool blanket over the stunted trees and resilient, weather-beaten alpine flora. Jagged peaks and wide open spaces were the main features up here.
We walked briskly breathing in the crisp, mountain air. We had to cover 15 kilometres that day before reaching the small, wilderness campsite called Porcupine where we would set up for the night.