Canada on a high: Overwhelming views of nature’s snow-laced wonders in the Rockies

The sheer magnificence of nature’s snow-laced wonders in and around the picturesque Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies are overwhelmingly breathtaking.
Banff, Canada - hot springs in winter
Banff, Canada - hot springs in winter

It was snowing heavily outside my hotel porch on this particular early morning, as I hopped into a sleek 
SUV. It was rather chilly for this part of autumn, but I hoped for fairer weather on my drive to Heaven on Earth.

Beyond the towering Rockies that encapsulate the town of Banff and the rest of the UNESCO-declared natural heritage region, lay living reflections of God’s exquisite creations nurtured by glacial waters, and a nurturing climate.

Winding Alpine roads lined with snow-flaked conifers and taller Spruce guided my slow cruise to the ultimate locale in this haloed part of the world, Lake Louise. 

I stood on the calm, motionless emerald and turquoise banks of this fantastic sight, the tall mountains capped in snow mirroring their indomitable presence around. It was too real to be true, yet surreal. 

Taking in the frames slowly, absorbing the meditative tranquillity permeating from the rock-bordered lake, I admired the sheer magnificence of this water body etched into the ancient, millennia-old bosom of the Rockies like a passionate artist’s loving rendition.

Bright red canoes cut fine lines across the shimmering lake as light snowflakes gave way to mellow sunshine. Colours metamorphosed constantly, the canvas transiting gracefully across whimsical palates.

My onward drive brought me to another ecological wonder, fastidiously preserved and carefully showcased, a smaller version of Lake Louise.

I strolled down to the timber fenced shores of another deep turquoise and fluorescent bottle green expanse, greeting the huge cliff sides around with harmonious assertion. Lake Moraine.

Upturned colourful canoes on a wooden jetty added mute symphony of contrasts to the silent surround sound orchestration of yet another natural spectacle.

Overwhelmed totally by the sights and no sounds, I expressed humble gratitude for my privileged presence in this blessed haven.

Both Lake Louise and Lake Moraine have allured canoeists, campers, trekkers, high-altitude climbers, nature lovers, environmentalists and keen visitors for their sheer, unsurpassed beauty and engaging ecological synergy.

<em>On the Ice Explorer Monster Bus. Pic: Kishore Iyengar</em>
On the Ice Explorer Monster Bus. Pic: Kishore Iyengar

It was a rare, distinguished high that I ingested with permanent, unforgettable recall.

At the cheery Park Distillery + Restaurant + Bar in Banff downtown that evening as I quaffed a goblet of well rounded 2016 Mission Hill Family Estate Cabernet Merlot, I recalled my day’s exotic experiences.

The authentic Campfire menu was inviting as my Seared BC Salmon with Maple Rye glaze, peas and radish Quinoa paired along with the fine wine.

Their healthy plant-based menu was equally inviting. It listed Beetroot Hummus with roasted seeds, crudités and house flatbread, along with Tofu Lettuce Wraps that had marinated tofu, broccoli slaw, chow mein noodles, iceberg, cashews and peanut satay sauce… all a vegetarian diner’s delight.

<em>Banff Town by evening</em>
Banff Town by evening

Blessed and endowed
The Banff National Park and the neighbouring Jasper National Park are blessed with unique natural wonders, each distinct in their identity and location.

Closer to Banff town is the Bow Falls, a gentle cascading water sensation surrounded by rocky terrain, and an exhilarating golf course.

Moments on its shores literally lulled me into stillness as I stood staring at the roll of water ahead.

Driving ahead further into the hilly heights on the world-famous Icefields Parkway, I stopped by to admire the huge stunningly scenic Hector Lake on the Bow River capped by the Pulpit Peak and Crowfoot Mountain and the petite Herbert Lake close to the Trans-Canada Highway. 

All unbelievably surreal for my senses. The Crowfoot Glacier loomed majestically above the picture-perfect Bow Lake, adding dramatic dimension to a spectacular sight.

<em>Breath gasping walk on the Skywalk above Sunwapta Valley. Pic: Kishore Iyengar</em>
Breath gasping walk on the Skywalk above Sunwapta Valley. Pic: Kishore Iyengar

Only one of its kind 
Higher into the realm of snow-powdered summits sits the Columbia Icefield, offering a once-in-a-lifetime adventure just across the Icefield Parkway. This is one experience I will never forget.

The millions of years old Athabasca Glacier, blankets a 360-degree valley carved out through peaks, in the Jasper National Park.

My tryst with deep ice began as I climbed up the giant behemoth bus, the Brewster Ice Explorer with six monster, hyper large Goodyear Terratruck tyres (each almost 4 ft in height). 

This 6x6 all-wheel drive hydra bus is a fifteen-metre-long multi-passenger beast, that takes on almost 75 precarious degree inclines across intimidating snow and hard ice terrain.

There are only 23 of these megamoth busses in the world and they’re precisely designed to negotiate and overcome any hostile earthy terrain, including slippery ice. 

The Icefield Explorer brought me to the gigantic Athabasca Glacier, sprawling out in the shadow of towering summits.

<em>Breathtaking aerial view of the Athabasca Glacier</em>
Breathtaking aerial view of the Athabasca Glacier

The freezing -12 degrees Celsius didn’t deter me as I trudged across the designated icy-slippery, challenging, blinding white carpet of snow. Sheer raw, untamed and rugged beauty stared at me.

I ventured to the rim of the glacier clearing to a row of little flags of different countries, holding the Indian tricolour for a moment’s pride.

The unreal moments I spent on the glacier awed me. Walking carefully across the icy surface, I remembered that I was cautioned about cavernously deep snow trenches hidden under layers of snow and manoeuvered my path carefully across the mighty glacial expanse.

Pausing for a moment to admire the magnitude of this nature’s mega-monumental creation, I realised this moment wasn’t for long as a  severe winter coming ahead would quickly transform the incarnation of this incomparable phenomenon.

<em>The ephemeral Lake Moraine, Banff National Park. Pic: Kishore Iyengar</em>
The ephemeral Lake Moraine, Banff National Park. Pic: Kishore Iyengar

Swept above the vales
The tizzy, mind-spinning semi-circular sweep of a dramatically positioned man-made sensation stopped me with gasping breath.

I stared at an all glass floor, suspended-in-the-air Skywalk that challenges visitors to tread on its see-through pathway, to breathtaking views of the deep Sunwapta Valley below, close to the Columbia Icefield.

The free-standing cantilever construction creation edged me to walk-stop-pause on the farthest end of the all-clear glass pathway in wide-eyed silence.

<em>The Indian flag atop Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefields. Pic: Kishore Iyengar</em>
The Indian flag atop Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefields. Pic: Kishore Iyengar

The views from the Skywalk are heart-pounding, the moments truly unforgettable.

Back in cheery Banff as mellow twinkles added cheer to my quick gait, I tucked into Nourish Bistro –owned by an Indian restaurateur for some sumptuous vegetarian delights.

The wine was a crisp Riesling from Tantalus Vineyards-Okanagan and the dish was Moroccan Cauliflower Bites, Poutine — oven-roasted cajun fries covered with shredded cheese curds, drenched in a curry sauce and Gyoza — grilled dumplings stuffed with mushrooms, cabbage, carrot and bean sprouts, served with a chilli sesame dipping pot.

<em>Grand view of Banff in the lap of the Alberta Rockies</em>
Grand view of Banff in the lap of the Alberta Rockies

The next day brought me another eco-sensitive adventure across the Rockies as I took the gentle Gondola ride up to Sulphur Mountain.

The snow had cleared and on a fairly bright day, I was amazed by the awesome frames of mountain slopes all around, the Bow Valley and Banff town. 

Christened for nurturing two sulphurous hot springs located at its lower altitude, Sulphur Mountain has facilities to make approach visitor-friendly. One could stretch limbs taking the timber boardwalk to the summit habituated by restaurants, observation vantage points and hiking paths ahead.

Further ahead is the Cosmic Ray Station and the old Weather Station which would interest serious history buffs.

<em>Mirrored stillness: Bow Lake. Pic: Kishore Iyengar</em>
Mirrored stillness: Bow Lake. Pic: Kishore Iyengar

A heartwarming welcome
Below, the famed, over a hundred years old Banff Upper Hot Springs is a welcoming hot springs pool, and quite a hit with global visitors.

Three keen railway workers in 1883 discovered The Cave and Basin National Historic Site — the origins of Canada’s first national park, which has an artificial tunnel to leading to a natural grotto and a 
well preserved thermal swimming pool.

The educative interpretive showcase here is enlightening.

On my last evening in Banff and all its truly fabulous offerings, a fine wining and dining experience at Eden at The Rimrock Resort capped up my visit with aplomb. 

<em>Monster behemoth bus: Brewster Icefield Explorer on Athabasca Glacier</em>
Monster behemoth bus: Brewster Icefield Explorer on Athabasca Glacier

Glancing at the deep lavender and stretching ultramarine casts over the Rockies from my table, I saluted my visit with an interesting, delicately crafted Amuse Bouche graced with a fine 2017, Domaine de Vaufuget, Vouvray, France, followed by.

The wines did a splendid pairing, a 2015 Cambria Estate, Santa Maria Valley, USA and 2016, Frey, Rheinhessen, Germany with beetroot pine nuts and pumpkin purée.

<em>The spectacular suspended Glacier Skywalk, Icefields Parkway</em>
The spectacular suspended Glacier Skywalk, Icefields Parkway

As the snowfall got more intense across the wide-angled glass frames, I smiled appreciatively.

My cheese platter of excellent Mimolette was married rightly with an NV, Maxwell Honey Mead, McLaren Vale, Australia, honeysuckle and rose lingering on graciously on my palette.

A fitting tribute to a grand sojourn, I murmured.

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