We arrive at Banff by noon, with plenty of time to explore the town. Sandara lived here for fourteen years back in the seventies and the eighties. It is impossible not to fall in love with this place, Banff, nestling at the bottom of the silvery gold mountains surrounding it. I love walking in downtown Banff, even with all crowds. There is a great vibe here!
We are walking to see Bow Falls as it cascades on the Bow River. It is a wide waterfall with a short drop, but the landscape makes this waterfall handsome. We continue walking to the famous Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, where Sandra used to work many years ago as the inside gardener. She knows the place inside out, and I get a fabulous tour of this historic hotel. As we walk back to town to meet Sandra's friend Roger for dinner, we stop at Cascade Gardens, a lovely garden to relax and enjoy a quiet moment.
Sandara is returning home while I am staying in Banff. I will see her again in two days when I get to her house in Invermere.
I have a long day ahead of me, so I am at the head trail to Cory Pass by eight-thirty. The path belongs to me, as I like it! As I enter the woods, I remind myself I am in bear country, and I strap my bell to my hiking pole. I am so delighted with myself for not having a nagging fear holding me back. If I look back on my time as a volunteer ambulance driver and how I handled the stress and responsibility that comes with it, I know I can stay calm and in control at times of stress. If I encounter a bear, I have the knowledge and tools to hopefully come out with no harm to me or the bear.
I am expecting this to be a hard and long hike. Right from the beginning, the incline is steep. As usual, I take my time; even on easy hikes, I love taking my time enjoying the row of nature around me. I need to stop several times to catch my breath, allowing me to turn around to see the valley and the endless mountains. Finally, after a mile and a half into my hike, I lose the sounds of the traffic, and the silence of the wilderness welcomes me. I still have to suffer through the sound of the bear bell and am still quite annoyed by it.
I get to a point where I need to put away my hiking poles in my backpack as I need to scramble down the rocks if I wish to continue hiking. At this point, another couple is joining me, and we are trying to assess the terrain. I think I proved to myself that I am almost over my fear of heights since I started going down while the Austrian couple is debating if they even wanted to attempt this section. I can nearly go down and reach a flat path, but in the last part, I miss a few good inches on me to make it a safe landing. I know I have no choice but to get back up and join the Austrian couple that decided to trace their way back to the parking lot. Yes, I feel defeated but just for a second, as a young French couple just arrived, and behind them, another young couple from Australia. I know that if I wish to keep going, I need to ask for help. It is so good to be young (and tall)! They are more than happy to lend me a helping hand. As we all bundle up on the rock as an international team, a herd of bighorn sheep appears from nowhere, going their way like no obstacle is in their way except for us. We sit quietly on the rocks to let them pass in peace. Oh wow, that was special!
I try to keep up with my team, but I cannot, they hike too fast, and I am back by myself very quickly. Now I don't have the challenge of descending rocks; I am on a very narrow path in an upwards direction. I am very much aware that I better not look to my left as there is nothing there but a drop-down. Yes, my heart is racing harder and not just from the climb. I don't even use my left hiking pole, there is no room on the ground for it. I tell myself to stay calm and keep going. I really don't have any other choice by now but to go forward. Finally, I get to a safer ground beneath me, and I take a break for lunch with a spectacular view of many mountain ranges lining up next to each other, giving me the feeling I can jump from one ridge to another.
I check All Trails to ensure I am still on the right path and understand that I gained 3,000 feet in elevation in less than four miles. No wonder this hike has challenged me!
Well...what goes up must come down. If I felt unsafe going up, going down turned out to be a nightmare. I slide down twice, luckily to be stopped by my cushion butt. I am at this point in a lot of pain - my back and right knee are screaming at me. The amazing-looking Cory Pass is breathtaking, but I cannot even find the mental space to enjoy it. This is the second hike ever in my life that I wish to be over with. The first time was in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, but that is a story on its own.
Honestly, I wouldn't recommend doing this hike solo. I can only blame myself for being here. I cannot slack anymore when it comes to strenuous hikes. I need to read reviews more often. I will stay away from high-gain elevations in a short distance, that is not for me anymore.
I have another three miles to go, and they look like the longest miles of my life. I am back hiking under the trees, and the trees' smell is fresh and relaxing. The misery I feel right now I know will help me gain valuable lessons from this hike.
I do enjoy the last portion of the hike since my descent is less steep. I can't take the annoying sound of the bear bell anymore, but I know I can't be silent either, so I put my music on. I hope the bear approves of my eclectic music taste.
Finally, I am back in my car, and since no one is around, I take the opportunity to change my clothes from top to bottom. Those moments make me laugh at myself and what my life looks like now, and I AM LOVING IT!
Tomorrow I will be on my way to Invermere, so I want to make the most of my day even though I am tired. Yesterday the ranger at the visitor's center recommended a drive to Lake Minnewanka. It is a good choice for sure, especially at the end of the day when it is easier to find a parking spot.