I leapt across two slippery rocks, almost landing face first into a rushing mountain stream, scampered up a rough dirt trail, hoofed it through a huge snowdrift and scrambled hand-over-hand up a rocky moraine. It sounds like something from a Bond movie, but it was really just part of a backcountry hiking experience.
My husband and I were hiking behind Shadow Lake Falls in Banff National Park and I have to admit, I probably would have stopped at the falls and skipped the more rugged part of the hike. It was Greg’s idea to keep going.
If we had skipped the last bit of the hike, though, we would have missed the amazing carpet of glacier lilies beside the snowdrift and the incredible view from the top of the moraine — without another soul in site.
Canada’s oldest national park includes vast tracts of pristine wilderness that only a few backcountry travellers ever see.
The price they pay for their exclusive tour of nature’s most wondrous mountain scenery usually comes in the form of a sacrifice of creature comforts — hot showers, warm beds and home cooked meals.
But there is another way to experience the backcountry. When Will and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, slipped away to Skoki Lodge near Lake Louise during their 2011 visit, Alberta’s backcountry lodges gained international attention.
A visit to a backcountry lodge makes it possible to experience Alberta’s amazing backcountry without having to sacrifice life’s little comforts.
The hike up to Shadow Falls was pretty spectacular, but what happened next was truly unbelievable. After hiking back down the trail, we headed back to our comfy cabin at Brewster’s Shadow Lake Lodge and I freshened up before dinner with a hot shower — the one thing you don’t expect to find in the backcountry.
Shadow Lake Lodge uses a combination of solar and micro hydro power generation to stay almost completely off the grid. Though several people had showered before me, the on-demand hot water system ensured that the water remained hot for my entire shower, an exercise that proved to be a great way to clear the dust from the trail and soothe aching muscles that were not used to working so hard.
Unlike Will and Kate, who had a special permit to fly by helicopter inside the park, we hiked the 13 km into the lodge the previous day. Our packs were much lighter than they would have been if we had been camping, since we only needed a few extra clothes, camera gear, some trail mix and water. Despite this, after hiking two days in a row, I was feeling it.
That night at dinner, we sat family style around tables with other travellers recounting our hiking adventures of the day. There are several great day hikes that can be easily accessed from the lodge — Shadow Lake (and the unofficial trail behind Shadow Falls), Gibbon Pass, Ball Pass, Haduk Lake and Whistling Pass. Everyone at our table had done a different hike and it was great to compare notes.
As our multi-course gourmet dinner was served, Alison Brewster popped out of the kitchen to welcome us and introduce the meal.
“Tonight we will start with a squash soup followed by glory bowl spinach salad, steamed asparagus, rosemary potatoes and stuffed leg of lamb with balsamic fig sauce,” she said.
As we started into the delicious soup, Claire and Jesse, a young couple from Toronto, recounted their adventures hiking Gibbon Pass earlier that day. “As we began hiking up the pass, we came across some backpackers who were coming over from the opposite side,” said Claire. “When they found out where we were staying, one of them asked me to tell him what we had for dinner last night. They had been living on dehydrated food for a few days, so it almost seemed cruel to describe the meals we have been having. I didn’t even bother to tell them about the spread for afternoon tea. You definitely don’t go hungry here.”
Guests at the lodge share a kind of camaraderie and over the course of our two-night stay, we visited with many other guests and exchanged hiking stories from local trails and others they had enjoyed around the globe.
Shadow Lake Lodge also opens up the backcountry to people who would otherwise have difficulty accessing it. We met a couple travelling with their two teenaged sons, a pair of 70-year-old grandparents having an adventure with their 12-year-old grandson, a young couple travelling with a four-month-old baby and another couple with an 18-month-old child.
“It truly is a pleasure to share the backcountry with our visitors and work in such a beautiful part of the Canadian Rockies,” said Alison Brewster while standing in her kitchen the next morning. “The Brewster name is an incredible legacy to live up to and Shadow Lake Lodge will always have a special place in my heart.
“My husband Bryan Niehaus and I helped my dad build the cabins back in 1990 and we’ve been managing it ever since. I have so many good memories here. My dad wasn’t much of a storyteller, but when he got up here he was. We’d sit in that meadow and he’d tell us about his adventures.”
As we put on our packs and made our way back to the Redearth Creek trailhead, I was certain that Shadow Lake Lodge would always have a special place in my heart, too.
There is something about the Canadian Rockies that can heal a weary soul — especially when you are in the solitude of Alberta’s magnificent backcountry.
If you go
l Brewster’s Shadow Lake Lodge and Cabins is open during the summer from late June to late September and in the winter from late January through March. The lodge is reached via a 13-km hike (or ski in winter) along the Redearth Creek Trail, which is located about 20 km west of Banff on the TransCanada Hwy. The trail into the lodge is rated as a moderate trail with a 440-metre elevation gain.
l Rates start at $390 per night for two people (depending on the dates of travel) and include three meals daily and afternoon tea. Discounted rates apply for children staying in the same room as their parents. The dining room is a licensed facility and beer and wine are available for an extra charge. Guests who pack in their own alcoholic beverages can enjoy them in the privacy of their cabins. For more information on the lodge or reservations, visit www.shadowlakelodge.com or call 1-866-762-0114.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.