It was our family’s first two-day hike, and we were well prepared. Which is to say we had three backpacks full of sleeping bags, a large tent and tarp, as well as water bottles, a dozen cans of Spam, some beans, and a big bag full of various nuts.
We drove up to Lake Moraine from the Lake Louise Campground, and paid a visit to the local cafeteria to gear up for the long trek ahead. My older sister Ksenia, Dad, and me all bought delicious cheese pastries, while nine-year old Sofia contented herself with a cinnamon bun. Everyone sated (a friendly chipmunk who accosted us outside included), we made our way to the start of the Larch Valley Trail and began the hike. The first leg of the Trail is a steep, zigzagging climb that quickly drained us of any extra energy, if not enthusiasm. There’s nothing quite as euphoric as seeing yourself rise steadily above the azure water of Lake Moraine and see more and more of the magnificent Valley of the Ten Peaks where it nestles.
An hour or so later, we stumbled into the alpine meadows above the lake. The road evened out, and the next three hours we walked at a steady pace through some of the beautiful scenery in the Rockies – shrubs, trees, and flowers of every color and size surrounded us as we walked around several small glacial lakes (splashing ourselves in the cool water each time) until we reached Sentinel Pass. The Sentinel is a magnificent sight: set between the massive Mount Temple on the right and Pinnacle Mountain on the left, it has a long Z-shaped trail carved into its sheer surface. In fact, so steep is the climb that I felt as though if I were to misstep and fall off the trail, I’d be rolling all the way down to the bottom. This was by far the most gruelling part of our hike, but it was well rewarded once we reached the top.
We now had an unobstructed view of both the Valley of Ten Peaks from which we had come, and Paradise Valley where we were going to spend the night. The Ten Peaks were engulfed in sunshine, but from Paradise Valley we could see large grey rainclouds gathering. Since the downward climb consisted of climbing down a slope of large boulders and precariously balanced rocks, which would become very dangerous if made slippery by rain, we cut short our bivouac, though not before a chipmunk, one of the dozens swarming in the Pass feeding off tourists’ generosity, rudely snatched a slice of cheese from Sofia.
The rain was falling on and off as we reached the beggining of the famously untouched Paradise Valley forest. On our last legs, we reached the isolated campground in which we had reserved a site back in the Visitor Center at Lake Louise. The campground had two rather unusual features, however, that we would not forget for a long time – first, lighting fires was prohibited – gone were the ghost stories by the fire and the warm glow and crackle that felt so relaxing after a long day’s trek. Even worse, tents could not be set up on the forest floor, but only on specially designed square bases, which were filled with large sharp stones of all things. Feeling quite miserable, we set up our tent, ate some cold sandwiches, and soon went to sleep under the pouring rain.
Little did we know that we had left the tarp untucked under the tent, and would soon wake up drenched and shivering cold.
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