Saturday, October 31, 2009

More Banff

The second half of our time in Banff just seemed to get better and better each day.

On Monday while Sara was busy doing her presentation at her conference, I decided to take off on a slightly longer run to test out my knee. I still had hopes of possibly running the OT100 on November 7, so thought this would be a good chance to see how things felt. We had picked up the book ‘Mountain Running in the Canadian Rockies’ by Bob Walker which is a must get for any runner visiting the Banff area. Upon consulting with the book, as well as with Leslie and Magi, I eventually decided to do Sulphur Mountain.

In the book it recommended running in a counterclockwise direction which would make for a more gradual climb and enjoyable downhill. I somehow got turned around when I started the run though and spent an hour touring around the bottom of the mountain not sure if I was on the right trail. I ended up getting frustrated and decided to run straight up from the gondola. I knew this would be a more difficult climb, but the switchbacks, unlike the ones in the Adirondacks, allow for a more gradual ascent. Once again, the footing was good at the beginning of the run, but I eventually needed to switch into my microspikes to get good footing with the ice and snow up higher.

Once I made it to the top of Sulphur Mountain, I was treated to absolutely no view. It was very cloudy and I couldn’t really see a damn thing. The immediate area around was nice enough and I just had to imagine how spectacular of a view it would have been if it had been clear. With the summit being at 7,415 feet, I had 2,300 feet of climbing in addition to the extra climbing that I did during the first hour of my run. My knee wasn’t very happy with me today, but this was just a great run and what my soul truly needed.

On Tuesday, I arranged to do a run with my friend Magi who is the Marketing Director at the Canmore Nordic Center. The Nordic Center is a beautiful facility that hosts miles and miles of incredible trails. This is where many of the national cross country ski team train. They are already skiing on snow. In addition to this early season skiing, they have 6km of lit xc ski trails and a paved 10km loop for roller skiing during the off season. I was amazed when Magi told me that they actually harvest snow during the winter season and store it in a shaded area, and then cover it up with wood shavings for the summer. They can then uncover this snow in the fall and build a small track so that athletes can get in some early season workouts on snow. Remarkably, if my memory is right, they only lost about 30% of the snow that was harvested. The Nordic Center also hosts mountain biking and mountain running races, including the Canadian Mountain Running Championships.

During our run, I was shown all of this incredible facility, while running in ankle deep snow the whole time. The trails were rolling and beautiful, with the mountains always in view near by. Magi also took me on some new single track technical trails that they had recently made. It was a great run in such an amazing place. Thanks again for the tour Magi.

For our final day in Banff we decided to take Leslie’s advice and run out Lake Minnewanka. Leslie had told us that there were great views the whole time and that it got very remote early on. We were certainly not disappointed and were treated to one breathtaking view after another. We knew this was going to be a great run, when we arrived in the parking lot to see 3 adults mountain goats and a baby. We weren’t sure what to make of them, but they only wanted to lick the salt off of our car. They were very interesting animals to see up so close and weren’t at all scared of us.

Once again, we were running on snow most of the time for this run. This seemed like a pretty wild area after only a few kilometers. We weren’t too concerned about bears in this area due to the time of the year and climate, but we were a little nervous when we noticed some cougar tracks in the snow. Our run started with bright blue skies shining over the high peaks and reflecting off of the equally bright blue lakes. Just an amazing view. The terrain was quite rolling in places with a few long climbs and technical trails more like what we are used to in our beloved Canadian Shield around our home. It was very difficult to turn around as we kept just wanting to go around the next corner and then the next. Our goal is to come back sometime and run the entire trail point to point.

On our return trip, the weather changed dramatically and the clear skies were replaced with cloud and heavy snowfall. Ah, winter is here even though we won’t be running on good snow back home for another month or two. Lake Minnewanka was certainly a highlight run of our trip and was a perfect way to end our vacation.

Returning to Ontario was a little disheartening and left us feeling a somewhat hollow. The mountains can have such an impact on a person and leaves you longing to return. Arriving into Toronto was a bit of a culture shock. The hustle and bustle was just too much for us. How can people live in a city like this when there are pure places like Banff that exist?

The first day of returning home was the toughest; however we quickly got back into our regular routine and had a nice outdoor dinner in our firepit, while sharing a beer with the dogs. My heart was still in the mountains, but it was nice to be home...for now.

View, or lack of, on Mt Sulphur...Canmore Nordic Centre...
More friends...
Lake Minnewanka...

Check out Sara's report and photos


  1. It is really hard to comment and do it all justice. For a pure trail runner there is nothing that can compare with the rockies and mountains. I am glad you both finally got to experience it all and id does leave a lot to think about.

    Amazing pictures - thanks for the brief look at the western heaven.

    How did you find running at altitude? Slow you down at all?

  2. Beautiful place. I have to go back there soon.

    As for your big city comment: if everyone lived in the country, there wouldn't be any left. High density is the green thing to do. We suffer so you can live your un-green ways!

  3. David,
    Pictures do not do it justice. So incredible being there.

    re: altitude...I found that the first day was the easiest actually. Each day after got progressively more difficult. Really seemed to notice it the day I ran with Magi as we weren't running up anything steep, but just on rolling terrain. I really seemed to notice the faster pace. Talked with Gene about this and he confirmed that it's all about the recovery and much more difficult. I seemed to feel quite a bit better by the end of the 7 days though. I almost felt like I could have run a much better race right off of the plane than if I had been there for a week and then tried to race.

    Didn't mean for my TO comment to come off harsh...but probably did. My point was that I found it so hectic with the crazy traffic during rush hour and it had me at my wits end. I don't cope well with crowds...the further away the better for me:) There is certainly some great trail running to be had in the GTA though.

  4. Before Moab last year that is what I had read if heading to altitude to race. Arrive and race right away - or - at least 1 week before, we ended up doing neither :(

    Planning a return trip yet? ;)

  5. I'd heard that too, but then had heard of other people having big issues arriving at the last minute. I was surprised how much it affected me for a few days though.

    Yup...already thinking about returning with Brennan and Heather and hitting Jasper.

  6. Hey Rick -
    When we climbed Rainier, our strategy was to get up and down fast to "outrun" the effects of altitude. I wasn't comfortable with the idea of that approach at first as we had always been taught to ascend slowly to acclimatize. But, it totally worked (at least for us) for a quick summit. Interesting to hear of your experience with altitude as we're constantly tweaking the best approach for us. Did you stay super-hydrated? You likely do anyway, but we go totally overkill on hydration and that helps us immensely. Absolutely beautiful photos, and I hope you get to go to Jasper soon. I love it that you guys have mountain fever too!!!

  7. Deb,
    We ran with a pack for every run with lots of water and found the air quite dry. We were pretty good about drinking while running, but I have to admit weren't as good as we should have been with hydrating throughout the day. I expect that you're right and would have found that to have helped more too. We did however hydrate quite well in a few evenings with friends, however not with water;)

  8. Lucky you! Beautiful pics!! You guys MUST come out farther west and visit us here in Victoria sometime!