Sunday, September 25, 2011

Body, Soul, and Mind

I'm sure that I don't have to remind you about the great late summer weather we have been having, and with the first day of fall promising to be a stunner, I decided that there was only one place to be on a beautiful fall day. I dug out my daypack, and loaded it with the necessities required for a day out in the Rockies. It had been a number of years since I had hiked in to the Larch Valley, that lies above Moraine Lake, and with the promise of Golden Larch trees, it was the only place that I wanted to be on a beautiful fall day. The hike to Larch Valley ranks as one of the more popular outings in Banff National Park and the Canadian Rockies, especially in autumn when the larches display a radiant golden glow. Over the years, I have hiked many trails in the Rockies, and the Larch Valley from Moraine Lake may be one of the Banff park’s best hikes. It is spectacular, with lots of elevation gain, and lots of beautiful scenery along the trail, and if you go, don't forget your camera.

It goes without saying that the main reason that I would be hiking up to the Larches, was too shoot photos of the larches, so I loaded one of my camera bodies with several lens, along with a selection of filters, plus my tripod. I had made a call to the visitors in Lake Louise on Friday afternoon, and had been assured that the larches were at their peak - perfect! Saturday morning found me backing off my drive-way just after 5 am, as I wanted to get up the trail early, as it was pretty much guaranteed that the week-end, and nice fall weather, would make the trail in to the valley a busy one. Once I cleared the city limits, I turned off all my dash lights, and enjoyed my cup of chai tea as I drove along highway 1 west, and from time to time, glancing out my window and enjoying the view of my favorite constellation "Orion" visible in the southern sky, with Mintaka, the most westerly star in Orion's belt, showing me the way west. This reminded me to check out comet Garradd, already a fine sight through my telescope, when I observed it several weeks ago. Shining in the evening sky at 7th magnitude. It has a bright head, a sharp starlike nucleus, and a tail that's stubby but well defined, and it's forecast to shine near its 6th-magnitude best all the way from October to mid-March. Not since Jennifer and I observed Hale-Bopp back in 1997. has any comet remained so bright for so long. I reminded myself that I wanted to take my telescope out to the country, away from the city lights, and shoot photos of the comet, although I would wait till it was at its nearest to earth.

I cleared the Banff gates in good time, as the traffic traveling out from Calgary on highway 1 had been light. The sky was beginning to show hints of dawn breaking, with the mountains nicely defined against the sky, with a waning crescent moon hanging just above the Rockies to the southeast. Before long, I was coming up on Lake Louise, where I made the turn off highway 1 on to the road leading up to the lake. If you have not been to Moraine Lake, the road is accessed part way up the Lake Louise road. I soon was pulling into the parking lot at Moraine Lake, where there were about 10 vehicles already in the parking lot. Once parked, I changed out my sandals for my hiking boots, grabbed my pack and soon was working my way along the pathway along the lake shore. Once I arrived at the trail head leading up to the larch valley, I began working my way up the trail. You appreciate reaching the valley, since you gain 550 meters in about 4 kilometers. After the series of steady switchbacks up from Moraine Lake, I stopped and enjoyed a pause on the rest bench at the junction with the Eiffel Lake trail.

Keeping right for Larch Valley, the first stands of larch soon appeared. I was pleased to find my timing was perfect, as the larch were at their peak colors. I was happy with my early arrival, as there were few hikers on the trail, allowing me to shoot photos at my leisure. Mt. Temple looked mighty fine to the north, while in front of me, Pinnacle Mtn and Eiffel Peak looked stunning in the early morning light. After a level section through the meadow, the path leads up steadily, although more gently than the trail up from Moraine Lake. I passed the last larch trees, and about five hundred meters further, I reached the shore of the largest of the Minnestimma Lakes nestled in the bowl between Mt. Temple and Pinnacle Mtn. By the time I reached the lakes, and with all the stops that I had made for photo-ops, or talking to other hikers, the trail was becoming heavily used by visitors to the high country, there to take in the magic show, that the larches were providing on this beautiful fall day. Soon, it was time for me to head back down the trail to Moraine Lake, but the day had proven to be the elixir that I needed to soothe my body, soul, and mind.

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