Have you ever wanted to backpack Banff National Park? I always did. And when the opportunity presented itself, I immediately jumped on board. And then I thought to myself, how do I get there? By plane? And then rent a car from Calgary? After pondering for days, I decided to drive. A road trip. From Southern California to Banff. And that’s how it began, my first stop being Mono Lake, and I finally arrived in Banff!
Back in late June through early July, I took a long photography road trip. This is Part 6 of the Road Trip series, and if you haven’t checked out the photos that I took while visiting Mono Lake, Lake Tahoe, Lassen Volcanic, Crater Lake and/or Multnomah Falls, click here, here, here, here and here to take a look. You won’t be disappointed.
And the trip in Banff involved so many different locations and traveling, I’ve decided to break it up into three parts as well.
This is Banff – Scarab Peak.
ON MY WAY TO BANFF NATIONAL PARK
As I mentioned above, when the opportunity came, I said yes to it immediately.
And here I was already getting close to Banff.
After hours and hours of driving through the states of Washington and Idaho, I crossed the border and then arrived in Cranbrook, British Columbia. It was a long drive, but I was really excited to be there.
After one more night, I’d be backpacking with friends in Banff.
COUNT THE STARS BY CAMPFIRE
My night was spent just outside of Cranbrook. I found a small campground, away from a much larger one, which was taken by a big group. I liked this one a lot because I didn’t have to deal with any noise, let alone it being located right by Kootenay River.
There was a man-made fire pit, which I suspected may have been used some time in the past. Certainly though it wasn’t going to be used that night. I found it quite idyllic for the place for sure. Particularly with the night sky that I was planning to photograph.
The night was rather chilly, and part of me wished that I had a fire going to keep myself warm, aside from thinking that it definitely would’ve added an extra layer of texture to the photo. But then again, I didn’t want to create something that would give away an impression that it was staged. Although at times I don’t mind, I really enjoyed that feeling of solitude, no distraction and just being there as was.
I must say though that I would’ve made a fire if I were with friends. No marshmallows were necessarily needed…
BANFF NATIONAL PARK
When entering Kootenay National Park via Radium Hot Springs by taking BC-93, I was told that Parks Canada was celebrating the Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017 and that they were offering a 2-year national park pass for only one year price. Since I would be staying in the park for just about 7 days, which would be the same price as the annual pass, I made the purchase there. Excited, I thought to myself that it was one more reason to come back.
A friend of mine who also loves Banff and Kootenay recently told me that Parks Canada is actually going to let tourists visit the national parks and some for free in 2017.
Oh… So, I technically paid for just one year, not two… Wait, since I purchased it at the end of June, would I be able to use it till late June, 2018?
After driving through Vermilion Crossing, I exited Kootenay National Park and entered Banff National Park.
I found Two Jack Main Campground and joined some of my friends for dinner in Downtown Banff. Once we were back at the campground, we gathered around by the campfire.
When a campground is located in the deep woods, it’s rather difficult to see the night sky, let alone the Milky Way. And when I realized that the sky wasn’t necessarily cooperating, I decided not to bother with my camera. Once the fire was out, I went to bed.
LOOMING PRESENCE OF THE MONARCH
The overcast sky and the dampened ground greeted us next morning when we got out of our tents and cars. The sun was still out of sight, hiding behind the pale sky.
We had breakfast, packed up our stuff and drove to the Sunshine Village, where we were supposed to start our backpacking adventure. We enjoyed the ride up to Sunshine Meadow by taking the gondola lift. The view was spectacular as the sky was clearing up.
We started heading north on Healy Pass Trail from the meadow.
As we were gaining elevation, I noticed that the Monarch became more prominent. Because there was no peaks higher than the Monarch in the area, it drew my attention quite a bit.
The mountain wasn’t close enough or there wasn’t a large lake to capture the reflection in it. Then, I came across this little stream. Not bad, I thought.
THE MONARCH AND BEYOND
When we finally reached the top of Healy Pass, the ever-looming Monarch and beyond completely spread out before our eyes. Simply breathtaking, I thought to myself, and I did my best to capture what my eyes saw.
The last two miles or so to the top of Healy Pass demanded a climb of 650 feet in elevation. For a day hike, it would not be much. But with the amount of weight that I was carrying on my back, although I wouldn’t say it was very strenuous, it certainly made me work for it.
And it was worth every step.
There’s a ridge line extending into the center of the frame from the right, and the whole area is called Monarch Ramparts. Still decorated with snow patches here and there, the ridge would offer a trail that leads one all the way down to the bottom of the Monarch.
I got very excited about the possibility of trekking it although not a single friend of mine seemed to be as excited as I was.
WORTH CARRYING ALL THAT WEIGHT
Another view greeted us while at the top of Healy Pass.
If you look real closely, you may be able to see a super duper tiny white streak right below the blue Scarab Lake at the foot of the Scarab Peak. It is a waterfall that drops over a thousand feet of a sheer precipice.
Of course, it wasn’t registering in my head when I looked at it then because I had never been there or seen it in person prior to this very moment, so everything came all mixed and meshed to me. As if my brain could only identify a perfect mountain… because it didn’t know what else to peek out.
After this point, it was all downhill. All the way to the Egypt Lake Campground, losing about 1,300 feet, and we were quite happy about that… although it meant that we had to climb back up that pass again when we hike out.
AS IF IT NEVER HAPPENED
After a good night sleep inside my cosy sleeping bag, I got out of the tent and saw that not only did the rain come overnight but also it was still lightly sprinkling. As if I were in the very fine mist.
I wasn’t sure if I should even bother to grab my camera and the tripod and take a stroll down to Pharaoh Creek. After pondering for a few minutes, I decided to go for it.
I slogged in my sandals down the mostly dampened trail, often muddled with big and small puddles. The lingering early morning mist persisted.
As I got closer to the creek, I noticed that the sprinkling ceased and that the mist sort of dissipated.
And to my biggest surprise, the sky started clearing up. So quickly!
And then started glowing in yellow. And then, orange. It happened so fast that I didn’t have much time. I quickly set up my camera and took a few shots.
Then, it was gone.
Just like how it came. So quickly. Gone.
I was just glad that the rain stopped. For now anyway.
WHAT’S OVER THE MULTIPLE RAINBOWS
Now that the rain stopped, I decided to stick around by the water longer. I wandered up the creek for a bit before returning to the campground. While facing Pharaoh Peak and Scarab Peak, I was hoping to frame the creek right…
Then, multiple rainbows appeared. Just like that!
They are called supernumerary rainbows. Besides the bow above the main bow, there’s another bow, very faint and yet visible, appearing right underneath it.
And I didn’t forget the reflection of the rainbows.
Later when I returned to the campsite, some of my friends saw them too and asked me if I caught them. I said yes. They seemed very excited about them too.
GAZING AT PHARAOH PEAK
We started our hike a little bit late. Especially when you are in the bear country, you want to make sure that the food is out of bear’s reach. Egypt Lake Campground has a food hanging area (not too far from the ‘kitchen area’) where they have poles and wire to hang the bags. I thought it was quite convenient.
Before we got to Egypt Lake, the peak that dominated the skyline was Pharaoh Peak.
I arrived at this little pond, ahead of everyone, and enjoyed taking a few shots of the reflection of the peak in the water. Because it was such a small one surrounded by the tall trees, the water was almost still.
I reached Egypt Lake, which was rather larger than I expected (although the map showed that it was large…). After checking out a small lake, part of Egypt Lake, I walked farther around the main lake counterclockwise. That was when I saw rain clouds forming quite aggressively over Scarab Peak. The wind started picking up too. After taking a few shots, I retrieved to the point where my friends just arrived.
After watching and cheering three friends in their swim suits dipping in the cold water in spite of the pending rain and the wind that forced us to put on our rain jackets and windbreakers, I headed back with a couple of friends.
We reached the junction where another trail split, which would supposedly take us to Scarab Peak. The rain clouds were sort of held off for now…, so I wanted to go. One of them was having a terrible headache and another friend was not up for it.
It it were to rain, I would rather not waste even a minute at the campsite. Rather getting myself soaking wet while hiking Scarab Lake.
Oh, and earlier one of my friends was told by other backpackers who had hiked to the lake the day before that there was a waterfall at the end of the trail at Scarab Lake that no one would want to miss…
Since no other friends were in sight, I thought to myself,
I don’t want to miss it. Oh well, guess it’s time to take a solo hike.
So I went off.
CLOUDS SPEWING LIKE VOLCANO GAS
The large part of the sky cleared up while I was heading up to Scarab Lake although a bit of rain clouds lingered. But if I were to worry about something, it had been actually a sight of bears. Not rain.
It was a bit of climb scuttering up the lower part of Pharaoh Peak at first. It made me huff and puff. Once I reached the ‘shoulder’ of it, it was all downhill to the lake. And the first thing that came into view when I stood at the shoulder was the massive Scarab Peak, simply brooding in front of me, like a champ.
I didn’t run into anyone till I was heading down the hill. In fact, I was rather surprised when I saw a couple coming up the trail. We exchanged hellos.
Once I reached the lake, which was sitting at the bottom of the towering Scarab Peak, I just couldn’t believe my eyes as to how massive it was.
If you scrawl back up to the photo of Scarab Peak, its lake and Pharaoh Peak above and compare the size of the lake to the size of the mountain, you can’t be mistaken by its enormous size of it.
And yet, I stood there at the opposite side of the lake and was completely stunned by its sheer size. Just massive.
Once I was done taking photos, I started looking for the waterfall.
PHARAOH PEAK DOMINATING THE LAKE VIEW
Since there was no trail going around the lake counterclockwise, I followed this ‘sort of’ trail that went the other way. I say sort of because it often disappeared on me although I was able to pick it up again within several feet.
As I was getting close to the stream that diverted from Scarab Lake, I turned around and looked up at Pharaoh Peak. What a view, I thought…
Then, I remembered. Some of my friends and I had been talking about rock scrambling up that peak prior to our trip although it would’ve been probably very difficult for most of my female friends on this trip.
And I didn’t have enough time anyway…
SPEEDING DOWN TO THE EDGE OF THE PRECIPICE
I crossed the stream, which was flowing really nicely, and tried to frame in both the stream and the enormous Scarab Peak. It wasn’t easy even with my 16-35mm lens. Either I was too close or the lens was not wide enough. Oh well… I had to be content with what I was able to capture.
SUBLIME SIGHT FROM THE EDGE OF THE PRECIPICE
I went farther around the lake and reached the end of the trail. I believed I could’ve gone farther up but I wasn’t sure as to what else was there to discover. I knew that it was the way to climb Scarab Peak, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do that day. I turned around.
I got back to the stream and then followed down the rushing water. So much vigor, while thinking to myself, I reached the end. And that was where the water fell over a thousand feet below.
TOMORROW IS ALREADY ALMOST HERE
I got to the edge of the cliff as close as possible. And there it was. The stream of water, traveling through the forest yet again, joined the lake below.
The view of Egypt Lake and beyond simply took my breath away. I looked at the pass where I stood a day earlier. It seemed far away.
What a humbling moment again. In front of nature. I was so small.
NOTHING WAS STOPPING ITS GUSH
After enjoying the sublime view from the edge of the precipice, I noticed that there was a small space across the gushing stream before the water fell over a thousand feet. So, I decided to investigate.
I crossed the stream again over the log and then trudged down a field of massive, irregularly shaped rocks. Quite odd to see and walking on these giant rocks in the middle of the forest.
Then there it was. This little mossy area tucked in at the very end of the stream was like a little sanctuary. The little waterfalls cascading down the rocks were quite a pleasant sight.
I couldn’t help myself wondering how often this place got visited. Such a lovely little spot. I could’ve sat there for hours.
I did take a break there but it didn’t last long. Part of me knew it was time to head back.
I didn’t think I was gone for long, but apparently I was (although I knew it was getting a bit dark when I left the waterfall), and when I returned to the campsite, everyone had been worried, thinking of calling in the Search and Rescue Team. They were happy to see me returned safely.
They told me that they were soon trailing me to Scarab Lake but somehow missed a turnoff of some sort, ended up at a dead end. Not knowing the trail well enough, they decided to turn around.
It would’ve been nice to have them when I was up there.
It is always amusing and reminiscing to look back at the events that carried such a significant meaning in the past. I was looking forward to joining my friends in Banff and backpacking with them for months. And then, it came and went. It went by so quickly. As much as I was present in that moment (no distractions in the wilderness for sure), time went fast at an alarming rate.
A quote from
You don’t have time, Len. That is the most bitter and the most beautiful piece of advice I can offer. If you don’t have what you want now, you don’t have what you want.
I enjoyed every minute of it while huffing and puffing, in rain, while sweating and even huddled in chilly nights. Because once it was gone, the moment would never return. Especially, the older I get, the more I think this way.
I was looking forward to the next day.
Have you hiked or backpacked to Egypt Lake? How about Scarab Lake? What about Pharaoh Peak? Or Scarab Peak? What are your favorite hike or backpacking trip that you did in the area? Or what area are you most interested in? Have you hiked to Lake O’Hara? I recently discovered the lake. It looks amazing. Check it out. And let me know if you’ve been there.
Thanks for reading.