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Lower falls, Johnston Canyon

Our plans for the fourth day were to cover Lake Louise, Moraine Lake (a second attempt) and visit Johnston Canyon, on the way back. Not certain why, but one of the things we did extremely well on this trip was to sleep well. Perhaps the mountain air, the amount of physical activity and the elevation all served to dish up a good sleeping regimen. And thus, that morning, we slept in, and decided to change our schedule for the day.

After a relaxed breakfast, the boys chose to play golf at the world-class, Stanley Thompson designed course at the hotel. Luckily, they had a wide-open tee time, so they took the shuttle down to the Tunnel mountain 9 to play. There is a Stanley Thompsin 18 as well but that would have required most of the day to play, time we didn’t have. Missy JJ had been asking me about a massage at the Willow Stream Spa. That morning, the Spa was booked with guests from an ongoing conference. Which left only manicure and pedicure, so we each chose one. Adults over 18, who buy certain packages, have access to the mineral springs spa at the hotel for a reduced rate. But since Missy JJ wasn’t able to go, I passed up on the offer.

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Tunnel Mountain 9 golf course, Banff

As expected, our services proceeded without any hiccups. I didn’t really explore the Spa much since our time was limited. But I did notice many guests, both men and women, throughout our stay, make use of the spa.

The Fairmont hosts a Heritage Tour for hotel guests where a staff member takes them on a tour while imparting the history of the historic hotel. While waiting for the boys to return, Missy JJ and I joined the tour. It was an interesting experience and one worth the time. Our tour guide was both knowledgeable and humorous, enlivening the history with absorbing staff stories.

The boys had a fabulous time playing golf. They were paired with a couple and spent three hours playing on one of the most beautiful courses, surrounded by mountains and intermittently bothered by drizzling rain.

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Dramatic views, on our tour, from the hotel upper lobby

For lunch, we returned to Stock where we enjoyed a warm cauliflower sandwich, something we had never tried before. With the fresh cilantro and cauliflower melding well, it was a delight to taste and filling.

Our highlight of the day was the trip to Johnston Canyon. First we stopped at the Bow Falls near our hotel to enjoy the view. Then it was onto the Bow Valley Parkway to Johnston Canyon, stopping along the way to enjoy the Bow River. We learnt about the prescribed burns of old forests of Lodgepole pines along the Sawback area – prescribed forest fires that Parks Canada creates to keep the forests healthy and rejuvenated. The original settlers understood well the importance of forest fires, how it helped grow new and fresh vegetation that was better liked by the foraging animals, how it fostered the return of more wildlife and insects and other fauna. Animals like ranging on grassy meadows and thinly forested areas and generally avoid thickly forested areas with dense canopies and little space to maneuver in. Prescribed burns help to create and maintain grassy meadows.

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Bow River, from the Bow Valley Parkway

The Johnston Canyon trail was very enjoyable. There is a natural foot trail that leads to the narrow bridges or catwalks built into the cliffs. These lead all the way to the lower and then the upper falls. The lower falls are more easily accessed as they are not at much of an elevation. Interestingly, there is a small cave in the mountain face where one can get a more impressive and closer view, although likely to get sprayed upon, as well. The climb to the higher falls does need some exertion. But with the sound of gushing water following us through most of the trail and the sheer ruggedness of the canyon creating twists and turns in the trail, the walk was nothing short of pleasant. The balmy weather and the end of the day made it even more conducive to walk. The upper falls can be viewed from two areas, one at its base and the other, a short but more strenuous climb to the top of the falls, a view I would definitely recommend climbing for!

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The narrow entrance for a closer view of the Lower falls, Johnston Canyon

The whole trip to and from the falls took us just about two hours. About 3-3.5 miles in all. En route, we came across a gentleman who was being assisted by paramedics and  watched as he was airlifted by a med-evac helicopter. In the middle of a canyon, several miles away from the nearest town! It was all done very smoothly, with no fanfare. It felt good to know that he did not suffer and got immediate attention.

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Upper Fall, Johnston Canyon, view from the foot of the falls
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Upper Falls, Johnston canyon, top of the falls view

Once we were done with the trail, we debated about heading to Moraine Lake since the evening was still young. In the end, we decided to make short work of touring and returned to Banff to enjoy dinner at the Indian Curry House. After the hike, we were famished and enjoyed a warm and thoroughly satisfying dinner.

For dessert, we stopped at Cow’s Creamery and munched on beavertails, as mentioned in my other post earlier today. The ice creams, especially, were worth all the trouble of running back to the hotel for cash.

The following day, we had plans to drive the remainder of the Icefields Parkway and a date with a glacier. The easy day we had ensured we were ready for a hectic one on the morrow.