The last time I visited the Banff National Park’s Sunshine Meadows I wanted to murder my backpack. The clear blue waters of Egypt Lake and the ragged edges of Pharaoh Peaks hadn’t been enough to take my mind off the leather boots chewing my ankles and I was convinced hiking elves added rocks to my pack with every step. Once back at Sunshine Village parking lot I dropped my pack on the pavement, gave it a kick, and swore I would never backpack again.
Three decades later I still abstain from backpacking but was I missing some of the Rockies best views? When Sunshine Village Ski & Snowboard Resort announced they were opening their Standish chairlift for the first time in twenty years for summer hikers I was ready to revisit the site of my earlier pain.
I arrived at Sunshine Village winded only by the climb up the gondola stairs and headed to Trapper’s restaurant to shore up my energy levels. The chicken wrap and fries was a luxurious change from the crushed bagel and cheese I’d feasted on during my previous trip. Recharged, I headed for the Standish chairlift and an open-air ride to the hiking trails.
Stepping off the chair I was sorry I’d stayed away for so long. Rock Isle Lake glittered in the distance among stacked peaks of the Continental Divide. Mount Assiniboine – the Matterhorn of the Rockies – was clearly visible and I could see into British Columbia while standing in Alberta.
The best part? Most of the hiking from that viewpoint is downhill! I moved slower than when I’d been here before. Partly because my knees were older but mainly because last time, the smartphone hadn’t been invented and I didn’t have a social media addiction. With Wi-Fi at the top of the mountain I stopped for a few minutes of Facebook Live before hitting my hiking stride. I met several people puffing their way back up the trail making me wonder if they were slaves to their Fitbit or didn’t read the map.
Gravel crunched under my shoes and the calls of nervous ground squirrels rang in my ears as a hawk patrolled above. This is also bear country and I saw several recent digs, evidence grizzlies had been looking for lunch nearby.
A Sunshine Meadows employee tended the trail making sure human impact on this sensitive environment is minimal. “Sunshine trail managers also walk around to make sure people are staying on the trail, obeying all the signs. This is a big focus of our marketing efforts as well,” explained Lindsay Gallagher, Sunshine Village’s Media & Marketing Coordinator.
A brazen red fox circled several hikers before trotting back down the trail. He appeared more curious than dangerous and soon I was hiking after him. Without a heavy backpack I was able to reach Sunshine Village with enough energy to pick up an ice cream. As I swallowed the chocolaty goodness, I placed my pack gently on the picnic table, happy it had brought me back for a do-over and a renewed love for alpine places.
If you go:
Sunshine Village will be running their summer gondola and chairlift in 2017. Look for opening dates at http://www.skibanff.com/sunshine-village/summer-hours-of-operation/
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