The Sunshine trail starts in Banff National Park at the Sunshine Village Ski resort. I took a shuttle from the resort parking up to the trail head. The ride is somewhat expensive but once on the bus, I was very happy to have taken this shuttle as it steeply climbs up for a couple of miles. Furthermore, I was a little but tired as I had slept uncomfortably in my rental car at the parking the night before. The hike itself is fairly flat except over a single section after Citadel Pass. The goal was to camp at Og lake on the first day. This is about 13 miles from the trail head. The trail starts out by crossing a meadow. It was entirely covered by a thin layer of snow; it had rained the day prior but at that altitude, rain starts out as snow. It would melt very quickly however and was gone by noon or so. My pack was more heavy that it needed to be and this was due to my ignorance of the need to minimise weight. This was my first multi-day hike (meaning more than 2 days) and despite being an experienced hiker, I realised I had been laxed in preparing properly, at least in terms of educating myself on backcountry hiking knowledge. Towards the end of the first day, I began to feel much exhaustion while going through the "valley of the rocks", a very interesting section of the trail near Og Lake. I would later have some of my garbage flown out from Assiniboine lodge just to lighten my pack. Thinking back, I was very foolish in choosing some of the things I would bring along; for example, I brought canned food and of course, I had to bring along a can opener! Assiniboine Lodge is located further along the way from Og Lake and can only be reached either by foot or by Helicopter. Getting rid of my trash proved to be costly because trash has to be flown out no less. I therefore had to pay to get rid of it (you pay by the weight of course).
Mid way between the trail head and Citadel Pass, I met a couple going in my direction. They seemed to be very light geared and the guy was carrying a radio and I could hear Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon playing. They planned to head back towards Banf once at Citadel Pass. We did not continue together however because surprisingly, I had a quicker pace despite my heavy load. I only came across one other hiker that day going in the opposite direction. It would turn out to be a very solitary first day, much to my surprise considering the time of year, the good weather and the awesome beauty of the surroundings. I was however concerned with bears. Black bears have never really frightened me although I take precautions to make my presence known and avoid encounters and I have hiked in areas with a fairly good concentration of them. I then had well over 100 hikes under my belt and I had never seen one. This hike would prove to be different but fortunately without incident. I did however have bear repellent on me. I got it in Calgary before this hike because you can't carry it aboard an airplane so don't get any before flying out. Having never used it, i did try it out to get a feel of how it worked. It's quite easy and the spray can reach about 20 feet or so. I do recommend reading on how to use it and to try it out before going on the trail. Once you reach Citadel Pass, you enter the Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and the trail starts going down somewhat steeply. My pack was already weighing on me.
Once down from Citadel Pass, the trail follows the flank of a steep hillside with awesome views. The trail will eventually fork down a valley where there is a camp site. I continued along bypassing the lower trail, which would eventually join up again at the beginning of the "valley of the rocks". The "valley of the rocks" is a very beutiful and the terrain changes dramatically as the name suggests. Eventually, the top of Mount Assiniboine becomes visible. At this point, I am looking foreward to reaching Og Lake due to my exhaustion out of carrying this heavy load. I take numerous rests and it is getting late and I want to reach the camp site before dark. Eventually, I see a bear pole and I know the camp site is at hand.
In addition to a bear pole, there were bear-proof lockers. One item that weighed heavily in my pack was my bear-proof container. I brought it along just in case this would be a park requirement although I had nowhere found any reference to having to bring one when reading up on the park's website. Some places, notably the Adirondack Park in New York state requires keeping food in a bear-proof container when camping out and park rangers patrol sites to enforce this (a heavy fine is imposed on anyone in infraction). Shortly after pitching my tent, a couple arrives and sets up camp some distance away. No one else was present at the camp. The next day, I head out towards Assiniboine Lodge with the intention of going up Nub peak to get a view of Mount Assiniboine. Along the way, i come across a couple of hikers. One of them starts a conversation and asks if I was from New York state as he notices my ADK Mountain Club hat. Turns out he's from upper state New York and we hold a brief conversation based on the subject of hiking the ADK... small world!
Once at Assiniboine Lodge, I go in to take a look. It is a small cozy place and there was a group of people that had just flown in. I asked a staff member if I could get rid of some garbage and she agreed to fly it out for a fee. I afterwards set out to go on the Nub Peak trail. While doing so, I take the time to look and take a few pictures of Lake Magog and Mount Assiniboine in the background. It is then I notice far into the distance two grizzly bears not to far from the edge of the lake. This was the first time I had seen bears while on a hike. They were at a safe distance, so much so that I could not really get a good photograph of them. I set out for Nub Peak trail and I soon after meet one of the lodgers who, with an accent like that of Werner Herzog (who incidently made a film called Grizzly Man!) mentioned he had just come acros "fresh bear tracks". I would thereafter be very much on watch for bears and make enough sound to make my presence known. So on to Nub Peak with its awesome view of Mount Assiniboine. My only dissapointment was that I was facing the sun somewhat and knew my pictures would suffer from that. Despite this, the scenery was absolutely spectacular and I had just realised an ambition that went back to my early teenage years. I had them dreamt of visiting three places in particular (among many others): Mount Assiniboine, Mount Robson and Mount Edziza Provincial Park, all of them located in British Columbia. Little did I know I would cross out another one of those goals on this trip ...
So back to Og Lake. The next day I wake up and there is a thick orange fog all around. I gather my things and head back towards the Sunshine ski resort. I also notice an unusual scent, like that of of burning wood stove. It would turn out that a major forest fire in Washington state was raging and this was the result. This would of course have a major impact on my plans. Originally, I was suppose to go to Kootenay National Park and do the Rockwall trail. After getting back to may car at Sunshine Village, I drove over to Banff to spend the night. The next day, I head out to Kootenay Natinal Park in the hopes that the smoke would clear out but it kept on blocking the sun. Visibility was very low and the mountains were all hidden away behind the smoke. I had to change my plans totally and I decided to head out to Jasper which is located a couple of hundred miles north of Banff. The smoke had not reached Jasper and I then decided to try my luck at getting a camping spot somewhere on the Berg Lake Trail, whcih is in Mount Robson Provincial Park, north west of Jasper... I would get the only remaining available camp spot on that trail! I would soon reach another goal, that of hiking to the base of Mount Robson on the shore of Berg Lake!