756m Elevation Gain | 13.8km Hiked
Expectations can be both motivating and devastating. No matter how much we try not to anticipate something, try not to get too excited, or try not to think about what the future holds, we can still find ourselves completely disappointed when our Tinder date spends the night talking about his mom – or in this case when wildfires threaten to cancel your hike.
Back in May, my friend Corrina got in touch about doing a hike in the Banff National Park in August. She lives in Hawaii and wanted to visit the Canadian Rockies. She invited her friend Laura from Washington and organized permits for us to spend three days hiking the Skoki Loop.
To be honest, because we made the plan so far ahead of time, I didn’t put a lot of thought into it initially. But when I set my 40 hikes goal last month, I began to excitedly anticipate what would be the first multi-day hike to check off my list. Then, just a week out from the trip, Laura messaged with concerns about the wildfire smoke in the area and made the first suggestion that we might not be able to complete the hike. My heart sunk. Without really realizing it, I had pinned a lot of expectations on this trip. As I looked at my pile of supplies that I had been organizing on our living room floor, my disappointment over our uncertain plans grew.
I texted with friends in Canmore to get a sense of the visibility and air quality, but nothing was concrete. And so, when I finally set off on my eleven-hour drive east, I still didn’t know what our plan would be. I was in a bit of a funk about it, feeling like the long drive and all the preparation was pointless if we weren’t going to be achieving the goal we had set. I was tense as I drove through increasingly smoke-filled post-apocalyptic towns. At noon as I passed through Salmon Arm, the sun barely made it seem like twilight and the air stung my eyes. As I rolled into the Rockies hours later, the mountains themselves were nowhere to be seen and it was surprisingly eerie to have no landmarks to navigate by.
When I arrived at the campground to meet the girls, they had already been in the area for a few days and were experiencing some challenges with the smoke. We knew there was rain in the forecast that would help, but it sounded like it would arrive a day later than we needed it to start the hike. We ran through dozens of other options but came to no conclusion. We all just wanted to wake up in the morning to clear skies and start the hike we had been planning for the last three months. We decided to put off making the call on what to do until the latest possible moment and set our alarms for 6am the next morning.
I woke up in the back of my truck and peered out the window. I couldn’t see the mountains. Corrina texted me from the tent she was sharing with Laura and we decided that we would go to one of our Plan B’s. Instead of hiking the whole Skoki Loop, we would spend another night camping in the Bow Valley and do a local hike to see how we felt in the smoke. Hopefully it would rain overnight, and we would do an out and back to Baker Lake which would have been our second night on the loop.
We were all disappointed and a little unsure what to do with ourselves. It took a long time for us to get moving that morning and even longer to decide on a hike to do. Finally, using the All Trails App – it’s basically Tinder for hiking as it finds trails that are close to you and gives you enough details to decide if you want to check them out in person – we found the Prairie View Trail to Jewell Pass in the Bow Valley Provincial Park. It is a 13.8km loop with 756m of elevation. At this point, we had pretty low expectations for our day. We had already made the difficult decision to give up on our big plans, the smoke was still obscuring the grand views the Rockies are famous for, and all we knew for sure was that this hike wasn’t going to be as good as what we originally had planned for the day.
The trail started off with a long stretch of double track under some powerlines and along Barrier Lake. After that it turned right and started to thread through the forest along a dry river bed before beginning a steady climb. After a couple hours of hiking – and only a few minutes after we had a discussion about Type 2 fun – we abruptly came to the edge of a cliff. The view over the turquoise lake and deep green tree tops was stunning. We could see all the way back to where we had parked the car which gave us an incredible appreciation for how far our legs had taken us both in distance and in elevation. The shear rock face that we stood on top of had an impressively jagged ridgeline set against the hazy mountains that were starting to show in the distance. When we climbed to the precipice we met a Scottish couple and the man – who had a long red beard – said in a thick accent “I feel like a young Gandalf up here!”
It was hard to believe our luck when our day had begun with such disappointment, but there we were in a breath-taking place that we had never stood before – and possibly never will again – feeling like our own versions of young Gandalf in the breeze and appreciating how much better life is when you let go of your expectations. It was hard to look at the 360-degree view without realizing that if all had gone to plan, we never would have set foot here.