A month ago I celebrated my birthday by heading to the mountains! I have NEVER imagined that I would be doing most of this in mid-December. But here I was in -10C (with a fairly strong windchill) camping in the back of my unheated Jeep, having breakfast at the base of a mountain with the most incredible view, and hiking in a beautiful forest with a stunning, partially frozen river with a bunch of frolicking deer in an area I had no idea existed until that weekend and having an absolute blast! It was by far the most memorable birthday celebration I have ever had!
As magical and wonderful our short time was, the trip was not perfect by any means, there was changing plans on the fly and compromising. To accomplish what we did, I woke up at 6 AM Saturday morning and got ready for the day and started preparing and packing for our trip, being as quiet as could because Josh was sleeping until the latest possible moment that he could as he had to work that day from 2 PM to 10:30 PM. We decided we were going to leave after he had got home from work instead of leaving early in the morning so we could make the most of our time in the mountains. (Small compromises that we have to make when we only get one day off a week together) I slept all afternoon from about 2:30 PM to 7:30 PM and was well rested and ready to take on a 5 hour overnight drive. After I had got Josh from work, we packed up the Jeep, grabbed some food and coffee and headed out at about midnight. That weekend a chinook was blowing out of southern Alberta and I was battling a strong crosswind from Calgary to just outside of Canmore making it a challenging drive. But other than the winds, the roads were great and there was barely any traffic and thankfully, not much wildlife.
We had finally arrived near Banff, but between it being absolute darkness down a twisty mountain road and not knowing where we were really headed (as I hadn’t been to that spot before), I could not find our desired location where we were going to spend the night trying out some night sky and sunrise photography, and then spend the morning skating on a snow-free lake. The last thing I wanted to do was fall down the side of a mountain at 5 AM in the dark, so we headed back to Canmore to sleep in the parking lot of the Nordic Center as it was a familiar and safe place that was closer to where we were planning to hike the next day, and fell asleep under the bright streetlights to the humming of the snow machines. (not ideal, but we managed) I had a surprisingly warm, restful sleep (other than having weird dreams of someone peering into our windows, only sleeping for four hours, and forgetting my pillow at home). My -9C sleeping bag paired up with merino wool leggings, an onmi-heat top, and a toque were just right. Let’s just say, Josh isn’t as adaptable to absurd notions of adventure as I am. (He told me to write he is a diva, but I will spare him that label.)
It was still very windy in the morning, so we decided to revise our plans for the day, skip out on the skating and find a shorter, and more enclosed hike rather than the one we were originally planning to go on. We decided to take a drive down the Smith Dorrien Trail and stop somewhere for breakfast while figuring out which hike to go do. Eating cornflakes and having a hot tea at the base of a mountain overlooking a frozen lake and mountains as far as the eye could see, was the best breakfast I have ever had.
We decided to hike to Troll Falls and head to the frozen waterfall. Battling getting sandblasted from gale-force winds as we got ready in the dusty parking lot, we were more than ready to seek seclusion from the winds in the forest. As we made our first step onto the trail we realized we had forgot our ice grips in the Jeep, the trail was nearly all covered in hard-pack snow or ice, so fighting the strong head-on winds to go back and get our ice grips was definitely worth the struggle. (I am sure we would still be out on the trail crawling across the ice if it weren’t for them!)
The first part of the trail is a beautiful forested trail, unfortunately I was having a little bit of anxiety that was brought back from events from our last hike, but once I came to a narrow stream that ran through the trail my fears thankfully disappeared. This stream was absolutely spectacular, and felt like I was transported to location somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. It wasn’t completely frozen, and there were remarkable ice formations that were being created on the foliage and rocks. The moss was a vibrant green hue, and the sound of the trickling water was peaceful and soothing. I stopped here on my way back as well, and probably spent more time exploring alongside this stream stepping lightly among the low lying evergreen branches (that tousled and knotted up my hair into a very tangled mess) than at the waterfall featured at the end of the trail. No matter how hard I tried photographing the details of this stream, there was no way my photos were able to it any justice, it was stunning.
Eventually we had got to the falls after traversing over the icy trail for some time, and it was incredible! I had never seen a frozen waterfall before, so this was a new experience for me. To be standing on ice at the base of the waterfall, looking up at all the details of the ice formations, seeing the water rushing underneath the top layers of ice was indescribable. There is also a trail from this waterfall that takes you up to the top of it and continues on to more falls that we didn’t go do, which I terribly regret not doing as I am sure that it would have been just as spectacular – so I will just have to go in the summer (and next winter) to see it again.Along the hike we found some interesting finds and stunning views, a tipi-like shelter made from fallen trees, a tree that was struck by lightning, neat features in the ice of a small river, and the most memorable; the deer. I had never experienced a moment quite like this one before, and it was almost as if time had stopped for a second. We were heading back to the trailhead (definitely not being quiet between us talking and the crunch of the snow and ice) when I heard the gentlest noise in the forest to my immediate right. Expecting it probably just a squirrel, I look over and witness a doe about 20 feet into the woods, then I observed another doe looking right at me! (I am very surprised we didn’t scare them off!) I start taking photos as I try getting Josh’s attention (he’s ahead of me and hadn’t realized I stopped.) that I need my telephoto lens which is in the backpack he’s carrying. We quietly swap lenses, and the doe is still looking my way. She didn’t seem distressed that we were there, just a bit curious. I take a few more photos of her and we observed them graze for a few minutes before we headed back down the trail. It was a magical moment that words and photographs will never fully be able to describe.
The Troll Falls trail is an easy 3.4 km round trip hike with barely minimal elevation change in Kananaskis near the Nakiska ski resort.
You can acquire more information about the trail on the Tourism Canmore website.
*Please leave no trace when enjoying the outdoors!
*When photographing wildlife, please keep your distance. (Parks Canada recommends 30 meters from large animals and 100 meters from bears.) Never bait, call, crowd, chase, or capture an animal to capture a photo.