On day 5 we drove east toward Calgary for the first time, seeing the mountains we’d missed in the dark on our way in.
Past Canmore the mountains start to slope down into hills, but just on this last spate of the Rockies the Canadians long ago decided to start carving away at the rock. The result is an unpicturesque processing plant with a man-made lake on one side and the machinery terraced side of Grotto Mountain on the other. Our first stop of the day was behind the processing plant.
This first sight of the processing plant was incongruent with our expectations of Grotto Mountain’s treasures, but I kept my faith in the photos I’d seen online. We parked at Grotto Mountain Pond and walked behind the gravel plant on a particularly unimpressive trail (a quarter of the way in the trail crosses an employee parking lot … woohoo, adventure!).
However, after about half an hour the trail twists north into a tiny canyon with such severely sloping sides that often the only way to proceed is to walk on the creek itself.
A feat easier in the winter since the creek freezes into a crystal blue flow but still plenty slippery without the most vicious looking crampons (which we did not bring). Now we’re at woohoo adventure!
Children were sliding down the ice flows. One eventually had my camera tumbling down its flow as well. Sony builds resilient camera bodies, I can vouch for that now. Watching (and oh, god, hearing) my four-figure camera bouncing downhill end over end on the ice was a nightmare, but after carefully retrieving it (I had no interest in bouncing myself) it sprang back to life (even in sub-zero temps where anything plastic would have split apart and shattered like glass on that ice) and kept on trucking with only a few abrasions.
After returning to the car we still had about three hours of daylight left so I tasked Sam with finding something else for us to see around Canmore. Like my camera, she did not disappoint when things got tough.
She directed us to Grassi Lakes, a long and unassuming hike ascending through the woods. Keep in mind we did not know the information you do now if you clicked on the link, we only knew it was a hiking trail listed near Canmore on Google maps.
In the summer the area is clearly a climbers paradise, with the holiest rock slabs I’ve ever seen, all of them with a backdrop of the Canadian Rockies, but none of them as technically challenging as an ascent in Yosemite.
We warmed up with a trip to the local Thai restaurant in Banff.