We had originally planned to do a bike trip – this is a bikepacking blog after all. Since the bike trail was on fire at the time, we decided to choose an alternate trip. It ended up being a hike for a variety of forest fire reasons, and since mount Assiniboine did not have reservation system it was one of the few things that we wanted to do that wasn’t booked. The way that we wanted to do the trail was starting from sunshine Meadows. The best way to start the hike was to take the shuttle bus up from the Sunshine parking lot and begin hiking at the ski resort.
So that we could take an early shuttle and begin hiking early, we decided to spend the night at one of the car camping campgrounds around Banff. The only one that had space when we were reserving at the last minute was Tunnel mountain. The on-line reservation system was very clear that there were no parties allowed after 11, not even campfires and conversations. We took this as a good sign since we intended to sleep during those hours.
We should have been concerned when we got to the campground and of the 6 vacant campsites around us, 5 had smouldering fires left by previous occupants. We became more concerned when we saw that the occupants of the adjacent site were rowdy hipsters.
We went to bed at around 9:30 so that we could get up early in the morning to drive to Sunshine in time to catch our 10AM shuttle. When Tania and I got up to go to the washroom at 11PM, the hipsters had just returned from town. They were loud and drunk, but we assumed they were going to bed. There was no such luck. The party lasted until well after 3:30, with loud shouting, arguing and laughing without concern for the other campground denizens. Not that it mattered since in the years since we spent time in car campgrounds it has become acceptable to have a car that honks the horn when you lock and unlock it and to lock and unlock it many times per night. I am sure that no more than 30 seconds went by all night without a car honking and no more than 5 minutes went by without a car alarm going off. The trains going by were tranquil by comparison. Fiona got a few hours of sleep, Tania and I got a few minutes between us and Tadhg may have been awake the entire night.
The following morning our usual jitters about starting a long hike were calmed by the knowledge that it couldn’t possibly be worse than Tunnel Mountain campground. We had been through hell and there was nowhere worse to go.
We were early enough that our preparation for the bus ride was casual and calm. We all had our packs sorted and ready to go since we didn’t unpack them at all the night before. I laid out the car camping tents and bags in the back of the car so they would dry and double checked everything in my pack.
The bus ride itself was a little dull, as bus rides tend to be, I was glad to be riding rather than hiking the relentless uphill grade to the ski village.
It doesn’t take long from the ski village to go from beautiful to stunning. The ski lift infrastructure may not be a wilderness experience, but the surrounding mountains are still beautiful, ranging from lush to stark.
Our weather was close to ideal, cool enough for hiking, warm enough to not have to bundle up. We hiked along the trail past gorgeous mountains, over passes and through valleys. The hike to Assiniboine is well recognized as one of the most scenic in the world and it lives up to the hype.
The kids made us stop a few times for snacks and so they could sketch mountains and write in their books. In spite of our fatigue, we were happy and filled with wonder at the scene surrounding us.
Our final descent of the day was a tough one. The slope was the steepest we would see, and our packs were loaded with all the food for the entire week. Fiona had saved her trail conniption until the last 500m to the campground at porcupine creek, but even that couldn’t dampen our spirits in such a wonderful spot.
Sleep came easily to us after our long day of hiking and we slumbered peacefully in the mountain air with the faint scent of campfire smoke.