When it’s -23 outside, with a wind chill of -32, there’s not much else to do in Canada but put your bikini on and head for the hot springs. After our eventful night bus journey from Vancouver to Banff, we pretty quickly decided that a trip to the area’s geothermal springs were definitely in order.
It’s surreal to be sat in an outdoor pool in February at the best of times, but when you can touch snow and see mountains, it upgrades the strangeness to a whole new level. The hot springs were less than ten minutes from the centre of Banff, and easily accessible by bus – we considered walking, but half way there decided that would’ve been a mistake (mountain roads are quite steep). The springs cost us around $7 to get into, and thanks to our HI discount, we knocked a bit more off. At this price, if I lived in the area, I’d be going every day.
Following a brisk run from changing room to pool, we sat almost completely submerged in the 38-degree water. Sophie started to look like Rogue from X-Men, as the front of her hair frosted over, and our white eyelashes were reminiscent of costumes from The Hunger Games. The springs recommend that you only spend 10 minutes in the water, so after 40 we both became a bit (i.e. very) light headed, and quickly made our way to the nearest cafe.
We left Banff for a few days after that, and headed up to Lake Louise, where we were greeted with -34 temperatures, and a very solid decision to not move for a very long time. However, you can’t visit the area without visiting the lake (and while the hostel was nice, it wasn’t that nice), so the next day we set about making plans to walk up there.
The first sign that this could be a bad idea came when even the most hardy Canadians were complaining about the cold (it still hadn’t warmed up from -34). A sign by the restaurant had a fact of the day, merely reading ‘it’s cold’, and a host of visitors stood by the front door, their cars too cold to start.
Undeterred by this, we chatted to the reception staff about whether we’d need hiking equipment. After taking one look at my so far reliable and wonderfully trustworthy Nike Airs, a guy laughed, said it would “be an adventure” and recommended a helmet. Seeing as I’m like Bambi on ice on solid, non-frozen ground, this did worry us both a bit (i.e. a lot). Either way, we stocked up on ‘oatmeal’ (why not call it porridge? Is there a discernible difference?), and I learnt that you can quite comfortably fit a pair of tights and a pair of leggings underneath TopShop skinny jeans.
So, the hike began. It was only 3.1km, and after blasting around Stanley Park’s 10k, we felt rather optimistic. The ground was fine, the footing was easy, and it was like walking through Narnia. Snow fell off trees in clouds of glitter, and the sun threw cascades of colour over every snow-covered branch. It was beautiful, serene, and so bloody cold I thought I was about to die.
We made it half way before either of us realised how tough this was going to be. My legs were so cold it became a struggle to move them, and the tiredness seeped through them as though I’d just run a marathon. It was hard to believe we’d barely touched 2k at this point, but we soldiered on, only dropping our pace slightly.
Next came altitude. Ah. We both ended up needing rest breaks in every small sliver of sunlight, and the air was so cold and thin it felt like trying to breathe underwater. It was impossible to catch your breath until you stopped moving, and as soon as you stopped walking, fears of leg amputations quickly rooted themselves into your mind.
We slowly struggled up the last kilometre, stopping to watch a dogsled team get prepared/try and inhale as much oxygen as possible. At this point, I felt safer: if my legs got colder, I could quite easily ask for a husky to sit on them until feeling resumed. We stayed on the road after that, deciding to leave the steep mountainous trail for the time being. As we rounded the last corner, the mountains surrounding the Lake appeared, and the sight of civilisation gave us enough momentum to keep going.
Once we’d sat in the lobby of the poshest hotel I’ve been in, and thawed out, we layered back up again, and headed out to the lake. When Sophie said how beautiful it was, I didn’t quite understand, but seeing it in person I could understand why it was worth almost losing two legs and a lung to get there.
The lake was completely frozen over, and had rinks dedicated to hockey and skating carved into the snow, and so, disobeying every piece of advice we’d ever been given about standing on frozen lakes, we went for a walk over the ice.
We opted to get a taxi back down, rather than risk losing any limbs to the cold, before heading back to Banff for the rest of the week.