Just over one month ago, photographers Julian Bialowas and Kyle Frost booked tickets to Julian’s hometown of Calgary, Alberta. Their trip was planned rather impulsively after having exchanged tweets about wanting to tackle the Canadian Rocky Mountains together. Here, Julian shares highlights from their time on Canada’s west coast, including recommendations for places to visit should you find yourself in the region.
How long were you back in Alberta for?
Kyle and I had originally planned to make a quick trip north to spend a night or two in Alberta’s backcountry before returning to San Francisco. But life had different plans for me—as it typically does.
A week before our trip, I found out that I would be moving to Montréal for work. That meant cancelling my return flight to the Bay and replacing it with a flight out east. The change gave me some more time in my home province and I certainly wasn’t going to waste it. It was the start of a whirlwind 10 days.
Given that you’re an Alberta-insider, Kyle was lucky to have you as his guide. Where did you decide to take him?
We started in Spray Valley Provincial Park before making our way into Banff National Park to explore Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and, of course, the town of Banff itself.
Although the areas around Lake Louise and Moraine Lake are abound with souvenir shops and toursist in canoes, they are beautiful locations – Canadian icons, really – that every visitor to Alberta should see. Just promise that if you travel there, you’ll go beyond the parking lots of these two lakes: there’s a beauty and feeling in the backcountry that will never be discovered unless you move beyond the hoards of tourists.
That was the main purpose of our trip, actually: to travel the backcountry. From Banff, we headed to Kananaskis, first stopping at Mount Rundle and then tackling the Northover Ridge hike.
Tell us about the Northover Ridge hike.
The Northover Ridge hike is an unofficial 36km-loop deep in the backcountry of Kananaskis. The trail connects 2 official backcountry campsites to each other via a menacing ridge with only a faint boot-beaten trail to guide the way.
We had originally planned to do the hike in 2 days, spending one night at each of the backcountry campsites. I completely forgot to reserve a site in advance, though (whoops!) and once we arrived, everything was already booked up. We were left with only one option: hiking the entirety of the loop in one day.
Whoa! Did you manage to do it? What was it like?
We did! We arrived at the trailhead at Upper Kananaskis Lake around 6.45am. We hiked for about two hours before reaching the first headwall, which gave us views of Hidden Lake and Upper Kananaskis Lake in the distance.
The next headwall took us higher up (about 2000ft from the trailhead) to Aster Lake – that’s where we were meant to stop for the day and camp overnight. We knew we had no choice but to keep going, though, so we went off-trail to find our own way across the alpine tarns from Aster Lake to the base of the ridge. We actually ended up on top of the wrong mountain (again, whoops!), though it did offer a great view of what we were about to tackle (so no regrets). We glissaded down the snow, crossed the tarns and made our way back up the insanely steep approach to the Northover Ridge.
The ridge itself was the best part of the hike. It rained on us for the majority of the approach and the rain turned to hail on the ridge. At times, the ridge was only a foot wide with crazy drops on either side of us. To top it all off, we were battered by strong winds coming out of the west that literally could have blown us right off. I’ve honestly never felt so alive.
The other side of the ridge revealed another equally impressive alpine meadow with Three Isle Lake sitting in the distance. We took a moment to relish the view before carrying on.
Finally, 13.5hrs and 36km later, we arrived back at the car just in time for a beautiful sunset over Upper Kananaskis Lake.
What did you do to mark the successful end of the hike?
Pizza and beers!
Of course! How did you close out your time in Alberta?
Kyle and I spent our last couple of days sipping coffee and drinking beers in my hometown of Calgary. One night, we shot the sunset at Elbow Falls. Our final destination was a 3-hour drive east to Drumheller, where we explored the Bad Lands and the Royal Tyrell Museum—the best Dinosaur museum in the world.
Once Kyle left, I actually drove to Invermere, British Columbia to hang on a boat with old friends for three days. It was a much needed break from all of the adventure Kyle and I packed into the few days we spent together. It was absolute bliss, and it reminded me how fortunate I am to call this beautiful country my home.
Any other recommendations you have for those visiting Western Canada?
Be sure to enjoy a traditional Canadian meal of Tim Horton’s coffee and Bagel BELTs!