On top of the world
I am gasping for air on a late morning hike up what’s called Bear’s Hump, a 245m rise that seemingly goes straight up an imposing piece of Rocky Mountains stone outside the town of Waterton in Alberta.
There are glorious rock faces, tiny yellow flowers and deep green, aromatic Ponderosa pines. But there’s also a series of switchbacks and steep, rough-hewn stairs to climb and knotty tree roots to watch out for as I struggle upwards on this perfect day. I pass a family whose son, who looks to be about six, is running out of patience and crying for the hike to end. But coming the other way are several families with kids about as young as four. My ageing knees aren’t in the shape they used to be, but I’m not about to let a four-year-old whistle his way down the hill while I try to catch my breath. So I clamber on.
After about a half-hour of steady climbing, I scramble out on to a massive form of pale white-grey rock. And then I truly gasp. Below is a dark blue lake that stretches to the south into Montana and beyond. On both sides, jagged black peaks, still pockmarked by winter’s snow, rise into the summer sky.
Waterton Lakes National Park, only two hours south of Calgary, doesn’t get nearly the attention of its highprofile cousins to the north, such as Banff or Jasper. Over afternoon tea at the Prince of Wales, a hotel that sits high on a bluff commanding a stunning view of the lake, I ask general manager Bill Young about the park. “We have 20 or maybe 30 residents in winter,” he says, “and there’s no Gucci and no Prada.”
I also take two spectacular drives. The first is a quick trip through a tranquil canyon on the Akamina Parkway, flanked by massive mountains to check out Cameron Lake. It’s a beautiful body of water backed by the zigzag peaks of Mt Custer. A couple of kids are swimming, others are fishing or zipping about in kayaks. Next day I opt for a moped and take the road to Red Rock Canyon. I pass exposed walls of reddish stone, towering mountains and shadowed forests where thin ribbons of water tumble from melting snowcaps. The valley floor is carpeted with brilliant lavender and yellow wildflowers, and cars roll past me every few minutes. The canyon, about 30m deep, is filled with rock that’s been smoothed by years of running creek water and is shaded by tall pines.
Next morning I venture to Waterton Lakes Golf Club; I don’t have a tee time but that doesn’t matter. It’s $C70 ($72.80), including a cart, and I’m told I can play 18 holes now, then come back after lunch for another 18 if I feel like it, and at no extra cost. I tell the woman behind the counter in the pro shop that I don’t have proper golf attire. She laughs. “We only have two rules here … no muscle shirts and no visible butt cracks.”
I get in a quick 18 on a course that has several challenging holes, great mountain views and lots of country charm. Even more scenic is a ride on one of the Waterton Shoreline Cruise Company boats that ply Waterton Lake. I choose the sunset cruise, which includes a stop at a customs facility (closed for the night) on the US side of the lake in this International Peace Park where both Canadians and Americans have a say in managing things. It’s a stunning ride, gliding along a narrow lake below snow-capped mountains of ancient stone in the gathering dusk.
Prince of Wales Hotel offers stunning views of Waterton Lakes National Park