The Icefields Parkway Adventure
Fifty-nine hours, 80k of trails, 3,200 m of elevation gain and over 1,500 kilometres of driving. Canadian adventure photographer Michael Overbeck takes us on a dream weekend of exploring just off the Icefield Parkway near Banff, Alta. Overbeck packed light and moved fast as he documented the beauty of the mountains which can only be experienced on foot.
FRIDAY 6 P.M.
One of my favourite destinations to explore in Canada is the area just off the Icefields Parkway in Alberta, which runs between Banff and Jasper. With only three days free, the plan was simple – drive an absurd amount of time through the night from my home in Whistler, B.C., and end up in an extraordinary place with as much time as possible in the mountains.
SATURDAY 12 A.M.
After six hours on the road, I parked at a gas station in Revelstoke, B.C., for a short “sleep” in the driver’s seat of my truck. After a few hours of tossing and turning and the occasional semi-truck headlights in my eyes, I grabbed a hot cup of gas station coffee and continued on my journey east. After a few more hours on the road, I made it to the Helen Lake Trailhead where I met with my good friend, Justen Bruns. Justen, a skilled runner and climber who has been calling his VW Jetta home for the summer was as anxious as I was to be on our way. Within a few minutes we were both in our shorts and trail shoes with backpacks ready for our journey into the mountains for the next few hours.
SATURDAY 6:24 A.M.
We began our climb up the Helen Lake trail, feeling dazed and half-asleep after a night on the road. With clear skies, we traversed through the cold forest, as the sun made its way over the mountaintops. Nothing tells your body it’s time to wake up like a power-hike at nearly 2,000 m above sea level.
My favourite part of every mountain run is when you break through the treeline and emerge at the alpine. This trail was no exception, as you break into the alpine, it’s filled with vast, expansive meadows that make you feel as if you’re running through a fairy tale. As we came up to the shores of Lake Katherine, with its crystal clear waters, I could not resist going for a swim. The water was ice cold, but with the intense heat of the sun, nothing felt better. After our short break at the lake, we began our way back to the car. Shortly after getting back on the trail, dark, ominous clouds began to form, with high winds howling over the mountain peaks. What began as beautiful green meadows, quickly transitioned to rain, hail and grey skies. As a mountain runner, this is something I’ve learned to love, and with the right gear, you can truly embrace the harsh weather with a smile.
SATURDAY 7:10 P.M.
We gave our legs a short break and got back in the car. We drove North on Highway 93, taking in the sights, stopping every few kilometres to look up at the mesmerizing granite peaks.
After 100 km of incredible roadside views, we made it to our next objective, Wilcox Pass.
Wilcox Pass is a trail I’ve wanted to tackle for years, and at only 12 kilometres and a few hundred metres of elevation gain, it’s much shorter than Helen Lake and Dolomite Pass. As we made our way up the trail, we weaved through the forest, and quickly made it to the alpine. If you’re looking for a quick reward, with the trailhead starting at just under 2,000 m above sea level, Wilcox Pass is the place.
Once you make it above the trees, you are greeted by the presence of Mount Athabasca and the surrounding glaciers. Justen and I had a hard time keeping a solid pace on the trail, constantly being distracted by the continuous view in every direction. By this point I hadn’t slept in over 35 hours, but that was the last thing on my mind. As the sun started to fall below the horizon, I pull out the camera to shoot a few images of Justen running, with Mount Athabasca in the background.
"MY FAVOURITE PART OF EVERY MOUNTAIN RUN IS WHEN YOU BREAK THROUGH THE FREELINE AND EMERGE AT THE ALPINE."