The Ice­fields Park­way Ad­ven­ture

Canadian Running - - FEATURES - By Michael Over­beck

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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