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Banff’s Johnston Canyon shows trekkers the glory of ice.

Daggers of ice fill the Johnston ice canyon in Banff National Park.

Daggers of ice fill the Johnston ice canyon in Banff National Park.

Awesome Ice  

“Bring me your feet,” says Tim Robinson, my guide from Discover Banff Tours, digging through his ice cleat collection. “You’re gonna need these.”

The evil-looking metal cleats are simple to attach to my boots but vital for safety. Not only will they make walking easier, but they’ll prevent slipping as we hike the 4.5 kms of hard-packed, occasionally icy trails winding through the wintry glory of Johnston Canyon.

One of the most breathtaking parts of Banff National Park, the canyon offers visitors stunning ice sculptures formed by water seeping from giant limestone walls, as well as a living lesson in the power of glacial land formation and erosion.

The canyon fascinates Robinson, a self-professed ‘rock geek’ who’s spent years exploring its many faces, and he’s eager to share his knowledge. Using a ski pole and an endless flow of informative Bill-Nye-the-Science-Guy patter, he points out ancient rock formations to illustrate his points and show us how the passage of millions of years is recorded in the stones around us.

“Not convinced?” he asks a shy Japanese tourist shivering in a stylish-but-skimpy ski jacket and seeming a little overwhelmed by the avalanche of information. “Come over here then,” says Robinson, choosing a new rock formation for his next lesson, “and let’s evolve a few million years.”

Explore millions of years of geology in Banff's Johnston ice canyon.

Explore millions of years of geology in Banff's Johnston ice canyon.

As we hike 122 meters up the canyon to a spectacular lookout, we discover that Robinson has a sense of humor.

“Come over here and tell me…what kind of rock do you think this is?” he asks, deadpan, pointing to some curious-looking terrain above the mouth of a small cave. I peer intently, trying hard to remember a long-ago high school geology class.

“I’m pretty sure, ” I venture after some careful consideration, “that’s limestone. Yup,” I continue with growing confidence. “That’s limestone. Just look at the pink and gray streaking…”

“Good try.”  Robinson laughs, “Actually, it’s spray-on concrete. The park folks put it there to prevent erosion.”

Funny guy.

Psychology plays a big role in Robinson’s guiding. Canyon visitors are sometimes surprised and even frightened by steep spots on the trail and it’s the guide’s job to coax and encourage, diverting their attention from the scary bits while leading them to more comfortable ground. In reality, the likelihood of falling, even on the most dramatic verticals, is slim. Parks Canada has installed rugged steel railings to prevent tumbles into the canyon, and to keep tourists in their place.

“The walkways and railings are more for the protection of the environment than the tourist,” explains Robinson. “By keeping people on the paths, we discourage them from hiking off into the bush and disturbing the flora and fauna. The terrain looks rugged, but the plant and animal life is fragile.”

Occasionally, the ascent proves too challenging and Robinson shifts into coach mode to encourage participants to finish. ?“I can’t do this,” puffs one hiker. “You guys go on to the top and I’ll wait here.”

“It isn’t a race,” says Robinson, encouragingly, “so we can take our time. We’ll just go at your pace and then we’ll all get there together. C’mon…you can do it. Photo ops, hot chocolate and cookies at the top!”

Who could resist?  The reluctant hiker is encouraged and together we make our way, albeit a bit slowly, to the top. Every huff and puff of the three-hour hike is rewarded by the goodies and the breathtaking view from the peak of the frozen upper falls. Gigantic daggers of ice stab the walls of the canyon, shimmering blue and white sculptures that only nature could fashion. Not only a spectacular reminder of man’s relative insignificance, Johnston Canyon also offers a rare opportunity to witness the awesome powers of water and ice. 

For more information, contact www.banfftours.com  ? ? ? 

Posted in Adventure and Nature and Uncategorized 7 years, 1 month ago at 3:45 am.

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