It was 8 o’clock in the morning and we had thrown on our backpacks (heavily laden with mountaineering boots, crampons, rope and axes) and leaped on our trusty bicycles. The bicycles had been rescued from the fence outside our house just a few days earlier, after sitting in the snow and ice all winter. It took a while to cut through the locks, but in the end we were rewarded with bikes of … well, dubious quality, but at least they went. After meeting Jody in town and we confirmed all bikes were in working order (although in an attempt to fix up my saddle angle I made some rusted bolts unhappy and nearly lost my seat altogether, resigning myself afterwards to just put up with it the way it was). Then we were off, out of town and onto the Trans Canada highway.
The ride was interesting. None of us had ridden a bike for about six months. It was cold – gloves just weren’t enough to protect poor fingers from the wind chill of all the cycling wind they had to deal with. We were all in sneakers and carrying our boots in our packs – and as a result our poor toes were getting really really cold. Screaming barfies cold in my case. At least the scenery was good.
Seven kilometres later we’d made it off the Trans Canada and onto the Bow Valley Parkway. A lot quieter and more peaceful, although still freezing cold, we were making regular stops to warm up our extremities and rest our poor buttocks (which were in shock at the abominable treatment they were receiving by this stage). Several small hills reminded us how hideously unfit we were
Then finally, 25km later, we made it into the Johnston Canyon parking lot. Tour groups and tourists shuffled in and out of cars and buses. We tied up our trusty steeds and changed from Cycling Superhero outfits to Intrepid Ice Climbers Approaching Their Route outfits. The path in was difficult: the ground was often slippery and covered with ice and snow, and the handrail was quite cold if you had to hang onto it. But we were committed to the cause, and 45 minutes of easily graded concrete path later, we arrived at our final destination: Johnston Canyon Upper Falls. Thoroughly frozen, although a bit degraded by sun.
The first difficulty was working out how to get to the climb. We didn’t have enough ice screws or rope for leading, so it was to be an extreme top-rope setup. Unfortunately the creek had started to thaw out, so I could no longer merrily traipse across the top of it. I scoped out a few options, and then ran back and forth on our side of the creek going “It’s impossible! I’ll have to remove my boots and wade through the icy water. It’s either that or we’ll have to rig up some sort of swing.” Fortunately Alex is not terrified of 6 inches of cold flowing water, and demonstrated that one could easily step across the creek in at least one place. I followed his example, without falling to my doom, and went on to set up an amazing top-rope above a section of frozen water stuff (that was about WI3).
After some messing around and apparent miscommunication regarding about what I meant by the “ground” when I asked if the ropes were touching it (surprisingly enough, I really did mean the ground, not the other “ground”, that ledge 10 metres up that everyone would have to climb to get to) , we all climbed some ice (again without any falling to our dooms).
Once the ice had been successfully conquered, we headed back along the slippery concrete path. One of the tour guides marveled at our madness as we got out of our Intrepid Ice Climber outfits and switched back to Cycling Superhero gear. Our buttocks protested mightily as we tried to sit on our bike saddles. At least it was a lot warmer on the cycle home – with a lot more downhill than I remember there being uphill (maybe that would explain why I was having so much trouble cycling along the ‘flat’ on the way there). We kept an eye out for bears and cougars as we hurried to get off the Parkway, which is closed for traffic after 6pm, to let the wildlife roam. A friendly man stopped by us in his 4WD and told us he’d seen a grizzly bear ‘just there’ on his way past the other day. We thanked him, and started cycling even faster. Then finally, the Trans Canada, much shorter in this direction, and we were home in Banff. And ravenously hungry. Then we ate a bear (it was tasty).