I remember the first time that I saw Sydney Opera House. I had seen innumerable photos of the building. There was, however, a spellbinding beauty in those concrete curves that could only be grasped in their presence, a beauty that no image had ever quite managed to convey. I feel much the same about the Canadian Rockies. It is a landscape much photographed, not least the iridescent turquoise of the lakes, such as Louise, Moraine and Peyto, that have become almost emblematic of the area. Yet, having spent a week in and around Banff and Yoho National Parks, there is a wondrousness to the area that needs to be experienced in the immediacy fully to grasp.
It was, as it happens, a week of terrible weather. The one half-decent day was sandwiched between the worst storm that the area had witnessed in 40 years and a weekend of heavy snow that turned mid-June into a winter wonderland. Yet, there was a magnificence to the setting that neither rain nor snow nor ice could smother. Indeed, I am perverse enough to think that there is a moody, broody character to the landscape that finds its true expression only in cloud and rain, not in tourist-friendly weather.
Anyway, at the risk of contradicting myself, here are some photos… From top down: Mt Field, looking almost Turner-like in the early morning mist; a black bear, one of four that we spine-tinglingly encountered within half an hour of first turning off Highway 1; Cathedral Mountain bursting through the clouds; a shoreline forest reflected in the aptly-named Emerald Lake; and a storm sweeping across Mt Bell (I think) and on towards Lake Louise.
And the enchanted forest? It lies between Lake Louise and Lake Agnes. We walked through it as we hiked from the one lake to the other during the one half-decent day last week. It must be, in the fullness of summer, a pretty pine forest. It will probably be, in the depths of winter, almost impassable. There was, in June, far more snow and ice than I expected, but not so much as to make it impossible to hike. Snow and ice that turned the forest into a magical kingdom. One could almost see a lamppost in the snow, hear the sleigh bells, wonder if you’re about to bump into a nervous faun or a golden lion or an icy White Witch, imagine stepping back into the real world through a wardrobe door. No photo could capture that magic. So, I will leave that to your imagination. Better still, go experience it. In the Rockies, not in Narnia.