The first leg of our adventure through Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park begins at Banff Sunshine Village, a ski resort located on the Continental Divide of the Canadian Rocky Mountains between Alberta and British Columbia. On the itinerary today would be a 14.5 km hike through some beautiful alpine meadows in gorgeous summer weather, with a couple small elevation gains and a significant 500m descent to our first stop of the trip at Porcupine campsite.
Starting off on a multi-day trek, the first day is usually a challenging one – the packs are heavy with food and our bodies are still getting adjusted to the routine of hiking with the load. However, any difficulty is countered by the fantastic scenery and anticipation of the trail ahead.
The journey begins with a gondola ride from the Sunshine parking lot to the upper village, a short 15-minute trip, followed by another 8-minute ride on a ski chairlift to the viewing deck at the top of Mount Standish. After taking in the breathtaking views and contemplating the task ahead, the hike officially begins as we cross the boundary into British Columbia.
Soon enough we pretty much had the trail to ourselves as we made our way across Sunshine Meadows, meeting the occasional day hikers from the village. Here was also where we had our first grizzly encounters of the day – first from a distance, and later fairly close up and personal in a wooded area. As advised by other backpackers, we made lots of noise and had our bear spray at the ready. Certainly no lack of excitement on the trail today!
The terrain starts to get a bit more rugged as we pass along Quartz Hill Shoulder towards Howard Douglas Lake and Citadel Pass beyond. All around we could hear chirping ground squirrels in their burrows, and there were wildflowers everywhere.
Rounding Citadel Peak and through Citadel Pass, a big descent into a heavily forested valley begins. This 500m downhill is tough on the knees, especially when you are carrying big and bulky backpacks. To make things worse, we were also rushing a bit to secure the last available tent pads at the Porcupine camp site (the only site on our trip that didn’t take advance reservations) – though turns out we needn’t worry as there were plenty of unofficial spots available to pitch tents.