You may have read my previous posts about doing Johnston Canyon in both Winter and Summer during the day, both were fantastic, so being able to do it at night with a guide was extra special and quite a different experience.
My colleague Layla, our friend Selena and I were collected from the town lot around 6:30 and piled into a minibus with about 12 other local girls from various hotels around Banff and Canmore. Some we had already met from other FAM tours both this year and last. Banff is a small town and you regularly run into people you have been on other excursions with which is really nice.
On the journey out to the Canyon, our guide, Denice told us about herself, the tour company and interestingly, on how unnatural light, such as mobile phones and street lights affects us humans and the wildlife around the world. It was a bit of a shock to see how nature and the human brain reacts to it. The last thing a lot of us do before bed is check our phones and this can affect sleeping, which I was aware of, but I didn’t know the reason why. Apparently this is due to phones giving off artificial blue light. Red light is a way of nature telling us that it’s time to sleep, that is why the last of the sun’s rays are red as it sets, and why doctors tell insomniacs to install a red light in their bedside lamps to fall asleep easier.
Once at the trail head, we were given Ice cleats (much easier to put on that snowshoes!) and headlamps which we were able to keep. We headed off into the night, past the resort and down the the Canyon. The 3 of us were eagerly chatting and catching up on each other’s adventures so were constantly behind the group, it was very icy in places and not being able to see too well made it slow going.Heading down the icy path with our headlamps on.
Once into the Canyon proper and with the metal railing to guide us, we were able to shut off our headlamps to get the full effect of the night sky. Our guide had studied astronomy since 1995 so was well equipped to point out various constellations to us. I found it a bit baffling, it was hard to see where she was pointing at times and most of the time I wasn’t able to figure out what the constellations were, I just saw a bunch of stars, some brighter than others but no pattern. Walking on the steel catwalks attached to the Canyon wall.
Something to look into as I think it’s fascinating and she did mention NZ was one of the best places to see the stars as it has such low artificial light. What I did see was Meteorites shooting across the night sky, that night the Geminids meteor shower peaked and apparently as many as 120 meteors an hour could be seen. As we stood there looking up at the stars I saw a couple of bright lights shooting across the sky which I’ll never forget, I could have stared up at that sky for hours and at that point I wished I’d had a decent camera and a tripod instead of an iphone5. Still, its all in my memory.I think the three of us wished we had better cameras….
On arrival at the lower falls we came across another tour group and stopped for Maple cookies (yum) and hot chocolates. We made our way through the small cave to get a better view of the falls but my camera made it look like a big blob.I have better photos of this waterfall..
On the walk back we had the opportunity to turn off all of our headlamps and walk in the complete darkness which was eerie but mesmerising as well. The human eye is an amazing organ in that it so quickly adjusts to the darkness. The outlines of the trees and the rocky outcrops of the canyon edges meant we could walk along guided by only the starlight. It wasn’t that cold in the Canyon due to it being so sheltered, didn’t even need gloves!
As we neared the resort we turned our headlamps back on and continued over the bridge and back to the van where we handed in our cleats. The trip back to Banff was quiet apart from some us us discussing some of the silly questions we have had from some of our guests which was quite funny.
I’d give this tour a 7 out of 10. The walk is easy, not too strenuous and the ice cleats mean you shouldn’t fall over, it was very icy so you definitely need them. I think folks who have an interest in the constellations would get more out of it than I did in that sense.
Johnston Canyon is an activity anyone can do without a guide, day or night, Winter or Summer and plenty do. It is great to learn and be able to ask questions to a professional though.
Who: Discover Banff Tours
Where: Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park
What: Hotel Pick up & Drop off, Ice cleats& hiking poles, refreshments
Difficulty: 2.2km, 65m elevation gain
Duration: 2.5 hours
Price: $74 Adult / $42 Child
*1st photo is courtesy of Discover Banff Tours