I didn’t expect to get to a mountaintop and have a bad case of job envy.
But I do as I step into a classic Alberta scene: Big mountains. Blue sky. Lakes that look like they are perfect for skipping stones. On the viewing platform, a young woman takes a moment all to herself.
“G’morning,” I whisper, not wanting to break the silence.
Jessica Weckesser turns to me with a big smile. The Sunshine Village summer guide is sneaking in some quiet time from her mountaintop perch before the day’s visitors arrive to explore the trails of Sunshine Meadows.
“It so peaceful up here at this time of day,” she says.
The scene is larger than life. This, I think, is some office.
I know this place well. In the winter, Banff Sunshine Village is one of the world’s great ski resorts. In the summer, the gondola whisks hikers up the alpine village, and chair lifts get you even higher. Only recently, has Sunshine Mountain Lodge opened for summer overnighters.
I’ve hiked at Sunshine Meadows before, but never with a guide. Today I’m tagging along with Eva Adamkova, Banff Sunshine Meadows interpretive program supervisor. She steps off the Standish chair lift moments after my husband and I have arrived.
Adamkova can’t get enough of the meadows either. Whenever she can escape the four walls of her office, she says, she heads up for a hike. She never gets tired of the massive views.
They just aren’t expecting such an amazing view.Eva Adamkova
The Sunshine Meadows is big slice of Banff National Park, a World UNESCO Heritage site, but Adamkova wants hikers to pause from taking in the jaw-dropping vistas, and notice the smaller things living up here. The hawk making off with a baby bird or snagging a ground squirrel as its next meal. Or evidence that a bear has shoved a boulder aside to get its paws on some juicy grubs.
Look up, crouch down, listen, Adamkova says. Get a closer look at the smaller, living things.
Adamkova, from the Czech Republic, remembers the first time she stood on the Standish viewing platform. “I was so happy.”
And she still is. But now she gets joy from watching peoples' faces and hearing them try to put what they’re seeing into words. “They just aren’t expecting such an amazing view.”
Adamkova has turned her focus to a more microscopic view of the meadows – the not-so obvious flowers and creatures. “I like to tell people how fragile this environment is; look at the little details and admire even the tiniest of flowers.”
What you see here today might be gone tomorrow, she says. It’s always changing.
We walk along Rock Isle Lake trail, one of six trails. Adamkova stops. “Oh, look here.” A Richardson’s ground squirrel stuffs flower seeds into its mouth; another one nearby stands on its haunches, “cheep, cheep”-ing to his fellow critters. Maybe they’re sharing news of new-found brunch spot.
“They’re fattening up for the winter,” Adamkova says. And it’s only the middle of summer. When you hibernate for nine months of the year you need to put on the pounds, so you can make it through the winter.
Overhead, a hawk circles searching for prey. Farther down the trail, Adamkova spots a bear claw marking off the trail. It’s a sign that one had recently been gorging here.
“You have to stop, look and listen to the sounds of nature, the wind, the birds, the water,” says Adamkova. It’s one of the reasons she’s come to love Alberta and its wild places and wants to make it her permanent home.
Yep, we get it.
Getting to the backside of Sunshine Village for a hike in the meadows is half the fun. Windows down, we enjoy the smell of the trees during the 15-minute twisty road up to the resort’s base. We’ve seen a bear amble along this road and always have to brake for the bighorn sheep.
The resort’s base is 1,660 metres above sea level. There, we hop on the gondola for a 15-minute ride further up to the village. On previous trips, we’ve seen a marmot catching some rays on a rock and a moose hanging out in the trees, but not today.
At the village, the Standish chair lift takes us to the top of the mountain. We feel so light without our ski gear, which we’re always wearing on this trip in the winter. Today, it’s a shorts and T-shirt kind of day.
At the end of our hike, we’re ready to take it easy with a cold beer on the balcony of our room at Sunshine Mountain Lodge, where we’re spending the night.
Then, we grab a soak in the outdoor hot tub before dinner at the upscale Chimney Corner, and a nightcap at Mad Trappers Grill.
We walk back to our room in the dark. There’s a light show happening in the sky that we’d never see in the city. And the day ends like it’s begun: a rare silence you don’t want to break.