“Wow, that was a good one!”
“That was a really good one!”
The volley of stones clattered down the rock face, sending melted snow and runny dirt crashing down Mount Ball’s steep cliffs.
Watching early summer avalanches sweep the last dregs of winter snow from a safe distance at the opposite end of Shadow Lake, my friend Jenn and I decided, was like our own private adventure film.
Unseen from the highway, massive Mount Ball in Banff National Park is reached only by hiking, mountain biking or, in winter, on cross-country skis. We’d pedalled 11 km (7 mi) on well-graded fire road through aspen and spruce forests from the Redearth Creek trailhead parking lot, a quick 19 km (12 mi) drive from Banff townsite. Securing the bikes at Shadow Lake junction, we hiked 2.5 km (1.5 mi) along a peacefully winding trail to Brewster’s Shadow Lake Lodge.
At the row of golden log cabins bordering an open meadow – with spectacular mountain views from each cabin’s front deck – we were greeted by Nadine, a lodge staffer. Inside, our cabin was bright, immaculately tidy and welcoming with cozy bed comforters, solar powered electricity to charge our camera batteries, and nearby hot showers.
“This is too romantic, next time I’ll bring my husband!” Jenn exclaimed.
After our avalanche show, we joined fellow guests seated family style in the dining cabin where historic photos dressed the walls. Dinner was a sensory extravaganza. Pureed tomato soup topped with a dollop of pesto. Spring salad with strawberries, candied pecans and blue cheese. Marinated chicken with mushroom and sundried tomato sauce. Desert was exquisite – pumpkin ginger cake dripping with maple syrup sauce.
Prepared by Alison Brewster, who runs the lodge with her husband, Bryan Niehaus, the gourmet quality blew us away. But so did our accommodation, and its history.
The Brewster Family Backstory
John Brewster rode the new Canadian Pacific Railway from Ontario to Banff in 1886. He founded a dairy in 1890, and in 1900 his sons, Bill and Jim, established Brewster Brothers Outfitting. Bill’s grandson, Bud, a thoroughbred entrepreneur, was running backcountry pack trips for 75 guests with 100 horses by the age of 16.
In 1950, Bud purchased a 1928 vintage CPR backcountry cabin at Shadow Lake from his uncle Pat. In 1990, Parks Canada granted Bud permission to develop Shadow Lake Lodge, and over three years the 12 guest cabins, dining, staff and washroom cabins were built.
Sitting by the toasty woodstove in the refurbished CPR cabin, we thumbed through photo albums showcasing the family story. Alison Brewster grew up managing horse trains, cooking and singing around campfires at family run backcountry camps. Their children, sixth generation Brewsters, pitch in too.
The next day, after a breakfast fit for a rodeo queen, we hiked 17 km (10.5 mi) round trip to Haiduk Lake. Tucked high amidst chiseled peaks, the secluded lake sparkled exactly as the first Brewsters must have seen it
That night, walking from the shower building back to our cabin, I gazed at zillions of stars twinkling in the black velvet sky. A shooting star zipped by and my wish was simple: Everyone should get to experience Shadow Lake.