He Put a Ring On It; Hike to Larch Valley & Sentinel Pass
Updated: Jul 22, 2018
Not to spoil the whole blog post or anything, but...THIS HAPPENED!
The MOST exciting day in history, that we are still going to be talking about when we are senior citizens.
On Monday, July 9th, we woke up to alarms set for 4 AM. We learned the previous day when visiting Lake Louise, that in order to experience some of the amazing sites at Banff National Park- you gotta wake up early and beat the crowds. A gentleman who worked for Parks mentioned that in order to get into Moraine Lake- you had to be there at 6:00 AM. Once the parking lot is full, they close it for the day, and the only way in is by shuttle for a cost. & As we learned the prior day with shuttles... time restrictions and lines, and giant groups of tourists are not the way to experience the park. Moraine Lake in pictures had always seemed even more intriguing than Louise, so we had to do it- 4 AM wake up call and everything.
Since we had the best time hiking the day prior, we were determined to keep seeing the sights on foot and had picked a hike that starts just past the lake shores of Moraine. It promised amazing views but also one reviewer writes " Jaw dropping views. Price of admission: the destruction of your quads for a 48 hour period. Totally worth it." Naturally, we found the promise of leg torture intriguing and decided to go after it.
When we arrived to Moraine Lake at 6:15 AM, there were ONLY 5 PARKING SPOTS LEFT. We almost had a mini panic attack that we weren't going to make it, and woke up at 4 AM for nothing, but we were in. The VIP club of parking spots.
We took the short trek up to see the lake first. Such a beautiful sight of the 10 peaks behind it, as everything around us was just waking up for the day. A brisk morning, we put on all the layers we had and made our way towards the lake shore to begin our hike - or leg torture fest as the internet promised.
The first thing we noticed as we began our hike- the bear warning sign. It is recommended to hike in groups of 4.. because bears. Welp, we were feeling kinda brave, and I was kinda feeling like I wasn't going to make friends without having any coffee first. So we continued on as the 2 of us. My game plan was to just loudly announce us anytime we approached a turn that I couldn't see around. I saved John from hearing my atrocious singing voice, and resorted to other fun phrases to yell loudly such as "Hey Bear", and "Send it."
This worked phenomenally as we were not eaten by bears, and survived to tell you this story.
Compared to what we are used to hiking in the white mountains- this trail was honestly a breeze. The mountains here at home are very rocky, and have tons of slippery tree roots. Plus those presidential mountain rocks are even more brutal to hike on. Although this hike had some genuine steepness to it- it was like hiking on a paved dirt trail. We were in paradise. Although I would rename this hike "Switchback Trail to Sentinel Pass" because the entire hike switches back and forth with fun little views as you make your way to Larch Valley.
This hike also gives you a unique perspective of the 10 peaks mountain range- these are those snowy mountain beauts that sit behind Moraine Lake.
As we hike the trail opens up to beautiful Alpine Meadows. A few wild flowers even lined the trail. One of the most interesting parts of traveling is to getting to see the different wildlife and plant life that is unique to this environment. Larch Valley is named after its abundance of Larch Trees. They resemble the pine trees that we are used to at home- but their needles are soooo super soft. It almost feels feathery. Larch trees are the only tree in this region that change color in the fall. This brings in lots of tourists and hikers in late autumn to see Canada's version of Fall Foliage on this hike.
We even saw a Hoary Marmot- which at the time we did not know that was their name. He kind of looked like a beaver at first to us, I named him a forest otter until we could research his proper title. He did a little modeling for us on this rock, before heading on his way.
As you can tell we are having the best day ever. The weather was perfect and sunny! These giant Rocky Mountains just lit up the trail for us. As if all of that wasn't already phenomenal- the trail brings you out to the Minnestimma Lakes, which make for more cool views. At this point we could also see hikers making their way up Sentinel Pass, and a sneak peak of what our trail had in store for us next...
This is where things got sketchy.
The trail went over 2 snowy patches. In these pictures its hard to really show the steepness of the wall we were switchbacking. Buutttt to sum it up for you, there was a very steep drop off down the side of the trail. & There is an immediate sense of vertigo once we hit this part of the trail. It was absolutely exhilarating! I loved it. John, and his fear of heights? Not so much. The trekking poles helped phenomenally through the snowy section. Gives you a sense of something to hold onto. We did not expect to see snow in the middle of July, or we would've brought some traction with us.
We very carefully, made it through both snow sections. & Continued up this crazy trail on the side of a wall. It was almost lunch time, and I was ready to get to the top and eat this sandwich I earned.
Once at the top we beelined towards a more private section on the left, away from all the other hikers enjoying the top. John asked a girl also exploring over there to take our picture. I handed her my camera and was waiting in front of the view point for John to join, when I look down, and see him on one knee with a ring box.
"Will you marry me?"
I was completely shocked! What an absolute surprise. I forgot to say yes at first because I was too busy giggling and smiling and getting over the shock factor! He chimed in, and reminded me I was supposed to answer.
Yes! A 1000 times yes.
Everyone else on the top cheered for us. We thanked the girl who took our photos (little did she know she was about to do an impromptu engagement photo shoot.) & Found a private spot where we could enjoy and celebrate the moment together. I made John tell me the whole story of how he got the ring here and snuck it past me.
We smiled the whole day down and for at least a solid 48 hours after this moment. Because our phones didn't work in Canada, and we couldn't tell any of our family or friends yet- I announced our engagement to strangers that we passed on the hiking trail. Lol.. They were happy for us.
Seriously such an amazing day. The hike down was just as beautiful. We took our time, and made our way back towards Moraine Lake. There was celebrating to be done!
John's side of the story:
He told me he had known he wanted to marry for a while, but was trying to save up to make it happen. As it got closer to our trip to Banff, he realized it would just be the most epic place to pop the question. So he had to make it happen here. He had no idea where or at what point he would propose in Banff.. he just knew it would be at some point during our trip and figured he would know when the time was right. He picked out the ring, and had it hidden in his office until we left. No one got to see the ring before it happened... except Blaze. Who came into John's office one day to check in, and John showed him and said "I'm going to give this to Momma." My heart. So cute.
Going through security he even put a sticky note on the ring box that said "It's a surprise, don't ruin it." LOL Smart thinking!
& He almost gave himself away when on the plane when I was looking for something to use as a bookmark. He pulled out a sticky note from his pocket and immediately took it back before I could notice- it had jewelers info on it. Close call. I absolutely love this whole day and how it turned out. Him and I first met on a hike, so it seems only fitting to get engaged doing what first brought us together.
On our way back down the trail we started to see peek-a-boo views of Lake Moraine. The brightest shade of turquoise I have ever seen in the natural world.
Since we started our hike so early, the sun wasn't quite out yet or hitting the lake. Viewing now for a second time later in the day, it had completely changed colors. This lake was what first drew me to Banff national park. We have a puzzle and a calendar that features the famous Moraine Lake (Didn't know that's what it was at the time though). One day when scrolling online I found this crazy- turquoise water and started researching flights. Who would've thought it would later turn into the trip of a lifetime.
As you can imagine, it is even more stunning in person.
Then it was time to celebrate! Some nice dinner and a bottle of bubbly. It's not everyday you go off and get engaged in the Canadian Rockies :) For the next 2 days John just kept repeating, that he is the luckiest.
"When life presents you the opportunity to grow together with someone, you must take it. No matter the obstacles, no matter the skin that separates you. Grow together." Tyler Knott Gregson
-Future Mrs. Laura Ventresco