We marched out to the van two by two–we always have to try and confuse hoteliers as to how many more people than we claimed we had were actually crammed into their rooms–and munched on cold, greasy pizza for breakfast as we drove east into Yoho National Park (www.parkscanada.ca/yoho).

Yoho receives a mere fraction of the visitors at world renowned Banff, which is what they call this exact same stretch of wilderness on the Alberta side of the border.

We stopped briefly at Natural Bridge, a Greek-Key–shaped spit of rock over a riotously rushing section of glacial melt-off thundering under the stone and gushing down the stream beyond in a flurry of freezing white water,

We pulled into Emerald Lake intending merely to take a quick spin around its cool, shockingly reflective waters–the deep color caused by light refracting off microparticles of glacial rock–and to point out to the boys the famous Burgess Shale deposit of rare, Cambrian-era fossils of soft-bodied marine animals that have taught scientists more about the emergence of early animal life than any other site in the world.

During our circuit, Stew and I noticed a second trail diverging up and over Yoho Pass. It was only 6.6 miles, so while Stew went to drive the van around to the trail’s other end, the boys and I strapped on hiking boots.

Over the Pass
The trail that began in mud flats braided with streamlets and bridged by thick wooden planks quickly gave way to a narrow, steep track through wildflowers. We sang “Yoho, Yoho, across the bridge we go” and, once we realized there were seven of us, quickly assigned dwarf names to each person. Quinn was Dopey, Dan Bashful, Ezra (given his snuffly bean contact low of the evening before) Sneezy, Mike was a natural for Sleepy, Ari became by default Grumpy (though that didn’t really fit his character, as even when he was bitshing it was with an infectious enthusiasm), equinamable Karis was Happy, and me, I was Doc. We argued hwo best to break the news to Stew that he had become, by the process of elimination, Snow White.

The elevation gain from the lake to the pass was 1,700 feet. We did the 1,200 of it in one fell swoop over the course of a mile, the cool rush of a nearby mountain stream, invisible off to the left, teasing us as we climbed.

Thunder was grumbling and dark clouds peaking over Emerald Glacier by the time we got to the main falls, so we scrambled across a wide talus slope made up of several old avalanches to the safety of the tree cover. A giant guardian boulder stood athwart the path right at the tree line like a gate to the forest. Just beyond it, we paused to eat apples in the shade of the fir trees while the grumbling storm decided not to hit our valley and moved on.

At pretty little Yoho Lake on the other side of the pass, we hollered a hello to two French-speaking Canadian girls looked frightened that we might decide to stay and ruin their gorgeous (and, until our arrival, quiet) campsite. Stew was waiting for us there, enjoying an afternoon of incredible wildlife spotting: mountain goats, black-tailed deer, elk, black bear, and a grizzly mother with her cub.

The trail bottomed out by a dirt road by the Whiskey Jack Hostel beyond which the trail continued to an 838-foot-high waterfall called Takakkaw, a Cree word whose meaning could apply to the whole region: “It is magnificent.”

There was another squall of fat rain as we hustled up the trail, and we got soaked in mist at base, but that didn’t stop the boys from scrambling over wet boulders as close to the base of the falls as they could get. Shivering, I retreated along the trail back out of the mist zone.

A Late Lunch and A Change of Plans
We finally got our lunch of cold cuts at some picnic tables near the falls. Of course, it was 10pm, but we called it lunch. In our defense, we thought it was only 9pm because we had made the mistake of determining the time by asking Ezra, and Ezra had not yet reset his watch to Mountain Time (which doesn’t, incidentally, start where it should, at the BC/Alberta border along the Continental Divide, but rather over along the ridge of the Columbias, around Glacier NP).

We decided we’d be late enough (like, and hour) picking up Agnew at Calgary, so rather than take the time to find a campground in Banff and unpack so the boys and I could set up camp while Stew went and collected Agnew, we just all stayed in the van and zipped through Banff then hauled down to Calgary where, of course, we made several wrong turns trying to find the airport.

“Let’s go back to that seedy part of town and look for a cheap motel,” said Stew, so we all piled into the “suite” at the Traveller’s Inn motel where I found free WiFi. The boys watched Gremlins 2 while Stew, Agnew, and I chatted until Stew asked, “Is the sky lightening out there?”

“Of course not,” I said, blaming the city lights of Calgary as I stepped over Ari in his sleeping bag to jigger aside the curtain a bit more and look out. Sure enough, the sky was brightening. “Oh my God,” I said and fumbled for my cell phone to check the time. It was 5am, so we decided maybe it would be a good idea to get a little sleep.

See, although Agnew was still under the impression that tomorrow was to be spent calmly sightseeing in Calgary, he was forgetting that, during a six-week circle tour across the continent by Troop 116, the only bit of the original schedule we ever stick to are the airport dates for swapping out adult leaders, most of whose jobs, families, and stamina only allow them to spend a week or two on the road.

In other words, we weren’t touring Calgary tomorrow. No, we had decided to check out early and head back north for a little 14-mile hike over the Continental Divide.