By Jane Marshall

It’s time. Time to take my kids into the backcountry again. Julie and Ben are now 11 and 15 and things have changed. They’re stronger. They’re more backcountry savvy. The tough work and subtle parental fear of hauling young children (and their gear!) into the wild has eased and it feels like we are working as a team.

We choose to visit Sunset Pass in Banff National Park, located just north of Saskatchewan River Crossing.

We load our packs and it’s clear that Ben is now taller, heavier, and I admit, stronger than me. We begin a stiff hike up switchbacks and ascend to a stunning open meadow surrounded by peaks: Mount Coleman towers above at 3,103 m and we can see the impressive Icefields Parkway peaks visible to the west.


Norman Lake Campground

This little campground is listed by Parks Canada as “lightly used.” Just what we wanted. Only two other tents are erected upon the square tent pads. The campground sits at the edge of the meadow in a pretty cluster of spruce trees.

The kids hoist our food bags up the bear poles and we set up our 4-person tent — which I bought from Campers Village when I was pregnant with Julie. It’s amazing how my gear has lasted. We splash about in Norman Creek and marvel at its clear water and how it magnifies the colours of the mountain rock.

Norman Lake Campground

Hiking to Sunset Pass

After a nice sleep at alpine temperatures (meaning we were zipped up snuggly into our sleeping bags), we hike toward Sunset pass and Pinto Lake. The trail leads us through a meadow with willow scrub that rises to our shoulders. It’s like a corn maze, mountain style. Finally we ascend a forested knoll to look down on bright blue Pinto Lake. But we just can’t descend back into the trees. Up here the view is open. We’re surrounded by an alluring alpine environment and the views have elevated our heart rates. So instead, we go up.

The kids pose for photos and we climb a rocky ridge to where the mountains race skyward, grey mammoth cliffs longing for a place in the sky.

Hiking Sunset Pass

For me, this is what it’s all about. When I see my kids too attached to their technology, I know this is what’s needed for balance. It’s so simple: Walking. Pumping water through the filter for our hydration. Creating shelter.

Later, we return to the campsite and the world’s funny connections show themselves. A couple has set up camp, and the man comes over to chat. We realize we know each other. Years ago, when I was the Assistant Manager at Campers Village West in Edmonton and pregnant with Julie, I had hired him. Chris worked at Campers before traveling to Peru, then becoming a hiking guide in Jasper. Julie’s growth marks the passage of time. And here we are, all still hiking, sleeping under the open sky, and loving living life outdoors.

Ben at Sunset Pass