Part 3 of a Series:
Water defines the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. It caps mountains, feeds flowers and forests, and rests in placid blue lakes. Oh yeah, it also shreds rock in raging whitewater torrents. Just check out Marble Canyon.
Everyone loves a slot canyon. The sandstone varieties are iconic tourist attractions in America’s Desert Southwest. Just don’t go during rainy season, when flash floods can turn a stroll through a dry, burnt-orange canyon into a whitewater disaster. In contrast, the raging ice blue water is part of the attraction in the Canadian Rockies.
Johnston Canyon is the tourist’s choice in the Great White North. It was not, however, the choice of a ranger at the Kootenay National Park visitor center: “Johnston is overrun. I’d hate to send you there. Try Marble Canyon.” I’d like to say her motives were pure, but Johnston is in Banff National Park, and Marble Canyon is in Kootenay. Just sayin’.
Judging by the line to the pit toilets in the parking lot early in the afternoon, we arrived at Marble Canyon during prime time. And we also found a bit of a crowd at the trail head, where the blue water of Tokumm Creek roars from the canyon in a blast of frigid water and cool air before swirling into the Vermilion River.
No worries, true to lessons learned the day prior in our hike to Bow Glacier Falls, as soon as the trail begins to ascend – less than 100 feet up a staircase, in this instance — the crowd begins to thin.
Once on top, the prime attraction at Marble Canyon is the roughly quarter-mile long rip in the limestone crisscrossed by bridges. Young spruce and deadfall from a massive fire that ravaged roughly 12.5 percent of Kootenay in 2003 make the walk a big sky experience.
And it is a walk, not a hike. The trek encompasses a one-mile round trip from the parking lot and back. We’re not sure why one visitor was decked out in full pack and bear bells for a trail that features giant red Adirondack chairs as a photo-op. It’s not the backwoods.
A highlight is the Tokumm’s initial plunge into the canyon, where the blue creek water evacuates its bed with power approaching that of a high-efficiency Toto commode. Impressive, though a Toto is much quieter. And despite the blue water, no Ty-D-Bol man. (For a blast from the past, click on the link.)
It’s a long way down, reportedly up to 120 feet in spots. Deep enough to give MontaraManDan the willies as he hung his head and I-Phone over bridge railings to shoot video of the rushing water below. He kept picturing the phone tumbling and tumbling. The Geek also leaned in, deftly counterbalancing the weight of her Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Telephoto Zoom Lens. More willies for M-Man, as he kept picturing The Geek tumbling and tumbling.
Fortunately, the highly developed trail features fencing along the length of the canyon. It’s pretty difficult to fall in by accident, unless it’s winter and the snow level rises past the top of the fences. So, safety first.
And the canyon is a work in progress, another potential hazard. It boasts several natural bridges of fallen stone stacked like giant unfinished games of Tetris. And one waist-high slab of counter top on the hoof rests independently in the middle of a small overlook, detached probably not so long ago from a nearby canyon wall.
True confessions … we also visited Johnston Canyon. Briefly. We stopped by late in afternoon while on the hunt for wildlife on the Bow Valley Parkway after a long day of real hikes in Banff National Park. We walked only to the lower falls. The well-groomed trail featured a gentle rise than a dip that eventually connects to a catwalk bolted to the side of the canyon. So, you get to walk in the canyon above the water. Kinda different and kinda cool.
How were the crowds at Johnston late in the afternoon? No line at the toilets. And they flushed. ‘Nuff said.
This post is the third in a series on the wonders of the Canadian Rockies pegged to the 150th year of the Canadian Confederation. Here are links to other posts in the series:
- Part 1: A Turquoise Lake in Banff Without the Hub-Bub; Go Ahead, Skip Lake Louise
- Part 2: Loaded for Bear in Banff, We Settle for a Coyote; the Man Who Cried “Moose”