Few places feel like Talus Lodge.
Maybe it is the perch, glued to the edge of an immense canyon. Or maybe it is the potential for discovery in every direction. With travel to this rugged region scarce — a place that snowmobiles still cannot access and summer through-hikers are non-existent — it is a location where you still feel like a pioneer.
It is fitting that the lodge owner, a professional forester and ACMG Hiking Guide, looks as rugged as the environment around him. Chris Espinel came to this place for its one-of-a-kind natural features, spectacular views, rock-bridges and waterfalls. It is a condensed place of intense natural beauty — like Banff and Yoho squeezed into a single valley.
“What drew me to the area is the pristine, isolated nature of it, where everything, including grizzlies and wolverines, can be observed as it is,” says Espinel. “The amazing setting and variety of the area as a result of dry and wet valleys and the spectacular surrounding mountains — particularly the Royal Group — is what I love most about Talus Lodge.”
For how remote this place is, it is relatively easy to get to. Just hop a short flight from either the Alpine Helicopters’ base in Canmore, Alberta, or from their staging area at Mount Shark, in Banff National Park. Now settle in — no Wi-Fi, no more busying your mind with tasks from the daily grind — you’re on Talus Time.
Ridge-walks abound — touch the sky while venturing up one of the various spines that run towards White Man Mountain. The route leads from alpine meadow to rocky ridge, complete with views of familiar peaks from the edge of the Continental Divide, such as Mount Sir Donald and Mount Lehman.
Eastward, a labyrinth of limestone alleyways carves paths toward a vast basin — a region full of hidden tarns and a thousand waterfalls. This zone is part of the Albert River, a moisture-trap created by the Royal Group of Mountains, which collect storms to fill the lakes and create a symphony of splashing water; a perfect picnic stop.
One of my favourite routes combines summits and Stromatolites. I can’t pronounce it either, but these fossilized mounds will amaze. For billions of years, Stromatolites dominated life on Earth. We need to give gratitude to these pimples of rock, as they are believed to be largely responsible for increasing the amount of oxygen in primeval Earth’s atmosphere. (A short ceremony to connect with ancient Earth might be followed by a common hiking delay — waiting out a late-summer thunderstorm under a car-sized slab of limestone.) Peaks for all levels of hikers await further on, with the Royal Group standing guard in the distance to keep your eyes as entertained as your feet.
At times, it is hard to even think of hiking when to the west, in front of the lodge, the stunning backdrop of The Thalon cradles two emerald-green lakes with snowfields etched on either side. A green basket sits in the middle; a wildflower-explorer’s dream and a perfect half-day route from the lodge dubbed Angel’s Landing.
The lodge team — a couple originally from Australia — offer good cheer and great food. Kieren and Sandra always have ear-to-ear smiles, making everyone feel a part of the family as they create scrumptious meals for hungry hikers. Comfortable rooms with mountain views are heated by wood stove; drying racks ready your gear for the next day. But the standout is the Bucket Shower — like “the ice bucket challenge,” but with wood-fire-warmed water. Just pull a cord and get a splash! Or, here in the Rockies, you can hike to a secluded waterfall, strip down, and do it for real.