In place of irksome weekly staff meetings, you encounter black bears foraging for food and mountain goats skittering along cliff ledges. Imagine a life where the outdoors is your office.
Instead of a laptop computer and an iPhone as your trusted companions, your posse consists of soaring mountain peaks, wildflower-drenched meadows and glistening alpine lakes. Rather than the incessant buzzing of phones and whirring of photocopying machines, you hear birds twittering and streams gurgling. There is no ceiling above you crippling your vision, only an expansive sky.
There are no walls separating you from the outdoors. You and nature are one. This is the life of a professional mountain hiking guide. Dave Honeyman, owner of Canadian Rockies Alpine, is a professional mountain hiking guide who has been exploring the bounty of Western Canada’s national parks since 1981.
In the past 30 years, Honeyman has become intimately familiar with hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails in Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks. Although this knowledgeable and entertaining hiking guide has called Banff, Alberta home for almost 25 years, like many Western Canadian residents, Honeyman stems from “Back East”. He was born in Ottawa and went to school in Quebec. While he spends the warmer months in hiking boots guiding in the mountains, this avid outdoorsman is just as comfortable on snow.
I first met Honeyman almost three decades ago at Whitewater Ski Resort in Nelson, British Columbia. Often spotted as a gang flying through hip-deep powder and over child-sized bumps, we were Honeyman’s enthusiastic entourage of 11-year old ski racers. Dave was our 22-year old ski coach, who, if I recall correctly, drove a VW van and listened to reggae (standard behaviour for a ski bum in the mid 1980s).
After all these years, this legendary ski pro has proven impossible to forget. My skiing style is forever branded by his influence. From Nelson, this nationally-awarded ski coach took his talents to the Rockies and built an impressive career as a ski professional. I recently spoke with my former ski coach about his life as a mountain hiking guide in the national parks. In this interview, he dishes details about the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies, an unforgettable grizzly bear encounter and life in the mountains.
Rachel: You have been exploring the “high country of the parks” since 1981. What are your two most recommended hikes?
Honeyman: Nothing is more spectacular than hiking in the Lake Louise area. Brilliant glaciers, beautiful waterfalls and stunning turquoise lakes — Lake Louise has it all. The Big Beehive (a mountain located above Lake Louise) offers unrivaled views in the Canadian Rockies. This 10-km hike takes you up 520 meters (1,706 feet). From the top, you get an outstanding view of the jade-green water of Lake Louise with the staggering Rockies as a backdrop. Hiking to the Big Beehive takes between three to four hours round trip.
For a more remote day hike, Mount Edith Cavell Meadows in Jasper National Park is an incredible adventure with mind-blowing scenery and excellent opportunities to see wildlife. Glacier-capped and massive, Mount Edith Cavell is a magnificent sight. This eight-km round-trip hike with an elevation gain of approximately 370 meters (1,214 feet) offers awesome views of Angel Glacier and Cavell Glacier, which embellish the rocky face of Mount Edith Cavell. You’ll also get a great view of Cavell Pond — a light green pool of water at the foot of the glacier.
Rachel: What is the most memorable wildlife experience that you’ve witnessed?
Honeyman: I was hiking with a group of 10 people when we spotted a grizzly bear at the far end of Sunshine Meadows, which is 20 minutes outside of Banff. The grizzly had ripped off velvet from an adult mule deer. There was blood on the snow. (New antlers are covered in a velvet-like material.) When the grizzly realized that we were watching, he stood up for a moment and then ran away. We followed its path for six kilometres in reverse. We saw holes that the bear had dug up looking for squirrels and different vegetation. It was just an amazing experience to witness the damage that the grizzly had done and to know that we were safe because he was walking in the opposite direction.
Rachel: You say that there are thousands of kilometres of established trails in the parks, but most people won’t find these hikes on their own. Which hike do you consider to be a “hidden gem”?
Honeyman: Tangle Ridge in the Columbia Icefields is amazing! From the top of Tangle Ridge, you look over seven of the 12 highest peaks in the Canadian Rockies, including Mount Columbia, which is the second highest peak in the Rockies and the highest mountain in Alberta. This hike is a 1000-meter elevation gain.
Rachel: What hike would you recommend for people hiking with kids?
Honeyman: The circuit around Johnson Lake is great for families with kids. There is no elevation gain, making it an easy walk. The views of Mount Rundle and the Fairholme Range are beautiful. The water in the lake is so crystal clear that you can actually see trout swimming in it.
Rachel: What inspired you to be a mountain hiking guide?
Honeyman: My business (Canadian Rockies Alpine) enables people from around the world to experience the beauty of the alpine in the national parks. It also allows me to be in the mountains on a full-time basis, which has been my goal since I first saw the Rockies when I was 19 years old.
Rachel: If you weren’t working as a professional mountain hiking guide, what would you be doing?
Honeyman: I wouldn’t be working. (laughs)