Banff hiking: Into the woods on a pilgrimage for Shep

big white dog at lake agnes near banff

It wasn’t just any other hike.

It was a pilgrimage.

Twelve years ago, I started to realize the rat race wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

That the corporate bullshit of the big city wasn’t worth the stress and headache.

That there was more to life than 9 to 5, cement sidewalks and sky-high office towers.

There were flowers.

And mountains.


Banff hiking trails.

And Shep.

My first great love

Until we started hiking together, Shep—the big boy who introduced me to the Maremma sheepdog—was my dog.

Just my dog.

My buddy, my walking partner, my dog.

Once we started to spend so much time together in the Rocky Mountains and their Foothills, our relationship changed.

We became best friends.



It was on one trip of Banff hiking in particular where I remember that connection finally being made.

A friend implored me to go camping that summer of 2007. We did Jasper first for the Canada Day long weekend, and then booked a couple nights at the Johnston Canyon campground in Banff National Park.

We rose early Saturday morning and made our way to one of the most popular hikes in the area. The Canyon features a series of waterfalls with winding boardwalks built onto the rock face of the canyon wall.

When you get to the end of the Canyon walk, you’re invited to head into the woods for another few kilometres with steady uphills and switchbacks to find the Ink Pots.

From parking lot to Ink Pots, it’s 5.9 kilometres (3.7 miles) and when you break through the wooded area into the valley, you’re greeted by five pools of deep blue and green water fed by mineral springs.

And the most amazing view of the Sawback Range.

I remember sitting in the meadow with Shep and soaking it all in. He stayed beside me, ever vigilant, ever protective.

From that moment, I knew we were destined to spend many more days in those hills. Most of them, it was just me and him.

We’d stand at the top of a mountain and we’d know we were the only two beings on earth that mattered to each other.

big white dog and woman on banff hiking trip


Shep and me at the Ink Pots in 2007

Connections are made on Banff hiking trips

We started planning a trip several months ago.

Just the girls.

Two good friends, Newt, Bella and me.

Stephanie and Cat are nature lovers, hikers and photographers. We booked a base camp (ahem … AirBnB) near Radium and planned our weekend.

I insisted on the hike to the Ink Pots.

Life has changed so much since that birthday hike in 2007. I’m married, living in Spokane and an American citizen, and I really have abandoned the corporate bullshit of downtown sidewalks and office towers.

On August 20, it will be five years since Shep left my world and I felt like I owed this trip to him.

Bella and I take a memorial road trip or hike every year on that day in his honor but this was different. It was a chance to say “hey, we’re home and we’re all together.”

A stronger bond

To say raising Bella from puppy to adult has been difficult is an understatement.

She is the prototypical Maremma: stubborn, aloof, defiant.

Not untrainable.

Just in need of more patience and a different relationship than a lot of other dog breeds.

A partnership.

A co-existence.

After I finally left a soul-crushing marketing career, we started growing closer and closer.

She trusts me. I trust her.

We’re rarely more than a few feet away from each other. Bella sleeps outside my home office door. She won’t go outside without me. She gives my husband her best RBF when he wants to take her for a walk (she ultimately relents and enjoys herself).

Then came our hiking trip to Banff.

big white dog and woman at Ink Pots near Banff


Bella and me at the Ink Pots, July 2019
Photo credit: Cat House

We wound our way through the Canyon walls with Bella showing her best levels of patience as we all stopped to aim our lenses at the myriad of waterfalls.

We charged up the Ink Pots trail in a way that Bella knew I was on a mission. In any case, she likes to be at the head of the pack, looking out—I assume—for threats and predators.

Or maybe she just likes to be first.

We came into the meadows and it already was swarming with people.

We found a quiet spot a little bit away from the vibrant pools of water. I shed my camera backpack and sat on the ground.

It was like she knew.

She sat beside me, shoulder to shoulder, and just soaked it all in.

As the tears streamed from my face, we turned to look at each other and she lifted her paw onto my arm as if to say “it’s OK, mama.”

And I knew that Shep was there with us, too.

woman kissing maremma sheepdog at ink pots near banff


A special moment
Photo credit: Cat House

Another road trip soon

Next Tuesday marks five years since I said say goodbye to Shep.

Bella and I are off on a memorial road trip or hike. I’m not sure which it should be this year.

Sometimes, we do Tubbs Hill in Coeur d’Alene—where my husband proposed to me on our last hike with our sweet Bubba. Sometimes, we head down dusty roads to look for ghostly farmhouses and barns like Shep and I did in Alberta.

No matter what, I know that he’s with us every step of the way.

Now here are a few more images from our Banff hiking trip. Enjoy!

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All around the circle

It’s a while since I participated in the worldwide blog circle. I finally had a story to fit the theme! OK … sort of.

The theme for this week is wood and I wrote about going on a Banff hiking trip into the woods. Get it? (Imagine me with a big stupid grin on my face right now.)

Now we get to see how other dog photographers around the world interpreted the theme. Let’s start with Pawparazzi Pet and Animal Photography presented by Shae Pepper Photography. Read her post, then click the link at the bottom to get to the next one.

Travel through the circle and when you land back here, you’re home.

Right where you belong.

If you’re ready to book a dog portrait session at Riverfront Park, click this handy little button and let’s get started.

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