The following is a description of a three week self-organized hiking tour in the Canadian Rockies that my wife Lidia and I undertook in the summer of 2002.
We arrived at Calgary airport on July 23rd at 10:30 a.m. and drove south towards Waterton Lakes National Park immediately thereafter. Waterton is a beautiful park with beautiful trails, but a lot of people tend to bypass it and rush to Banff and Jasper; too bad really.
We departed Calgary for home on August 14th.
We had not made advanced reservation for accommodations in any of the locations we had planned to visit. Back in May we had tried to book a couple of B&B's in the Waterton area but there were already full!!!
Our aim, for this trip, was to hike as many as possible of the ten best day hikes in the Canadian Rockies. We managed to do some, other only partially or not at all, all the while hiking other interesting trails.
The highlights were Crypt Lake, Lake O'Hara, Edith Cavell Meadows and Helen Lake.
WATERTON (elevation 1,279 m. asl)
We stayed at: ASPEN VILLAGE INN
|Waterton Lakes National Park was to be our first destination. |
After leaving Calgary via the #2 highway we decided to take a detour along the much more scenic highway #22 via highway #533 out of Nanton. Nanton has a very interesting little aviation museum: "NANTON LANCASTER SOCIETY AIR MUSEUM"
Waterton Lakes National Park adjoins National Glacier National Park (USA) to the south and together they form Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
For thousands of years this was primarily the territory of the Aboriginal tribes of the Kootnai and Blackfoot. Thomas Blakiston was the first European on record to explore the area back in 1858 and he named the lakes for Charles Waterton, an XVIII century English naturalist.
NOTES: At the time of our visit the section of the trail from the Carthew lakes to the village of Waterton was closed due to wash-out sections ( (we hiked 16.6 km. return; our time was 6 hrs total).
We started from Cameron lake at 7:30 a.m. and were back at 2:30 p.m.
Before getting to the ridge a grizzly bear had come down from the barren scree slope, across the narrow trail and down into the meadow below just a few minutes before we reached the spot. We could still see him grazing about the creek; the party of four just ahead of us had just experienced a very close encounter.
NOTES: This is a rather unique hiking experience. First we have to take a 20 minutes boat ride to reach the trailhead (there are 2 departures from the Waterton marina one at 9:00 a.m. and one at 10:00 a.m.; the 2 return trips are scheduled for 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.) After hiking for 8.1 km. we must climb a 2 m. metal ladder, go through a natural 25 meter long tunnel in the rock (we can see the light at the other side and we must crouch somewhat sideways and use our hands to enable us to move forward) than we gingerly step down (long step down) on an exposed precipice and with the help of a steel cable carefully reach "terra ferma" again...
This is a popular trail; there were about 50 passengers on the 9 o' clock boat. Once we reached the trailhead the crowd thinned out along the trail according to the various hiking ability. When we eventually reached the tunnel there was a bottle neck because the more energetic ones were already beginning to come back while the slower one were still going up and both the tunnel and the cabled section of the trail can only accommodate a one way activity at a time. We reached the lake at about 1 p.m. and after lunch we started our return at about 2 p.m. and arrived at the pick up dock at 4:35 p.m.
The temperature was 30 d. C. nevertheless we saw chunks of ice floating in Crypt lake.
NOTES:This trail starts just before Cameron Lake. We started at 8 a.m. and were back by 1:30 p.m.
and again SECOND STOP
FIELD (elevation 1,243 m. asl)
We stayed at: COYOTE'S DEN GUESTHOUSE; hosted by Elaine; Ph: 250 343-6034
In Waterton it had rained the previous night and now the temperatures were finally moderating
The village of Field dates from 1884 when the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway reached this point. It was named after Cyrus W. Field, promoter of the Trans-Atlantic cable, who visited the area. The present site was surveyed in 1904 after the north side of the village was destroyed by an avalanche off Mt. Burgess.
Yoho Park was named as such by Deville and it means "wonder, astonishment" in Cree Indian.
NOTES:We hiked the Iceline trail to the junction with the Celeste lake connector. On our way back we proceeded to Yoho Lake and followed the trail around it to get back to our point of departure; the total distance was 14.7 km. (5 hrs.) From the Iceline trail we had an excellent view across the Yoho valley of Daly glacier and Takakkaw Falls (named by Van Horne, suggested to him by Deville, using the Cree Indian word for "it is wonderful"; total fall of 380 m.; free-fall 254 m.)
NOTES: This morning in Field the sky was overcast and it was raining on and off so we drove to Lake Louise where the sky was only partially cloudy.
NOTES: After having done the Fairview Lookout trail we decided to go up to Lake Agnes and the teahouse.
On Little Beehive we met new friends: Amelia from Vancouver and her companion Daniel from New Zeland; together we walked down to Lake Louise.
Today, July 30th, in Field the temperature reached a maximum of 10 degrees Centigrade.
After leaving Jasper and the hike at Parker Ridge (see description further down) on August the 5th we came back at the Coyete's Den in Field because it was our intention to get a day pass to Lake O'Hara. The office to book the bus trip is situated in Field and they open at 8 a.m. (for Lake O'Hara passes). There are two runs going up to Lake O'Hara one at 8:30 and one at 10:30; similarly there are to runs coming back in the afternoon one at 4:30 and one at 7:30. We booked for the 8:30 bus and we were able to catch the returning 4:30 bus. You must book in person but you are allowed to reserved an extra ticket (if your partner likes to sleep in and maybe bring you coffee later on). You book for next day trip. I was the first in line and that was 4:55 a.m. (and that's because a train was going by Field right at the moment I approached the tracks and it took 8 minutes to transit by); at 5:40 two other peoples showed up each reserving 2 tickets, therefore the next day day-use pass quota was all gone well before 6 a.m. and 2 hours before the office opens.
LAKE O'HARA RESERVATION PROCEDURE
NOTES: After having successfully booked 2 passes for the next day it started to rain heavily and steadily. We therefore drove to Golden to do some shopping. On our way back to Field the clouds started to lift and by noon the rain had stopped and we could see the blue sky again. By now we were in the vicinity of Wapta Falls (the word Wapta comes from a Stoney Indian word meaning "river") so we decided to take a look.
NOTES:This morning, August 7th, the sky was
partially cloudy and cool but pleasant. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes an
by 9 a.m. we were on our way to Lake Oesa (named by S. E. S. Allen using the
Stoney Indian word for "ice" since the lake is frozen most of the time). This
whole area is quite fascinating to say the least.
We had to look hard for the next sign (after the first one, the II appeared painted still in yellow but on a dark blue square background) before proceeding along over huge boulders, because a couple of times we found ourself at a dead end. While on the ledge, which at times is quite exposed and in a couple of spots a bit precarious, we were hit by snow pellets and sleet, but looking down to Lake O'Hara and across the basin we could see the high peaks basking in the sun.
On our way down from Opabin Lake we met new friends, Nancy and Jim, from Minneapolis with whom we hiked the High Trail down to Lake O'Hara.
JULY 31-AUGUST 4
(elevation 1,000 m. asl)
We stayed at: 2 OF THE MANY GUESTHOUSES
| Fresh snow fell overnight on the high peaks around Field. It was a cool morning, but very nice, with low clouds slowly, very slowly, drifting along the valley and the flanks of the mountains. It was a dream-like scenario.
On the way to Jasper we stopped at the Columbia Icefields during a lengthy and nasty snow squall; the temperature in the parking lot at the Icefield Centre (elevation 1,984 m.) was zero degrees Centigrade and blowing snow! We couldn't see much of anything and driving was very slow. As we got closer to Jasper the clouds started to clear somewhat and the visibility improved considerably. At the Jasper Park Information Centre the trail report had lots of bear activity warnings including some with cubs.
The morning of August the 1st was very cold (3 d. C. below zero) and we could see an abundance of fresh snow on the surrounding peaks, so we decided to go to Miette Hot Spring (at 54 degrees Centigrade they are the hottest in the Canadian Rockies) for a well deserved R&R (they have three pools: one at 41 d. C., one at 39 d. C, and the last one stood at 13 d. C. because this one was filled with the Miette creek water). The air temperature was 10 degrees Centigrade so it felt great soaking in the 41 deg. C. All 3 pools are in the open.
On our way back to Jasper we went to Pyramid Lake and walked the short but pleasant nature walk trail; unfortunately the beautiful reddish Pyramid Mountain (2,762 m.) was shrouded in clouds (it was to remain mostly hidden for the 5 days we were in Jasper).
The day after, August the 2nd, was still cold and cloudy and we noticed that the snow had fallen much lower on the surrounding mountains than the previous night. We decided to go up to Edith Cavell anyway; we encountered a snow squall on our way up and the temperature in the parking lot below the glacier was 5 d. C. and it was still snowing.
NOTES: On our way back from visiting snowy Edith Cavell, the weather had cleared up in the Athabasca valley so we went to hike the Valley of the Five Lakes Trail. This is a pleasant easy trail that skirts 5 small, attractive, green jade coloured lakes.
NOTES: This morning August the 3rd we drove to beautiful Maligne Lake. The view was even more spectacular with the fresh snow covered mountain peaks reflecting in the blueish-green water of the lake. We decided to take the boat tour first which will take us to "Spirit Island", a spot just past the midpoint of the length of the lake in an area called the "Hall of the Gods"; it is truly a spectacular view, but of course you have to share the short 15 minutes spent ashore with the rest of the tourists; hardly enough time to suck it all in.
The trail to Bald Hills Lookout follows a rather monotonous fire road, but at 3.2 km there is a junction that will take you up to the lookout via a shorter and much steeper trail with fine views over Maligne lake and the Queen Elizabeth mountain ranges. Although the trail was clear, we encountered snow patches on tree branches and in shaded grassy spots.
NOTES: In the early morning the clouds were still lingering low on the peaks around Jasper, therefore we went for an easy 1 hour (3 km loop) walk around Lac Beauvert just a few minutes drive from the town. Afterwards we started hiking the Old Fort trail (3 km total) which allows a splendid view over the town of Jasper, the meandering of the vast Athabasca river bed and a good view of Mt. Edith Cavell (3,363 m.) which, to our delight, appeared to be clearing from the clouds. We made a quick descent to our car and drove up to Mt. Edith Cavell; it had been our intention, since we got here, to hike up to the meadows; we were leaving for Lake Louise the next morning; this was our last chance. We arrived at the parking lot just before 1 p.m. and it was fairly busy with cars and people. With the sun shining, the pond in front of Cavell glacier appeared in all its glorious green with many more ice "calves" than a couple of days before floating about. Angel glacier was also basking in the hot sun causing a good flow of water gushing out at its base. The view from the moraine, on the way to the meadows, was magnificent. The meadows were full of white and pink heather, indian paint brushes and many other flowers. We were ecstatic to have had the opportunity to see the area twice, in a short period of time, and in so a contrasting scenarios.
NOTES: On August 5th we left Jasper, where the temperature was a cool 4 d. C., in the early hours of the morning with the intention of hiking Parker Ridge situated just south of the Icefield Information Centre, on our way back to Field.
This is a short but very rewarding hike. Once on top of the ridge we followed the trail to the left for about 500 meters where we had a commanding panoramic view of the Saskatchewan Glacier and the valley.
Halfway up the trail we encountered snow on the ground, but the trail was clear.
LAKE LOUISE VILLAGE ( 1,536 m. asl)
We stayed at: MOUNTAINEER LODGE
NOTES: The weather had changed yet again from cold to a warm trend. This was a fairly warm day in Lake Louise where the temperature reached 20 d. C.The trail to the Plain of the Six Glaciers is a very popular trail; when we started at 10:30 a. m. it wasn't too bad but on our returned it became quite busy; people still going up in the early afternoon. The second half of the trail is exposed to the high midday sun.
NOTES: Reservations are strongly recommended for the bus that leaves from either Banff and Sunshine Village parking lot; the day we tried the phone lines were down so we drove up to the village and we were in the parking lot by 7:30. When the tour organizers finally arrived, there was some confusion as who got there first, in fact it didn't seem to matter. In any case by the time everything got sorted out we arrived at the top at ten past ten. The best part of the hiking loop was the section called Garden Path for the abundance of flowers in bloom everywhere.
NOTES: It had rained overnight and this morning the fog was still lingering low in the valley, but as time went by the sunshine broke through.
At the beginning if the trail there was a bear warning sign. As we were starting the hike we met Bob and Julie from Baltimore and decided to walk together, and so we made new friends.
NOTES: Because the hike to Chephren only took 3.5 hours, instead of going to the nearby Cirque Lake due to the muddy trail, we decided together with Bob and Julie to hike instead up to the Bow Glacier Falls. After walking along Bow lake and the outwash bed of the Bow river, we reached a narrow gorge where a huge boulder, mentioned by Walter Wilcox back in 1895, still straddles the canyon walls.
NOTES: The easy and monotonous trail brings
you to a very interesting setting and astonishingly clear body of greenish hue
Afterwards we drove to the Paint Pots nature walk just west of Boom Lake.
NOTES: This trail had been closed on and off
due to bear activity. Luckily today, 2 days before going home, the trail was
open again (with bear warning) and it was a gloriously sunny and clear day. This
is indeed a beautiful hike with great view across Crowfoot Mountain, Bow Lake
and Bow Peak.
On our way down from the ridge we encountered a few people who had seen a grizzly with a cub at close range crossing the trail. Some of them, somewhat concerned, turned back even before reaching Lake Helen.
Before starting up the trail I gave thanks to the spirit of the Great Bear for having given us the opportunity to visit this beautiful area; we were guests, really.
|TOWNS WHERE WE STAYED AT|
|WATERTON||FIELD [1st stop]||JASPER||FIELD [2nd stop]||LAKE LOUISE|
SUMMER 2002 - PHOTO ALBUMS
JASPER NATIONAL PARK BANFF NATIONAL PARK WATERTON NATIONAL PARK YOHO NATIONAL PARK
1) The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide; Brian Patton and Bart Robinson, Summerthought Publication, Banff, Canada - Second edition, 1978