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Thread: Canadian Rockies - Aug. 2009

  1. #1
    Senior Member Stan's Avatar
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    Canadian Rockies - Aug. 2009

    This is a summary of our trip to the Canadian Rockies (Jasper, Yoho, Lake Louise) in August 2009. I hope it is useful to those contemplating a trip there. There are also some good tips on this thread (especially Neil’s adrenaline rush #28): http://www.vftt.org/forums/showthrea...anff+gathering

    This was part of a larger road trip which included Glacier NP (US), Yellowstone, the Tetons, the Black Hills of SD and the Badlands. The possibility of a VFTT Gathering, which did not materialize, was all the excuse we needed to include it in this itinerary.

    The most striking thing about this trip was the dramatic beauty of snow capped mountains. Imagine Cannon Cliffs in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, multiply the elevations by three or four and surround yourself with it and you start to get the picture! These mountains serve more as a stage set than a destination for most of them are attainable only by extreme technical and ice climbing requiring considerable skills and resources. Still, there are many hikes and ridge walks that get you to even more striking views and put you inside the scenery.

    From afar, glaciers can be difficult to differentiate from snow but they are an ever present discoloration in the streams and rivers, a result of eons of glacial grinding of the underlying rock into a milky flour like substance … a couple weeks of this and clear mountain streams became a welcome sight. Another result of this particulate suspension is the green hue given to lakes. The postcard scenes of emerald green lakes, dark green forests, various shades of gray stone and clear white snow caps against brilliant blue skies is real, and everywhere.

    It took five days to drive the 2750 miles from the Boston area to Jasper via Edmonton and the Yellowhead Highway, named after a blonde Indian Chief revered by those who knew him. This included some time to scout Voyageurs National Park and the Canoe Area Wilderness of Superior National Forest … and some emergency dental improvisation to repair a chipped tooth sustained at Hoppy’s Bar somewhere in Wisconsin where our burgers were prepared on a Coleman-like double burner stove.

    We stayed three nights at the Maligne Canyon Hostel near Jasper. Our day hikes included Old Fort Point Loop, where grizzly activity suddenly changed it from a loop to an out and back and which stretched our legs and acclimated our lungs to the elevation, Maligne Canyon (well stocked with tourists but a very interesting geological formation), and Bald Hills overlooking Maligne Lake. We turned back at the first Bald summit with threatening clouds, which later brought hail, wind, lightning ... the whole catastrophe.

    On the way back to the hostel we saw an elk with spectacular antlers so large that it should have throw him off balance and, at least, be quite a nuisance on a bushwhack. Other wildlife we saw included a gray coyote, fox like in shape, wolf like in size, standing under a "beware of grizzly bears" sign. Back at the hostel there was a buzz about a black bear coming through camp … a lap cat in comparison to the grizzly.

    A future 2-3 day backpack here would be Skyline Trail, accessed by shuttle bus to the Maligne Lake and ending at the hostel. Much of this is ridgeline and other guests at the hostel raved about it … an example of first hand experiences learned at the hostels. Another day hike in this area would include Opal Mountain, closed then due to grizzly activity.

    From Yoho to Jasper we made four stops. First was Cavelle Glacier where, after a short hike to a pond at the edge of the glacier, I picked up some glacial ice for my bourbon. Close up glaciers are not nearly as pristine as postcard pictures. Ages of dust (from forest fires and volcanoes) and that rock flour made for a bit of debris in that cherished cocktail. There’s some contentment in the knowledge that somewhere in my body is a link with ancient geology.

    We also walked on the Columbia Icefields, hiked the interesting and popular Athabasca Falls and watched trains pass through spiral tunnels in Kicking Horse Pass. I have had a long fascination with railroads and throughout our journey we were near the trans Canadian rail line. I am in awe over what it took to construct this out of the wilderness and through these mountains. Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy became our theme song … it refers to deep forests too silent to be real and to the “navvies” who died building it, also too silent to be real. The two spiral tunnels were a way of gaining elevation while maintaining an acceptable RR grade … and you can see a miles long train exiting at one end while entering below, gaining about 50 feet of elevation in each tunnel.

    In Yoho we hiked the Emerald Lake loop in the shadow of Mt. Burgess which appeared on the back of Canadian $10 bills. The north side of the Lake is typical of lower elevation trails in the Rockies while the south side, shaded by Burgess, contrasted sharply, closely resembling the rain forest of the Pacific Northwest. We also took a trail from the far end of the lake to Emerald Basin at the foot of Emerald Glacier.

    We took a side trip from Yoho to canoe on Lake Moraine and watched as some trailheads required groups of at least four because of grizzly activity. These “groups” result from hanging around the trailhead until four reasonably compatible hikers assemble, not nearly as restricting as the thought of such a requirement might suggest and we observed groups forming and departing in good time.

    We stayed a couple nights at Cathedral Mountain Lodge and a few more at Whiskey Jack Hostel, the front porch of which has a nice view of the ever thundering 900’ high Takakkaw Falls. We hiked a bit on the Iceline Trail and made a loop around Yoho Lake. Dinner at the hostel was an international event: we were the only Americans, there was a Canadian couple, a Belgian visiting with his Canadian transplanted son, hikers from Germany, Holland, Israel and various parts of Asia. You might imagine the terrific smells of a variety of menus from around the world, samples of which were generously shared. The language barriers were overcome with gesturing and some help from the Belgian Canadian who knew Dutch, German, French and English ... between his cooking and translating it’s good that he’s hyperactive!

    Hikes I’d like to return to in Yoho are a thru hike from the hostel to Emerald Lake with a loop possible through Burgess Pass and a loop of Yoho Valley Trail and Iceline Trail. Both are feasible as long day hikes but I’m more inclined to more leisurely backpacks with time to linger and sightsee along the way. We were unsuccessful in booking anything at Lake O’Hara, even the shuttle bus was reserved well in advance. It is a must see on a future trip and is a good base camp for several dayhikes and backpacks.

    We walked Johnston Canyon and saw three black bears as we drove to Banff along the Bow Valley Parkway. Then we kayaked from a boat rental on the Bow River, up Forty Mile Creek to the very shallow but wildlife rich Vermillion Lakes. An elk grazing alongside the creek was not the least spooked by our presence as we slowly drifted by.

    At Lake Louise we hiked the Little Beehive, where canoes on the Lake looked like water bugs in a bowl of pea soup, and Mt. St. Piran and made it back to the Lake Agnes Tea House in time for … tea. Until you reach the trail to Mt. St Piran, the trails are very crowded; being a very accessible and quite beautiful trail and for that reason, very popular. For variety and respite from the throngs we veered off onto the bridal trail for the return to the Chateau Lake Louise for a drink, quite stingy for the price, where we observed the postcard scenery of Mt. Victoria across Lake Louise (this mountain appears on the back of Canadian $20 bills).

    The Canadian Rockies are expensive but there’s a lot to go there for. You can keep expenses down by camping or staying at hostels, there are several, and doing your own cooking. Banff is the “Word” in the Canadian Rockies and indeed it has an international following and continental flavor, but for my money I’ll take the other parks (Yoho, Jasper … and there are others nearby that we did not see) for my kind of ambience and hiking opportunities. Book early and bring your passport ... and plenty of pictures of Mts. Burgess and Victoria along with your maps

  2. #2
    Poobah Emeritus darren's Avatar
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    Great TR, but where are the pix?????

    Wish I could have made it, but I am glad that you finally got to see the beauty of the Canadian Rockies first hand. you have to see it to believe it and even then you think it is some kind of fake movie backdrop.

    Aloha

    - darren
    Kūlia i ka nu‘u

  3. #3
    Moderator Peakbagr's Avatar
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    We spent 2 weeks with perfect weather one Sept in the CRs. Met hikers and mountaineers from all over the world. The consensus was that the CRs are among the most beautiful mountains in the world.
    "The fact that going off the deep end appears
    to be a requisite to doing anything of consequence
    in this life has not escaped me." Jim Harrison

  4. #4
    Banned Kevin Rooney's Avatar
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    Nice TR, Stan. Just got back from spending 4 days there.

    Am going to be in the CR's and Columbia's for about 6 weeks this summer, and will be based in the Beaverfoot Valley which borders Yoho. Amazing views.

    Here's a close-up of the glacier up the valley from Lake Louise I took last Friday. It was a bit cloudy that day.


    A clearer winter picture of the glacier can be seen here, courtesy of Wikipedia.
    Last edited by Kevin Rooney; 02-03-2010 at 07:48 PM. Reason: Added picture

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    Senior Member pudgy_groundhog's Avatar
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    Very nice! We were there in August 2009 too (as well as Glacier and Yellowstone). Would've been cool if we had bumped into somebody from VFTT.

    Did you like Bald Hills? We've been twice to Jasper, but never had a chance to hike it (closed on year, bad weather/visibility conditions another year). The kayaking sounds fun -- I'd like to do that too.

    Glad you had a good trip!

  6. #6
    Senior Member Stan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by darren View Post
    Great TR, but where are the pix?????
    Having destroyed my camcorder on a dunking a few weeks before this trip I regretted many a time not having replaced it. However, I have a stack of photos and CDs from about 8 disposable cameras. Quality not great but who needs quality with THAT scenery? If and when I master the editing and posting I'll put a few up ... especially those flies in the pea soup.

    Quote Originally Posted by pudgy_groundhog View Post
    Did you like Bald Hills?
    Yes. About 1/2 of the trail up is a gravel road which you can shortcut on a side trail which we looped back on. There were lots of flowers in bloom and 360 degree views including Maligne Lake. There are a series of peaks, all above treeline which can make for a terrific day. We turned back at the first peak with the storm approaching ... that storm also swept into Edmonton during an outdoor concert, tore down the stage set injuring several, one fatally.

    My favorite maps are the Gem Tek Publishing series for the best overview and related information. Not all trails are shown on these maps but they are a good start. For example, Only the trail to the first Bald Hill is shown but there is a clear herdpath from there on. They have a series of 17 maps of the Canadian Rockies and the three I bought were about $10CAN.

  7. #7
    Moderator Peakbagr's Avatar
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    You're looking up at either Mt Lefroy or Mt Victoria in the photo. Don't remember which. When we were there, thunderous avvys were falling everywhere, a constant rumble echoing like an afternoon thunderstorm even though the weather was crystal clear.

    If you approach the peaks from the other side shown in the photo, there's a terrific hike from Lake O'Hara that climbs a steep scree chute to the Abbot's Pass climber's hut in the pass between the two peaks.
    A number of years ago, that pass was the site of what was the highest outhouse in Canada. With a spectacular view out the front door. Just a fabulous spot.

    I think Neil did a trip report with some photos about a recent hike he did to Abbot Pass. Hoping he'll see this and post them.

    In the meantime: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbot_Pass_hut

    http://www.summitpost.org/hut/campgr...-pass-hut.html



    Alan
    Last edited by Peakbagr; 02-03-2010 at 01:29 PM.
    "The fact that going off the deep end appears
    to be a requisite to doing anything of consequence
    in this life has not escaped me." Jim Harrison

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stan View Post
    ...Old Fort Point...Maligne Canyon...Another day hike in this area would include Opal Mountain, closed then due to grizzly activity...We also walked on the Columbia Icefields, hiked the interesting and popular Athabasca Falls...I have had a long fascination with railroads and throughout our journey we were near the trans Canadian rail line. I am in awe over what it took to construct this out of the wilderness and through these mountains. Gordon Lightfoot’s Canadian Railroad Trilogy became our theme song...Yoho...We were unsuccessful in booking anything at Lake O’Hara, even the shuttle bus was reserved well in advance...We walked Johnston Canyon...At Lake Louise we hiked the Little Beehive, where canoes on the Lake looked like water bugs in a bowl of pea soup, and Mt. St. Piran and made it back to the Lake Agnes Tea House...The Canadian Rockies are expensive but there’s a lot to go there for...
    Stan, excellent TR. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. We did alot of the same hikes you did. Amazing place...expensive as heck, but worth it. I created some Banff and Jasper "movie shorts" by editing/mixing some of our photos, video, and music CDs we listened to while there; Canadian Railroad Trilogy is one of the songs I used. In Jasper there was lots of buzz about the grizzlies at Opal Hills, so we asked a visitor center employee if the trails were closed or had minimum-hiker restrictions. She leaned in close and almost whispered, "This isn't Banff. We rarely close trails here. We tell you to be careful and use all the proper precautions." Ummm...ok...so to Opal Hills we went. Beautiful hike, great views down on Maligne Lake. For Lake O'Hara, we called and booked a spot on the bus the very first day we could (I believe it's three months max). Glad your trip went well, hopefully the first of many.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------------

    Trip pictures

  9. #9
    Senior Member Darl58's Avatar
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    The Canadian Rockies are amazing and you have to see them in person to believe!

    The hiking/climbing there is much more technical than we have in the White's for sure, then you had in the Grizzly & Cougar factors!!
    I go back every year and know I'll be forever hiking/climbing all rthe peaks on my bucket list!

    Glad you got to get up there and enjoy!!

    Trust me I am blessed to have a best friend who lives in Banff, I now know many folks there and it feels like second home!
    You need special shoes for hiking - and a bit of a special soul as well. ~Emme Woodhull-Bäche

    "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."
    -Gandhi

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    Senior Member mookie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darl58 View Post

    Trust me I am blessed to have a best friend who lives in Banff, I now know many folks there and it feels like second home!
    Most of my friends live in Southern Mass/Rhode Island

  11. #11
    Senior Member Mac's Avatar
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    Feb 2009

    I visited the Banff area in February, 2009. I only got halfway in to Moraine Lake (near Lake Louise) due to avalanche danger, but I also had a nice hike in Johnston Canyon, where there was ice climbing activity that could be viewed from directly across the canyon from the climbing area.

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