November 6, 2015

A Week in the Canadian Rockies

This past July my husband James, his sister, and his mom and I all headed east on a road trip together from Whistler, BC to Yoho National Park to spend a week and hike about 40 km of trails. It was my first time ever visiting the Canadian Rockies and it was more spectacular than I imagined. 

The first night we camped just outside of Field, BC after the long drive from Whistler. The next morning we found a campsite at the base of Takakkaw Falls, a towering 991ft waterfall. We set off after lunch to hike the 20km Iceline Trail hiking high above the alpine and getting the closest I've ever been to glaciers before. While stopping for a snack at Laughing Falls across the river I spotted a big black bear sneaking up behind a hiker perched on the riverbank peacefully eating her sandwich and completely unaware this curious bear was a foot or so away from inspecting her lunch. Before I had a chance to warn her, three other hikers who happened to be walking in her direction saw the bear, screamed and ran away spooking the bear away as well. All the while the snacking hiker had no idea any of this was happening because the sound of the nearby waterfall was so loud I guess she couldn't hear. It was a pretty comical scene to watch. 

We spent the next two nights camping at Lake O’Hara where his sister has worked every summer at the backcountry lodge for the past five years. To keep the area preserved Parks Canada limits the number of daily and overnight visitors in the area, so we felt pretty lucky to be able to experience this magical place. The lodge was originally built in 1926, is completely off the grid and only accessible by an old Parks Canada school bus or 11km hike in. Being able to disconnect from the world and turn off our phones made our stay here even better. Lake O’Hara sits at 2,115 meters in the alpine, bordering Banff National Park, and has a unique collection of beautiful, pristine lakes and hanging valleys linked by a well-maintained network of trails and high alpine routes. However, some areas were closed for the season to protect vulnerable grizzly habitat and to limit altercations. Luckily/unfortunately we missed out on seeing one. 

The first day at Lake O’Hara we hiked from the campground around the lake, then quickly climbed up a number of switchbacks to the top of a cliff at the end of the lake. After hiking through a fairytale-like scene of stunted alpine forest, delicate meadows covered in wildflowers and over several steep, rocky outcrops, we made it to the stunning blue waters of Lake Oesa. Mount Lefroy was towering in the backdrop at 3,423 meters. The view truly took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. We continued on to the Yukeness Ledge Alpine route getting dramatic views of the turquoise waters of Lake O’Hara far below us. We looped through Opabin Plateau and stopped for a relaxing picnic at Mary Lake before a steep climb down. We ended the day with a quick dip in the icy waters of Lake O’Hara.

The next day we hiked to Lake McArthur passing by the Elizabeth Parker Hut and Schaffer Lake and had lunch overlooking the deep blue water of McArthur. We spent the rest of the day canoeing the calm waters of Lake O’Hara, sun bathing on the boat dock and exploring the old lodge and staff accommodations. On display were amazing old photos of all the staff and trail crews over the years. It was great to be able to experience this place from the perspective of someone who works there. 

We ended the trip with a drive down the Columbia Icefield Highway stopping to see the Athabasca Glacier and a night in Jasper. 

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