Helen Lake

August 7, 2017

When we woke up this morning we could it was a bit hazy from the wildfire smoke. It didn’t seem too bad, though, so we decided to stick with our plan to hike to Helen Lake.

This lake seems to have some name confusion. Maps refer to it as Lake Helen. Hiking books and the internet refer to is as Helen Lake. Even Parks Canada doesn’t seem to know, as evidenced by this trailhead sign that has it written both ways!

Lake Helen sign

This being our second summer hiking in this area we are noticing a pattern: trails here are badly eroded. In forested areas this means that lots of tree roots become exposed. Often rocks are also thrown into the mix. It makes for slow going. This trail was especially bad:

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

As we got higher, we realized how smoky it was getting. Crap.

Helen Lake Hike

We started to get views of Bow Lake and Crowfoot Mountain:

Helen Lake Hike

The trail climbed very gradually for awhile then all of the sudden it launched steeply uphill. This section was rocky, crumbly, and poorly-graded. Then the trail topped out with a view of Dolomite Peak (so named in 1897 because it was thought to resemble the Dolomite Range of the Italian Alps):

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

Then the trail headed north along a ridge. We were mostly in the alpine now, which is always great, but the smoke somewhat dampened our enthusiasm:

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

Except for the smoke, it was a rather pleasant ridge walk. Mountains were all around us, and we started seeing wildflowers too:

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

We had mostly left behind the exposed roots, but not the rocks:

Helen Lake Hike

I turned around and looked south at one point. All the mountains down there were obscured by smoke:

Helen Lake Hike

We crossed Helen Creek, which was a delightful gurgling stream:

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

The trail crossed a big open meadow. The peak on the right – which we had been seeing for awhile now – is Cirque Peak:

Helen Lake Hike

The trail here was a total mess, with numerous tracks side by side:

Helen Lake Hike

I should mention the bugs, which were bad. We’d had mosquitoes and now we were getting biting flies too. Then the spray pump on our bug spray stopped working for no apparent reason. It seemed cruel of Mother Nature to inflict bugs (usually an early summer occurrence) as well as smoke (usually a late summer occurrence) at the same time.

After 3.7 miles and 1,400′ elevation gain we reached Helen Lake, a pleasant little body of water where a bit of breeze kept the bugs at bay. Cirque Peak is dead center and you can see the trail to the top. We saw hikers on it. Our guidebook said: “Strong hikers can reach even better views by scrambling up the broken screen slopes to the north leading to the summit of Cirque Peak, one of the most easily-ascended mountains in the park.” Wow. I bet the views are great up there on a clear day, but why would anyone waste the effort to go up there today when it’s so smoky you are cheated out of the view?

Helen Lake Hike

We paused at the lake and ate some lunch, then continued on to a rocky ridge above the lake where the view was supposed to be good:

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

We had heard there were supposed to be a lot of marmots around here but had yet to see one. On the way up to the ridge we saw just one, and Greg got a nice photo of it:

The haze continued to increase. Looking back at the lake:

Helen Lake Hike

Looking back down the trail as we climb up to the ridge. The lake is out of view on the left and Cirque Peak is on the right:

Helen Lake Hike

The trail topped out on the ridge:

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

I decided to follow a boot path to a high point above the trail:

Helen Lake Hike

Greg got a shot of me up there:

Up there at 8,400′ you would think the view would be phenomenal, and it probably is on a clear day. Today the view was quite hazy in all directions, but especially so looking south:

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

Looking down on Helen Lake:

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

Looking back down at the trail on the ridge with Greg towards the right:

Helen Lake Hike

A panorama to the north with Helen Lake on the left and Cirque Peak at center:

Helen Lake Hike

Looking east. Dolomite Peak is on the right and you can see part of blue Katherine Lake in the center. Beyond that lake is a little round pale blue tarn. That’s where Dolomite Pass is. Backpackers can continue on the trail many more miles past that point up to Isabella Lake:

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

Tired of looking out into a sea of smoke from on high, we started hiking back:

Helen Lake

Helen Lake Hike

The creek crossing, with Dolomite Peak behind:

Helen Lake Hike

The view of Crowfoot Mountain and Bow Lake was a lot different than it had been in the morning:

Helen Lake Hike

The last two miles of descent on the rocky rooty were trail were pretty brutal. It was hot and smoky and the trail was in bad shape. We couldn’t just cruise along because of how bad the trail was. But then we heard a noise in the trees and the next thing we knew a ptarmigan mother and her brood crossed the trail. The babies made soft cheeping noises while the mother clucked in concern. We waited for everyone to move along before we kept going.

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

Helen Lake Hike

We finally got back to the car at 5pm, tired and hungry and discouraged by the smoke. 9 miles and 2,100′ elevation gain:

HelenLakeMap

<< Day 4: Plain of Six Glaciers | Day 6: Emerald Lake >>

Plain of Six Glaciers

Sunday, August 6, 2017

When we woke up this morning it was COLD! The car said it was 39 degrees. We drove down to Lake Louise to do the Plain of Six Glaciers hike. On our way we hit a wildlife traffic jam and discovered it was due to a mother black bear and her cub. They were dining on the roadside vegetation. How cool to see a bear cub!

Bear cub

Greg has a nice long zoom lens and got some good shots of the cub:

Black bear cub

Black bear cub

Because it was a clear calm morning (shocking!) we stopped in at Herbert Lake, which was doing some nice reflecting:

Herbert Lake

Even though we arrived at Lake Louise just before 9am, we got one of the last spots in the enormous parking lot. Glad we didn’t dawdle any longer looking at the bears! Of course the lakeshore was crowded with hoards of people and their selfie sticks. I took a quick shot of the lake before we continued on.

Lake Louise

We were doing the Plain of Six Glaciers Hike, which started off by following the lake all the way to the other end:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

Crossing a boardwalk at the inlet:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

The trail starts rising. The trees here are small and provide no shade. It was hot:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

We got high enough that we could look back and see Lake Louise. But what’s this? The smoke had found us! We could see it hovering over the Bow Valley below. Crap.

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

On we hiked, now above the treeline:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

Looking back at Lake Louise:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

3.5 miles later we reached the teahouse. The Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1924 as a rest stop for guests on their way to the Abbot Pass Hut (which we would soon get a view of). It’s in great shape considering it’s 93 years old! It was 11:30 and the place was hopping, but we managed to snag a table, a minor miracle:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

Our “lunch”:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

And our lunchtime “companion”, a Clark’s Nutcracker looking for crumbs:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

This teahouse doesn’t have a lovely lake like the Lake Agnes teahouse, but it does have this pretty stream nearby:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

We continued on another mile to the viewpoint at trail’s end where got a view of the Abbot Pass hut way up in that gap:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

According to their website the hut “was built in 1922 with the stones from the pass and has served as a base for mountaineers and as a destination for strong hikers since then. Sitting at 2,926 metres elevation, it is second only to the Neil Colgan Hut on the list of highest permanent structures in Canada. The hut is on the Continental Divide so the provincial and National Park borders run right down the middle of the hut. Make dinner in Alberta, eat it in BC.”

We could now smell smoke and we could see that the smoke below was spreading out and working its way up from Lake Louise:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

We sat and enjoyed our high vantage point for awhile:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

The view hiking back down:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

We passed many many people hiking up as we hiked down. At least half of them (if not more) looked unprepared for the hike. Due to the hot sun, the lack of shade, and the high elevation, this is not an easy hike.

When we got back down to Lake Louise we saw quite a few people were treating the far end of the lake like a beach, which was interesting:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

We could see the crowds near the chateau as we approached:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

The view from the chateau was far less favorable than it had been earlier. This was partly due to the harsh afternoon sun, but also partly due to the smoke that had rolled in:

Plain of Six Glaciers Hike

Our campground didn’t have showers so we paid to use the showers at the Lake Louise Campground before we left the area. Money well spent! The guy at the front entrance told us the shower building had just been rebuilt or renovated so I was very surprised that there were no benches in the shower stalls. What a dumb idea! Where are you supposed to put your stuff! I’ve showered at MANY a campground over the years and this is the first time I’ve encountered a no-bench situation. It was quite a balancing act to keep my dirty clothes, clean clothes, towel, and shower supplies off the dirty floor when all I had was one hook and the top of the door.

On the way back to the campground we saw the same two bears along the same stretch of road. Cool!

Black bears

Black bears

<< Day 3: Bow Summit | Day 5: Helen Lake >>

Bow Summit

Saturday, August 5, 2017

When we woke up this morning we were delighted to see blue skies over the campground.

Mosquito Creek Campground

We decided to hike to Bow Summit, which involved parking in the same lot as all the people visiting the Petyto Lake viewpoint and hiking up an old fire road. Peyto Lake is a HUGELY popular stop on the Icefields Parkway and the place was crawling with people. It’s about a 10 minutes walk from the parking area to the viewpoint, where there were many people and many selfie sticks. I snapped a very quick photo and then we kept moving.

Peyto Lake

This place is obviously LOVED TO DEATH. One of the signs of that are the many user trails cutting through the forest. There were dozens of them. Yeesh.

Bow Summit Hike

Once we left the paved trail and hopped on the old road, we quickly left the crowds behind.

Bow Summit Hike

The views got better and better as we climbed:

Bow Summit Hike

Bow Summit Hike

We reached a confusing “junction” where an unofficial boot path scrambled straight up the hill to a viewpoint. It looked like most people went that way, but Bow Summit was not up there, and the path looked steep, sketchy, and crumbly. We stayed on the old road and kept going.

Bow Summit Hike

Bow Summit Hike

We got a rocky area where we saw two marmots hanging out. Didn’t get the greatest photo, but here it is:

Bow Summit Hike

The road ends at Bow Summit, a grassy knoll where a fire lookout once stood.

Bow Summit Hike

The views are spectacular. This is looking north:

Bow Summit Hike

We sat and ate a snack here, then followed a short trail a bit further beyond the knoll to get views of Bow Lake to the south:

Bow Summit Hike

Looking back at Bow Summit and the views beyond:

Bow Summit Hike

Hiking back down:

Bow Summit Hike

As we hiked back down the road we spotted a pika on a rock in a big rockslide. He held still for a photo, amazingly enough!

Bow Summit Hike

A Clark’s Nutcracker:

Bow Summit Hike

Greg and I spotted a trail branching off the road to the left and heading across the meadows. It appeared to lead to that other viewpoint, the one with the steep scramble trail. This trail looked like a nicer approach so we took it.

Bow Summit Hike

Bow Summit Hike

We hadn’t seen much in the way of wildflowers so far, but that changed on this little spur trail. Yowza!

Bow Summit Hike

Bow Summit Hike

Bow Summit Hike

The trail ended at a huge rocky area where lots of people had erected rock stacks. People, please don’t do this! At the far end of the rocky area was a viewpoint overlooking Petyo Lake. This was a much nicer way to view the beautiful lake than from the crowded viewing deck far below!

Bow Summit Hike

Bow Summit Hike

We could see the alluvial fan at the inlet end of the lake:

Bow Summit Hike

We retraced our steps back to the road and followed it down.

Bow Summit Hike

There were even more cars in the lot than there had been several hours earlier. We headed south to Bow Lake. We had originally thought about doing a second hike today, to Bow Falls. But we decided to just hang out by the lake instead. We managed to snag a parking spot, then headed to Num-Ti-Jah Lodge to check out the gift shop (ahem, “trading post”). The lodge was built by hunter and trapper Jimmy Simpson. It is pronounced “numm-TAH-zjah” and is a Stoney expression for the pine marten. The lodge is still in operation today and you can pay a lot of money to stay in one of the rooms.

Num-Ti-Jah Lodge

Num-Ti-Jah Lodge

Num-Ti-Jah Lodge

The gift shop was playing the most dreadful soft rock music. Blech! We did not linger and got the hell out of there. It was much nicer down by the lake. The people-watching was fascinating, especially as tour buses came and went. One woman was wearing a turtleneck sweater despite the relatively warm day. Another woman was dressed very nicely, like she was going out for a nice evening, including nice dress shoes. Lots of people had new-looking hiking boots or sneakers. We ate snacks, read, and chilled out. It was nice.

Bow Lake

At the campground that night I got a few nice shots of Mosquito Creek, which really is quite pleasant.

Mosquito Creek

Mosquito Creek

<< Day 2: Wilcox Pass | Day 4: Plain of Six Glaciers >>

Canadian Rockies Day 8: Afternoon Tea

August 3, 2016

With rainy cloudy weather in today’s forecast we took a day off from hiking today. We spent some time exploring downtown Banff, which is SUPER touristy with lots of shops selling souvenirs that range widely in quality. For lunch we had Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel, a splurge that was fun and tasty.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

This was the view we had from our table!

Tea with a view

They have this cart of jars with loose leaf tea so you can smell the different ones, if that helps in making your decision of which tea to order. What a great idea!

Afternoon tea

Even though each food item served was pretty small, it all added up to quite a meal. I was stuffed afterward.

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea

Afternoon tea

That afternoon we walked around Canmore, which is a cool little town just outside the park boundary. They have this big head sculpture that Greg tried to imitate:

Big head sculpture

We took a walk along Policeman’s Creek, which is an incredibly lovely little slice of nature right in town.

Policeman's Creek Boardwalk

Policeman's Creek Boardwalk

Policeman's Creek Boardwalk

Policeman's Creek Boardwalk

Canmore view

We saw these rabbits in a little park. Adorable!

Bunnies in Canmore

Bunnies in Canmore

The Ramada where we were staying in Canmore had a three-story waterslide so of course I had to partake. Felt like a kid again!

Ramada water slide

<< Day 7: Kananaskis Country | Day 9: Stanley Glacier

Canadian Rockies Day 6: Lake Agnes

August 1, 2016

When my sister and I visited Banff in 2005 we did the hike from Lake Louise up to the Lake Agnes Tea House. We enjoyed delicious tea with warm biscuits and honey and declared that every hike needed a tea house. I told Greg we definitely needed to do this hike while we were in Banff so today we headed up there.

Our first stop was to drive up to Moraine Lake, which is a popular stop for all tourists in Banff. Good thing we got there early because there were already a lot of people at 8:30am. But man, what a view! It took quite a bit of jockeying to get a photo that didn’t have people standing in the way.

Moraine Lake

We had another pika sighting and Greg was lucky enough to get two really awesome shots:

Pika at Moraine Lake

Pika at Moraine Lake

We got back in the car and drove to Lake Louise, the star attraction of Banff National Park. This place is so popular that the parking lot often fills by 10am! We were able to snag a spot, and then were dismayed to discover that the public bathrooms in the parking lot were closed. The hotel was not an option, as it was surrounded by numerous signs that basically told us to keep out.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Lovely Lake Louise is such a cool color. What you can’t see in this photo are the HUNDREDS of people along the lakeshore.

Lake Louise

We began the climb up to Lake Agnes. We passed Mirror Lake with the Big Beehive towering high above:

Mirror Lake

After jockeying through the crowds on the trail we finally reached the Lake Agnes Tea House:

Lake Agnes Tea House

What an impressive menu!

Lake Agnes Tea House

And it’s right by this extremely beautiful little lake:

Lake Agnes

We grabbed a seat inside and ordered biscuits and tea. Very satisfying! After our little snack we hiked up to the Little Beehive, where a fire lookout once stood. All that remains is the foundation:

Old foundation

Old foundation

And of course the stunning view of the Bow Valley:

Mountains

Mountains

A jay hung around, hoping for handouts:

Gray jay

On the way back down we saw the view that had been at our backs on the way up. The long turquoise lake on the left is Lake Louise and the little lake in the center is Mirror Lake. The high point to the right of Mirror Lake is the Big Beehive, to which we were headed next.

Mountains everywhere

We hiked along the shore of Agnes Lake:

Lake Agnes

We had an impressive view to the other end of the lake where the tea house sits:

Lake Agnes

The trail starts climbing up and we could see across to the other side of the lake where we had been hiking a little while before:

Lake Agnes

After a stiff climb, we reached the summit of the Big Beehive, which has a little wooden shelter:

Shelter

Shelter

The views were incredible. Looking down on Lake Louise and the Bow Valley:

Lake Louise

Looking up the Bow Valley. You can see the Little Beehive in the foreground:

Mountains

While we were chilling out and enjoying the view we were approached by another couple who asked if we’d take their photo. Turns out they were on their honeymoon too. They were from Australia and were on a 16-week tour around North America. WOW! Portland was on their list so we gave them some recommendations about what to see and do there.

This was probably the most crowded hike we did the whole trip, but the scenery was spectacular so it was definitely worth it.

<< Day 5: Bow Valley Provincial Park | Day 7: Kananaskis Country >>

Canadian Rockies Day 4: Icefields Parkway

July 30, 2016

This morning we packed up and headed south out of Jasper National Park, making several stops along the way as drove the Icefields Parkway towards Banff. The weather was cloudy and rainy today, which was disappointing. But at least today wasn’t a hiking day.

Our first stop was Leach Lake, which was calm and deserted on this cloudy morning.

Leach Lake

Athabasca Falls was thunderously impressive. What you can’t see in this photo are the hoards of people and the plethora of awful selfie sticks.

We stopped at Sunwapta Falls, which was a tad less crowded.

We stopped at this neat roadside pullout called Bubbling Springs on the map, but it was totally unsigned from the road. There’s a picnic area and a little natural pool of quicksand. Super cool!

We pulled over at the Mushroom Peak viewpoint along the Sunwapta River. It was a beautiful spot although in terms of photography the light was dreadful. This is Tangle Peak to the south:

Tangle Falls is right alongside the road:

And of course we had to stop to see the Athabasca Glacier, the premier attraction along the Icefields Parkway. This glacier flows from the Columbia Icefield almost right down to the highway. Back in the day the toe of the glacier was indeed very close to the highway. But the glacier is retreating and melting. You can take a short hike very close to the edge of the glacier:

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

Dark ominous clouds were gathering to the north and they looked to be headed our way.

Hail is coming

So as soon as we were done checking out the glacier we retreated to the Columbia Icefield Centre across the highway where we bought an overpriced lunch and through some minor miracle managed to snag a little table by the window.

Icefield Center

As we sat there eating and admiring the view, the storm arrived and it was a doozy. It was a hail storm like I’ve never experienced before. The hail was pouring off the roof and through the downspouts, piling up everywhere like snow. It was crazy!

Hail

The hail ended after about 10 minutes, but it was still raining and I had left my rain jacket in the car. Greg ran to the far end of the parking lot to get the car while I waited at the building entrance for him. While standing there, a guy from Hawaii who had just arrived asked if all the white stuff everywhere was hail or snow. Then a woman asked me if it was safe to drive with all the hail everywhere.

We stopped at Mistaya Lake. Unfortunately the weather and the light were both pretty terrible :

Bow Lake

Our final stop before connecting up with Highway 1 was Hector Lake:

Hector Lake

We checked into our hotel in Canmore, went out for dinner, then Played Mr. Jack at the hotel room before turning in for the night:

Another pounding rain storm passed through around 10:30 that night.

<< Day 3: Sulphur Skyline | Day 5: Bow Valley Provincial Park >>