Monday, September 26, 2016

Back of the Lake

Climbing at the Back of the Lake crags at Lake Louise is an interesting experience. 

First of all, the approach is brutal, its a 20 minute flat trail along the edge of Lake Louise, which is breathtakingly beautiful and it only becomes more picturesque as you climb higher.  
Really rough approach in the morning
Views of Mt. Victoria over Lake Louise never cease to impress
Second, the rock is really solid quartzite, which is a nice change from the chossy limestone typical of the rockies. Its also a great mix of trad and sport routes with a big range of grades
Jenny loves quartzite! 
Kyle leading some trad
Jenny looking for little crimps
Finally, the best part is that you are climbing right above the walking trail along the lake, so all the tourists who manage to pull their eyes off the lake and look up at the rocks are suddenly shocked and amazed by all the climbers. You get to be a climbing model and end up in everyone's photos. Its pretty awesome and great for the ego. I highly recommend it.
Early morning reflections
Can't beat this belay stance

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass and Mt. Temple Attempt

14 km
1228 m elevation
Beautiful view of Valley of the Ten Peaks and 3/4 couloir 
Although Saturday came bright and sunny, it was cold and the rocks were very wet from the night before. We made a last minute decision to try and scramble up Mt. Temple. Little did we know that the rain on our trailer the night had been heavy snowfall in the alpine above. We arrived at Moraine Lake far too late (9:30) and had to park almost 1.5 km down the road from the parking lot. It is a very popular place at this time of year as the larch trees change colour. There was a bear advisory in place so we had to hike in groups of 4. We joined up with two unsuspecting hikers who we dragged up the Larch Valley Trail much quicker than either of them had been anticipating. Good news for them, they had more time to enjoy the views and less time spent walking up switchbacks in the trees!
Valley of the Ten Peaks in all its glory
The Larch Valley was teaming with tourists and Kyle and I were on a mission. We didn't stop long much to our hiker partners dismay. Somehow we managed to convince them that hiking to Sentinel Pass would be a good idea too. By that point, nobody was paying any heed to the bear advisory anyways so we parted ways with our exhausted companions and continued up towards Mt. Temple.
Snow on the ground in the Larch Valley
We should have known when we hit snow low in the larch valley that we were going to be in for a challenge, but we pushed on nonetheless. Hikers kept asking us why we had ice axes and crampons, pondering if we knew something that they didn't. "Nope," we responded, pointing to Mt. Temple, "we are going up there," and then they would look at us like we were insane.
Our first good look at our route up Temple. Much snowier than we were expecting. Red arrow shows our turn-around spot at the 2nd grey band
From Sentinel Pass, we were surprised and relieved to see that there was already a boot-pack up the scrambling route and we could see another party up high on the mountain. We followed their tracks up, but were soon passing the other scramblers as they turned back, stating "the snow was really deep up high." We wanted to have a look for ourselves so kept going. Eventually we had passed all 7 of the other scramblers and had to start breaking our own trail. This occurred just above the first grey band (below the red arrow on the photo above). Typically the scrambling route goes up the rocks to the right of the gully marked by the arrow. Because of the snowy conditions, scrambling up the rocks was out of the question so we attempted the gully. It turns out that the others were correct and the snow just got deeper and deeper. It was a full on tunneling mission up the steep slope and eventually we had had enough of snow walrusing and turned back. We had spent almost an hour in the gully and had barely made it 100 m.
Deep snow forced us to turn back
It was a quick descent back to Sentinal Pass and without our objective figuratively looming over us anymore, we were able to take some breaks and enjoy the views.
Another brave scrambler (in jeans) approaches to try his luck on Temple. He actually ended up making it higher than we did.
Slip-sliding my way down Mt. Temple
Views of Pinnacle Mountain (foreground), Eiffel Peak (behind Pinnacle) and the tarn below
Great view of 3/4 couloir, it looks ready to ski!
We stopped for lunch down in the valley, then joined up with some new hikers for the descent to Moraine Lake. Despite turning around, we still had a pretty big day and I was thankful for a warm trailer and cold beer to return too. It looks like the summer scrambling season is coming to a close and we will be strapping on skis sooner rather than later. I can't wait!
Kyle in the snow
Larch Valley!
Beautiful fall colours

Friday, September 23, 2016

Lake Louise Teahouse Challenge

16 km
400 m elevation

It was a cold, wet morning when Kyle and I left the warm cozy trailer at the Lake Louise Campground. Our climbing plans shot, we made our way to one of the most photographed lakes in Canada with a plan to visit the two teahouses in the area, Lake Agnes Teahouse and Plain of the Six Glaciers Teahouse. It is possible to hike to both teahouses in a 14.6 km circuit with new views around every corner. 

We started with the Lake Agnes Teahouse. This is a popular destination for visitors to Lake Louise because it is only 3.6 km from the Chateau Lake Louise, although it is a bit of a grind up 400 m of switchbacks and stairs. We managed to snag a table and enjoyed a hot pot of tea with tea biscuits at our first stop on our teahouse challenge. 
Fairview Mountain towers above Lake Louise with a dusting of new snow
The stunning colour of Lake Louise never ceases to amaze
The Lake Agnes Teahouse was built in 1901 and started serving tea in 1905. Since then, it has been warming up hikers every day from June to October and is open from 8-5.
Lake Agnes at the Lake Louise Teahouse
If you are visiting the teahouses, bring cash! They don't take credit cards. All the supplies are either flown in by helicopter at the beginning of the season, or carried up by staff a few times per week, and all the food is made on-site.
Stop #1 on our teahouse challenge overlooking the Chateau Lake Louise
After a leisurely stop at Lake Agnes, the clouds were starting to lift. We back-tracked slightly to join the Highline Trail and make our way over to the second teahouse. The number of hikers fell dramatically as we left the vicinity of Lake Agnes and we had the views to ourselves.
Larch trees and fresh snow in the alpine
Views of the lake from the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail
A look over the lake to the ski hill beyond
Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail
After contouring across the slope for a few kilometers, the Highline Trail joined the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail and started to climb again. The Plain of the Six Glaciers Teahouse is tucked up in the trees and doesn't have much of a view, but was a nice hideout from the weather. We didn't think to snap any photos of the teahouse so I have borrowed one from trip advisor that shows a much sunnier day than we were having. This teahouse was build in 1924 by Swiss Mountain Guides for mountaineers en-route to Mt. Lefroy and Victoria. Like the Lake Agnes Teahouse, supplies are heli'ed in or brought in by staff or on horseback. If you were to just hike to this teahouse, it is a 5.3 km walk in one direction with 370 m of elevation and it is open from late June/early July to October.
Plain of the Six Glaciers Teahouse (from trip advisor)
The service was very slow, but the tea was hot and the apple cinnamon cake we got was devoured in seconds. With the teahouse challenge complete, we added on an additional 1.5 km and hiked up to the end of the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail, which finishes on a large moraine with views of 6 glaciers (apparently). The clouds had rolled in and we weren't able to appreciate the mountains towering above us, but our view back towards Lake Louise was stunning.
Our view of Mt. Victoria and Abbott Pass was obstructed somewhat by clouds
A break in the weather?
Mt. Fairview from Plain of the Six Glaciers
Instead of returning via the Highline Trail, we took the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail back to the Lakeshore Trail and followed the lake back to the Chateau Lake Louise. This was the perfect activity for a cold, drizzly fall day!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Waterton Hikes: Carthew-Alderson Trail

Distance: 20 km one way
Elevation Gain: 650 m

The Carthew-Alderson Trail is best done starting at Cameron Lake. Since this trailhead parking lot is currently under construction and the road is closed to public vehicles, there are free shuttles being offered to take hikers up to the trailhead. You need to reserve a spot on the shuttle, preferably a few days in advance if the weather looks good. Taking the shuttle was really nice because we didn't have to go retrieve our car at the end of the day as the hike finishes right in the town of Waterton.

We showed up early so we wouldn't miss our 8 am shuttle, and were actually early enough that we got on the 7:30! There were 9 other hikers on the bus, 6 of which were doing the same hike as us. When we got dropped off at the trailhead, Alan and I were first on the trail. Within a few hundred metres we came across a small lake with a large moose wading around. We must have spent 20 minutes watching him dunk his head and eat the weeds. It was fascinating to watch this huge animal, especially when he would shake the water from his antlers.
Mr. Moose eating his breakfast
Wildlife spotting complete for the day
We ended up seeing two more moose a few minutes later at Cameron Lake. What a treat! From Cameron Lake, the trail started up switchbacks for a few kilometres to Summit Lake. This part of the trail gains elevation quickly and offers view of Cameron Lake below. As you approach Summit Lake, it flattens out in sub-alpine meadows for about a kilometre, a nice break from the uphill.
Summit Lake - not actually at the summit of anything
We ate a second breakfast at Summit Lake before starting into the alpine. The trail crosses a huge alpine bowl and contours around to gain Carthew Ridge. It was hard to pay attention to walking when the views were so good behind us! You barely notice that you are going up during this part of the hike because it was pretty gradual until a few steep switchbacks to get up to the ridge.
Contouring the huge alpine bowl to the gain the ridge at the far right side of the photo
Getting into the alpine with views of Glacier National Park
On the ridge, we got a 360 degree panorama of mountains, lakes and glaciers. This was also all of the elevation we had to gain for the whole day. We had been making good time so we took a slight detour to the end of the ridge to have some hot tea and take in the views. We were lucky that it wasn't very windy on the ridge and we were able to linger for quite some time.
Ice on the trees, winter is coming
Alan is in his element
View from the top of Carthew Ridge (2310m)
It was not warm up there
The next part of the trail descended down a scree slope to Carthew Lakes. We watched a couple scramble up Mt. Carthew and considered doing the same, but we wanted to drive back to Calgary that night and still had about 12 km of hiking to do. The trail wove its way through the lakes, crossing bands of multi-coloured rock that were purple, pink, red and yellow.
Mt Carthew (left), Mt. Alderson (right), Carthew Lakes and a view to the prairies
We passed waterfalls and mountain streams and descended into a small meadow that was full marmots. We stopped for a while to watch them as fish jumped in the lake beside us.
Marmots watching us
Descending to Alderson Lake was stunning. The water was a beautiful sapphire blue and Mt. Alderson rose straight out of the lake, a shear cliff hundreds of metres high. There was a beautiful campground on the shores of the lake and we paused here for another round of hot tea and soup before the final 7 km back to town.
Alderson Lake
Looking across Alderson Lake back to Mt. Carthew (centre) with Mt. Alderson on the left

The sun is shining! How did we get so lucky?!
The views ended at Alderson lake. The last 7 km of the hike worked its way down the valley through dense trees.  We tried to get through this part of the hike as quickly as possible as it was quite monotonous and you had to share the trail with horseback riders. This meant that you needed to watch where you were stepping due to the large amount of horse poo on the trail. It was a relief to arrive in town and have our vehicle waiting for us. Overall I thought that this was the most stunning of the three hikes that we did over the weekend, but its downfall is that you only get views for the middle 10 km of the hike, with the remaining hiking spent in the trees. It would be really nice to come and camp at Alderson Lake sometime and try to scramble some of the summits in the area.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Waterton Hikes: Bertha Lake

Distance: 11 km return (+4km around lake)
Elevation Gain: 460 m

Sunday morning was grey, drizzly and cold. Alan and I went for breakfast in town then decided to be productive and do something. We chose the Bertha Lake trail because it was less committing (we left the camper at noon) and because we knew we would be missing out on any vistas the other hikes promised due to low cloud cover. The trail was wet and muddy initially, but had better drainage higher up. There was a nice lookout over Waterton Lake early in the hike, but the majority of the walk was switchbacks in the trees. The best part was the bridge at Bertha Falls.
Bertha Falls near the start of the hike
Hiking up into the clouds
When we arrived at the lake, it was glass calm and misty. It was pretty spectacular. We chose to do the 4 km loop around the lake so we could check it all out as the shape of the lake prevents you from being able to see the whole thing. We passed maybe 8 other people in the 4 km loop and enjoyed the peace and quiet of having yet another lake to ourselves.
Alan gets a different perspective of the lake than most

Hiking through the blueberries around Bertha Lake
Spooky mist on the lake
We stopped on a rock and made tea and soup to warm up and watch the clouds roll by. As we hiked, we picked blueberries and wild raspberries by the handful. I am surprised we didn't see any bears!
Alan watching the clouds

Working our way around the lake
The trail gets up above the lake in a few places for a better view
Very quiet and very calm
Based on the photos I have seen of Bertha Lake, there are some beautiful mountains above. We didn't see those on our hike, but we did have a really nice walk in the clouds. The walk around the lake was certainly worth it and was far more interesting than the boring trudge to get to the lake.
Jenny made a friend!