The Canadian Rockies

Jennifer and I were forced out of the mountains this morning due to smoke from BC wildfires. We could hardly see the outline of mountains, and the smoke was like a dirty fog reducing visibility on the highway to Calgary. The smoke is just as bad here, but at least we are indoors at my sister Cathy’s place. We woke up yesterday in clear skies, but a smokey hazy descended very quickly in the afternoon. I grabbed the photo at Lake Louise a couple evenings ago, when the smoke wasn’t so bad. The photo doesn’t capture the haziness that followed, but does give some idea of the orange light created by the smoke. We had to cancel a planned hike in Yoho National Park, and other travel plans are now on hold. We’re not complaining. So many people living and working in BC must be going through hell. Our hearts are with them.

We did many great hikes prior to this:

The first was to Sunshine Meadows, where I’ve skied a few times. Beyond beautiful summer and winter. The second hike was to Stanley Glacier in Kootenay National Park, BC. And the third was to the summit of Sulphur Mountain. No gondola – we hiked the whole way up, about 750m vertical over 5.5 km. Other than the exercise, a lovely view, and a picnic, the top was way too developed and crowded for our liking and my photographic interest.

Another great hike was up to the C-Level Cirque, ‘C-Level” referring to a seam of coal in the Bankhead coal mine that used to operate here, and “cirque” being a bowl carved by a glacier, this one on the side of Cascade Mountain. A moderate 5 km climb to the base of the cirque, but then a brutally steep climb to the mountain’s rock face for a beautiful view of Lake Minnewanka and the surrounding mountains – 750 m (2460 ft) vertically above the trailhead.

Our next hike started early in the morning at Bow Lake, a perfect mirror when Jennifer and I arrived. We hiked to a source of the Bow River: a waterfall flowing from Bow Glacier. The Bow flows through Banff and Calgary before joining the South Saskatchewan River. It was a beautiful hike along the edge of the lake, then traversing an alluvial plain, then a path through deep woods, then a steep climb above a gorge, then along lateral moraines up to a cirque carved by the glacier when it was much bigger.

Next up was a hike to Helen Lake, and what a beautiful hike it was. We hiked up through a spruce and fir forest, including a burn area, then past meadows of wildflowers and streams up to a treeless alpine meadow, finally arriving at Helen Lake. After a picnic lunch, we climbed the ridge behind the lake and beheld the vast mountain panorama between Cirque and Dolomite Peaks.

Then a climb to Parker Ridge near the Columbia Icefields. The haze from smoke made taking good photos and image processing difficult, but that “top of the world” feeling was awesome.

Finally (during a short break from BC wildfire smoke) . . . our last hike of the summer – this one from Moraine Lake to Wenkchemna Pass, at the other end of the Valley of Ten Peaks. Jennifer and I arrived at Moraine Lake at 6 AM, just in time to get one of the last parking spaces. The mist around the lake disappeared as we climbed the 13 switchbacks to a ridge high above and headed to Wenkchemna Pass. We lost the trail a couple of time on the final steep ascent to the pass, but we eventually found our way to the top – a 2400 ft ascent over 10 km.

By the way, the image of Moraine Lake with the canoes: It really does look as if the canoes are deliberately arranged to be photogenic for early birds. But they dot the lake during the day, rented at $110 per hour. . . Ouch! I’d rather go hiking – More to see and its free.

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