One of the classic Canadian Rockies hikes, the Rockwall in Kootenay National Park has been in our sights for a while. Last week/end, we finally got around to this 55km gem.
Since the hike starts and ends at two different spots, I brought the car down to our end point at Floe Lake trailhead with the intent of hitching a ride back. The Floe Lake parking lot is a bit deserted, so the hitching was a little more difficult than some. Fortunately, as I was planning on doing a 12km run back to the trailhead to start our hike, it started to rain – always a boon to hitching, and I got a ride right away.
Of course, this meant that we started hiking in the rain, but we came equipped, and we seldom back out for weather disturbances.
With kids in tow, we try to keep the mileage lower than we might if we were just hiking on our own, so we had just under 7km to the Helmet-Ochre junction campground. It made for a great start to our hike, and though the campground scenery was less spectacular, it was pleasantly surrounded by creeks and lush forest.
There are plenty of bears in Kootenay Park, and we had no desire to contribute to their delinquency, so we made plenty of noise on the trail. Shouting, “Hey bear!” is frankly boring, so we usually sing or tell loud stories on the trail.
The kids are prone to loud singing at home, but if you get them on the trail, it seems to shut them down completely. We introduced Fiona to the “marching song”, and made up our own lines. She was at first reluctant, but then became the “marching song monster” so that we spent over an hour singing it on our second day.
The second day was the day of our major obstacle for the trip. A missing bridge at the 12km point of the trail required either a ford, or crossing a log that spanned Helmet Creek. The creek had clearly eroded the bank around our end of the log, so that it now was floating in the creek behind a tree and was partially submerged. The water was quite turbid, so a place to ford the river was quite elusive as well. We opted for the log, with me making a second trip to carry the rest of the family’s packs across. It was more than a little nerve-wracking, but we managed it, and were relieved to be past.
For the last couple of km into Helmet Falls campground, I sang most of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” album so that I wouldn’t have to sing any more of the marching song.
This section of trail generally seemed to lack maintenance. There were many fallen logs across the trail and some were challenging to climb, especially for the four-foot-tall girl.
Helmet Falls is an impressive falls, and the eating area for the campground conveniently has a great view of the falls proper. Though it rained through our meal, we were still treated to a great view, and the kids used the space under the bear bins as a rain shelter for eating their dinner. Of course they were singing loudly during dinner.
We are always a little apprehensive, when we need to cross a pass, sometimes what they really mean is, “climb a cliff.”, but our first day of pass crossing was strenuous but reasonable with mind-blowing views at the top.
“I am sick of marching sooong! It’s gone on for far to looong!” In my efforts to tame the “marching song monster”, I introduced the Arrogant Worms’ “Last Saskatchewan Pirate” to the mix. It was a move I would later question as I sang the song 6-12 times per day for the remainder of our hike. There is no question that the kids were happy to be shouting at the top of their lungs for the chorus and I’m certain the bears were well alerted to our presence.
Tumbling Creek was another large campground with the eating area conveniently in the open so we could look at the Rockwall and Tumbling Glacier while we ate.
As happens so frequently, we ran into a guy from the neighbourhood. We had a nice chance to eat and converse with Michael and his daughters who were on a 3 day hike through Floe Lake and Tumbling Creek. The teenage girls would be the only young people we saw on the hike and they were both good company without any of the disagreeable nature that people associate with teens.
The following day was another pass, this time Tumbling Pass to Numa Creek. The views were once again phenomenal. The descent to Numa Creek was a little overgrown, but easy enough to find. We made good time to the nearly deserted campground. In spite of the 18 bear bins, there were only ourselves and one other couple in the campground. Our six days on the trail was the exception more than the rule, and most people tried to do it as a 3 or 4 day hike. This meant that the Helmet-Ochre junction and the Numa Creek campgrounds were skipped by many people (though we heard later that there were a few people who stayed an extra night and hiked out from Tumbling Creek when they didn’t think they could manage a 2 pass day).
Numa pass was the most climbing of the 3 passes along the Rockwall, but it felt no worse than the others except that it had the most downed trees across the trail of any section we had done. We counted 50 tree trunks across the trail which made for substantial obstacles for Fiona.
On our way up the pass, it began to hail. We made an attempt at waiting out the worst of the storm with a 9 minute pause before we broke the treeline and that worked out really well since the snow and hail didn’t start back up in earnest until we were over the first saddle of the pass. As we pushed through the pass, we were a little disappointed that we were missing the views afforded by our high position, but we pressed on.
Fiona asked me why I was laughing, and I tried to explain how there was nothing else to do since we were on top of a mountain pass, walking in mud, being snowed and hailed on in a wind in July. I don’t know if she understood my gallows humour, or if she just accepted that maybe dad had cracked, but she stopped asking.
Fortunately for us, just before we dropped off the ridge with the best panoramic view, the clouds dissipated enough for us to get a great view of Floe lake and its backing rock faces and the surrounding valley. There was still mist lingering at the tops of the cliffs, but it was nonetheless beautiful.
When we reached the campground, we set up and had a rest as the rain had started up again and we didn’t feel like standing around in the downpour if we didn’t have to. Fiona even had a nap. We had a quick break in the weather that got us halfway through dinner, and after finishing eating in the slushy rain, we went back to shelter. The heavy slush was pushing in on the tarp by quite a bit, so I re-set the cords to improve things and keep us dry.
Coming in to the campground in the midst of this was Greg, perhaps the happiest guy in the world. He came in during the worst of the downpour, smiling and cheerfully commenting that he didn’t see too many others camping under a tarp. He had one of the lightest backpacking setups I have seen, and I was very impressed with his back country skills as well as with his very positive outlook.
Fiona and I got up to get some pointers on tarp camping from Greg, as well as some general conversation. I felt enriched by his great outlook and by the level of enthusiasm he had for being outdoors. I hope to encounter him again some day.
Our last day dawned overcast and rainy, but we still enjoyed our coffee and breakfast before heading back down the trail back to the car. The trail down was overgrown, and though it made for some beautiful flower displays, we grew weary of pushing foliage out of the way.
With a little help from the pirate song, we made our way back to the car, loaded up, and were on our way. The first thing the kids wanted when we got home was the pirate song on the stereo.