Some hikes are worth it. Some are worth doing again.
The Rockwall is a world-famous hike in the Canadian Rockies, and for good reasons. The first time, we were amazed by the scenery. The second, we were still enthralled. A third trip seemed in order.
We had planned to bring an extra teenager, but with some miscommunication between his parents and ourselves, we ended up as just our family. Our experience has generally been that bringing more teens makes all of us happier.
The Important Part
Fiona swam in Floe Lake before any of the adults from the Edmonton group. That’s a life lesson, whenever you think you’re all that, an eleven-year-old girl is going to put you in your place with her badassery.
The Quick Summary
Longer wilderness trails tend to bring out the best in people, or maybe just bring out the best kind of people. We met a group from Edmonton who, though they were 14 people who knew each other, were welcoming, and supportive of others on the trail. They were lots of fun to be around. We met several groups from the US who were super positive and clearly enjoyed being outside.
We continued this trip with our efforts to eat home-made backpacking foods, and we were quite successful. Our least successful meal was channa masala, which, while delicious, did not rehydrate very well, leaving the chick peas rather crunchy. We ended up simmering it for half an hour, which was fine when our fuel supply was plentiful like on this trip, but which would normally be out of the question. Next time, I am trying soaking it cold for a couple of hours and then reheating it to see if that works.
The hiking had not changed, but there were more wildflowers in bloom in August than the beginning of July.
It threatened to rain every day, but only ever enough to get us into our raincoats. It rained most or all of the nights, which is much better than while hiking, setting up, or taking down camp.
Even Tadhg had fun, though bringing a friend would likely have improved his experience.
Pictures, Pictures, Pictures.
Tania took almost all of these pictures, and I feel like she captured the experience very well indeed. Click the photos to make them big.
The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.
Fish Lakes and Pipestone Pass are two of the most beautiful places in the Canadian Rockies. We’ve been before, and we’ll be back, but this time we brought our friends to show them one of our favourite hikes.
The hike is gorgeous, especially from km 8-16 to Fish Lakes, and our day hike 18km through Pipestone Pass and back. There are not enough good things to say about the mountains, the flowers, the rocks, and more. This is not a hike that one regrets doing.
But That’s Not What This Story is About…
What a Sap!
The trip up the pass featured our first interesting event. Fiona’s braces had a bracket break in an unfortunate granola bar incident. She didn’t have any wax with her to keep the braces from irritating her mouth. A trail query failed to produce a hiking orthodontist, but it did spark a discussion about wax-like substances, and coupled with a book I had recently read about birch bark canoes, using sap from trees seemed like a viable option. Level 1 complete.
The Perils of Camping by a Boggy Lake
Upper Fish Lake is Stunning. Mountain lakes are generally an attractive lot, but this one goes to 11.
But, it’s surrounded by marsh.
At first glance, apocalyptic mosquitoes might seem tragic, but aside from photobombing the rainbow pictures, and falling into our dinner by the dozen, and of course sucking our blood, the mosquitoes motivated us to hike up the Pipestone River to Pipestone Pass and beyond. No one complained about the distance of our day hike when the destination was windy enough to be mosquito-free. And mind-blowingly beautiful.
Things May Not Have Been Perfect
There were creeks and marshes to cross.
A Prickly Situation.
Our last night out, we awoke near midnight to some very peculiar sounds. Sounding somewhat like a small whining dog, somewhat like a cat wanting to be fed, and a lot like an out of tune violin, the sound had me up almost right away. I didn’t want to wake anyone else up, so I kept my light off until our friend asked if I knew what the mysterious sounds were.
By then, I had seen that they were porcupines, fighting, mating, fighting over mating, whatever they were doing was not conducive to our sleep. It ended up that all of us were awake. Porcupines are indeed cute, and I got a couple of mediocre pictures before going back to bed. Pretty soon, the porcupines were back at it, at one point one was chewing my pack (right beside Fiona) while another was harassing it (“hey prickly girl, can I buy you a drink?”)
Conveniently, it started raining around 2:30 AM, and apparently porcupines don’t date in the rain.
Rain, Snow, Hail in the Pass
North Molar Pass is not particularly difficult to cross, especially considering how spectacular the views are from the top.
This time round, nature was throwing us a challenge. On the climb to the pass summit, the wind had picked up, and clouds were moving in. As we reached the windiest part, the hail began. The wind-driven hail was not comfortable, but with little choice, we continued. A little past the summit, the hail turned to snow. To the untried, snow doesn’t sound that great, but it is much more comfortable than hail. Slush accumulated on our rain gear.
After the hail and snow, we were well prepared for the rain pouring from the sky and running in creeks down the indented trail. The slippery mud was treacherous, but we continued on.
We were hiking down the trail, at the tail end of the storm when Fiona spotted a “chicken”. Male spruce grouse are attractive birds, with bright red plumage on their brow. We were impressed with the fearlessness of the bird until it attacked our 8-year-old friend’s legs.
The chicken held on while the youngster kicked and ran. Eventually, I kicked it away. The bird tumbled a couple of metres, and I got between it and the rest of our crew. The bird came at me again and again, with me trying my hardest to keep it back without seriously wounding it. After a few dozen metres of kickboxing with the bird on the slippery clay of the trail, I reached the limit of its territory and it stood glaring at me to be sure I wasn’t returning.
We’ll be Back!
In spite of all this, this is still one of our favourite places and this was one of our favourite trips. Having an adventurous weekend is not the kind of thing that turns us off a trail. This mere four-day-trip brought memories and experiences to us that may have challenged us at the time, but at the same time have enriched our lives.
Back when I had the punctured bear spray can empty in my face, my friend Vik suggested that he would not take pictures of my crying on the side of the trail. I told him that no, he should take pictures, because one day it would be funny. I retold that story to the kid who was ravaged by the bird, and in fact, it is a funny story. The kid was able to see the humour in his bird attack as well. None of the other kids in grade 4 are going to have bird attacks on their “How I Spent my Summer” essay.
Note: many of these photos (the good ones) are from Tania, be sure to follow @taniachimo on Instagram.
First, if you haven’t been to Lake O’Hara, put it on your list. It is one of the prettiest mountain lakes I have ever seen, and that was in the winter when lakes aren’t usually as impressive.
We wanted a family friendly ski camping weekend. Lake O’Hara was high on our list of places that we should go to and the reports were saying that it had reasonable conditions.
We booked a couple of sites at the campground (there is a lodge and the Elizabeth Parker hut as other accommodations at Lake O’Hara) and we were off.
The ski in is not that difficult, but it has a couple of relentless uphill sections. Though the first 2km took us about an hour and a half, we sped up to a reasonable pace for the remaining 8km and arrived at the campground with enough time to set up in daylight. Many of the obvious spots in the campground were already taken, so we scouted out an area where we thought we could pitch the tent and the tarp and started shovelling.
I knew that the tarp pitch was poor, but I was too lazy to shovel out a better area, so I left it as it was. Tania and Tadhg were going to be safely ensconced in the tent and Fiona is not that fussy about what she sleeps under.
The campground at O’Hara has a couple of picnic shelters with wood burning stoves. The other group were in one of them and thought they were obviously friendly, we chose to cook in the second shelter. We had a delicious Valentines day dinner of bean and cheese burritos (home cooked – dehydrated beans and fresh cheese and tortilla shells).
After a bit of reading, we decided to turn in and get a good night sleep. It was snowing heavily as we went to bed, so there were no stars or aurora visible. The other camper group spent the evening at the day shelter further up the trail and they were so quiet coming back to sleep that I wasn’t sure when they returned – I really like it when groups like that are sharing a campground with me.
Around 1AM I woke to a tarp that had sagged from falling snow almost to my face. I roused myself to reset the tarp and tie it low enough to shed at least some of the snow that was falling. The wind was blowing quite heavily, so occasional clumps of snow were falling from the tree branches. I did a quick job, but at least it kept snow from falling on my face so much.
Morning dawned much clearer than the evening. We had a good view through the trees of the surrounding mountains unobscured by clouds. Fiona was first up of course, and we went down to the cook shelter to make coffee.
I got a chance to chat with the other group in the campground and got some really good advice on pulk sleds and attachments. They had had a good chance to perfect their designs and their sleds had much less slack and much better control than mine.
We had a nice leisurely breakfast and set out for some day skiing. Lake O’Hara itself is about half a km past the campground and it is stunning. The surounding mountains are beautiful and have many hiking trails to explore. Many of the trails involve avalanche risk though, so we limited ourselves to a select few. It was a perfect day to ski around the lake itself, and so we did the west half of the lakeside trail.
Though the skiing for the day was short, we still had a great time and the views could not have been better. We will definitely be back.
The group that left the campground left behind a quinzy and Fiona immediately declared her desire to sleep in it. While it seemed a little more closed in than her usual choice of a tarp, it also saved me setting up the tarp properly and allowed me to pack the tarp away early. We used the super roomy quinzy as a spot to read to the kids for the evening and Tania got to do some reading of her own in the roomy and quiet tent.
Once again it snowed most of the night and so once again we awoke to fresh snow. We were pretty thrilled since we figured the fresh snow would provide some drag to help slow down our primarily downhill ski out to the car. I offered to carry Tania’s pack in the sled so that if she fell, she wouldn’t have the extra weight to push her into the ground.
The ski out was, in fact, quite slow, the fresh snow gave us lots of control. Unfortunately, we had some struggles with ice on our skis in the flat and uphill parts of the ski out. Even Tania’s waxless skis were building up enough ice on the bottom that her skis would not glide. All we could do is stop to scrape the ice off and try to keep moving. From km 5 to 3, the terrain is quite rolling, so we made poor progress as we needed to stop and scrape at least 3 times.