Thursday, 28 July 2016

Five Glorious Days in the Rockies----July 18-22, 2016


                                                    Starting Day 1 at Lake Louise

Nine hikers, 40,838 steps, 24.8km, 1330m elevation gain, dozens of "Wow" moments........hiking in the Rockies........priceless!

This was my Facebook post after our first of 5 days hiking in the stunning Canadian Rockies.  We covered a lot of ground that day starting from the Chateau Lake Louise.  First we headed out on the Lake Agnes Trail towards beautiful Mirror Lake before continuing to the quaint European-style Lake Agnes Teahouse.   They have been serving tea there since 1905 and it is named after Lady Agnes MacDonald, wife of our first Prime Minister.

On the way we took a side trip up to Little Beehive, an aptly named mountain along the way.  The views were beautiful, the hiking satisfying and already the group was feeling blessed to be experiencing this amazing geological landscape.  

We commented then, on Day 1, that if we had to go home now, we would be satisfied with this beauty that we had already discovered.  But that was only the beginning.  After our brief stop at the crowded teahouse we continued on to our next side trip, Devil's Thumb, an amazing challenge.  

This proved to be a more technical climb, a little more precarious and a little less travelled.  A few in the group decided to wait at the main trail while we scurried on.  It was exciting, a little scary and amazing. Once this detour was over and our group reunited, we headed off for the second teahouse of the day and the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail. 

 As we scampered up this loose, rocky trail, Dana was wondering if her insurance was up to date. By following this to the very end, we were at the foot of Mt. Lefroy and Mt. Victoria, which form the continental divide and separate Banff National Park in Alberta and Yoho in BC.  Here we could get a peek-a-boo view of the Hut on Abbot Pass, our destination in a few days.

When asked what they thought of this first, amazing day, Barb said "epic", Jocelyn said "awesome" and Karen said it was "beyond her expectations".

Getting there

Our adventure had begun just one day before as our two cars, loaded with 4 women each and backpacks, poles, food and supplies galore, headed out at 7:10 am from our meeting spot at the foot of Joanne's driveway in Blueridge.  It would be 8 hours of driving before we would reach our home for the next 3 nights; the Lake Louise Hostel. After a quick bathroom stop in Hope and a lovely lunch on the sunny deck of the Village Idiot in Revelstoke, we arrived safely and ready for a fun filled week. Here we met our guide, Joanne's "little" brother James, who would soon be nicknamed "Mountain Man". He briefed us in detail about our hiking plans for the next 5 days.

“So many trails, so little time…”
                                         -everyone who hikes in Lake Louise

Day 2 took us another 21.9km and 35,724 steps.  Thanks to James’ planning and careful research, we were able to organize an amazing loop instead of having to backtrack by dropping a car at our ending point in the Paradise Valley Trailhead parking lot.

We started out on the Valley of the Ten Peaks Trail.  Here we could have had great views of the Ten Peaks however, the weather was not in our favour.  It was clouded in so we couldn’t see many of the peaks and we then got rained on a bit too. 

 Along the way we met a lovely Israeli couple that we would end up passing a few times on the trail and then meeting again back at the hostel.  They were lovely people enjoying a wonderful stay in our beautiful Rocky Mountains.  As we were on the Larch Valley Trail and approaching the Sentinel Pass, a chilly wind had us all layering up and wishing we had our gloves with us but it was short lived.  As Sentinel Pass came into our sights, I think we all wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.  When Joanne and Jane rounded the corner and looked up, Jane said “Look Joanne, I see an orange jacket up there; people are actually hiking up there” and Joanne said, “Yes Jane, that is where WE are going.”  Then together they named this intimidating zigzag path, “Zoro”.  Dana thought this particular portion of the trail looked a lot like the Inca Trail where she has been on her travels.

                                             Sentinel Pass

Once we were on top of Sentinel Pass, the views in all directions were absolutely stunning.  It seemed to be the perfect location for another group photo and Ben, our new lone hiker friend, was happy to help us out.  But sadly, here the story must end because I promised “Cougar Barb” that I wouldn’t mention anything about her and this handsome Australian’s crotch.

The path down the other side of the pass was imposing and demanded our full attention but it was well marked by many Cairns.  The diverse colours and uniqueness of each of the stones made for a nice distraction as we descended.

Then as we returned towards the Paradise Valley Trail to finish off our loop, we were rewarded with the most stunning waterfalls at Giant Steps and the picturesque Annette Lake before we were finally finished for the day.

When asked to comment on this day’s adventure, Jane said “Hmmm, way past my expectations in every aspect.  They were all “Wow” destinations and I never expected it to be this great.”  Dana commented that she expected it to be hard but then observed “We’ve gone hardcore!  I’m amazed to be alive and please God, make Abbot worth it!” Joanne thought it was epic and really enjoyed it.

I Might Be Done

After two days of serious hiking, Dana’s feet were one big blister patch-----Ouch!!!  Unless she could find some serious solutions, she was done.
Abby to the rescue with her blister bandages that she swears by.  If these didn’t work, nothing would.  They proved to be successful, along with mole skin, duct tape and good old fashioned grit.  These will be a mandatory item on the next trip’s packing list.

Packing and Re-Packing

Next it was time to prepare for our relocation to the Lake O’Hara area.  Everything we took with us there would have to be slogged up to the Abbot Hut so pack carefully.  The rest could be left in the vehicles before we bus in. 

I did my rearranging and sat my pack down with satisfaction………until I felt how much lighter Jocelyn’s pack was.  “Jocelyn, will you please help me lighten my load?” I pleaded.  After she had helped me pare down my over zealous food supply, I was almost set.  “How about this 1st Aid Kit I’ve simplified, Joc?” I asked, handing it to her.  Upon inspection, after spotting my teeny, weeny, 1.5 oz bottle of Scope, she replied, rather exuberantly, “Mouthwash! Are you F-ing kidding me??!”

I’m sure you can all deduce that the Scope stayed in the car.

Off to Lake O’Hara

Day 3 found us up early and out the door to catch the bus to the protected area of Lake O’Hara, a crown jewel of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  It’s jewel-blue lakes and breathtaking vistas along with it’s extensive trail system make it a sought after destination.  Parks Canada limits the number of people who access the area in order to preserve the sensitive alpine environment.

                                              Lake O'Hara

 Upon arrival we got settled into the charming, rustic, Elizabeth Parker Hut that would be our communal home for the next night along with 20 or so other outdoor lovers.  Elizabeth Parker was a journalist and founding member of the Alpine Club of Canada, which was started in 1906.

                                           Elizabeth Parker Hut

With all this scenic beauty around us, there was no time to waste so off we set for another 16km and 26,247 step day.  A short walk past the picturesque Lake O’Hara  took us to the start of the Wiwaxy Trail.  This steep and windy path tested our endurance but left us in awe as we reached the Wiwaxy Gap.  Jane got in a little trouble along the way and while Joanne patiently waited with her while her sugar stabilized, the rest of us were on Wiwaxy Gap waiting when the weather turned and we ended up in a survival huddle, garbage bags, foil blankets and all.

Once again joined by Jane and Joanne, we continued on our way along the Huber Ledges Alpine Route then the Yukness Ledges both marked by blue squares with yellow markings painted on the rocks. 

Dana figured these were for the Swiss hikers…………haha, the next day she realized she’d meant to say Swedish.  Here is where we had our first wildlife sighting……….a marmot right on our trail.  In fact, he wouldn’t move out of the way for us to pass so we eventually had to kind of coax him along so we could get by.  Later as we rested by Hungabee Lake, we saw several more frolicking in the meadow, one chasing another.   We saw 8 in all and Dana said “How convenient; one for each of us.”

                                    This Marmot was not afraid.

At this point, we felt we’d had enough hiking for the day, anxiously anticipating “the big day” we were facing the next day; our climb to Abbot Hut.  So, we altered our route and headed straight back to EP Hut via West Opabin Trail rather than including Lake McArthur as earlier planned.

Here were the one word sentiments at the end of Day 3:  Abby-Majestic, Jane-Loved,  Barb-Empowering, Jocelyn-Anxious (about tomorrow) and Dana-Ouch.

Sisters on the Trail

You have to love these two.  Karen was showing off her multitasking skills………she managed to floss her teeth and file her nails while on the trail.  Impressive!

Barb was fine-tuning her photography skills but having a little trouble.  “Did you see the picture of my boob?  I was trying to do a selfie and I missed.  I’m going to send it to Steve.”

Day 4, The Main Event

Well, we had made it to Day 4 and the Main Event……..the trek to Abbot Hut where we would spend the night.  We couldn’t go up too early since there really is nothing to do there and it is basically just sitting there on the ledge of the Continental Divide.  So, we went for a morning hike around Lake Linda; 9km and 19,834 steps. It was a pleasant, flat, easy hike where I enjoyed hearing some beautiful songbirds and the word “serene” was running through my mind.  Jocelyn thought it was boring.

Back at EP, we had lunch and prepared to head out to the Abbot Pass.  Jane enjoyed our Lake Linda hike with us for the morning and then opted out of the climb up the scree.  She stayed down to enjoy another day of hiking in the Lake O’Hara area and was even able to enjoy a bit of time with our other North Van friend, Sandy, who by coincidence was also staying at the EP Hut.

We headed out around 2pm hiking past Lake O’Hara again, this time taking the easy Lake O’Hara Circuit route towards Lake Oesa.  The Lake Oesa Trail was steeper than I thought it was going to be but the whole time I was thinking “Good, the higher we hike to get to Lake Oesa, the less elevation there is left going up the scree from there”.  After a brief stop at Lake Oesa, it was onward ho for the final summit.  The trail from here began to get more and more challenging.

As I ascended towards the Abbot Pass, I was filled with a progression of many thoughts…………doable, scary, challenging, OMG, terrifying, a brief but emphatic “I am NOT having fun”, “where is that hut?!”, “I hope this gets easier soon!”.  But to no avail;  it just kept getting harder.  I resorted to talking to myself………and to the rocks.  “Stop moving”, “don’t you dare slide”, “where am I going to step next”, “I can’t move!”

Eventually, Jocelyn and Barb had made some serious headway along the marked trail as advised by “One Eyed Guy” (more on him later).  As they watched one avalanche and two rock slides, Jocelyn was thinking “We are in over our heads; this is too risky for my liking!” and Barb was simultaneously thinking “I don’t want my parents to lose two daughters today.”  Barb’s sister, Karen, had come all the way from Salt Lake City to join us on this excursion.  She and Dana were the only ones in the group who had not done the Juan de Fuca 2014 trip with the rest of us.

Meanwhile, the rest of us were flailing and spread out helter-skelter across the rock face. 

Karen was sliding and Joanne, Dana and I were simply frozen in terror when along came “Mountain Man” bringing up the rear.  It was at this moment that our fearless leader wondered if he had misjudged our abilities.  Quickly, he turned on his rescue mode and leaped across the rocks like a mountain goat on steroids towards Karen.  There she sat, at the bottom of her 15 ft slide, unable to gain traction.  With one scoop he hoisted her up by the backpack and she was standing.  “He is so strong;” said Karen, “I love men!”

Next he got us 3 strays in the middle to work together and keep zigzagging up the mountain.  Joanne calmly prodded us along yet there was often the semblance of a Gong Show when Dana couldn’t quite hear all of the instructions.  James then herded us all up together the rest of the way.  Finally, we reached an easier path; one that would have seemed hard just a day ago but now seemed like a “piece of cake”.

By this time, Jocelyn and Barb were already up at the safety of the hut and were awaiting our arrival as were all the other guest up there who had witnessed them anxiously watching and waiting for an hour for us to get there.  It was 7:10pm when we finally arrived.  When I took that last step onto the landing and turned left to finally see the glorious Abbot Hut, in a heartbeat, my thoughts changed from “this is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done” to “this is the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done.”  I savoured the moment and the euphoria for a few moments before entering the hut to greetings of hugs all around and tears of joy, relief and accomplishment.

Once we had all arrived, the lovely young people that we had just met showed us much love and care, offering tea and blankets. They showed the true spirit of what being in a hut, on a ledge, at 3000m, with a bunch of strangers is all about.

We had a wonderful time there sharing and bonding with all these other mountain people and sleeping like sardines in the upstairs bunks.  It was a great time!  We cheers’d with Joanne’s Fireball Whisky “Here’s to living another day.”

When asked their thoughts now, Joanne calmly said “There is an incredible view up here.” and Karen said “Holy shit!”  Jocelyn simply said “I like boring.” and then, “Everything “One Eyed Guy” said was right!”

There was an entry in the ACC Abbot Hut Register book that caught my eye---“Biggest, most badass hike I’ve ever done.”  And here is my entry----“Happy to be alive!  haha  That was challenging.  I’m very happy and proud to be here but as the journey was terrifying, I will not be back but will likely consider this one of the most satisfying things I’ve done for the rest of my life."
Here is some information on the Hut that I found online:

The Abbot Pass Hut is one of the most unique huts in North America. It 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.

The pass and the hut are named after Philip Stanley Abbot, who became the first mountaineering fatality in North America[2] after he fell in an attempt to make the first ascent of Mount Lefroy in 1896.

And just so you don’t think we are exaggerating how “Bad Ass” and “Hard Core” we are or how difficult this hike was, here is the description of it online:

Accessing the hut is not for the faint of heart: the steep scree gully on the approach is notorious for its frequent rockfall, and parties choosing to make the climb should be in top shape and well-equipped.

The One Eyed Guy

I’m sure you have all been dying to find out whom this mysterious guy is that I’ve been talking about.  Well, the day before we were heading up to Abbot Hut, this fellow, likely in his late 60’s, entered the EP Hut where we were staying.  He looked a little worn out, a little traumatized, and his glasses were completely broken.  Half of the frame and all of the lens was missing from one side.  I asked him how it happened and he proceeded to tell me in great detail, his dangerous adventure descending from the Abbot Hut. 

His glasses got broken, his legs were all scratched and his spirit a little dampened.  For the next few hours, he tried to tell anyone who would listen how dangerous this trail is.  We did not want to listen.  We did not want to be discouraged and we did not want to be dissuaded from going.  However, he managed to corner Jocelyn and she politely listened and took notes detailing his advise on how to approach this task.  We spent the next 24 hours making fun of him and calling him a fear monger and so on.  As well as nick naming him the “One Eyed Guy”.  At the end of the day, his advise was all very sound and would have been very helpful had we all listened to him like Jocelyn did!

Day 5, The Descent

James was up early with his crampons and ice axe and off he went to summit Mt LeFroy from the Abbot Pass.  By the time most of us were up, he was at the very top; amazing!  He is definitely a “Mountain Man”.  He had told us to be ready to go when he came down so we obediently awaited his arrival and then it was time for our descent.  This time James was going to lead us all together to avoid the chaos of our ascent.  It all went very smoothly with James in the lead and Jocelyn bringing up the rear.  I think we all felt a lot better about our journey that day than we had the day before.

                                       James at the top of Mt LeFroy

We were joyfully greeted half way back at Lake Oesa by Jane and we were very happy to see her smiling face. 

 Once back at Lake O’Hara, we indulged in the infamous Carrot Cake sold at the Le Relais, a small day shelter in the area.  Then we relaxed at the lake a bit before catching our bus back to our vehicles.

We arrived at Lake Louise Hostel for our much needed showers and then enjoyed our final dinner together at the Station Restaurant, a lovely atmosphere in a heritage railway station.  The food was great, the group was excited and we all enjoyed reminiscing about what a great 5 days of hiking in the Rockies we had just enjoyed.

                                    Our wonderful organizers!

Ties That Bind

Our experiences together on and off the trail bond us in a way that I just cannot describe but Joanne found this quote that I believe says it all: 

"The circle of women around us weave invisible nets of love when we are weak and sing with us when we are strong." Sark

Thank you to this amazing "circle of women" who let me be a part of this adventure with them.  I love you all.

The Gang:

                                                                  My circle of women
                                                                 Jane, Joanne, Susan

                                                                          the Sisters

                                                  Jocelyn and me

                                                   Dana and me
                                                   Barb and James

                                             Dana, Karen, Barb

                                     Joanne and little brother James

Some of my favourite nature shots:

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