Sunday – Tuesday, August 6 – 8, 2017
Jasper and Maligne Lake – Alberta, Canada
We drove into Jasper from the Icefields Parkway and checked into our hotel before driving up to Pyramid Lake and checking out the town.
We took in the sunset over Beauvert Lake, just outside our room and then got to sleep.
The next day we tackled a short, but steep hike up to Old Fort Point and then explored the various lakes around the area. The color of the waters are incredible.
The highlight of the day was the cruise on Maligne Lake out to Spirit Island and back. This was one of the more beautiful sights on a trip filled with many.
The next day we would make the long drive over to Vancouver for one night and then over to Vancouver Island and Ucluelet and Tofino.
Saturday and Sunday, August 5-6, 2017
Icefields Parkway – Alberta, Canada
Warning: Long blog post coming!
We left Lake Louise and drove what is considered one of the most beautiful drives on the planet. Luckily the smoke stayed away again and we had spectacular views. We had an app that I found before the trip that followed us using GPS and would tell us interesting facts and history about where we were on the drive and what points of interest were coming up, so we made many stops.
First, we headed down to Johnston Canyon, which was actually back towards Banff, but not too far away.
After Johnston Canyon, we loaded back up and headed north again, with the big objective of the day being the Columbia Icefield. Along the way we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls (Why are so many falls named this? Be more creative people!) and got an unexpected surprise – see video.
We got to the Icefield around 2:30 and it was PACKED. Luckily, we already had reservations to go up onto the Athabasca glacier in a “snowcoach” and didn’t have to wait in line to buy tickets. Icefields feed glaciers. They are likened to a huge lake of ice and glaciers are like rivers coming off them.
We had a quick lunch on the patio of the visitor center and then caught a bus up to the snowcoaches on the glacier. We then took the coach up to the glacier and were able to walk around on part of it. It felt like standing in a giant freezer and we drank melt water directly off the glacier. The experience was pretty incredible.
After this we got back to the car and drove to the Skywalk that hangs over a 1000 foot cliff. I am working on my fear of heights, but that thing moves when you walk on it and is packed with tourists who are oblivious to others. It was not my favorite.
Our lodge for the night was a little place called Sunwapta Falls Rocky Mountain Lodge. It was a bit kitschy and not the greatest rooms, but the food was fantastic. I feel like if I were a kid in the 70s this place would have been awesome. Reminded us of a Jellystone lodge or something, if you know what that is.
The next morning we woke up and made a quick walk to Sunwapta Falls, just down the road from the lodge.
We loaded back up and continued up the Icefield Parkway towards Jasper. After a quick stop at Honeymoon Lake, we stopped at an overlook and saw some elk crossing the Athabasca River.
Then we hit the impressive Athabasca Falls.
Wow. From there we headed into Jasper where we would stay at the Fairmont Jasper Lodge, which may have been our favorite of the Fairmonts.
Friday, August 4, 2017
Eiffel Lake Trail – Moraine Lake, Alberta, Canada
7.2 miles (11.6 km)
This may be the most beautiful place I have been in the world, up to this point. I had seen photos before, but it is just jaw dropping in real life. Moraine Lake is located in the so-called Valley of the Ten Peaks.
Court, Doc, and I woke up at 6am in order to get a parking spot, as the lot fills up in August by 7 or 8 am and then they shut the road down. We arrived a little after 6:30am and the lot was about half full. The color of the lake is more vibrant in full sun, but it was still beautiful before the sun had fully risen and the canoes weren’t out yet.
I knew this trail started out steep, but I underestimated it. There were 10 switchbacks going up over 1000 feet in roughly half a mile, which was tough. We took our time though and once we got to the top, the rest of the trail was fairly flat along the contour of the mountain going towards Eiffel Lake. The wildflowers were in full bloom and the views of the lake through the trees were spectacular.
About halfway through we came along a marmot literally about 3 feet off the trail. I froze and stopped Court and Doc, thinking he would frighten easily, but he just kept munching away at the grass next to the trail. We said hello and went on our way without him missing a beat.
Toward the end, the trail came out of the woods and wound through a scree field as we got close to Eiffel Lake. The silence was amazing. We could hear the glaciers and ice across the valley cracking as the morning sun’s rays hit the mountains. The only other sound was the whistling of the marmots hidden among the rocks. It was incredible.
We turned and made the trek back down to the lake the way we had come. The lake was even more brilliant than when we had climbed up and we stopped at the bottom to take our shoes off and dunk our tired feet in the frigid glacial water.
At the foot of the lake and start of the trail is a huge rock pile that is actually a glacial moraine (it’s not just a clever name) that formed the lake. The photos from the top of this rock pile are where the iconic shots are taken that are ubiquitous among Canadian tourism brochures, and with good reason. I climbed to the top of this pile, clambering up and over precarious boulders with other brave (foolhardy?) tourists instead of taking the easier trail around the back side.
We got back to the hotel in the early afternoon and decided bring Suz back to Moraine Lake for the sunset. We couldn’t let her miss this amazing place.
As I said, the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I hope to eclipse this one day, but it will be difficult.
Thursday, August 3 – Saturday, August 5, 2017
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
We arrived at the world famous Chateau Lake Louise and were immediately awestruck. What a view. Little did we know it would get even better.
There were a ton of wildfires in BC and one big one just south of Banff. The wind had shifted overnight and the drive to Lake Louise was pretty smoky, obscuring some of the fantastic scenery. Luckily, the wind would shift the next day for our big hike at Moraine Lake, which is getting its own blog post. The first day at Lake Louise, we decided to walk the trail on the water’s edge. This trail is flat and is actually the beginning of the Plain of Six Glaciers trail, but we only took it to the end of the lake and the delta.
After that short hike (only about 2 miles on flat ground), we drove up to Yoho National Park and saw Emerald Lake, which we WILL be going back to, a beautiful Natural Bridge, and Takakkaw Falls, a 254 meter (833 foot) waterfall. We got the falls in just before the sun set and we headed back to the magnificent Chateau.
On the morning we left Lake Louise (the day after the Moraine Lake hike), we woke up at 5am to get to the boat dock on Lake Louise by 5:30 for a sunrise canoe trip. Court, Doc, and I took a canoe out on the still water and watched the sky get light (it was a bit cloudy) over the Chateau. It was silent, cold, and beautiful.
Up next: Icefields Parkway up to Sunwapta and Jasper.
August 1-3, 2017
Banff, Alberta, Canada
It’s been a long time since I last blogged. Due to the horrid Texas heat and some other life events, the hiking was basically non-existent this summer, but we ended the summer season with a bang.
Courtney and I, along with her parents, went on a 12 day venture to the Canadian Rockies and British Columbia. This year is Canada’s 150th birthday as a nation and all of the National Parks are free. What better time to do them all!
Canada is simply incredible and there are more photos and sights than I could ever reasonably put into blog form, so I am going to attempt to pare down the highlights and hikes into a manageable form. I will include almost all my videos too.
The first stop on our journey was at the southern end of the Canadian Rockies in Banff. We flew into Calgary, rented a car, and began our journey that would ultimately cover over 1,300 miles (2092 km). I got pretty fond of the metric system and wouldn’t actually mind it if the US made the switch. Probably not gonna happen though.
We stayed at the Fairmont Banff Springs and it was beautiful. We rode the Banff Gondola up to the top of Sulphur Mountain for some incredible views and lunch.
We also saw the Cave and Basin Park (the inspiration for Canada’s National Park system) and took a raft down the Bow River.
On the last morning we woke up early and hiked along the Spray River and made a loop back to the hotel, skirting the Banff Springs golf course, and then hitting the famous Bow Falls on the way back. About 4.5 miles total.
Banff was great, but probably the most crowded of any place we went. On August 3rd, we headed up the highway to Lake Louise, just about a 45 minute drive. Continued on next post.
Thursday, June 1, 2017
Pacific Crest Trail Southern Terminus – Campo, CA
Mile 0 – Mile 3.0 (6 miles round trip)
Clear, sunny, mid 70s
Today was a big day and I’m betting this blog entry will be pretty long. Courtney had a conference in San Diego and I tagged along, as neither of us had been to San Diego before. I rented a car one morning while she was at the conference and drove the hour or so down to Campo and the Southern Terminus of the PCT.
One day I hope to thru-hike this entire trail. For today, I had to be content with the first three miles. I have been looking forward to this for several years now and the experience, as short as it was, did not disappoint.
I got out to the monument at about 10am. It wasn’t hot, which was nice, considering it’s the desert in June. There’s not much to Campo, as you would expect, and it was strange driving through town to the border. At first I drove up to the border wall and to the back of the monument, but there is now a chicken wire fence between the wall and the monument, so you have to approach on foot from down the hill. There’s no real parking area, just a bunch of intersecting dirt roads, so I improvised and it turned out fine.
There was a man parked right next to the monument when I got there and I thought at first he was part of the Border Patrol, but it turns out his name was Dave and he had driven down just to see the monument. He is in his mid-60s and lives somewhere about 400 miles north of the border in California and just loves the trail. He said he plans to do some trail angel-ing later on in the season up around Walker Pass, Seiad Valley, and several other places. Trail angels are people who go out of their way to help out hikers on the trail, whether that means stocking water caches, leaving coolers full of food and drinks at strategic places, or sometimes so much more. Some take hikers into their homes, provide meals, showers, laundry, and rest. Trail angels are amazing people.
I signed the trail register and Dave took my picture at the monument. I was pretty starstruck at the beginning and the whole situation was pretty surreal for a while. According to the register, there was actually one other person who had started the trail that morning, who I believe was a thru-hiker. June 1st is generally a pretty late start date for a North-bound thru hike, but there is record snow this year in the Sierra, so I think some people may be trying to let it thaw out a bit, hence the later start. The first hikers in the register were from April 16th, which is usually right at the peak of when the majority of hikers start. Usually there are a lot that start during the first two weeks of April as well, but not this year.
I also got to use the demo version of Guthook’s PCT app, which worked fantastically. It is super easy and essentially shows where you are in relation to the trail as well as elevation profiles and also has tons of points of interest (water sources, road crossings, campsites, etc) that are very helpful when hiking a 2,655 mile long trail.
The trail starts a bit ambiguously. Many hikers apparently start out going the wrong direction (more on that later), but I had researched the path and knew where to go. Another thing I was not expecting was that the monument actually is at the top of a big hill at the border and the first quarter mile of the trail is going down that hill. I had always assumed it was just kinda flat, but that’s not the case.
There are two orange cones about 100 yards in that serve as the first official trail markers, kind of like a starting line. The trail was sandy and dry with multitudes of rabbits, ground squirrels, and lizards constantly darting hither and thither.
As you enter Campo, the trail goes right alongside the road and actually joins the road for a stretch, so you are immediately hiking through town next to people’s houses. It then turns off and starts to go up into the desert hills.
The Mile 1 sign is a PCT hiker tradition as well and is strategically placed just on the other side of a boulder at a turn in the trail, so it catches you by surprise.
Again, I expected the beginning of the trail to be a lot flatter than it turned out to be and it actually is somewhat tough right off the bat. There are some decent elevation changes and you get into the wilderness pretty quickly. The first road crossing is at Highway 94, about 2.3 miles in.
After the road crossing the first water source is at a wooden bridge in a slightly wooded section. It’s not great, but I suppose if you somehow have gone through a ton of water in the first couple of miles, it would be useful.
The trail winds up through the hills where it reaches a railroad and this marked the farthest I would go today. I hung out for a couple of minutes contemplating what it would be like to just keep going to the end. One day.
I turned around and headed back the way I came. I averaged about 3 mph, which is a relatively quick pace, so I was actually somewhat tired when I got back to the monument. On the way back I ran into the only other hiker I would see. I asked where he was headed and when his reply came “Canada” I wished him good luck. He seemed a bit green, but there’s a steep learning curve out there. I hope he does well and reaches the border.
Back at the monument, Dave was still there, hanging out in his truck just enjoying the day. He told me that the hiker had initially started off in the wrong direction (walking parallel to the border wall) and when he got to the top of a hill, a Border Patrolman picked him up, explained his error, and drove the hiker back down to the monument to try again. This apparently happens a lot. We both had a bit of a chuckle at this, but to be fair, the monument is oriented in a way that it gives the impression that’s the way the trail goes.
I talked with Dave a bit more and then walked back down the hill to where I had parked my car and ate a sandwich I packed in for lunch. This was quite the experience for me, despite being so short in length, and I can’t wait to do other sections of the trail and eventually, hopefully, the entire length, border to border.
A couple of different map angles:
Saturday, May 13, 2017
Lost Maples State Natural Area
warm, sunny, mid 80s
This was actually going to be an overnight, but I finished the hike much faster than anticipated and didn’t want to sit in the woods by myself for 7 hours until the sun set, so I bailed and drove home. The hike was still very pretty and well worth the 6 hour round trip drive.
I had a full pack, including the Marmot Limelight 3 person tent and Enlightened Equipment double quilt, despite being a solo trip. I had no choice, as I haven’t bought my solo shelter or quilt yet. All that said, my pack weight, including food and water was just under 25 pounds, so not too shabby.
I intended to hike the remainder of the trail that we hadn’t finished on our first overnight back in 2015. This meant doing a counter-clockwise loop on the west side of the park. There was a steep climb that got me to some good views. Unfortunately, they don’t believe in switchbacks in this park, so it’s basically just a straight up climb for a quarter mile on scree. I was winded, but the breeze up top was nice and I took a short break.
After a short walk through Mystic Canyon (which I will say is neither mystic, nor a real canyon), I got to the junction where I was to do another steep climb. There were three hikers at the junction who had just come from where I was headed. They told me horror stories of not only steep trail, but spiders everywhere as big as your hand. I was already thinking of skipping this section and their warnings made it an easy decision. Instead I headed to my intended campsite and passed some nice springs on the way.
When I arrived at Camping Area C it was just barely 2pm. There were several groups camped already and I wasn’t sure if they were still waiting to pack up from the night before or if they had gotten out earlier than me and set up. Either way, I didn’t feel like hanging around by myself all afternoon, especially when I was just about a mile from the trail head. So I continued on and headed back to the car.
However on the way I found a nice waterfall that I had to scramble down a small cliff to really see, but it was well worth it.