Lake O'Hara - Day 1
We woke at the Firewood Hostel in Field to drizzle from a sky with blue patches, and a view of mountains. The drizzle soon subsided, revealing a smoke free vista. Whoopee!
We were booked on the 10.30 bus into Lake O'Hara. The journey went smoothly for those like us who had arrived early, despite one of the old school buses having broken down and needing an engineer from Calgary. By 11 o'clock we were 11 km along the dirt road and at the campground up at 2000 metres. Sue disappeared off and chose site 17, and we were given an 'etiquette' briefing by Park Warden Maggie. Other buses took people to some lodge cabins and to an alpine club centre.
The tent was up in the woodland campsite by 11.30, and by 11.45 we were enjoying coffee and carrot cake at Le Relais, who also sold us a very useful map.
Then a delightful five hour stroll took the following route from our starting point of 2000 metres:
Lakeshore Trail clockwise > Seven Veils Falls viewpoint > East Opabin Trail > Cascade Lakes > Moor Lakes > Hungabee Lake > Opabin Plateau > Opabin Lake (2285 metres) > Opabin Highline Trail > Opabin Prospect (one of many brilliant viewpoints) > West Opabin Trail > Lakeshore Trail to Outlet Bridge and back to camp by the eastern path.
The views throughout were great. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth pictures are examples, but this phase of our trip should eventually be recorded in a separate slideshow.
Wildlife included a pair of American Dippers, diving ducks that we think may be White Winged Scoters, and a very fat Hoary Marmot.
The bluey green lakes were a contrast to yesterday's putty coloured river, but the paths were manicured as in most of the popular places over here. Given the popularity of this destination it possibly needs to be heavily managed. Nobody seems to find bookings easy, and they were impressed that Sue had managed it from the UK.
We were back at camp before 5 pm, and soon set about our usual four course camp meal with added muffins. All cooking is done in a general area of picnic tables, both outdoors and under a shelter. We got the last of the sun on an outdoors table that we shared with Roger, a cameraman who lives in Canmore and had come in for just one night thanks to a cancellation.
By 7.30 we were back in our tent for what was expected to be a cool night, with a number of campers (not us) showing concern over the adequacy of their sleeping bags.
It's Very quiet here, with just the sound of a river through the forest to lull us to sleep very early.
10 km with 400 metres ascent, in 5 hours.
Monday 11 September 2017
Lake O'Hara - Day 2
Sue's diary entry for today was written whilst I was chatting with Dan and Janice, an American couple who were also staking at Fireweed. Here it is:
'A wonderful day of clear blue skies, glistening lakes, autumnal larches and clear mountains. The Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit was today's objective, given the good forecast. Although we were awake around 7.30pm, we stayed cocooned in our sleeping bags until 8.15am. The clear morning wasn't as cold as we expected, and it didn't take long to brew a cup of tea and eat a Nine Bar for breakfast, so we were off at 9.20am.
After a short section beside the lake, the path to Wiwaxy Gap went left, through trees initially, then zigzagging quite steeply uphill. It didn't take long to move from the shade into the sun, but longer before we took layers off. The wind was cool again today. We overtook about 11 people before reaching the Gap, 500m above the lake, which was gradually shedding its mountain shadow as the sun rose, revealing its deep blue-green hue.
It was cold at the Gap, so we dropped down the far side a little way to eat our second breakfast of another muesli bar, and admire views into the next valley.
The path contoured round the hillside, gently descending through the Huber Ledges, bands of red rock. Ahead was the glistening Lake Oesa, with cascades dropping to smaller lakes, set in the yellowing larches. A Least Chipmunk scurried amongst the rock here.
Our path turned right at the lake, where a climbers path continues to Abbot Pass, where there is an alpine hut.
Lake Oesa was so lovely that we decided to have lunch number 1, although it was only just midday. The glacier-rounded rock on the shore made a good seat for a while.
Another small climb took us over a boulder and scree field to the start of Yukness Ledge, another narrow, mainly contouring path, high above Lake O'Hara, that was still shaded and cool. The path was well-constructed, with rocks placed as steps in many places. The ledge ended with a descent over boulders to the lake below Opabin, where we enjoyed lunch number 2 of hard-boiled eggs with mayo, crisps and fruit, with a view of the shallow lake, and a copse of yellow and green trees under the blue sky. A dipper moved on as we arrived to use a flat rock as a seat.
It was a delight walking through the trees, where we were yesterday afternoon, albeit on different paths, aiming for the All Souls' Alpine Route. This ascended again, over rocks, to a path that climbed gradually to a prominence, over a steep screefield. Our first mountain goat was seen (thanks to some folk coming the other way); it was sitting on a ledge overlooking the valley, and its white coat stood out well although it was some distance away.
The views here included Lake O'Hara below, and across to the morning's route. We got close to three ptarmigan youngsters, with white feet and flecks of white in their mottled feathers, the start of their transformation to white for the winter.
The high point had a magnificent view, but the wind was cold and soon moved us on, descending steeply down the hillside. Care was needed but it didn't take long to drop back into the trees, passing Schaffer Lake, and walking out via the Elizabeth Parker (ACC) hut. It was surprisingly small but the two wooden buildings are set in a meadow, with views of the surrounding peaks.
We were back at camp at around 4pm, and have spent a sociable time in the sun in the communal area, chatting to Janice and Dan, making a cup of tea, then dinner. Hot and sour soup was followed by a small portion of chicken and rice curry (a freebie from the TGO Challenge, and rather delicious), pasta and tuna, and hot chocolate (courtesy of the hotel at Sun Peaks) and a mini-muffin! It is 6.30pm, the yellow school bus has just stopped to pick up those leaving, and it doesn't feel as chilly as it did last night.
We chatted with Janice and Dan before heading to the tent after 8pm when the light started to fade. The exciting conclusion of my book was read, and a new one, The Bone Clocks, started.'
13 km with 800 metres ascent, in 6.5 hours.
Tuesday 12 September 2017
Lake O'Hara - Day 3
Up by 8.30 to get the last unoccupied picnic table for breakfast, if you can call a mug of tea and a muesli bar 'breakfast'.
It was overcast and Sue had heard a couple of short showers in the night. Dan and Janice decided to get the 9.30 bus and go to Lake Louise. Their holiday time is more limited than ours.
We stayed with our plan and ascended to Lake McArthur via the Big Larches Trail and a High Level Circuit, pausing for elevenses/second breakfast on the way.
The lake was slate blue from a distance, a brighter shade of blue close up. Two goats and a goatlet grazed in the scree above us. It was very tranquil - just a few folk quietly dotted about, taking in the scenery.
We decided that once noon had passed it wasn't too early for lunch.
Just as well. The moment we finished, it started to rain. Steadier and steadier, for the rest of the day.
A pleasant enough, if not photogenic, walk down the Low Level Circuit and onto yesterday's descent via the Alpine Club hut brought us to Le Relais by 1.50. It was crowded outside with people waiting for the 2.30 bus, and steamy inside with lots more folk taking advantage of the heat from the wood burning stove.
I bludgeoned Sue into continuing our walk for an hour by way of a circuit of Lake O'Hara. It's a nice stroll. We finished that just in time to visit the well appointed Lodge for an hour or so. As part of their licence from the Park authorities, they are obliged to provide facilities to all comers at certain times. We gorged ourselves on the afternoon tea buffet that they serve for $14 between three and four o'clock. Lots of small cakey items, big bowls of fruit, and a selection of teas and juices. Easy chairs and a chat with a young couple from Calgary made it an altogether delightful experience. Then it was outside for a kilometre of lakeside footpath in the rain to a convivial cooking shelter from which we emerged, over-replete in my case, at about 6 pm. The only place to go that is out of the rain is our tent, so after finishing this blog entry I'll enjoy a long session with Kerry Wilkinson's 'Two Sisters' novel. Sue finished Ken Follett's gripping read 'Eye of the Needle' last night so she will be able to get some way into 'The Bone Clocks' by David Mitchell. (BTW HMP3, she did enjoy 'Dark Matter'.)
14 km with 350 metres ascent, in 6 hours.
Wednesday 13 September 2017
Lake O'Hara - Day 4
Overnight rain intensified around 5.30 am, but thankfully a short break between 8 and 9.30 allowed us to enjoy breakfast and get packed up with just a wet tent to show for the rain.
The 9.30 bus rattled us down to the main road, and Charlie delivered us to the Trailhead Café at Lake Louise for an early elevenses. An excellent bookshop there had us salivating over its many and varied offerings.
The short drive to Banff found us enjoying lunch with a couple from Portsmouth, back at the Jump Start Café. We had seen no Europeans at Lake O'Hara apart from a Dutch couple.
We'd been told that a visit to Fairmont Banff Springs would be an interesting excursion, so we went there. It turned out to be a reincarnation of Dracula's home in Transylvania, built in the early twentieth century in the style of a Scottish Castle pretending to be a French Chateau, to house the railway construction gangs shipped in from eastern Europe. It now serves as a tourist trap. We perused the galleries, but with limited edition prints going for over $2000, and originals selling for up to $30000, we decided to move on through the pouring rain to Canmore, a further 22 km down Highway number 1.
Bow Valley Motel, our home for the next week, was soon located. It looks typically unattractive motel like, but here we have a living/dining room with a kitchenette that has all you could want including an oven, a spacious bedroom, and a bathroom with a bath (which was much needed after three days without a proper wash!).
Just next door is The Grizzly Paw Pub, which is also a brewery, where we were served an excellent meal washed down with pints of Powder Hound Blonde and Grumpy Bear Honey Wheat beers.
About 2 km of bimbles, and 100 km for Charlie.
The photos are all from our Lake O'Hara visit, chronological as usual.