In July of 2013 Ken Godowski, a long-time friend from Colorado, joined me for a 10 day road trip to the Canadian Rockies. This grand stretch of the Rocky Mountain range is home to the Rocky’s biggest glaciers and icefields and its most massive peaks, some rising precipitously 10,000 vertical feet from their base.
Famous for its beautiful turquoise lakes, painted many hues of blue by glacial sediment, the Canadian Rockies is home to several of Canada’s National and Provincial Parks. Banff and Jasper National Parks, two of the region’s largest, are home to grizzly bears, wolves and an abundance of other wildlife, thriving in the abundant inaccessible wilderness of the region. A bounty of verdant green forests, mighty rivers and some of Canada’s highest waterfalls add to the natural majesty of the range.
While full of remote wilderness, there are also accessible hiking and backpacking opportunities that we were able to enjoy, especially with the great weather we had for most of the trip. Starting out in Lake Louise, we hiked some of the area’s classic trails, including the Lake Louise circuit trails, the Iceline Trail and Mount Fairview. We also stocked up on food, bear spray and some other necessities we could not take over the border into Canada. Car camping for 4 nights at the wooded Lake Louise campground, we enjoyed the amenities of a large shower house, enclosed pavilions, stacks of cut fire wood and a bear-proof electric fence encompassing the entire 206 site campground.
The next leg of our trip took us North on the Icefields Parkway, one of the most scenic roads in North America. Stopping for night at Wilcox Creek Campground, we enjoyed short but scenic hikes on Parker Ridge, Wilcox Pass and to the retreating terminus of the Athabaska Glacier – perhaps the most famous river of ice in the Rockies. After passing through the mountain town of Jasper the next day for lunch, we drove to the Northern terminus of our Rockies road trip: a two-night backpack in Mount Robson Provincial Park, home to the highest and grandest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
Standing at the valley floor at an elevation of 2700 ft, craning our necks skyward toward the 12,972 summit of Mt. Robson, less than 5 miles away as the crow flies, we are struck by the sheer, monstrous vertical relief, over 10,000 feet in all. Looking like some giant icy monolith transplanted from the Himalayas, Mt. Robson stands head and shoulders above all the other great peaks of the Canadian Rockies, in terms of altitude, scale and in the severity of the weather on it’s freshly snow-whitened crown. The weather down at the visitor center and campground was hot, in the low 90’s, even while icy clouds brooded nearly Robson’s summit. After a warm relaxing afternoon of rest and a good night’s sleep, we awake at 4:00 AM the next morning to begin our 12 mile backpack while the day is still cool.
Arriving at Marmot Campsite in the early afternoon on the shores of Berg Lake, we are treated with breathtaking views of Mist and Berg Glacier, the latter plunging down from the Western flanks of Robson into the lake itself. It’s easy to see why Berg Lake is considered by many to be the number one must-do backpack in the Canadian Rockies. The next day we enjoyed the most strenuous, scenic and remote day hike of our trip: to the lofty saddle of Snowbird Pass. Skirting the margin of the huge Robson Glacier much of its way, the trail passed through green alpine meadows before topping out at the pass, opening up a wide panoramic view of the Reef Icefield and surrounding peaks. The third day of our backpack we rose early again for a cool and overcast hike back to the trailhead – the skies opened up with rain mere minutes after we reached the car and stowed our packs.
After filling up with gas and ice cream in Jasper, the last leg of our trip gave us the chance to see the Icefields Parkway from the other direction, as we drove back South to the Posh and Touristy town of Banff. Ken’s flight out of Calgary was the next day, as was my 12 hour drive back home to Western Washington. The drive home was relatively fast and uneventful, other than the small bit of bear spray I got in my eyes while emptying the can before crossing the border (bear spray is not allowed over the border). We had an excellent trip and were able to get an good introduction to Banff and Jasper National Parks and Mount Robson Provincial Park – enough of an introduction to know we’ll be back again someday.