Mt Robson Revealed

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It’s easy to get into a routine of waking up early when your days are spent doing physically demanding activities and you live in a tent where the light is gone by 9 and the sun is up by 5. So contrary to my normal modus operandi, waking up at 5:30 was not a problem. After the ritual morning coffee for Dan and tea for me, followed by breakfast, we packed up and made our way to Mt Robson, the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies and home to some excellent hikes. Or so we’d heard. Of course, you can only see the top of this mountain – which is so big that it creates its own weather system – maybe 14 days of te year. The rest, it is shrouded in cloud. This was one of those 14 days and we were both awed and grateful to see this massive mountain in its entirety. We were less excited to discover that the campground we wanted was booked up so we wouldn’t make it too far that day. We did however get a camp spot 11 km in at Whitehorn, which was definitely a step or several thousand in the right direction.

While we were packing up our gear for the hike, any number of German and Japanese tourists came to have their photo with the bike. By the time we did set off, after a quick lunch at the car, it was 1:30. You start by crossing a river, hiking for some time in the forest and then eventually coming to a lake which you follow along to a river that winds around the mountain. Our trek to Whitehorn was pretty relaxed as we didn’t have a lot of distance but we did have plenty of time. We stopped and de-swelled our feet in the glacial river before getting to camp. These camps were supposed to have bear poles to hang your food out of reach of the bears, but it did not – simply bear boxes that were, you hoped, impenetrable. We ate and got some rest, for tomorrow was going to be a bigger day than either of us had planned and we’d need all the energy we could muster.

We had booked a second night of camping in at Berg Lake, thinking we could easily cover the distance on our third day back out. However, we woke up to a beautiful day and after some discussion decided to leave our tent setup and hope nobody needed the spot. This bumped our 14km day up to a 30km day and we needed to get moving. As we went along the trail the weather started to get cloudy and we heard from others that there was a risk of thunderstorm for which we were not really prepared. Still we pressed on as things didn’t seem likely to go that way in the next while and we were coming up on some great waterfalls. Particularly, Emperor Falls was awesome. The first view you get from afar is the waterfall with the sun tinting the mists golden. It falls into a trough cut impossibly midway across a vertical cliff face, so that the river runs like an aqueduct far above the valley floor. It is surreal and difficult to capture in words or photograph.

From there you wind your way closer, near to the very base of the waterfall. Dan and I weren’t satisfied with near and made our way to the roaring base, As many views as we’d been afforded of the waterfall from afar, nothing could prepare us for the immensity and power of the waterfall. We took some silhouette photos slightly above the base of the falls, getting thoroughly drenched in the process and then proceeded up the steepest part of the entire trail. It was a relief to get to the top of that and finally meander our way to Berg Lake. Here again was another place that had it all. Waterfalls, glacial blue lakes, the tallest mountain in the Rockies, glaciers, snow, and sun.

The sun, however, was fading and haze from nearby forest fires rolling in, which did not bode well for our photography. Still, we pressed on, taking the upper track to Mumm Basin which gave great views of yet another glacier in the distance, the mountainside, the valley, and of course Mt Robson though it was now clouded over. At that altitude, though, the wind was heavy and brisk and we got a bit of rain as well as we made our way to Toboggan Falls, a waterfall that runs like water on an immense slope rather than carving a drop as most falls do. This was our landmark to head down to the lower trail and lose the 1 km or so we’d gained in elevation. We stopped at Berg Lake where we were to have camped and had a lunch of rice, ichiban with canned turkey and a granola bar before setting out to return to our camp. We made it back exhausted, physically and mentally drained, reaching shelter less than a minute before it suddenly began to pour and the thunderstorm rolled up the valley. It was a great day to be alive.

The advantage of hiking all the way back to our starting point, aside from not having to haul alot of the equipment, was that we were only 11km from the exit. We hiked out and crossed the border in Alberta and specifically Jasper National Park where we set up an early camp and celebrated our heretofore hectic pace with beer and pizza at a little restaurant nearby. I’d never really spent any time in Jasper, I didn’t like the town itself as much as Banff right away, but I would discover that it offered far more outdoor adventure than Banff during the summer months. And, dare I say, my first encounter with a bear in the wild? Next time...

Mt. Robson Photos

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