Hiking Clearwater Pass and Lake O’Hara

Valley in Remote Banff N.P.
Valley in Remote Banff N.P.

If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities.

The last two weekends of hiking have brought me to some very special and diverse places.

Two weeks ago, I hiked into a remote area of Banff National Park with two friends of mine, and had the use of an old warden’s cabin in the backcountry. The 30 km hike took us up the Mosquito Creek Trail, over Quartize Col, up Clearwater Pass, around Devon Lakes and down into the next valley. It was a fairly epic journey, and a bit of a struggle to get there, with 90 km/h winds, rain and hail blowing us off the trail. Once at the cabin, though, we settled right in and enjoyed the journey into the past of this log cabin. The nights were cold, and the wood fire was warm and inviting. The second day there, I stayed back and did some reading, writing, and brainstorming for new article ideas. I didn’t mind the peace, quiet and remoteness of the area I was visiting. It was a strange feeling to be so far into the backcountry of this national park. I felt so far away and yet totally at home at the log cabin. I chopped some wood to replace the kindling we had used, stoked the fire, drank tea, took photos and otherwise just enjoyed the quiet. The hike out the following day, I was feeling much more energetic and we had beautiful sunshine the whole way.

Enjoying the Peace and Quiet.

Last weekend, my outdoor adventures took me to Lake O’Hara with some friends, where we made good use of the campground and enjoyed the premiere hiking in Yoho National Park. Day 1 brought us up to Lake McArthur, whose stunning blue colour I had never seen before because it was frozen over the last two times I was there. The adventures continued when I stumbled across an Italian couple who looked fairly distressed. Turns out this woman had injured her ankle. After trying to get her down the trail, not even making it 1 km down in an hour, we sent someone for help and eventually settled on having a helicopter rescue because we were still about 3 km from the road.

September 2009 018-1

Lake McArthur

Helicopter Saves the Day
Helicopter Saves the Day

It was a great display of the human community – here we were, unable to speak Italian, helping a pair of Italians who didn’t speak English. We both spoke French, however, which made the whole day much easier. The whole ordeal took about 7 hours, and ended with a rescuer being dropped by a helicopter, who stabilized her leg before they air-lifted her. It was pretty cool, I must say, and I am proud of our parks system that provides this kind of service.

Day 2 didn’t involve any rescues, and brought us to Grandview, an open plateau on Mount Odaray. This short hike is by far one of the most scenic half day hikes I think you can do in the Rockies. In such a small hike, you can see both The Goodsirs on one side and Mount Hector on the other, all at once. The view from the plateau shows you both Lake McArthur and Lake O’Hara in the same panorama. Simply stunning.

On Day 3  we did the whole 14 kilometre Alpine Circuit around O’Hara, starting up the Wiwaxy Gap trail, around the Huber Ledges to Lake Oesa, across Yukness Ledges to the Opabin Plateau and finishing off with the All Souls trail, which leads back down to Schaffer Lake. By far, this is the most impressive day hike in the Canadian Rockies, out of all the places I have been. It is one ‘wow’ moment after another, with lakes of every shade of blue, high elevation hiking, great views, and a fabulous trail system, thanks to Mr. Lawrence Grassi and the Lake O’Hara Trails Club.

Lake Oesa

Lake Oesa

This area has been well-preserved, and I have confidence that through the hard work of those who have protected it, it will remain a pristine area for years to come.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2009.

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