Ski Touring to Lake O’Hara and McArthur Pass

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

Last weekend took me back up to Lake O’Hara (this time in full-on winter) for some ski touring. The 12 kms up the road with a heavy pack revealed that the weight of your pack really does affect how your feet feel in your boots! I was sure glad to get those boots off upon arriving at Elizabeth Parker Hut, an alpine hut operated by The Alpine Club of Canada. A friend of mine and I enjoyed two nights at the hut with a day of touring up to McArthur Pass and to the lower slopes of Mount Schaffer in between, before exiting down the 12 km road to the car at the end.

Elizabeth Parker Hut

To get up to Lake O’Hara, drive about 10 minutes West past Lake Louise until you see a turn off to the left. Follow this over the traintracks and around the bend to an obvious parking lot. Gear up here and follow the road about 11km all the way up to Le Relais cabin, which sits on the right hand side of the road. From here the trail is marked towards Elizabeth Parker Hut. To get to Lake O’Hara Lodge, simply stay on the road and continue.

Lake O'Hara Road

For the relatively easy tour from Elizabeth Parker Hut to McArthur Pass, head out from back door of the hut along the summer trail (straight out the back and slightly right) and follow this trail to a more open area which climbs all the way through the trees to Schaffer Lake. From the meadows by the lake continue towards the lowest part of McArthur Pass (seen in photo below). Make your way through the trees until you reach a snow and ice covered series of cliff bands. From here you can traverse left and switchback your way on top of the cliff bands. Continue in the direction where you left off before the cliff bands towards a large clearing and the highest point. This is McArthur Pass. From here you can continue on to Lake McArthur, head back down, or head up through the trees on the lower slopes of Mount Odaray. Once you emerge from the trees, there are many bumps you can perch yourself on for great views of Lake O’Hara that are out of harm’s way.

Skiing through the meadows near Schaffer Lake.

The lowest point of McArthur Pass.

Snowy cliff bands. Veer left from here.

On your way back down to Schaffer Lake, you can cut over towards the lower slopes of Mount Schaffer for some great turns about the lake itself. Conversely, you can descend from McArthur Pass down to the meadows beside Schaffer Lake and cut back up in the direction of the summer trail up to Lake McArthur and then over toward the slopes of Mount Schaffer to access those same turns. Take caution as these slopes are prone to avalanche in bad conditions and have taken many lives in the past.

Descent back to the hut the same way you came up.

A warm fire awaits you at Elizabeth Parker Hut.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.

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