If you are using this information for your own trip, please read this disclaimer and description of my abilities.
A popular hike in the summer, the ski up to Rockbound Lake in the winter offers a steady climb up the summer trail with a fabulous (and fast!) descent back down.
The last time I was at Rockbound Lake was in August of 2008. A friend and I passed the lake on our way up and back from the peak of Castle Mountain. On the way up we had beautiful sunshine, but were hit by an electrical hailstorm (welcome to The Rockies!) at the summit. We quickly descended, meeting some inexperienced hikers from Newfoundland on the way, who had very few layers despite the intense rain, wind and hail. Things only got worse from there. Once past the lake there were many trees that had fallen on the trail and the rain was falling even harder. As helicopters passed overhead (for reasons we’ll never know), the few hours of descent felt slightly apocalyptic. Finish that off with a Bear in Area warning we discovered at the trailhead upon exiting and we were laughing by the end.
Constrast this to the quietness and serenity of winter. This time I skied up with a different friend, and we had the whole area totally to ourselves. A lunch on the lake in the sunshine (with some Bailey’s-spiked coffee, I should add) ended quickly as the sun dropped behind Castle Mountain, bringing the air temperature down with it. The ski back down from Tower Lake was fast and furious. We were fairly lucky at times that there were no other people on the trail since stopping was not really on option.
To get up to Rockbound Lake, begin by taking the summer trail (8.1 km). To get to the trailhead, turn east on the Bow Valley Parkway at Castle Junction towards Banff. The parking lot for Rockbound Lake comes shortly after turning and can be found on the left hand side.
Work your way up the switchbacks of the summer trail. Once you emerge from the trees, there are a few small avalanche paths to cross, so be careful in these areas. They look like they slide all the way to the trail only once in 50-100 years, but they are still a threat. From Tower Lake, aim directly for the cliffbands and once there veer straight left and up quite a ways until you see an obvious break in the wall (see photo). You may need to bootpack it up some sections. Once you have gained the wall simply ski down to the lakeshore of Rockbound Lake.
I highly recommend Rockbound Lake if you’re testing out some new gear, want a nice half-day ski, and want to go for a nice ride on the way down!
© Meghan J. Ward, 2010.