ilanarama: profile of me backpacking.  Woo. (hiking)
[personal profile] ilanarama
We came out of Yoho NP just to the north of where we'd gone in to Kootenay NP a couple of weeks ago, so we drove by the same lakes and mountains we'd seen on the way in. But when we got to the intersection where we had come in to Canada on Rt. 93, instead of continuing south we turned northeast. We drove through Fernie, which looked like a great little ski town - kind of like Durango! - and we would have liked to have spent more time there, but we could see the end of our vacation looming in the distance and needed to keep moving. We camped at Crowsnest Pass between British Columbia and Alberta, which was beautiful, though ridiculously windy. Again, we drove by lots of interesting historic towns, but made the decision to maximize our time at Waterton Lakes NP.

The interesting thing about Waterton Lakes is that it's right at the juncture between the Alberta prairie and the mountains, thanks to the Lewis Thrust Fault. It makes for a very cool contrast as there are high mountains in one direction and plains in the other. And in the middle there are great big beautiful lakes!

View of Upper Waterton Lake

We rolled into the park shortly before noon on Friday, by design; noon is campground check-out time, and we wanted to be at the central Townsite Campground. Fortunately, we snagged a spot! This put us an easy walk to the shops and restaurants as well as several hiking trails and the marina. This last was important because we wanted to do the Crypt Lake hike, which begins with a boat ride across the lake. We bought tickets for the early morning and late afternoon return the next day, and then drove up to the trailhead for Forum Wall Lakes to do an afternoon hike.

The next morning we dressed in our hiking gear, had breakfast, and walked across town to the small marina, where we gathered with a hundred or so other hikers. (There is a trail on the other side of the lake, but it's over 10 miles from that trailhead to the boat landing, and due to grizzly bears you're not allowed to camp anywhere on that side, so it's not practical to use it.)

Boat going to Crypt Lake trailhead Crypt Lake Trail and Upper Waterton Lake

We ended up toward the rear of the group getting off the boat, and to avoid hiking in the mob we opted to take the optional alternate route that parallels the first mile and a half or so that goes by "Hell Roaring Falls". The tour guide on the boat had advised people to do that on the way back, so it was a much quieter trail, and we saw only four others, which was nice. This trail climbed over a knoll with an excellent view of Upper Waterton Lake (the photo above), then turned inland up a creek toward the falls, which were quite pretty but hard to photograph.

The trail turned quite steep as it approached the main route, and we were glad we had opted to take it uphill rather than down. After a while we began to overtake the tail end of our group of hikers. We turned at the head of the valley, powered up a long set of switchbacks - it was easy to overtake here because the less-fit people were stopping frequently to breathe hard - and through an old campsite (with outhouse and hitching rails), and then it was time for the most famous section of the hike.

The campsite has a hitching rail because at this point, the trail becomes impassable to horses. It climbs a series of wide ledges, ending at a short metal ladder that leads to a tunnel. The tunnel looks like it was not completely man-made; it might have been a crevice that was later widened. It's wide enough for one crouching person to scuttle through, and long enough that it's fairly dark though not entirely black inside.

Ladder to tunnel on Crypt Lake trail Through the tunnel on Crypt Lake Trail

On the other side is another set of steeply-angled ledges. These are much narrower and quite exposed, and there's a cable fastened to the cliff as a handrail. Naturally, as former rock climbers Britt and I didn't need the support, but quite a few of the other hikers looked queasy at the crossing.

Ledges on Crypt Lake trail

As we rounded the cliff, we could see the headwall under Crypt Lake and the waterfall that pours from its outlet. The outlet is actually underwater, so it's not obvious from the lake basin; the water seeps down and comes out in a cave about fifty yards before plunging over the cliff.

Crypt Lake outlet waterfall Waterfall outlet of Crypt Lake

At this point, the route turned into a normal trail, and we hiked up and over the lip of the headwall and to the lake. Was it worth it?

Crypt Lake Crypt Lake looking out

Oh yeah. The water's pretty shallow, and so despite the elevation (6500') it's warm enough for brave souls to swim in. (Britt was one such brave soul. I waded a little.) The lake is beautifully clear, and there is a trail all around, so we circumnavigated, which took us into Montana for a few minutes at the southernmost tip!

Going around Crypt Lake

The next day we hiked to Bertha Lake, another popular trail which started just a few hundred yards from our campsite. The trail starts out along the Upper Waterton Lake, with nice views across Upper and Middle Waterton Lakes:

View back to Waterton Lakes

Then it turns inland, up the outlet creek, and passes two pretty waterfalls:

Lower Bertha Falls Upper Bertha Falls

Bertha lake itself is lovely, and there is a trail around it as well, so of course we had to go around. And that warmed us up enough that we had to go in! (Yes, I went in, too!)

Bertha Lake Britt swimming in Bertha Lake

Though the trail to the lake was very heavily trafficked, and many people were hanging out in the camping area where the trail comes in, we only saw one other couple on the trail around the lake. Couple of humans, that is; we saw a mountain goat high on one hillside, and quite a few piles of bear poop, but (perhaps fortunately) no bears. The reason the bears were there was obvious:

Huckleberries! P1040337

Huckleberries, in greater quantity than we'd ever seen in one place! We stuffed our faces, and the baggies our lunch had been carried up in. (That night we bought vanilla ice cream from one of the places downtown and poured the berries over them - yum!) The red berries are twisted-stalk, which we also have in Colorado; they taste sort of like a cross between cucumbers and tomatoes. We also identified several other types of berry (serviceberry, bearberry, buffaloberry), all of which are bear food.

The next day we drove out of the National Park and around it to the east, and across the border back into the US on a backroad. There were more bicyclists than other cars! We drove south alongside Glacier National Park, which was fighting very bad forest fires (when we drove by the entrance to Going-to-the-Sun Road it was invisible behind a wall of thick smoke) and back toward home. Well, not quite toward home - we were meeting friends in far northwestern Colorado, near Dinosaur National Monument, to raft the Gates of Lodore section of the Green river - but I've already written about that!

In conclusion, here we are on our last night of camping before the river trip, on a gas-rig access road somewhere in Wyoming:

Camping in Wyoming

More photos, fewer words at Flickr.
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ilanarama: me, The Other Half, Moab UT 2009 (Default)

August 2017

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My running PRs:

5K: 21:03 (downhill) 21:43 (loop)
10K: 43:06 (downhill)
10M: 1:12:59
13.1M: 1:35:55
26.2M: 3:23:31

You can reach me by email at heyheyilana @


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