North of Lake Louise in Banff National Park, a series of gentle Icefields stretch for miles across the Great Divide of the Canadian Rockies. Known collectively as the Wapta Icefields, they provide a unique opportunity for fit walkers and hikers to enjoy amazing mountain scenery that is normally reserved for mountaineers. In the course of this three-day traverse we start at Bow Lake and hike up to and over the Bow Glacier to the Peyto Glacier staying in well equipped alpine huts en-route. If you've never spent any time on a glacier, its an absolutely amazing experience. Our guides will show you this complex and fragile alpine environment in an up close and personal way. Standing on an icefield is like being on the ocean where you'll quickly get a sense for the vastness of the glacier. Jagged peaks pop out of the ice to stand 10,000 plus feet above sea level. It is a surreal experience!
This program is suitable for those with prior hiking experience. Being in good shape already will add to your enjoyment of the trip. While we will be on glacier terrain often associated with mountaineering, you don't need any mountaineering experience. You need to have some confidence in your hiking skills as the hardest hiking is actually below the glaciers where we will travel on trails often rough and rocky. However there is no technical climbing of steep ice or rock slopes. You will be carrying a backpack with your personal gear and a share of the group's food. On the initial approach and on the final part of day 3 you will also be carrying your harness and crampons. The pack weighs around 30lbs (15Kg) when we start.
Meet us at our office in Canmore at 8:00am for introductions, trip review and equipment issue and check. After packing up, it's an hour and a half drive north to Bow Lake where we commence the hike to Bow Hut. We start on the "tourist trail" which follows the lakeshore to the head of this turquoise colored lake then up the river flats beyond. The 'tourist trail" experience finishes partway up a steep trail next to a small but spectacular gorge the river has cut into the limestone. Here the gorge is bridged by a gargantuan boulder which we use to gain the other side where the mountaineer's trail starts. This trail leads us past old moraines then up through the forest until it opens out into a massive alpine cirque surrounded by peaks and glaciers. We hike on a rough trail through the rocky flats until a final ascent brings us to the Bow Hut which is located at 2350m on a shoulder adjacent to the snout of the Bow Glacier. The Hut has magnificent views of the surrounding peaks and glaciers as well as back down the canyon to the main valley. This will take us between 3 and 5 hours.
Distance 7km, elevation gain 400m.
We get up early to make the most of what will be a spectacular day as we cross the Icefields to Peyto Hut. The Bow Glacier is the source of the Bow River which flows down valley through Lake Louise, Banff, Canmore and finally out onto the plains then past Calgary to eventually join the south Saskatchewan River. Today we climb its gentle slopes below the impressive crag of Mt. St. Nicholas to top out on the flat expanse of the Wapta Icefield. After a side trip to flat-topped Polaris Peak from where we gain can enjoy an expansive panorama with peaks in every direction, we continue west to where the Peyto Glacier drops gradually away. Peyto Hut sits on a bench above the Glacier where it takes a sweeping turn to the north. This is a fantastic spot, in every direction are glaciated peaks and colors in shades of rock and ice. Hiking on the glacier we will be wearing a harness and be roped together for maximum safety. The glacier, like those everywhere, has many crevasses and whilst most are easily seen and avoided, we take maximum precautions. Your guide is certified, trained and very experienced on glacier terrain. We will also wear crampons (spikes that fit onto the soles of our boots) to give us firm traction on the ice. The glacial surface is not very steep. Walking with the crampons on is very easy. Additional hiking may be available depending upon conditions.
It's mostly down hill today as we drop back down to the Glacier from the Hut and follow it almost to its snout. Hiking on mostly white ice we pass mill wells down which glacier streams drop noisily into the bowels of the ice. We will see how glaciers preserve elements of the past, the exposed ice being hundreds of years old and bringing not only rocks to the surface but also spruce needles and twigs from long ago fires and the occasional bird or rodent long ago caught on the ice by early winter snows. It is usually hard to visualize the effects of global warming, not so on the Peyto Glacier which is in full retreat. Your guide will be an excellent resource to show you where the glacier was only recently. Opportunities to see glaciers up close may not be as abundant in the future. Come experience this amazing phenomenon like few people ever do.
We leave the Glacier just before the snout and climb a short distance on old moraines to a rather ramshackle research station from which research on glacial retreat is sporadically carried out. From here we traverse to the top of the lateral moraine which descends into the lower valley. If we have the energy we can take a side trip to Cauldron Lake which occupies an adjacent hanging basin. With it's still black waters surrounded by tundra, rock and ice it is serene and wild!
Back to the main trail we now start down the moraine wall track which leads us down into the lower valley to the bridge which crosses the raging torrent issuing from the Peyto Glacier now far above. We follow river flats and a bit of forest until we reach the gravel flats above Peyto Lake. One of the signature lakes of the Canadian Rockies with its beautiful turquoise waters, Peyto Lake marks the end of our traverse. From its shores we hike up through mature forest to where we suddenly emerge once more on a "tourist trail" it being the paved path taken by thousands of tourists as they hike to look over Peyto Lake. They will undoubtedly be envious of what you just experienced.
Per Person, Twin Share