Yoho Camping Fun Despite Smoke, Steep Trails, Scary Ledges
It took four gals three days of calling with over 800 phone calls each day to get us our four days of hiking, five days of fun, but also smoke, in Canada’s Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. We were able to get 12 spots, three short of our hoped-for 15. (Thanks to Jo Ann, Gail, Susan, Mary for all your persistence)
So 12 of us took off Aug. 12 and returned Aug. 16 for an adventure in the Canadian Rockies.
It all started at 6:45 a.m. as we crowded 12 of us and our 50 pounds each of gear into two vans, with Catherine and Deb driving. Thank goodness for these vans, which were full, luggage even at our feet.
Our first night would be spent in Canmore, a seven-hour drive, with a quick hike to the Grassi lakes, two emerald green gems with a wonderful waterfall along the way. We did the loop hike and followed the easy road-like trail to the top and then the steeper rock-stepped trail with railing back to the parking lot. This hike was a great leg warmer for our future harder hikes to come in Yoho.
We had a nice dinner at Wood, a sports bar type restaurant, and then a few stopped to get some libations and fresh food (we weren’t allowed to take fresh fruit or much alcohol over the border) for our first day in camp. Then we had Roni’s homemade Scotcheroos for dessert.
Our rooms at the Silver Creek Lodge were very nice: two bedrooms, two baths with a somewhat uncomfortable pull-out sofa to sleep six each (expensive at almost $500 per room per night). One of the baths had a weird shower that dropped a steady, hard stream directly from the ceiling, and one of the rooms had a non-functioning air conditioning, which was difficult to manage since the smoke was too thick outside to open the windows. But we survived the one night.
It was up early for our drive to the shuttle stop, which would take us into the Lake O’Hara campground, our base camp for the next four days. The shuttle for which we had tickets was the 10:30 a.m. one. We arrived at the parking lot at 9:45, just time to purchase our park pass, unload and then park the cars and visit the pit toilet before boarding our shuttle.
The Lake O’Hara Lodge bus and shuttle to the Elizabeth Parker Hut came before the campground one, but we were ready. The driver gave us each a green plastic token that we had to keep for our return trip. And despite prior years, the driver did not weigh or even pay too much attention to our bags that we had carefully checked to make sure we weren’t overweight.
After a very bumpy bus ride, we arrived at the campground and had a few of our gals claim our sites while the others unloaded and watched over the gear. The ranger gave us a talk about leave no trace, how to use the wash basins to catch our grey water and put it down the toilet and about using only biodegradable camp soap to wash. She also explained about putting all food items, toiletries or anything smelly into the bear-proof lockers and then placing the rest of our items, including poles, boots and packs, inside our tents. Anything else could be placed inside the storage area by the lockers.
Then the ranger told us about a closet that housed extras: extra sleeping bags, pads, emergency blankets, tarps, etc. These are items donated or left behind by other campers for all to use. These would come in handy later for us.
The day was gorgeous, without smoke, since it had rained the night before. We also thought we were a bit north of the fires and hoped the north wind would keep the smoke blowing to our south.
After we set up our tents, we took a hike to Linda Lake and the Morning Glory Lakes, a hike Katie had never been on, but which on the map looked fairly flat with just a few hundred feet of elevation gain. The hike was beautiful, wandering through what we called a gnome forest with gorgeous green underbrush, ferns, mushroom (especially red-capped russula) and many lichens. Then Linda lake was very pretty with the surrounding mountains and lovely meadows, full of paintbrush, showy asters, arnica, fringed grass of Parnassus, and western/seedhead anemone, aka hippy on a stick.
Then we continued to the Morning Glory lakes, but this section was steeper and longer than expected and not as pretty. It did, however, take us on a loop hike instead of an up and back. At the end, it passed by the Elizabeth Parker Hut, a backcountry hut run by the Alpine Club of Canada, the sister club of the U.S’s Sierra Club.
Then in another quarter mile, we hit the road and stopped at the Le Relais shelter for fudge bars and sodas before heading back to the campground to fire up our JetBoils to make our supper of dehydrated meals.
After dinner, four of us (Karen, Susan, Roni, Katie) took a two-mile stroll around the lake, visiting the Seven Veil Waterfall, admiring the cabins (Katie’s favorite is number 6) and getting gorgeous photos of the orange-pink alpine glow on the mountains and their reflections in Lake O’Hara as the sun set.
At the camp, we talked to some of the other people to hear their hiking tales; Katie met two Italians, both from northern Italy, one from a town near her relatives. Everyone was very friendly.
Then we faced a very cold night that got down to 35 degrees. Our breath was visible as we got up to watch for the Persied meteor shower, but no one saw even one shooting star, unfortunately. Several got cold, so we visited the closet with the “extras,” using two sleeping bags and two mats. Catherine needed two extra bags plus an emergency blanket. Katie’s new mat went flat so she used one of the mats (but it wasn’t comfy so she slept on top of her clothes); Jeanne used a second matt to keep warm.
Today was a big hike day for both groups: those doing part of the alpine circuit and those who planned to hike to the lake and maybe meet up with the alpine circuit group to tackle the Yukness ledges. Katie was leading the alpine group, while Gail led the lake hikers.
The alpine group had to make its way up the insanely steep Wiwaxy Gap, which travels 1600 feet in just over a mile. Some of us realized that we weren’t in shape for the task, saying, “I’m done with uphill.” “I didn’t sign up for this.” “This is harder than anything I have ever done.” “Oh gosh, I don’t think I can make it.” Toward the top, we were taking 30 steps and then resting for 30 seconds, and some were eating one Honey Stinger every 30 minutes for more energy. Susan encouraged everyone by saying, “We got this, Girls.” We all did make it, the views were spectacular, but this ended hopes of doing more of the alpine circuit as it had taken us over three hours to do one mile. Sidenote: the purple saw wort flowers were almost dead, an unusual flower we do not have in Montana.
Those doing the high trail also faced some “scary” sections on the Huber Ledges as we descended. Several of the ledges were narrow with steep drop offs, so Kuntzie, Roni and Katie led showing where to place feet and hands and checking out best routes for the others. By the time we reached Lake Oesa, most had had enough, so Katie made the decision that we would not do the Yukness Ledges part of the trail and instead call it a day and head back along the Lake Oesa trail.
We had hoped to meet the other group at Lake Oesa, but we didn’t see them. At one point, Katie thought she spied them sitting at the lake as we looked down from above, but once we got to the lake, they weren’t there. We wondered if they had made it to the lake.
On our way back to the campground, we didn’t’ see the other group, but we did enjoy Victoria Falls, Victoria Lake, Yukness lake and Lefroy lake. However, the smoke really set in. We could no longer see the surrounding mountains, and a haze set in over the lake. We arrived in camp after a stop for ice cream and cokes at Le Relais by 4:30.
As we were preparing dinner around 5:30, we started to get a bit concerned about our other group since they weren’t back, and we hadn’t seen them on the trail, so Katie started asking incoming hikers if they had seen three gals on the trail. No one coming from Lake Oesa had but two couples were pretty sure they had seen our gals on the Yukness Ledges. They said they were moving slowly but all was well and that the gals were having a great time. We weren’t convinced that the three were Gail, Karen and Jeanne, but we were encouraged a bit.
Then the ranger came with the last shuttle of the day at 6:15. Katie and Kuntzie thought we better tell her about our gals not being back yet. The ranger told us that she has seen our gals and that they had done the ledges! She was surprised that they weren’t in camp yet. We were so happy and amazed that they had gone on this tough route. Then Katie and Susan thought the gals had probably stopped at Le Relais for ice cream, so they started down the road to meet them, which they did. The gals had stopped to soak their feet in the lake.
They looked great and had stories to tell about the ledges, being a bit scared but glad to have done them. We all hugged them as they entered camp, so happy they were safe and so proud that they had done the Yukness ledges when the rest of us hadn’t. Gail said they almost ran out of water but that they met a hiker “Jean Pierre,” and he had given them iodine pills just in case. Jeanne said that she now knew what scrambling and bouldering meant.
After they fixed their food, Roni got out the rest of her Scotcheroos and some cookie bars! What a treat these homemade desserts were. A few of us played the dice game “Greedy,” a variation of Farkle or 10,000.
Katie said goodbye to her Italian friends as they only had one day in the park (they got in on a cancellation).
That night, several of us went to the Le Relais shelter to hear a talk about bats; however, it was a bit elementary and relied on audience participation. No one was cold this night as the smoke has warmed the air. We noticed when we got back that the clientele had changed from mostly older hikers to young families. We were in for a “no sleep” night with screaming kids and crying babies. The kids were really running around the camp too. And when we asked the parents about their hikes, they explained that they had gone off-trail climbing Mount Schaffer and Wiwaxy, class three and four scrambling that required roping the children while the babies were strapped to the parents’ backs. We were a bit horrified by the description.
Funny exchange during the hike as we made our way along the ledges: “Watch out for the rock.” “Which rock?” “The green one.” “They’re all green.”
Sidenote: Susan accidentally dumped her meal on the ground; several of us shared our meal.
By now, Katie knew that no one would be up for another alpine hike (the original plan was to get up very early and try for the Oderay Overlook); the smoke would hinder the view anyway, so we planned to hike together to Lake McArthur, the most beautiful lake in the park.
We still got up a bit early in hopes that the cool evening had damped down the fire a bit. But the smoke was still thick. We were happy to get out early anyway as we beat the other hikers to the lake and had it to ourselves for a while. But it was too bad that we couldn't really see the glaciers or the gorgeous sky blue of the lake.
s we had lunch, everyone was bugging Brenda to try more things: she sampled an apple, mango and a few other items that had not passed her lips before as she is our meat-potatoes-pasta gal.
Along the way, we saw many, many western/seedhead anemones, many that were pulled up with roots exposed along the trail. We wondered if kids had picked them or if an animal had been munching the roots and pulling them up.
This hike has a couple of challenges that require using hands to get through the rocks, which everyone handled like experts both coming and going. The surprise on the trail was a pika that came out from a rock right by several of the gals feet. And he didn’t disappear under rocks like pika usually do; he/she stayed visible running along the rocks and stopping so we could get good pictures. Maybe this was the culprit making a meal of western anemone roots? We added speedwell to the list of flowers we saw.
Anyway, we arrived a Le Relais for another fudge bar/ice cream snack at 2:30. Then it was back to camp for a rousing game of Greedy (Kuntzie came from behind, then Roni passed her and then finally Catherine nailed the win with five ones/aces—Wow! Our laughing caught the attention of other campers, who commented they hoped they would be having as much fun as we when they get to “our age.” Hah!
We had a quiet evening of visiting and coming up with “trail names” for those on this adventure and for the others in our group. (See our website for our names). Katie gave out information on what we had to do to be ready for tomorrow morning’s 9:30 shuttle as we prepared to leave our Yoho trip.
Then a few of us headed to Le Relais one for time for the night program, which was on the artists of the Canadian Rockies. However, even though the gal was enthusiastic and knowledgeable, the projector didn’t work so we couldn’t’ see well and many of us were tired. The program ran over on time, so we lost interest. Too bad as her presentation had such potential. It did spur some of us to do further research on these artists once we returned home.
We got up around 6:30 a.m., took down our tents, put away our borrowed gear and had breakfast, putting our bags “in line” at the shuttle stop by 9 a.m. as requested by the rangers. We said our goodbyes to Lake O’Hara with several of us taking one last half-mile walk down to the lake (Katie, Susan, Roni, Deb). We knew we would have a long 8.5 hours of driving. Susan and later Katie talked to the author from the night before, who told us about her favorite restaurants in Canmore in case we wanted to eat lunch there.
After arriving back at the parking lot, we sent the drivers to bring the cars around, packed them up, used the facilities and were on the road by 10:30 a.m. We decided to eat in Canmore after a brief look at Lake Louise as several had never seen it (a mistake as we couldn’t even see anything due to traffic and smoke. We drove in to be turned around by security and pointed back to the highway as all lots were full.)
The author-recommended restaurant Blake turned out to be a wonderful stop, with excellent and interesting food (or were we just sick of dehydrated food so anything tasted good?)
Then it was back home with a few stops for gas/breaks and snacks in Shelby. No one was hungry in Lethbridge, so we just scooted on home, making it in by 8:30, a full 10 hours (which included a long lunch) of travel time.
Some of the silliest things we brought: make up, eyelash curler, gin, rum, wine coolers, melatonin, sleeping pills, foundation, mascara, ear plugs, mattress pad that had a hole in it, lipstick, battery charger, way too much food
Good deeds we did: gave out two maps to those who had none; gave coffee packets to others, gave dessert to family who had kids, left emergency blankets for the “extra” closet, talked to others about how scary/not scary Wiwaxy was; found a man’s missing glasses
Who went (by tent): Susan, Katie, Catherine; Sue, Kuntzie, Mary N; Jeanne, Gail, Karen; Brenda, Deb, Roni