WoW and GiG Team up for First Ever Backpack Among the Glaciers
WoW—The Women of Wonder were sure wonderful on the trip to Mount Robson, a provincial park just out of Jasper and just barely in British Columbia. Mary S and Katie headed to Mountain View, Alberta, to stay with Laura, who co-leads the Canadian hiking group WoW. It took us about four hours of driving to arrive at her place to stay the night before our big adventure started.
That evening, we repacked our packs, questioning every single thing that we were taking, trying to get our weight under 30 pounds. Katie, Mary and Laura managed to do so (26, 27 and 29), but most of the others were carrying between 30 and 40 pounds. Some of the crazy things we felt were essential at the beginning of the trip but would probably should have left behind: camp chairs, glasses cleaner, full tubes of lotion and sunscreen, mirrors, glow sticks, sewing kits, hammers, mirrors, hairspray, swimsuits, umbrellas, just to name a few! Then it was up early the next morning to take our last shower before our six days without a bath. We left at 6:45 a.m. for the 10-hour drive to the Visitor Center and camp ground for our first night of roughing it. We had a day of trying our patience—waiting in line for a park pass; waiting in line to use bathrooms at Lake Louise, waiting in line for construction until we finally arrived at Mount Robson provincial park. But the drive was drop-dead gorgeous along the icefields parkway even though the Columbia icefield had receded so much; the aqua-blue lakes, the jagged peaks. We were in awe. We also saw a bear and an elk (the rangers were set up on either side of the road slowing people so no one would hit him, we surmised).
After we arrived, we had to stop at the VC (we arrived at 3:30, which was actually 4:30 our time) to pick up our permits (again, we had to wait) and have our mandatory orientation about pack-it-in, pack-it-out protocol as well as other rules of the park. Then we headed to the campground to try out our tents for night number one and enjoy a dehydrated meal for supper.
The next day, we were on trail by 8:30 after a quick breakfast of oatmeal and nuts plus the last of our fresh food, such as bananas and yogurt from our coolers. Some of us also picked a few handfuls of wild Saskatoons/Service berries as well as thimble berries to complement our meal too.
The trail was a temperate rain forest with ferns and moss galore. We saw fringed grass of Parnassus, devil’s club, pipsissewa/prince’s pine, bane berry, wood nymph, hare bells, twisted stalk, false Solomon seal, mountain dryads/avens (but yellow, not white) as we followed the milky waters of Robson River to Kinney Lake (4 k up the trail). Harlequin ducks reside in this lake although we didn’t see any. It reminded us of the hike along McDonald Creek in West Glacier in the spring, the water rushing so hard, due to the rapid melting of the surrounding glaciers in the August heat.
The heat affected some of us, slowing us down; one gal took a tumble too, but she was okay. We were surprised at the traffic on the trail: day hikers, runners, bikers, and people walking dogs. We were very tired and hot by the time we pulled into our camping place at Whitehorn at 4:30 p.m., in the Valley of a Thousand Water Falls. Unfortunately, many camp sites had already been claimed, so we didn’t find spots close to each other. Then we walked to the stream and disinfected our water and prepared our meals of dehydrated lasagna, turkey with dressing, and stroganoff.
The picnic shelter was quite nice, providing tables and a cover for us as it spit rain a precursor of a very raining night. We also had a wash station and bear lockers for our food and toiletries.
By morning, Katie and Mary were pretty soaked, especially Katie who only had a three-quarter sleeping pad, so her feet end of the sleeping bag was sopping. But there wasn’t time to dry anything as we had to set out hiking. Everyone used her garbage bag to pack the wet items before putting the items back into our packs, hoping we would have time—and good weather—to hang our wet items before dark set in. We were up by 5 a.m. but we weren’t on trail until 9:15, partly due to some sleeping in and partly due wet gear.
Tuesday was our tough day: 1700 feet of gain over a few kilometers, but the gorgeous “thousand” falls, in particular White falls and Emperor Falls gave us some eye candy to help with the uphill battle. Joan, in particular as she had an injury from Muddy Creek Falls hike, toughed it out over ankle-twisting rocks on the glacial moraine. This area gave us our first look at the glaciers feeding Berg Lake as they calved into the water below. The sound was like thunder or gun shots before the ice and snow came tumbling down. One time, we saw what we thought was a waterfall, but it was really a calving that fell in a narrow crevice making it appear as a stream.
Some of us had our gear strapped to our packs to help dry; however, about half way through our hike, the rain came again. When we arrived at Berg Lake campground, we quickly set up our tents in the drizzle (the late arrivers had all out rain) before heading to the shelter to put out gear to dry. The shelter even had a drying rack that could be lowered via a pulley system and then raised to the rafters. Katie and Mary had a dilemma with two solutions. Plan A—dry out their sleeping bags and mats Plan B—sleep in tents with some of the gals who had three-person tents. Luckily, their items dried out sufficiently to try another night in the rain in their own tent.
Flowers we saw on day two were yellow saxifrage, yellow/red columbine, pink pyrola (wintergreen), and many fungi. The lakes and ponds throughout our backpack so far were pure white with glacial till or flour.
Thursday was our lay-in day—no tents to pack up, no heavy backpacks. We had time to continue to dry things in the shelter as well as drop some of our gear and go light on our packs as we hiked to Adolphus lake in Jasper (we saw the border line between the two parks and provinces) and then on the Snowbird pass route to get an up-close look at Robson Glacier and the bergs in its lake. We stopped at the sign indicating the toe of the glacier in 1911, a sign now about a half mile from the toe due to the glacier melting 52 feet a year, which saddened us, but also made us realize how lucky we were to be in such a special place.
The day was drizzly again, but it was not cold, so the temp was perfect for hiking. We had no issue with putting on rain gear and heading out to see more sights. Some gals climbed a small knoll to gain a view into the lake and see the icebergs from above. We were also able to see about four more glaciers, all coming right down to ground level, flowing down the mountains like rivers.
The alpine fireweed, sweetvetch, yellow saxifrage and mountain avens/dryads were everywhere in this area. Fringed grass of Parnassus and pink pyrola too.
After our evening meal, we realized that Joan’s ankle was really sore. WE had to decide: should Joan take the helicopter out or should we divide her gear and have her just carry and empty backpack? With her advice, we decided the latter and decided that we would get on trail even earlier so she could go at a very slow pace to keep from injuring her foot even more.
After that, we had fun playing some card and dice games, thanks to Loural for bringing them. For some, it was hard to sleep that night with the glaciers making their calving noises.
On Friday, we were all up around 5 a.m. and tried to take Joan’s gear but she kept hiding items from us, but Lorna outed her and kept and eye. It was so hard for her to let us help her; she was the strongest of us all in this decision; she didn’t’ realize how much we wanted to help and how little effort this help took on our part.
This day was the worst day yet for rain, the trail turning into a river on the steep downhill section. We had to watch our step over slippery roots and mud; but fortunately, the rocks weren’t slippery. In fact, we stepped on them on purpose to keep our grip. In the rain, the orange of the iron oxide in the rocks really stood out in striped patterns.
Since it was Friday, we heard the helicopters flying in and out (they come M/F), taking in people who had paid $250 for the ride in and $200 for the ride out. We found out this information from the German Ranger gals, who was quite friendly and happy to answer our questions about the park.
We did a good deed today: a hiking party of young women stopped us and asked if we had any extra toilet paper as they were out. One of our gals handed them almost a full roll. They were so happy when she said they could keep the whole thing since we were on our way out. We helped even more people today. Mary had a map and helped several people with directions and mileage to various places.
We really moved down the trail on this day, arriving at Whitehorn by just after 1 p.m. Joan was able to walk at a good clip without all of the extra weight; however, she was limping.
We had another issue too: Due to the rain, Mary’s feet got wet and as a result, her core got cold. We had to use hand warmers to get her body temperature back to normal.
After our usual routine of water filtering and heating water for dinner, we had time to dry out our soaked gear. Then we relaxed and played games (one dice game was fun: Greedy). We did notice that some of our items that we hung out had slugs on them as well as our tents. The rain had brought them and the mosquitoes out to torture us. Down at the river, someone had set up “rock” lounge chairs, fashioned from slabs of rock and embedded into the river stones. They were actually quite comfortable.
The next and last day, we booked it out, Joan doing well on her now very sore ankle, the rest of us still helping to carry her gear. The rain had stopped, and the crowds were back on this stretch, even more so as it was a Saturday of a long weekend. We arrived at the visitor center around 2 p.m. to have a nice lunch and ice cream cones before we split up for the long drive home
We reminisced on what “simple pleasures: we missed while backpacking: Chinese food, pillows,hamburgers.
When we were a few hours from home, we learned one of the cars had lost keys and had to go back to Jasper to rent a car to drive home. We were all so sorry that we didn’t have service to get this message so that we could have picked them up. We didn't know any other details from the text, which said it was a LOOOONG story. We arrived home at midnight, losing an hour when we crossed into Alberta from BC. Mary and Katie overnighted at Larua's and then made it to Great Falls around 2 p.m. the next day.
Our favorites: waterfalls, glaciers, mountains, trees, bridges, rocks, making it the whole way, calving, the cute German ranger, camaraderie, fungi, resilience, working together to solve issues, moss.
What we could have lived without: slugs, mud, so much rain/wet, the weight of backpack, flies/mosquitoes, toboggan falls trail being closed,
Surprises: how big and how many glaciers, Robson lake had more glaciers than Berg lake, how we got used to the pack, how good we felt on day five, the call of the varied thrush sounded like a whistle, more flowers than expected, how many trees had fallen down, how many people were on the trail