Wonderful Waterton Weekend Features Carthew-Alderson Traverse; Bear's Hump, 'Beauty and the Beast"; Petroglyphs at Provincial Park
“I thought it was a black German shepherd.” So said Susan when she ran into a black bear sow and her cub. And this incident was just one of the super adventures the GiG had on our Waterton Weekend trip.
It all started at 7 a.m. on a cloudy Friday. After a border crossing that almost turned eventful when the agent cross-examined Catherine in a not-too-friendly voice about whether she normally has a gun in her console, we arrived in Waterton at 11:30 a.m. A quick stop at the Visitor Center to ask about trail conditions of our preferred hike, the Carthew-Alderson traverse (they didn’t know but would find out) and we were off for our hike up the Bear’s Hump.
This hike is a “hump” up a steep hill; but, thankfully, it is a short climb (1.8 miles round trip with 750 feet of gain). At the top, we ate our lunch with spectacular views of the Waterton townsite, Prince of Wales Hotel and the big daddy Mount Cleveland, the largest peak in the International Peace park (it is on the Glacier side) as well as Cameron, Vimy and Blackiston peaks in Waterton. We did get a bit of rain, but the kind that stops the minute you put on your poncho.
After our lunch hike, we again stopped into the Visitor Center to see if there were any updates on the trail. Katie was pretty petrified of taking the gals over scree with death drop offs if the trail wasn’t in perfect shape. If anyone at all said the trail was iffy, we would have cancelled our shuttle tickets and instead purchased boat tickets and gone on the Crypt Lake hike. But everyone we met said the trail was good now, that the trail crew had repaired all of the washed-out areas after the torrential rains earlier in the week, so we decided to stick to our original plans.
So then it was off to the Prince of Wales Hotel. Katie and Catherine has visited before, but the others had their first taste of the first-class lodge, sitting atop a bluff on the edge of Waterton Lake. The inside is lovely with plate glass windows overlooking the lake and mountains. We decided to make a reservation and eat there that night. Meanwhile, our Canadian friends invited us to dinner with them, but when we did the logistics of getting to the play and checking in at our lodgings, it just didn’t work out. We were sorry about missing a visit with them.
So we left the hotel, glancing in the berry bushes where the bears have been hanging out, hoping to catch a glimpse of one from the safety of Catherine’s van, but no luck this time. We hung around the downtown, doing a bit of shopping until dinner time when we returned for a fabulous early dinner, so we could then head to Cardston (after a brief check-in at our bed and breakfast, the Mountain View Inn) for the local production of the musical Beauty and the Beast, which was performed with a minimalist set of just two staircases that the stage crew and actors kept moving around to indicate the different places of the play. The voices were great, but the sound system blasted us since our seats were on the left side by the speakers.
Then back to the Mountain View Inn. We met another guest of the inn who had hiked Carthew-Alderson that very day who said the trail was good, so Katie was resting her mind a bit at this good news and not sweating the narrow scree trail as much. Then it was off to sleep a few hours before the biggie hike.
We awoke early, around 5 a.m. to pack our lunches, get dressed, eat a hurried breakfast (we were afraid we wouldn’t get any since the gal at the inn wasn’t the one with whom Katie had been communicating, but she showed up with yogurt, fruit and muffins just before we left), and head to Waterton. We had a little snafu when we got to the park gate as it was unattended and no envelopes were left. We were worried about getting a ticket for not having a pass, so we drove to the Visitor Center as well as the campground in hopes of finding one—nothing! So we took our chances and parked at the fire hall where the shuttle was to pick us up.
More worries: no one else was at the shuttle stop at 7:20, the time we were to be there, since the buses were all booked. Katie panicked again and sent Catherine to the Tamarack Inn, where the usual shuttle stop is. They told her the shuttle was coming. And it did. We were the first on and then the bus stopped at the Tamarack to gather more hikers.
The ride to the trailhead was uneventful and quicker than expected putting us on trail by 8:10 a.m. Katie was a bit confused as the bus let us off at a different place from the usual trailhead by Cameron Lake. The driver said the trail was rerouted, so we had to start at a different place. Katie kept questioning the bus driver about how to find the main trail. She said it was easy, so we went on our way and sure enough, this new trail ends at Cameron lake where it joins the main path.
The lake was gorgeous and had a lone loon pair cutting the still water that was creating perfect reflections of the surrounding mountains on the glass-like surface.
Then it was up, up, up to Summit lake, the halfway point of the four-mile uphill section of our 13-mile day, where we stopped for a quick snack to face the steeper climb to come. On this next section, Katie was still very worried about the last switchback of trail, which is very sketchy at times, very narrow with steep drop offs. She instructed the gals to pick up their poles on this part so as to prevent a landslide.
However, when we arrived at the scary part, Katie decided we should take the shortcut straight up the mountain. It was nice and wide and two gals who passed us gave us the thumbs up as they ascended saying it was good all of the way up. Katie knew that going up and looking up is easier than side-hilling and seeing the steep drop-offs out of the corner of the eye, which makes some get dizzy. And it was easy, albeit steep, steep, steep. But short! We arrived at the saddle before others who had passed us earlier.
At the pass, the wind picked up tremendously, so Katie asked if everyone were okay with continuing to the top of the peak, since it was bound to be windier there and actually adds a half mile to the trip. Everyone wanted to go for it; we found little wind surprisingly, so we had our lunch and visited with the others on top. Catherine even had a chance to use her native tongue, Tagalog, when a group of Filipinos joined us. (Later, Chrissie would be able to use her German, conversing with tourists visiting from Bayern).
The rest of the day was a very long stroll of downhill, passing the gorgeous string of the three Carthew lakes, connected via cascading creeks and waterfalls, and finally Lake Alderson where we rested and cooled our feet in the clear turquoise water. This tarn marked 7 km left to our hike, but it was a very long 7 km on tired legs going down, down, down. The vistas were huge, however, with rock wall faces staring us down, and sheep playing and sleeping on the mountainsides.
We had to be aware of stinging nettles along this section of the trail as it was very overgrown with vegetation, and the trail was quite muddy. So between dodging mud holes, avoiding pricklies, Susan fell but was not hurt badly. We did have to clean her elbow wound which was bleeding and full of dirt.
Then Susan had an almost-mishap with a bear. As it approached her on the trail, she thought it was a black German shepherd (Waterton, unlike Glacier, allows dogs on the trail; we had seen a small black dog earlier in the hike). So instead of getting out her spray, she froze, turned around and said, “There’s a bear.” Then she saw the bear was really a mama with a cub. Katie saw that Susan didn’t have her spray out, so Katie got out her spray and moved to the front of the group, calling to the bear “Hey bear, we are here,” over and over and asked the others to get out their spray and take the safety off. A mother bear, black or grizz, is nothing to mess with. This happened about a mile from the end of the trail. Some of us realized that we need practice not just on using the spray, but also on getting if off our packs and releasing the safety. Chrissie’s wouldn’t come off her carabiner so it was stuck to her pack. Others struggled with the safety. Mary was able to back Katie up. More practice is needed for sure. Another lesson learned.
Fortunately, we didn’t need to use the spray; the sow and cub meandered down the side of the mountain, so we kept on our way, talking loudly. We arrived at Cameron Falls in Waterton at just before 6 p.m. We were starved and had a fun meal at Zum’s, buying a wild berry pie to eat later at the Inn after a fight for the one shower we had to share among our six ladies.
Flowers and berries we saw the most: fireweed (both regular and alpine), blue explorer’s gentian, beard-tongue penstemon, groundsel, buckwheat, cushion buckwheat, showy asters, baneberry, huckleberry, black currants, mountain ash, twisted stalk, red twinberry
The next morning, we were in no rush, so we got up leisurely and enjoyed the luxury breakfast fixed by the family: sausage and egg strata; fresh-cut fruit; muffins, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries; pancakes with berry compote and whipped cream; seven-grain porridge; fried potatoes; berry, apple and orange juices; tea and coffee. We ate large as we would be having a late lunch after our adventure to Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. The drive is very rural and very interesting. We saw some fields cut differently from what we are used to in the States as well as many animals: deer, coyote and pup, badger, hawks,antelope, bighorn sheep.
At the park, we walked the 2.5-mile Hoodoo trail, enjoyed the fantastically varied Milk River Breaks country, marveled at the pictographs and petroglyphs, but stopped short of the entire trail due to the intense sun and heat. We were all sweating on this short hike. Then it was back to Milk River for lunch at Yummy’s Chinese restaurant. The waitress/cook invited us to get the dinner for five so we could try many different items. All dishes were indeed “yummy.”
After our late lunch, our trip across the border was uneventful, the border agent uncharacteristically pleasant. A quick stop in Shelby for gas (we didn’t dare fill up in Canada at over $4 per gallon—we are lucky to have our prices!), saw us home by 6:30. What a very full, fun-filled Waterton weekend!
Who went: Susan, Mary N, Chrissie, Sara, Catherine, Katie. Catherine did an excellent job driving us!