2009 Canadian Rocky Mountains

Places Canada. Alberta, British Columbia & Yukon Territory. (Kluane NP, Willmore WP, Mount Robson PP, Jasper NP, Banff NP, Waterton Lakes NP)
Time & length July and August 2009, 7 weeks
Partners Christian Bock
This is the first part of my 11½-week-trek through the Rocky Mountains. First I explored the popular mountain regions between Alberta and BC, then I continued north into the solitary Yukon Territory and finally I headed south again towards the USA.
Let’s begin with a few words concerning the idea: In September 2008 my good friend Christian and I started to toy with the idea of hiking a large portion of the Rocky Mountains. Without fixing routes in advance, we wanted to take advantage of the close proximity of several parks and visit them from north to south – from the Willmore Wilderness Park south-west of Grande Cache to the Tetons in Wyoming. For transportation between the parks we planned to rely on rides. It was meant to be a combination of hiking and hitchhiking.On 8 July 2009 we landed in Edmonton (Canada) and traveled first west towards the mountains, then north and arrived at our starting point Grande Cache.After we had finished our grocery shopping we started our trek in the Willmore Wilderness Park – an area which, in contrast to the parks in the south, comes with little tourists, a primitive and often unmaintained trail system and a lot of thick brush. This is what we had been prepared for; however, we weren’t prepared for the large amounts of rain that had been falling before our arrival, as the locals told us. The downpour had led to a dramatic rise of water levels of the rivers and creeks that are already quite wide in dryer weather. On top of that came the mosquitoes that didn’t seem to want to let us alone – the relatively high temperatures combined with the moisture had created the perfect conditions for them. After only two days we decided to turn back because we couldn’t find a place to ford one of the overflowing tributaries of the Smoky River and we didn’t want to risk anything that early in the trip.

So we walked back and a few days later we entered Mount Robson Provincial Park. After a night in the wide valley in front of the mountain we set out early the next morning. We walked through forests along turquoise streams and lakes, through the Valley of a Thousand Falls, past the Emperor Falls and the beautiful Berg Lake until we reached a secluded spot behind the mountain from where we had an amazing view overlooking the surrounding area. The following days were filled with relaxing, scrambling up some mountain slopes and watching the numerous marmots. We also hiked up to snow-covered Snowbird Pass where we spent a rainy but impressive night in our bivy bags.Then we travelled on south to Jasper National Park, where we spent a couple of days on the ‘Skyline Trail’ and went up one or two mountains along the way. Our original plan had been to continue on after Maligne Lake to Banff but the mosquitoes were getting unbearable. As I said, this was mainly due to the heavy rainfalls before our arrival and the relatively high temperature but it was also due to the season – it would take until August for the first frosty nights to arrive; frosty nights which would make the mosquito life more difficult. We decided to leave this area for the time being and started hitchhiking up to the Yukon Territory – 1700 kilometers further north.

On our rides to Whitehorse we got to know many interesting characters which, besides the obvious financial aspect, is the special advantage of this way of traveling as opposed to more conventional ways for me. The disadvantage is also obvious: it takes a lot of time. In our case, it took us five days until – after extensive grocery shopping and a bath in the Yukon river – we arrived at our destination, the Kluane National Park. Unlike the other parks on our itinerary the Kluane is indeed still “wild”. In Haines Junction we got information about possible trips at the visitor center and we realized that there were no backcountry trails. But since we had packed food for 14 days and we wanted to use it, we opted for a more adventurous off-trail route through this inspiring landscape.First we followed an old mining road which is supposed to lead to an abandoned camp (which we never found) but the overgrown trail disappeared in the vastness of the tundra. We saw caribous and Dall sheep, experienced our first frosty nights, tramped snowy ridges and narrow canyons, forded wide rivers, walked a whole day along the gigantic Donjek Glacier, bathed in chilly water that had just melted from the glacier, enjoyed the view from passes high above tree level, followed the tracks of moose and bears and even crossed paths with a porcupine. In my eyes, these two weeks in trailless (and, by the way, also mosquito-less) terrain were not only the most exciting part of the whole trip; they also inspired a prevailing passion for wilderness, solitude and genuine adventure. To meet nobody, not even to make out a footprint while roaming this pristine nature for days on end incited a hitherto unknown fascination in me which would become significant for future endeavors.

About halfway through August we were back in the main square of Whitehorse, discussing our options for getting to Banff National Park – 2300 kilometers away. We had just decided to try hitchhiking separately (usually it’s easier to get a ride if you’re alone) and – hopefully – meet again in a few days later at our destination, when a young Indian man asked us if we were travelers and where we wanted to go. It turned out that, incidentally, he was headed in the same direction and even had a car – the problem was that he didn’t have his license. Well, we could easily remedy that and so we drove his car to the south of Canada. We reached Banff after quite a short time which wouldn’t have been possible if we had traveled by ‘normal’ hitchhiking. At Banff National Park we went on a five-day-trek from Lake Louise to Banff. Along the way we saw many animals, beautiful mountain ranges, rivers and streams. We also had a day of short but heavy summery snowfall.

Before we said goodbye to these latitudes we climbed Mount Temple close-by. On the top we had a wonderful view of a breathtaking sunset and we spent a windy but starlit night in our bivy bags.

Our last destination of this part of our trip was Waterton Lakes National Park in the very south of Alberta. Even though it is a gorgeous place we stayed only for a few days – compared to the others this park is tiny and offers only limited possibilities to the outdoor-enthusiast with a preference for long treks. So we left Canada at the end of August and headed south to Yellowstone National Park.

An evaluation of this trip and some concluding remarks will follow in my account of the second part of my summer 2009.