Mt. Robson Provincial Park, BC
Admittedly, the master trip plan was quite ambitious. It called for a first flight departure on the morning of July 28th , 2007 to Edmonton, and a return from Vancouver on the red-eye flight two weeks later on August 11th. This excellent adventure would involve 2,884 kms on the road with stops at Mount Robson, Kelowna, Vancouver, Victoria, Olympic National Park in Washington State, and Seattle – and Kelly and I were pumped! We decided to offer up the Robson portion of our vacation as a trip for Alpine Club members – and so the notice went out in the e-letter. The Berg Lake Trail, and its renowned side trips, are optimally covered in four days. Given the logistical challenges involved in getting there, and then figuring out how to integrate this destination with other trip plans, I was not entirely surprised that we were not inundated with expressions of interest. After responding to the usual requests for information, two serious applicants rose to the surface. We held a trip planning meeting in May, complete with itinerary and a slide show presentation – and Melissa and Jim were signed up. Both would be heading to Lake O’Hara for the Alpine Club – Ottawa Section summer camp the week following the trip to Mt. Robson.
The trip planning meeting was not only designed to share trip details, but also to achieve a consensus on how to tackle the trail itself. Our goal was to use the Berg Lake Campground as our base for two other side trips – the Mumm Basin Circuit, and the Snowbird Pass Trail. But 21 kms and a 2,600 foot elevation gain (most of which is concentrated at “the Hump”), with full expedition packs, stood between us and that goal. As I described the goal, and challenges, to our small group, nods of acceptance were visible, but so were doubts about our ability to reach the destination in one day. I tried to allay those concerns by putting forward the option to set up camp at the 2/3rds mark at Emperor Falls Campground, but I have to admit that my reassurances were probably not convincing.
This was going to be my revenge trip on the Berg Lake Trail. My first attempt two years earlier with my brother was foiled by an intestinal bug that left me in the fetal position for a day and a half at the Berg Lake campground. And so yes, I never really intended to break up the first day with a stopover at Emperor Falls.
The mood at the kitchen table that night was definitely a mix of silent optimism and the unspoken pressure to not let any of the other members of the party down.
The morning of July 28th was glorious. Kelly and I thought we were successful in packing our backpacks and bags for the two week trip, until the ticket counter agent advised us that our bags were overweight (note to self: as long as the total weight is OK, they care more about individual bags exceeding the limit than anything else). I was so stressed to get moving – I “gladly” paid my excess weight tax when all I had to do was divide the load between my duffel bag and my packsack. Kelly, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with the fee and proceeded to rearrange all of her gear in the grand hall of the airport. We finally made it through the airport security checkpoint in plenty of time (read “Kelly was right”) to line up at Timmy’s for coffee and something to munch on during the flight to Edmonton. We were pleased to see Jim in the waiting area – things were finally coming together.
I had hoped to save a few bucks by not picking up the rental car at the airport, but rather at a city desk in Edmonton on the way to the rendez-vous point to meet Melissa. Even though the fare for the cab ride was within the expected cost, the frustration of dealing with two trainees and their supervisor was not worth the $40 saved (they had never set up a contract for a one-way rental). We met Melissa at the Edmonton MEC where I had planned to pick up camp stove fuel, matches, and yes, bear spray. I had not anticipated the volume of luggage that four adults on a two week hiking trip could carry, and had to pick up some straps to tie my duffel bag to the trunk lid of our rental car (a Ford Taurus is not that big after all!).
We were finally on our way, leaving Edmonton’s city centre, and driving almost 500 kms west through Alberta ranch country and beyond to the B.C. border. Our intent was to pre-register at the Robson Visitor Centre so that we could hit the trail in productive fashion the next morning. I also new from past experience (the ill-fated trip in 2005) that we had to view a mandatory video on backcountry regulations, and felt the pressure to make up time for the time lost at the car rental counter – which was only known to the driver (me) while my fellow hikers slept for a large portion of the trip from Edmonton to Jasper. I later realized that I could have relaxed because I was about to win back an hour thanks to the time zone change at the BC border! With registration formalities out of the way at the Visitor Centre, we continued westward to Tête Jaune Cache and the simple accommodations at the Tête Jaune Lodge, and dinner that night in Valemount at the Loose Moose Pub.
Day 1 – Hiking the Berg Lake Trail
It is seldom that you do not strike out on a big day without some nervous anticipation. We assembled quickly at the Lodge on the morning of Day 1 and headed out for Mt. Robson Provincial Park. We hastily had a coffee from the snack food counter at the Visitor Centre, and then parked our car at the trailhead.
Click here to read my post about this outing.
Day 2 – Mumm Basin Circuit
Day 2 was billed as an easy day. The Mumm Basin circuit begins and ends pretty much at our doorstep, and offers wonderful views of Robson Pass, Adolphus Lake, Mount Robson and Rearguard Mountain and covers a total of 8 kms. The initial climb up to the basin was a bit of a challenge, but the trail stayed within +/- the same elevation once at the basin.
We met a couple at a prominent cairn in the basin on the BC/Alberta border. To my great astonishment, one of the pair asked me if I was the individual who was seen chasing a water bottle* down the Robson River near Hargreaves Shelter the previous evening. I had no alternative but to sheepishly admit that it was I.
* I had gone to the creek to pump and filter more water after dinner when the current “snatched” my water bottle. I then found myself running down the creek bed, and long-jumping across creeklets until my bottle came to a rest in an eddy in the stream – all of which transpired in front of the day use shelter.
The hike across the basin presented us with shale, marmots and pika. And then we came upon Toboggan Falls. Even though they might not be one of the seven wonders, they are truly a gem to be admired. The falls descend 275m over a distance of 1.3 kms, and are as inviting as any slide in a water park – save for the fact that the sluice narrows to less than the width of your hips from time to time – resulting in a possible bone crushing experience.
There were several spots along the way down to sit down and spend some contemplative moments gazing at Mt. Robson. This is one of those locations that invite you to slow down, stop and observe everything around you.
This post contains a slideshow from this outing…
Day 3 – Snowbird Pass
The 3rd day was not designed to be restive by any stretch of the imagination. The hike to Snowbird Pass would be responsible for 18 kms of our 72 km foray into Mount Robson Provincial Park. Kelly decided to pass on this outing, so Melissa, Jim and I struck out after breakfast.
Click here to read my post about this outing.
Day 4 – Back to the trailhead
Day 4 started with a great sense of satisfaction. All of our hiking objectives had been met, and it was “all downhill from here”. While we were sheltered from the alpine solar rays during our ascent on day 1, we left Berg Lake under cloudless skies. By the time we reached Whitehorn, and later Kinney Lake, the heat was taking its toll – and we could only offer sympathy to those hikers who were just on their way up to Berg Lake.
Kelly had suggested that we take a dip in the glacier fed waters of Kinney Lake for a break from the heat. Melissa and Jim were too polite – but I clearly thought that she was nuts. When we arrived at the bridge over the outlet for Kinney Lake at its south end, Kelly volunteered to search the lakeshore for a suitable spot for a swim. The sun, however, had baked my brain by then, and any rational thought was lost. I chose to jump into the Robson River at the foot of the bridge – and strong currents or not – was determined to seek some relief from the heat. Jim and Melissa were quick to jump in, and when Kelly caught up to us, was quick to follow suit. While the water was cold enough to induce a cardiac arrest, the refreshment factor made it worth the risk.
The final few kms down the trail resembled a child’s outing – we gleefully called out the km markings as we counted down from 4 to 3 to 2 to 1 to 0 kms to the trailhead. Hot showers at the Tete Jaune Lodge and a steak dinner in Valemount at the Caribou Grill provided a well deserved ending to a great trip.
Tete Jaune Lodge. Simple, clean and affordable. We stayed here the night before and after our time on the trail. This allowed us to be at the trailhead bright and early, as well as enjoy a great meal in Valemount on the last day of our stay in the area.
Caribou Grill. Nothing says “yum” like a grilled steak accompanied by a fine glass of wine after spending 4 days backpacking on the trail.