So, it took us another half a day to travel from Wells Gray to Mount Robson. We probably left Wells Gray about 11am after dallying around.
It’s a pity we didn’t have time to hike around Wells Gray this time. We travelled close to another 300km to get to Mt Robson. It was close to another 6 hours non-stop (almost) to Mt Robson Visitor Centre. We probably arrived there about 5pm or 6pm. We stunned the park ranger by saying that we’ll hike to our first campsite at Berg Lake.
She told us that we will probably have to stop over at Whitehorn Campsite for a night given that we’ll be hiking with full packs almost uphill all the way to Berg Lake. We won’t be able to get to Berg Lake by nightfall. So that was another lesson learnt about planning and thinking through the journey, factoring stops and not to rush/push ourselves to the brink of stress. That was also a test of the relationship when plans fall through a little and it begins to feel like the Amazing Canadian Rockies Race. On hindsight, we probably got a lot closer during the hike despite some hiccups.
We did book ourselves a campsite at Whitehorn in the end. I recall how we were prepping ourselves for the big hike over the next couple of days while watching the orientation video in the AV room at the Visitor Centre. We packed what we thought we needed from the car and boy did we overpack. We might cut back on half the things for our next hike and also to arrange for dry food with a little need for stove top cooking. That was a lesson learnt and I will definitely pack some gummies or sweets for the next hike. (You’ll see why later.)
Our hike from Mt Robson carpark, which was another half an hour drive from the visitor centre, to Whitehorn campsite took us almost 3 hours. There was no way we could have hiked to Berg Lake before nightfall. That would be kamikaze.
After setting up camp at Whitehorn, which was almost dark, we made quinoa. Which was a bad decision. The water took a while to boil and waiting while wondering if we will have enough gas for the next few days was excruciating.
Showering was a problem. Took quick showers with our portable shower bag and yes, the water from the lake/river is ICY. Imagine that this water is from the glacier and you saw the snow-capped mountains in summer. Showering with trickling water from the portable shower in the night is probably worse than dipping the whole body in the river. I would have done it if it wasn’t for everyone taking drinking water direct from the river and it is only courtesy to not bathe directly in it.
It was cold at night even with the thin mat lining the base of our tent, one could feel the cold seeping in from outside and through the ground.
Mornings at campsites are beautiful. We were almost the last to leave the campgrounds by the time we packed and left.
So we covered 10.9km, almost 11km in that afternoon when we first arrived at Mt Robson and hiked to Whitehorn. Our next day’s journey will take us from Whitehorn pass the falls with the highest elevation to Berg Lake campground, which is another 10km+.
We walked through the falls which was the steepest and most challenging part of the hike to Berg Lake, with the full packs.
I did hear the glacier cracking off in the night, which M missed. Now, that’s an excuse for us to go back to Mt Robson again! At first, I thought it was thunder and my first thought was, oh shit, isn’t it cold enough and now it’s going to be wet and cold? And our clothes were outside hanging on a rope. I realised in that split second that it was the glacier cracking off into the lake! I was delighted to be able to experience that moment of nature in the middle of the night, even for that split second.
It was so foggy and misty the next morning that everything was shrouded. I sat near the river on the logs and listened to the stream while waiting for the fog to clear. It was a peaceful moment and I felt blessed. This quiet moment was soon replaced by the hustle of getting our breakfast and packing for our day hike. We have chosen to hike to Snowbird Pass. This, was foolhardy, but absolutely necessary for those adventurous hikes who are looking for challenging hikes. Of course, we should have gone prepared. Like bringing some gummy bears or candies. Some experiences by other hikers.
According to Canadian Rockies guidebook:
Snowbird Pass Route (1 day): Snowbird Pass is closed May and June due to caribou calving. A challenging route marked by rock cairns (caution required), it provides spectacular views of the back of Mount Robson. From berg Lake campsite the trip is 22 km, return. Start north of Rearguard campsite, follow Robson River then travel up to Robson Glacier’s moraine. Hike up to an alpine meadow, beyond which is Snowbird Pass.
Yes, we misread another crucial point. We noted from the guidebook that it is 9.2km. We thought that meant a round trip and that we didn’t have to walk the same route back; that it circles around the mountain back to the campsite. Boy, were we mistaken. We bumped into some other hikers along the way near to the Pass who were returning. They mentioned that we still have quite an uphill ways to go and that the trail back is through the same route. I recall how we were climbing past treacherous rocks on the way up almost with hands and legs like spiderman. Thinking about the journey back through those steep rocks almost gave me a heart attack.
Once again, we were one of the last hikers on this trail and most were already turning back. We wondered if we will get back before nightfall at that rate since it was 5 or 6pm when we got to the Pass. That meant being focused and walking really briskly back before 8:30pm. This route is 20.2km round trip. We are proud to say that we did it within 8 hours in a day with stops, getting lost and climbing like we were near pro. We had to keep looking out for the trail nearer to the pass as the route became wide open and it was marked with piles of stones. We came across a multitude of terrains on our hike from rocks, pebbles, small aggregates to soil and grass.
The occasion spotting of marmots was a treat. Considering that the beaver is Canada’s national animal, I’ve not seen a single one on the trip.
The last leg leading to Snowbird was almost mentally excruciating. From the lack of sugar. Our lunch was insufficient and we didn’t take any snacks on our hike. This was a big mistake. By the time we reached the ‘trail-less’ part to Snowbird Pass icefields, I was almost prepared to rob another hiker along the way of their gummy bears or any candy. I’ve never wanted or craved for junk food or sugar as much as I did on the hike. The thought of conjuring a sweet was almost tangible.
Our return down was a frenzy. We literally raced down and rocky paths do slow us down a little. The return was steep and ‘skiing’ on hiking shoes was almost mandatory. I found a ‘sliding’ method a lot easier than walking down. Blame it on my off-centre-of-gravity.
Heading from from Snowbird Pass into the sunset, back to our Berg Lake campsite.
We made it back to Berg Lake Campsite before 8:30pm, in really good time too. Just on time to have a quick dinner, shower in the dark and slide into the tent, cold and shivering from the icy shower. Once snug and cosy in the tent, you realise that you need to use the bathroom. Almost like a FML moment.
That night, I heard rats scratching at the tent or near my head. I freaked a little but was too tired to get up so I went back to sleep and heard the thundering sound of glaciers breaking off in the background. Absolutely beautiful experience.
The next day saw us scuttling down the campsite, making 20.2km in a day after a 20km Snowbird Pass day hike the day before. We saw the same couple we overtook the day we got to Berg Lake Campground on our way down. (Backstory, we passed the couple on our hike to Berg Lake Campground and M said we should try to get to the campground before them to get better sites. Competitive like I am, I raced them and we got ahead. Of course, we received dirty looks from them when they passed us at our chosen campsite.) They gave us dirty looks again on our way down and they had the pleasure of passing us on our way down.
I had four blisters on my feet after Snowbird and a broken toe. I believe three toenails were turning blue as well. So the return 20.2km with our full packs the next day did not sit pretty with my feet at all. This was a mental journey as much as it was physical for me. We pushed through and got to the Mt Robson Carpark in good time, before 3 or 4pm.
There was no way we could have driven all the way back from Mt Robson to Vancouver in that afternoon. We made a choice and did a last minute booking when we received Wifi at the Visitor Centre. We booked ourselves to Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise that night. We thought we were game enough to camp for another night. But we didn’t book any campsites along the way and most were already full. Moreover, we weren’t up to setting up camp and dismantling another night.
Getting to Lake Louise that afternoon was a 3 to 4 hour drive and we almost ran out of gas at one point. It was a tense moment in the car. We missed the turn to one gas station along the highway. We thought we could make it to the next. After some distance and not seeing any signs, we knew we had to turn back while there was just barely sufficient gas for us to get back. We were in no condition to hike to the next gas station should we run out along the highway. Goodness knows when the next might appear. We made it back to the gas station almost on time.
I purchased the most expensive bottled Starbucks coffee from the servo. After this, the rest of the drive was almost smooth and we got to Lake Louise Fairmont just in time before nightfall.
Considering that this is the top hotel in the area, the rooms are not fitted with airconditioning. A ceiling fan was what we had for summer. We left the windows slightly ajar and had a HUGE dinner that night – Room service to boot.
We are such urbanites. No need to guess what was ordered. I had some sandwich with beef from a bad craving for protein. M had a burger (since we were talking about food we couldn’t have on the trail, especially gummy bears!) poutine. This was all our hard work wasted. All in an hour’s work to satisfy the craving for burgers.
More in the next post on Lake Louise.