Rocky autumn

When we came to hike in the Rockies in september, it once more was the unpredictable mood of weather that determined our trip plans. Quite a few thoroughly planned backcountry tramps had to be cancelled on last minute due to miserable weather conditions like early snow storms or constant rain… But then again, the weather proofed to be marvelous in unexpected moments, rewarding with most memorable scenes!

Yoho Valley
The trip started off with a nice surprise, as we got two last minute permits for the famous Lake O’Hara region in Yoho NP. We arrived in Field and had one day in spare before we were actually granted to visit O’Hara, so we decided to spend some time hiking the Yoho valley on the lower Iceline trail. While the higher elevation areas were a no-go due to constant drizzle and low-hanging clouds, the scenery in the valley was also quite nice!

Landscape photography Sony A7 Minolta MD 35-70 3.5 macro
A brief moment of sunlight illuminates Yoho’s Laughing Falls
Landscape photography Sony A7 Minolta MD 35-70 3.5 macro
Yoho’s Laughing Falls roaring down from the upper Little Yoho River

Back at Takkakaw Falls, wind gusts were picking up again and it was impressive how the 380m waterfall was lashed. It was easy to imagine how those massive logs get washed right into the otherwise shallow creek below the falls.

Stormy Takkakaw Falls

Lake O’Hara, Yoho
After a rainy night in the tent, we packed our stuff early morning to catch the schoolbus shuttle to Lake O’Hara. Arriving at the campground, we were greeted by heavy snowfall but also very friendly fellow campers who already had a huge fire running! Very welcome 🙂 Soon, the snowfall settled and we could start the first walk to the Opabin plateau.

An early winter storm rolls in on the Lake O’Hara plateau
The magnificient temperate rainforest of the lake O’Hara region, on route to Opabin Plateau

It was very interesting to see the beautiful Opabin plateau covered in fresh snow. However, we were looking forward to the next day which promised sublime hiking weather.

Opabin plateau in autumn snowcover

After a freezing night in the tent, we got up quickly and joined the other folks around the campfire for breakfast. The weather was awesome and we soon knocked off for the Yoho Highline trail, a route that starts at the western shores of Lake O’Hara and connects Wiwaxy gap, Oesa lake and the Opabin plateau.

Yoho’s beautiful O’Hara Highline trail, with the Schaffer ridge looming over Opabin plateau in the background

The trail is obviously famous for a reason and after a steep ascend, you find yourself on a beautiful high trail with magnificient views from approximately 500m over lake O’Hara.

Sublime viewpoint of lake O’Hara, Mary lake and the distant Opabin plateau on the Lake O’Hara Highline trail

After the initial ascend, its a fairly easy and almost level walk. From Wiwaxy gap, a well deserved but quite windy resting point after about one third of the trail, the stunningly beautiful lake Oesa is already well within sight. From here on it’s a quick but interesting walk on the southern flanks of Mt. Huber to the lake.

On the Yoho highline trail with Glacier Peak and Yukness Mountain guarding the Oesa lake plateau

Oesa is a lake of amazing colour and clarity and we hung around its shore for quite a while sunbathing and taking in the views. Best lunchtime ever!

The stunning Glacier Peak looming over a turquoise Oesa Lake
Oesa Lake reflections on 3min exposure

Behind the lake, the trail continues around the northern reaches of Yukness mountain, providing breathtaking views of the O’Hara valley from Odaray to Cathedral mountain.

Sweeping views into Yoho’s O’Hara valley from the northern highline trail near lake Oesa
Standing at the edge of Yoho, Lake O’Hara

One of the best parts of the loop were the splendid views of the Opabin plateau, a hanging valley atop a rocky headband cliff above Lake O’Hara. In mid-september, the larches had already put on a decent autumn cloak and the sight of this wonderful garden of yellow larches, streams and lakes was nothing but stunning.

Panorama of the Opabin plateau and the western shores of lake O’Hara, September

Our time at lake O’Hara was definitely too short and cries for a second time! If we’ll ever return to the Rockies this will be high on the list. We’ll remember the gorgeous scenery just as much as the great evenings around the campfire, exchanging stories and liquor with very decent fellow campers! Tuweep’s next! 🙂

Leisure time in Banff…
After O’Hara, we spend two leisure days hanging around Lake Louise. I had mixed feelings about going to see sunrise at Moraine lake, possibly one of the most photographed spots in the Rockies. And indeed, while the lake and the backdrop of the valley of the ten peaks itself is absolutely gorgeous, the place was annoyingly busy with people by sunrise. Still a cool spot, of course.

Classic sunrise shot of Moraine Lake, Lake Louise

Who would have guessed that we actually got our own private lake later that day! The ranger who issued the permits for our next backcountry hike actually hooked us up with a neat route description to an absolutely sublime spot to spend a day in the sun. Just 20min on foot through the woods from the busy Icefields Parkway, a true gem of a lake awaits. There was even a canoe and a decent woodstick-paddel that brought us to a small isle.

Rockies style canoe paddle, Banff National Park backcountry

The island was a sublime place to snooze in the hammock daylong. The shallow lake water was shining in different hues of green and we were hanging around in the shade of trees, having lemonade-like canadian beers. A perfect day in paradise!!

Magnificient backcountry canoe campsite, Banff Nationalpark
Island shuttle, Banff

But unfortunately, even the laziest days come to an end.. Back at the Lake Louise campsite, we prepared for our next backcountry hike in the Skoki lakes area of Banff National Park.

Skoki Lakes backcountry, Banff

We planned to do three days, covering a moderate loop walk via Baker lake, around Fossil mountain and to Merlin meadows, then exiting over Myosotis and Zigedenus lake to Packer’s Pass. The weather was very much cooperating and we had great days in the Skoki!

Skoki backcountry hike to Baker Lake campsite SK18, Skoki, Banff
Hiking the bushtrail along Baker lake in the Skoki lakes section of Banff nationalpark
Hiking the bushtrail along Baker lake in the Skoki lakes section of Banff nationalpark

The Baker Lake backcountry campsite (SK18) is a beautiful place set on the eastern shores of the lake, at the outflow where the lake transforms into a a small creek.

Scenery at Baker lake campsite, Skoki lakes backcountry

The atmosphere around sunset and sunrise was gorgeous and not to compare to places like Moraine lake. Just the occasional muskrat chasing ducks in the tranquil ponds at the campsite…heaven… 🙂

Skoki sunset at Baker lake backcountry camp with Ptarmigan Peak in the distance

Although we of course overslept sunrise, Baker lake still was amazingly calm when we finally got ourselves together and down to the shore. We were greeted by the most magnificient mirrors I have seen in a long time. Just stunning

Baker lake mirror of Bachiopod mountain, Skoki lakes (I)
Baker lake mirror of Bachiopod mountain, Skoki lakes (II)

On the route around fossil mountain to our next campsite, we saw a lots of signs of bear activity – diggings, poo, huge footprints – but no bears. Still it was amazing walking in prime bear habitat, not knowing what might lurk around the next corner. We’ve spend the night at the Merlin meadows campsite, a nice spot in the transition zone of forest and meadow, next to a creek. Deer wandered through our site on various occasions and it was a very peaceful setting.

The following day turned out with great weather again which was very welcome as we had to cover some ~17km on partially very exposed terrain. The scenery towards the Skoki lakes was gorgeous, with yellow larches all around glowing in the sun. Distracted by so much beauty, we of course managed to miss the junction where the rail branches off to Myosotis / Zigadenus lake and instead took the ordinary route up to Deception pass.

The rockwall of Ptarmigan Peak, seen from the way to Skoki lakes / Deception Pass

When we were getting closer to Deception Pass, we reckognized that we definitely missed the junction. We were eager to get close to the lakes so it was either backtracking or looking for an offtrail shortcut down the slopes. We finally decided to follow a small creek, which seemed to run into the right direction and – after some rock hopping and bush bashing – led us right to this place:

Myosotis lake waterfall the rockwall of Ptamrigan Peak, Skoki lakes

We found ourselves at the foot of a waterfall running directly out of the lower Skoki lake, Myosotis. The rocks looked pretty impossible to climb with backpacks, but we knew there was a slot in the rocks where we could scramble up the rockwall right next to the waterfall. We found the entrance, thanks to some strategically placed small cairns. After a fun climb through the slot, we entered the Myosotis lake plateau, from where we had an impressive view on the plains below. It was yellow larches all over the place – just phenomenal!

Larches in deep fall colours, seen from Myosotis plateau, Skoki lakes

But it even got better when we turned around on the lake itself.

Mind-boggling view of Myosotis lake and the rockwall of Ptarmigan Peak after climbing up the waterfall

There seemed to be beauty in every detail, from the mesmerizing yellow larches to the crystal clear water and the towering rockwall of Pika Peak. An absolutely stunning place.

It doesn’t get much better than Myosotis lake on a clear september day
Crystal clear Myosotis lake and the mighty rock wall of Ptarmigan Peak, Skoki lakes area

One of the best things up there was that we had this whole lavish scenery all to ourselves. Our plain definition of luxury is to be able to spend time places like these, just having lunch and taking in the views.

Myosotis lake framed by yellow fall coloured larches, Skoki / Banff
The wall of Jericho over Zigadenus lake from Packer’s Pass route, Skoki

Hence we finally managed to exit Skoki by the route we actually planned. It was quite an energy-consuming hike up to Packer’s Pass but also an easy one as our thoughts were still with the sublime surroundings of the lakes. We walked our way all through to the dirt road and were lucky enough to catch a ride for the last couple of km with a park ranger. All in all, Skoki didn’t disappoint!

The bad weather rest
Unfortunately, with Skoki also the period of decent hiking weather pretty much ended. We hang around for two nights around the Kananaskis Lakes, hoping for a weather change that’d allow us to do the Mt. Northover loop. You guess we’ve not been successful and had to wait out three days of very “mixed” weather conditions. Howevere, we got some great impressions of the Kananaskis high country around highway 40, Canadas highest paved road. This must be a lovely area to further explore in more permitting weather! One day..

Great light on Kananaskis Highwood pass / highway 40, first snow cover in september
Splendid views of the Kananaskis backcountry from the Smith Dorrien trail
Mt. Rundle sunrise on long exposure

We tried to make the best out of the moody weather and did some smaller day hikes in Banff. At least overcast skies work out pretty for photography 🙂 Autumn seemed to be in full swing now!

Beautiful autumn colours, Saskatchewan river crossing
Herbert Lake mirror
Herbert Lake mirror

A good one was the Beauty Creek trail in Jasper NP. The creek has carved out an amazing canyon with several impressive waterfalls. It reminds of the famous Johnston canyon, just without the crowds.

Thundering Beauty Creek waterfall rushes down the canyon, Jasper
Turquoise water and rugged limestone. Another magnificient waterfall of Beauty creek, Jasper.

On our way back to Rampart creek campground, the picturesque Tangle creek falls made for a nice stopover. The falls tumble down in several beautiful cascades.

Tangle creek waterfall cascades in fall
Beautiful autumn colours around Tangle falls
Beautiful autumn colours around Tangle falls (II)
Patches of blue at the Columbia Icefields (panorama)

Back at the Rampart Creek campground on the banks of the mighty Saskatchewan river, we started a campfire and desperately (and in vain) hoped for better weather for the next day. However, the river banks at the campsite provided glorious views of a river bend with the Mt. Wilson massive in the background. Beautiful fall coloured aspens were peaking through the mist, a great contrast to the granite rockwall.

Autumn morning mood on the shore of North Saskatchewan river, Rampart Creek (5min exposure)
North Saskatchewan river at Rampart Creek, Banff
Tranquil Herbert lake
Fall colours surrounding Herbert Lake, Lake Louise
View back down the valley on the hike to Noseeum Peak
The sublime Noseeum creek waterfall on the trail
Noseeum lake, Banff
Unfavourable mountain weather forced us to turn around at Noseeum lake. Harsh end to our last Rockies hike!


← Back to Homepage