June 2019 – Mt. Robson National Park, just inside the border of British Columbia
Directions: Drive to the Mt. Robson Visitor Centre and follow signs to the trailhead (approx. 2 km away).
Time: Approximately 8 hours there if you keep a good pace and stop for a couple rests, 6 back if you book it downhill quickly.
Elevation: 1640 m
Elevation Gain: ~800 m
Sunday June 16th
We drove to Valemount, BC, just inside the border. It was approx. a 5-hour drive from Edmonton and we needed to be there before the Mt. Robson Visitor Centre closed at 5 pm to obtain our permits. We saw moose and black bears along the drive. People were getting out of their cars – as per usual. We were so fuelled with excitement when we saw Mt. Robson looming ahead of us, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, and smelled the lavender that was growing all around it. Shanty wanted to nap in the car and when we got into the visitor centre the woman told us we ALL had to be there to watch an orientation video. The orientation video was 13 minutes long and it was filmed in the 90’s, complete with 90’s hiking apparel and a man carrying a giant boom box on his shoulder while hiking (it was asking to be respectful of other hikers with your music). It was SO hard not to laugh especially when the boom box came out and when the old video flickered and buzzed lmao. We didn’t dare laugh because of the sternness of the park rangers and I totally get why they are so protective of this place. We then obtained our permits (which you HAVE to have, or you could literally get kicked off the trail) and then headed into the town of Valemount.
We knew our hotel (Valemount Hotel) was 80 dollars a night so we weren’t expecting much. But when we arrived, there was literally two cars there and it seemed like one of them belonged to the owner of the pizza parlour attached to the hotel. There was also a liquor store attached, and inside was a pub (empty, with a karaoke stage). The owner was older, also the bartender it seemed, but we were happy to see that our rooms were at least clean and had fans in them (it was hot). We now had hours to kill so after stuffing our faces at A&W and searching for a rain poncho for Shanty (we found a garbage bag in the end) we googled some hikes in the area. We ended up walking just two minutes out of town along a rushing creek and then up a path for a couple of kilometers. It was called Swift Creek Lookout. It was so dang beautiful! We didn’t expect it at all. We drank beer and watched the sun go down on a log and talked and laughed and Shanty opened my beer bottle USING A LOG. Then we wandered even further up around the lookout, coming to what seemed like bike and quad and even car trails as well as serene fields full of wildflowers. We practiced our noises to scare bears (just go yee-yuh, exactly the way Lil Jon does, that’s what I do). The mountains glowed a dark blue and that’s when we decided to head back down, having not seen a soul in sight (minus one dude on a bicycle, “Oh I’m staying in town with Adam”, “Lol, we don’t know him…”).
Back at the hotel/pub we tracked down the older owner/bartender/whatever else he was and questioned if he could make us a caesar which he DID and it was delicious and then we talked with him for a good hour or two and ended up having any of our previous reservations washed away. He was a kind soul, he’d come from Denmark years ago, opened this hotel and now all he wanted was to retire on his hobby farm in Armstrong with his wife. He’d had a full life, and acknowledged that, meeting his wife at a carnival, unfortunately having a son pass away, and, before he retired once and for all he planned to take his loyal employees including the liquor store owner and the housekeepers on a surprise trip to Mexico. I hope no matter what my life is filled with I find it fulfilling, too. It’s definitely an honor to grow old. We just listened and I’m positive we all walked away with a renewed believe that a place or a person can’t be judged within the first few minutes. He also guessed all our ages and of course I was guessed to be the youngest even though I’m older than all of my friends. Then began sleeping through a hot night smelling exhaust from the pizza parlour and hearing the train whistle right next to us every 20 minutes lol. But, the hotel gets a good review in my books.
Monday June 17th
More fast food for breakfast at Subway, because, we’re about to do a 21 kilometer hike right? Sarah was the smartest and ordered a foot long and saved the other half for later. We drove back to the visitor centre for around 10 am and loaded our carefully arranged packs on our back. None of us had done backcountry camping before but we’d been planning and preparing for close to a year. The packs were heavy, especially Sarah’s and her backpack was also a bit older and didn’t have as good of support. Luckily she can handle that kind of thing lol. The two of them split up the four-person tent (rented from MEC) which was incredibly light but still led to me having the lightest pack in the end. That didn’t prevent me from feeling like my legs were like lead within the first kilometer as we walked along the Robson River. It’s insane how additional weight can slow you down from your normal fitness levels. It wasn’t an overly hot day but I started dripping sweat almost immediately, too. I used Jordy’s backpack which was good quality so a lot of the weight was distributed around my hips which was good but they, too, felt like lead and started getting sore quickly. When we saw the 1 kilometer marker we cheered for joy LOL. Little did we know, that pleasant slight incline along the river was the easiest part. Eventually, though, your body either gets used to the repetitiveness or else your mind takes over and things become easier. We walked another few kilometers through the dense, thick forest below Mt. Robson that was full of humongous trees, moss, and ferns galore. We then got to campsite #1: Kinney Lake (kilometer 7). A huge blue, blue, blue mysterious and quiet lake with tent pads scattered around it. But we didn’t stop. Passing Kinney Lake we soon ended up in a clearing that felt like something out of Jurassic Park. Huge mossy mountains with teeny waterfalls dripping down from their cliffs, every direction you looked. We just stood there staring for awhile before we continued maneuvering across streams and across single-person bridges. We rested just as we entered the forest again, stretched, finished off a few more energy bars from the ones that we had already powered through (BRING. SNACKS). There was slight elevation for the next few km’s as we entered campground #2: Whitehorn Campground (kilometer 11). This was a nice campground with a shelter that had a roof on it; a few people were under it cooking their meals. We filled our water bottles and popped filter pills into them and OMG, if you’ve never tasted glacier water, you’re missing out on something in life. It was delicious and the rangers had reminded us to fill up extra good here because for the next 5 kilometers you’d hear lots of rushing water, but there’d be nowhere to fill, and while you gained the most elevation. And oh, that elevation. They weren’t kidding. Over the total 21 kilometers we did we gained close to 1 kilometer elevation but, between Whitehorn Campground and Emperor Falls campground, you gain about half of that in around 5 kilometers. And you do hear rushing waterfalls the entire time as they spilled out of the mountains everywhere. Valley of a Thousand Falls. Here the trail gets steep, and crumbly, and you’ll come to at least 3 waterfalls, hoping without avail, that it is Emperor Falls, which it will not be yet. Until finally… you see a tiny path leading down to Emperor Falls itself. A sign asks you not to leave your packs because of wildlife so you now take your packs and yourselves down a gentle 500m, hearing this massive roaring ahead until you see the closest, biggest waterfall we’ve ever seen in our lives. You can go right up to it. You can go INSIDE of it. The power of it overwhelmed us. One step further and you could get swept away, killed from the force. Unfortunately the mountain weather changed to wind and drizzle at this exact moment and the waterfall decided to drench us further even as we ran away from it.
I won’t lie that the next several kilometers weren’t a little bit miserable. It was now evening and we got a bit confused, thinking that campground #3: Emperor Falls (kilometer 16, and came after the falls themselves) was actually campground #4: Marmot (kilometer 19). Thus, thinking we only had a couple more to go, we trudged and trudged and trudged on what was thankfully fairly flat ground although the little inclines here and there were just rubbing salt in the literal wounds. Eventually we came into a huge clearing again and entered on a rock path along the side of a mountain. Still, you could not see Berg Lake yet, despite still seeing glimpses of Mt. Robson, luckily always showing it’s peak through the clouds despite having it’s own weather pattern. Exiting the rock path we came to a giant field with more streams to cross, more rocks, more single-person bridges. We were aware that we had gotten pretty high up because the mountains now boasted glaciers directly in front of our faces. I think at this point Shanty and I became a little delusional, laying down on the ground every so often, my feet pulsating with blisters, her having actual hallucinations about naps. Eventually we entered a forest again, passed campground #4: Marmot (kilometer 19), did a final brutal 2 kilometers of up, down, up, down, until we finally emerged at Berg Lake Campground (kilometer 21). I remember collapsing at the shelter (which is the only covered AND four-walled shelter, built in 1921), while Sarah seeked out a tent pad. I couldn’t even talk to any of the other campers who were hanging out there, and I feel bad about that, but I was too physcially drained to use my mind for anything. “Which campground did you guys come from today?” …”Uhmm, we came from the parking lot today lol”. The beauty though, even though it was grey and dreary now, was something to behold. Partially feeding Berg Lake (it is mainly fed from the Robson River), Berg hung down precariously off Mount Robson, waiting to spill off it’s occasional car-sized ice chunks into the most turquoise-blue waters I’ve ever seen in my life. Mt. Robson seemed within physical touch. And there was silence. There was no cellphone service, no fires, almost as if the mountain and the glacier commanded a certain kind of silence. We set up our tent, sleeping pads, and soon drifted off. We woke up all at the same time around midnight and Sarah and Shanty took their headlamps to go use the outhouse, rushing back in terror because there was some “wild animal” scratching at wood aggressively nearby. I wasn’t sure what to make of it until I listened to the video that they took on their phones and in the PITCH BLACK, darker than anything, having no idea what it was, it truly was the most terrifying sound. Somehow we slept just fine anyways.
Tuesday June 18th
We awoke to sunshine. It wasn’t hot by any means, but it was off and on sunny despite the nights rain and the lake was glistening a surreal shade of gatorade blue. Somehow, I felt rested. Making our way into the shelter we soon discovered via the guestbook that a resident “Mr. Porcupine” lives on site, and sure enough, we saw him in broad daylight, making those (not-so-terrifying now) scratching sounds. Not quite sure what he was doing, but he seemed quite content. We opted to eat our breakfast on a table near the lake, it was during the week and there didn’t seem to be a lot of people around unless they had all ventured onto dayhikes. Of all the campgrounds, I knew Berg was the most popular. But there was likely lots of people who stayed at other ones and then just trekked out to see Berg. Sarah got out her mini propane stove (best purchase ever) and we cooked oatmeal and ate it with our sporks. What did we eat exactly? Sarah and Shanty’s own mix of oatmeal: oats, chia seeds, pb powder, white choco and cranberry mix with nuts, cinnamon… it was super hearty and good. We also drank Alpine Start “Instant Coffee that Actually Tastes Good” which had coconut milk in it and was absolutely delicious. So we had sporks, bowls, and a coffee mug each. One thing I do wish I had was a mini dishsoap and scrubbed, although Sarah had a mini all-purpose soap. It was hard to scrub your dishes off with cold water, taking care not to get any oatmeal chunks anywhere but down the drain and into the greywater pit that the campground had. We had the option of putting our food in bear cabinets but we had purchased Odour-Proof bags from MEC and they did their job. We used one for our garbage to pack out and you literally could smell nothing until you opened it up and then the smell ovewhelmed you. Sarah mentioned she wanted to do a chunk of Snowbird Pass that day so I said yes while Shanty stayed behind to relax by the lake. What’s Snowbird Pass? Well, if you leave campground #5: Berg Lake, you actually hit two more campgrounds (#6: Reargaurd and #7: Robson Pass) and then you continue on towards Moose River route, a 10-day hike that would eventually take you to highway 16 within Jasper National Park. Along this way you veer onto a trail to Snowbird Pass which is supposed to be one of the most stunning hikes in the Rockies. Snowbird is a giant glacier that is spilling off the other side of Mt. Robson like a giant bird. It is receding at a rate of about 50 feet per year and the Alpine Club of Canada marked it’s location in 1911 so you can see how drastic it is. Unfortunately for us…. the full, 24 kilometer round-trip hike to Snowbird Pass was closed due to Caribou Calving… so you could only go to the toe of the glacier, which was still a worthy hike. Hobbling along, I stopped every few minutes to marvel at this glacier. Spilling itself into a minty green lake. Towards the toe it got pretty rocky and so I think this is probably quite a tough hike. We didn’t see any Caribou though 😦 We headed back and basically just hung out which was nice. We signed the guestbook, we lay by the lake, we talked a lot. Even though I had a really good book with me, I’m glad I used this time to talk to good and loving friends, especially Shanty, who lives in Ottawa. While laying by the lake an older gentleman rolled into the campground, began eating his food and was friendly to us. Basically his name was Ali, he had biked to Kinney Lake that morning (as far as you’re allowed to bike), jaunted to Berg Lake just to see it, and was planning to jaunt out and back onto his bicycle in a few minutes which is what he promptly did after chatting with us for awhile. Oh,. and he was in his 60’s. He was from Iran and was retired and was biking all over Canada, starting in Vancouver, with 4 bags. He had heard that Berg Lake was “must-see”. “Crazy? Why crazy?!” He questioned when we expressed our bafflement/admiration at him. I think there was a slight language barrier and he was concerned we actually thought he was crazy LOL. He then took some photos of us (which were accidentally videos), then a selfie with us, and then trotted off on his way. Needless to say we all felt a little bit like wuss’s for complaining after that.
For dinner, we cooked dehydrated meals with boiling water on the propane stove (Backpackers Pantry and Alpine Aire – which were both SO GOOD. The cheesey ones were the best, the ranchero enchilada one with crushed tortillas in it was to die for. The vegan ones were also delicious though, the thai peanut curry and the 3 sisters stew. Sarah Shanty and I always end up with something to do with the 3 sisters – we stayed at a cabin once that was called that, named after 3 sister mountains near Canmore). The first night we cooked the Chana Masala one and added veggie ground round for extra protein. It was sooo good, and made the bag more than it’s normal 2 serving; all 3 of us usually ended up sharing one or two bags which worked out well. We ended up just crawling into our tent after dinner, talking and having a drink (kept cold just by the mountain air), as it began to spatter rain again….
Wednesday June 19th
We did not sleep well the second night. It had begun sleeting, and word around the shelter was that there was a call for snow. Shanty and I spent the night shivering and although I feel like a n00b saying it, we misunderestimated how high up we’d be and how drastically different the weather could be. Our sleeping bags were rated for 7C whereas Sarah’s was good down to -10C. Lesson learned. Having some warm oatmeal for breakfast we weighed our options. We figured we could try to make it halfway down today and take our chances on finding a tent pad at Whitehorn or Kinney even though that’s probably frowned upon. It was clear that the 3rd night would be even colder. At this point, though, it made some sense to just book it down as fast as we could and spend the night in the car driving rather than setting up all over again. Which is precisely what we did. First, Sarah took off on one more dayhike. She did Hargreaves Lake lookout. The full loop, Toboggan Falls, and Mumm Basin routes were all closed due to a landslide so her options were unfortunately limited but DANG, I wish I went on this one, her views were incredible and it was only a few km round loop; I’ll include a photo or two she took. Shants and I stayed back, grateful for the covered shelter as we read and munched and organized our backpacks so they were packed with maximum efficiency. We took off at 2:50 pm. We trotted at a rate of about 4 km/hr on flat, and 5 km/hr downhill, knowing we just had to get to the parking lot before dark. And yes, I was super nerdy, calculating our rate of speed…. “According to my calculations, we should arrive at the car by 9 pm.” This time there was sun so we stopped at Emperor Falls again and I actually felt brave enough to get RIGHT up to it, letting it’s spray overwhelm me on the slippery rocks and taking a billion white-girl photos (no apologies). We then smartly changed clothes again and continued speeding downhill, feeling a different kind of pain in our knees (but to me it was much better than the uphill pain). We stopped at Whitehorn Campground to make 2 bags of Alpine Aire’s Forever Young Mac and Cheese, enjoying our last meal together, downing our flasks for warmth (I had the new Peach Crown Royale in mine) and loading up more glacier water. When we passed Kinney Lake Sarah had noticed a trail on the way there that seemed to connect at low level on these flats with streams near the lake rather than go up into the forest, so we took that. She was right, and it may or may not have shaved off a bit of time but I’m thinking it was around the same because my calculations kilometers-wise were still working out, lol. Still, it was a nice change and the streams were easy to cross. Kinney Lake was silent and mysterious as could be, it was around 8 pm now with a slight drizzle and being in the mountains it seemed to be getting darker quicker than normal. The last 5 kilometers through the forest were also kind of brutal. It was not quite yet almost dark, quiet, and just so, so, so repetitive. We’d see a marker and think it was 3 km, it was actually 4 km, so on and so forth. We saw only one other soul, who scared the bejeebus out of Shanty, thinking he was a bear lol. Sarah decides, of course, to jog the last kilometer just because. Shanty and I are literally barely alive when we finally get to the trailhead as she hangs out there waiting for us, we ignore anything but beelining towards the car. My beautiful little red car! We piled in, knowing it was a long night ahead but being grateful for sitting and warmth. We did get to the trailhead right at 9 pm like my calculations said, with several photo stops too, and were on our way by 930 pm which was of course 1030 pm in Alberta! No wonder we were losing light quicker than anticipated. Thus began a rainy, foggy, pitch black drive through the mountains, with abrupt changes from 90 km/hr to 70 km/hr limits, and the prospect of a moose crossing the road the whole time. We listened to podcasts and snacked and made it into Edmonton around 4 am, the first thing Sarah and Shanty did was shower, the first thing I did was sleep. We were all really craving some orange juice and some fresh fruit.
Best things we had:
– Tiny propane stove (fits in a bag with the pot) and fuel, matches
– Dehydrated food (AlpineAire and Backpackers Pantry), instant coffee (Alpine Start), homemade oatmeal, snacks such as granola bars, nuts, and jerkey
– Mugs, bowls, and sporks each
– Water bottles (camel packs for them) and filter tablets (take 30 mins to work)
– Headlamps and extra batteries
– Phone rechargers
– Good backpacks, hiking boots, layered clothing including hats, regular shoes, etc.
– 4-person tent rental from MEC
– Tiny inflatable sleeping pads, tiny inflatable pillows
– Blister packs, first aid packs
– Rope, knife,
– All purpose mini cleaner
Wish I had:
– Warm sleeping bags, gloves, etc.
– Fresh fruit there
– Dish soap and scrubber
– Hand sanitizer
Overall, this was probably a close second to the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done (after Abbott Hut) but it was well-worth the beauty. Berg lake is definitely one of the more “boujee” backcountry sites that exists, with a ranger station nearby in case of emergencies. I now need new hiking boots, these ones are 5-years old and honestly they never truly fit me properly and that’s why my blisters are so bad. As always I encourage you to research, to find trail closures, to buy quality equipment, to prep yourself for bears, cold, and the unforeseeable (always bring extra food), and to research the hike itself. It’s your responsibility to determine the level you are ready for and not only that, but discovering the history, how a trail came to be, and why it’s so loved, can make the whole experience even more magical. I know this was a long read, hopefully you at least enjoy the photos if you don’t wanna read this all!