Just about to the end folks! It has been a go hasn’t it? I had planned to take a friend of mine through two of the best trails in the Canadian Rockies, but instead I got to take my wife on her first multiday backpacking trip, which was even better! Our plan was this:
And if you want to read about how the first 9 days of the trip went, follow these links!
Day 10 dawned behind schedule. Our original itinerary had us bedding down 3 km and 300m above where we were. It doesn’t sound like much, but it was going to lead to the longest hiking day of our trip the next morning. The original plan:
- Day 10 – Wolverine Pass to McArthur Creek Camp (Yoho National Park) – 21km, over Goodsir Pass.
- Day 11 – McArthur Creek down to our car on the Trans-Canada Highway at Ottertail Trailhead – 15km.
Ready to see how that went?
Morning dawned in our unpaid-for campsite at Tumbling Pass. I’ll take this moment to just say the biggest problem in our mountain parks in my opinion is the reservation system. It is inaccessible in the backcountry, so if you get hurt or fall behind, or the conditions are better than you hoped and you make better time, nothing can be done. In addition, just about every reservable campsite we passed was significantly underused – in the sense that even though before we left it said it was fully booked, we got there and many sites were open. This was especially true in southern Banff, but here on the Rockwall Trail even, there were openings in Floe, Numa and Tumbling, while their system said it was full. I don’t mind paying for backcountry use, but obviously they need to find a way to ensure those who have changed their plans release their sites to the public so that this beautiful treasure can be experienced by as many as possible. End rant.
Part of our mental calculations the night before on not pushing up Wolverine was gathered from several people who had hiked down to Tumbling who informed us there was a Grizzly sow and her cub on the switchbacks above. We didn’t relish the idea of encountering an annoyed mother bear in the evening when we were tired. So as we climbed first thing in the morning, we did a lot of calling out and singing. This was consistent for us the entire hike, whenever we moved through areas where we did not have good sightlines. And strangely, while many people reported seeing bears in areas we passed through, we never saw a single one. Interestingly, the people who reported seeing bears most often we were surprised to encounter because they never called out, never sang, never wore any noisemakers. I think there is a lesson there for the wise hiker in Grizzly country.
Wolverine Pass was a fascinating geographic feature. It was like the Rock Wall split open there, providing access to British Columbia. The camp is not really a camp, it is an open patch of grass outside the National Parks on the BC side of the border. But it would have been free, and no reservation necessary, so it is good to plan on.
Rockwall Pass stretches on for quite a ways at elevation, with easy walking across alpine meadow. The namesake of the pass was evident in the wall of rock to our west. As we finally began to descend, we were treated with views of Helmet Falls.
The camp at Helmet Falls was nicely appointed, and there was a ranger cabin, locked up of course. We had passed another one back at Floe Lake as well. Both had little verandas which would have been nice to take advantage of for cooking on a rainy day. We stopped there for lunch, but knew that our final climb was looming over our heads: Goodsir Pass.
Goodsir is a much less travelled trail in the National Park system. Most people who hike the Rockwall Trail start at Paint Pots on the highway, hike to Helmet Falls, then do the Tumbling – Numa – Floe Lake route opposite to what we did. However, because we were following the GDT route, our goal was Field, BC, so we turned north instead of continuing east to Paint Pots. It makes for an easy journey with only 10-12 km per day with one pass each. For people with little hiking preparation in ok levels of fitness, this is probably doable. For us, we went faster, but we pushed ourselves quite hard and probably would have been more comfortable had we been in even better shape.
Goodsir started out great. Well maintained trail from the campground up to the pass was easy to follow and good footing. That would not be true as we descended the Yoho (north) side of the pass.
Going down was nasty. Blowdown after blowdown. After blowdown. Some were simple to navigate, most were not. It looked like nobody had been up here all year to clear trail. A recipe for damaged clothing or injury on the many branches and treacherous climbs over logs. At the end of a long section we were tired, and that made it even harder. To make it worse, the descent was largely tree tunnel – hardly any views. On the bright side, the moments when the trees left an opening (usually where a slide had knocked down a path to the river far below), the vista of Goodsir Peak and his friends was breathtaking. It gave us something to lift us up out of the frustration of the blowdown.
With the long day already planned, and the extra time and distance we added from stopping at Tumbling Creek saw us staring at the beginnings of sunset as we finally saw the trail beginning to level out. We breathed a very large sigh of relief as we reached the narrow bridge over Ottertail Creek – it meant the campsite was not far at all.
We reached McArthur Ranger Cabin at sunset. The sky was just beginning to darken, and Cheryl took a much needed break near the brand new outhouse while I scouted the camp for the food storage lockers (no lockers sadly, but there was a bear hang on a metal pole next to some picnic tables) and open campsites – nobody else joined us that night, so we had our pick and nestled into a pot at the edge of a patch of blowdown with nice trees around us. This wasn’t the greatest camp we stayed at, but it was the last and that made it especially restful and quiet.
I was up bright and early and let Cheryl have some extra Z’s while I filled our water bottles out of the river and made breakfast. We weren’t fussed about an early start, especially in light of the biggest distance we pulled of the entire trip yesterday. Plus, we knew the hike out would be almost all downhill on an old access road, and dinner awaited us at Truffle Pigs!
The road walk went on it seemed forever. At one point I was startled as some tussling in the bush ahead resulted in a Fisher (a large weasel related to the Wolverine) jumped out onto the path and ran towards me! He thought the better of his decision and cut off into the trees about 10 meters away from us. The little inclines of the road felt like monsters to us, footweary from the day before still.
But, like all good things, they must sooner or later come to an end and as the highway traffic got louder, we knew our car was close. Cheryl gave the car hood a hug as we reached it, and we quickly tossed our gear in, and drove to put real food in our bellies. A perfect end to a truly excellent hike. Our actuals for days 10 and 11:
- Day 10 – Tumbling Creek to McArthur Creek – 24km over Rockwall Pass and Goodsir Pass.
- Day 11 – McArthur Creek to Ottertail Trailhead – 15km.
- Total Trip: 173km, 10 days on trail.
And now I have created a monster – my wife wants to do another hike! We just have to wait for a pause in our busy year to make some plans. We are moving this summer though, so it may be that we end up far from the Rockies on our next few trips. Stay tuned for more reports!