Steven & Cal Grunt the Rockwall Trail

Day 2

In mid-August, Steven and I travelled to Kootenay National park to do some backpacking on the Rockwall Trail. It was the first time Steven had been able to strap on the backpack for quite a few years.

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I drove to Calgary on the 17th, and Steven and I did some shopping at Mountain Equipment Coop to fill a few gaps that had developed in his equipment and clothing over the years. We got up at 5:30 the next morning to get an early start. We were out of the city by 7:00 and got to the Floe Lake trailhead before 9:00 a.m. The first part of the trail is a slow, steady climb through a large burn area from a forest fire in 2003. The second half of the trail, though, turns into a steep grunt. Steven and I kept thinking that we would stop at a good lookout point to eat lunch, but before we knew it, it was 1:00, and we had grunted our way to the Floe Lake Campsite.

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So, we had lunch, set up camp, and tried out a new coffee press I had bought at MEC. Around 3:00 we had our legs back, so we decided to do some exploring by hiking up a ridge above the lake. When we left, the campground was empty, but by the time we got back, it was crawling with people. One of the things that I found it interesting how many people on this trail were well into their middle age. On this first night we met a group of about eight women (the youngest in her late forties) who were on an annual excursion. With out early start, we were ready to hit the sleeping bags by 8:00 p.m.

Day 2

We didn’t push to get going too early on the second day, but we were still on the trail by 10:00. The trail climbed quickly, so we soon hit the meadows below the Numa Pass early. Unfortunately it was too late in the summer to see many wildflowers; they were past their prime. We made the pass by 11:00, and then it was downhill all the way. One thing about this trip, there was no trivial up-and-down. We were either grunting up or doing a rapid descent. On this particular day, we climbed 400m and dropped 700m. By 2:00 we were in the campsite. We just lazed the rest of the day away.

Day 3

The hike on Day 3 began relatively gradually, but with a lot of vegetation bashing. That was one thing that we found odd about this hike – considering the considerable traffic, the trails were quite overgrown. As treeline approached, though, the trail rose steeply up a grunty series of switchbacks until it broke at the meadows. We ate a snack on a large rock there before making a last push to the pass. Only when we reached the pass did the splendour of Tumbling Glacier and The Rockwall, which gives the trail its name, reveal itself. * WPG2 Plugin Not Validated *
Unfortunately, half-way through the descent, the lateral moraine of the glacier obscured a considerable amount of the scnenery. The drop to the campground was rapid, so we ended up in camp by 1:00 p.m. again. The campground had a good view of the Rockwall and the glacier, so that was rather nice. We set up camp, had lunch, and then spent the rest of the afternoon goofing around. We made inukshuks out of the rocks along the creek and went exploring along the creek banks. We probably spent half an hour just skipping pieces of shale – of all sizes – off the rapids above the campsite.

Day 4

In the middle of the night, I awakened to a rustling sound outside the tarp that Steven and I were sleeping under. Considering that we were just in a tarp and not a tent, a wildlife encounter took on some added dimensions, so I thought I had better investigate. I picked up my newly purchased headlamp to shine it out the opening of the tarp. Unfortunately, in the total blackness I made two “blind” mistakes. First, I pointed the headlamp the wrong direction, and second, because I had it turned around in my hand, I hit the “strobe” button instead of the “on” button. The result was that I blasted a retina-burning flash of light into pupils dilated by total darkness. I fell flat back in my sleeping bag in agony.

When I finally recovered, I stumbled out into the darkness only to find a small black porcupine just five feet from the mouth of our tarp, gnawing on some branches that some idiot had piled in the campsite. Now, porcupines in general are rather inflappable, but mountain porcupines are particularly phlegmatic, so this fellow wasn’t interested in going anywhere on anyone else’s timetable. While he continued to munch, I quickly rounded up any equipment that he might find tasty and made sure it was well under the tarp. (Porcupines crave salt, so they love to chew on pack straps, hip belts, hiking boots, and hiking pole handles.) Then I went to the outhouse, hoping that the little bugger wouldn’t choose to stumble into the tarp while I was gone. When I returned, he had moved on, but I spent much of the night lying there wondering what the heck I would do if one of the spiny little devils lumbered into the tarp. None of the scenarios I envisioned had a pretty ending.

When we got up the next morning, we had a long hike ahead of us, but it was all downhill. We came upon several avalance slopes with considerable expanses of snow to cross. On this particular slope, we could even walk underneath a large snow bridge.
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We added a little excitement to the hike by losing the trail on one of these slopes, but we were lucky enough to get back on track without any mishaps. The large spring runoff had also claimed one of the bridges on the trail, so we had to make our way across the creek the hard way. That, too, was uneventful, but a bit time-consuming. The trail met the highway near the Paint Pots, strange cold-water springs that burble up murky water laden with ochre.

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When we made it to the parking lot, we still had the biggest challenge of the day ahead of us – hitchiking back to the car. We tried different tactics. I tried the traditional, thumbs out approach on the highway. That bombed. Then Steven tried to approach people in the parking lot. That wasn’t any more successful. Finally we prevailed upon a couple eating lunch nearby (who had a massive rabbit cage in their van) to take Steven with them, crammed into the back seat beside the rabbit cage. They actually specified that they would only take Steven; I guess I looked too sinister.

At any rate, we were finally able to get on the road after about an hour and a half delay.

After that, it was a quick drive back to Calgary, where I dropped off Steven, and then I continued all the way home on the same day because I had a meeting out at Lac Pelletier Park the next day. Blecch! Work had started.

PA National Park – 2006

In August, Irene and I decided to repeat a trip we had done a few years ago, a short canoeing route in PA National Park. We took it extra easy on this trip, only paddling for a two to three hours on any given day, and using the rest of the time to lounge around camp and fish. Unfortunately, the fishing was less productive than on our earlier trip, but the lounging was good. Physically, the loop we did could be done in one day. We took four days to do it instead.

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We had good weather the whole trip. We were especially fortunate to have low wind on the two days we had to canoe on Kingsmere Lake. This was especially critical since we were using our old fibreglass canoe, which doesn’t ride all that high in the water. We were also lucky enough to have the campgrounds to ourselves in the smaller, backcountry campgrounds.