Monday, August 20, 2007

Trip Report: Yoho National Park

Our search for the sun was successful! On Wednesday morning, Ian and I got on the 9:00am ferry and headed towards the mountains. Because this was a last-minute adventure, we decided to go into familiar territory and headed for Yoho National Park. After a motel stop in Revelstoke, we proceeded early on Thursday morning to the Yoho Information Centre to purchase our park permit and wilderness passes. We asked about some of the backcountry hiking which allowed for "random camping" (no assigned campsites) but were advised that the best hiking was in the Yoho Valley. We chose an itinerary based on this advice, and opted for 3 nights: one night each at Twin Falls, Little Yoho River, and Yoho Lake.

Plans were settled, and we eagerly set off for the short drive up Yoho Valley Road towards Takakkaw Falls. Around 11:00 am, we quickly grabbed our packs and headed up the Yoho River trail. It only took about 5 minutes to leave the tourist-filled parking lot behind, and soon we were in the relative solitude of the Yoho Valley.

The hike to Twin Falls is about 8km on well-marked trails. Although this is some of the most accessible, beautiful hiking around, we only saw a couple of day hikers and even fewer backpackers. After an hour, roughly halfway along the Yoho River trail, we passed Laughing Falls which I assume got its name from when I tripped over a root and Ian laughed at me. Another hour later and we were at the Twin Falls campground. No, we didn't both trip over here: this one is actually named for the waterfall that divides into two distinct plumes falling 180 meters (591 feet). We set up camp and had lunch, then put on the daypack and headed up towards the Yoho Glacier.

The trail up to the Glacier begins in a pine forest, but soon opens on an expansive and barren valley and the Yoho River. Panoramic views of the Waputik Icefield, Mt Balfour, Mt Gordon, and Yoho Peak prevail. Hiking up the rock strewn pathway, the trail gets steeper and then scrambled up some rocks beside multiple waterfalls. We explored the waterfalls for a while, scrambling about on the rocks and looking for a safe place to safely cross a small branch of the river to continue on the trail. As it was getting late in the afternoon, the river was fairly wide, and we didn't feel comfortable with jumping the distance and risking a twisted ankle. After a bit more exploring, we started back towards camp. A father and son went by, in a rush to avoid what they predicted was an impending storm. They mentioned that it was just a "hop" across the river, but we still opted for safety and continued back to camp. The "storm" never materialized, so we spent the rest of the evening relaxing by the river with a book and plenty to eat.

Day two was to take us to the Little Yoho campsite. Heading out of camp, the trail takes you to the base of Twin Falls for some fantastic views, then punishes you for them by heading straight up to the top of the Falls. Well, not quite straight -- there's plenty of switchbacks. Once at the top of the Falls we stopped for lunch and took many photographs of the valley down below. Thankfully, the ruggedness of this trail keeps the majority of tourists away, so the steep cliffs are accessible without the usual blight of guard rails, fences, and warning signs. Common sense keeps you at a reasonable distance, while allowing for an unimpeded view for hundreds of miles.

Once we crossed over the top of Twin Falls, the trail continued to climb for a bit to the top of Whaleback (7250 ft.) A few more photos, and we headed down the much-steeper switchbacks towards the Little Yoho River. We both agreed that coming up from this direction would have been much harder. About 7km from where we started, we arrived at a junction and headed up the Little Yoho River trail. This 5km trail went through a mostly forested area with beautiful meadows and stream crossings until arriving at the Little Yoho campground. We set up camp and had lunch, then freshened up in the ice-cold river.

I was still full of energy at this point, so I decided to head up the 4km trail to Kiwetinok Pass. Ian was feeling his age and opted to stay at camp and guard the coffee. I grabbed some water and a snack then headed up the trail. After about 10 minutes I arrived at an unmarked 3-way junction. David, a gentleman we had met at the previous campsite, had been exploring the area and said the right-hand fork looked like the one to the pass, so off I went. A couple of easy river crossings were required, then playtime was over. The trail went straight up, and then got steeper. I was in full spirits, and practically jogged up the next few kilometers. After one false summit, I crested a second ridge and was rewarded with a small, deep-blue lake of stunning clarity. I took a short break and splashed about in the frigid water, then sprinted up the final section of trail to the top of the pass. Absolutely stunning views in all directions took my breath away, and I cursed myself for forgetting my camera. Luckily David came to the rescue and sent me some great photos, including the one at the top of this paragraph. He also advised me that the

I eventually tore myself away from the top of the world, and bounced down the trail past a few other hikers, practically beaming with contentment. When I got back to camp, I tried not to gush too much about the trail to Ian as I knew he had a hard time saying no to the hike. He made the right choice though, and didn't take a risk that could have made the rest of the trip less enjoyable.

Saturday morning, we awoke to another clear day, and started the trek towards Yoho Lake. After a few kilometers in the forest, we reached the junction to the Iceline Trail. This popular trail follows a ridge just below the Emerald Glacier, and winds through a boulder-strewn landscape replete with small lakes, ice patches, and creeks. Views of Takakkaw Falls and the Daly Glacier proved irresistible to our cameras. We passed dozens of dayhikers equally dazzled by the sights, exhausted after their climb from the valley below. After about 6km on the Iceline Trail, we turned back into the trees toward Yoho Lake.

Emerging into the campground and picnic area at Yoho Lake was a little surreal. A very popular dayhiking spot, the lake front was filled with screaming children, dogs, and guided tour groups. I knew they had all made a long, steep hike to get there, so I didn't begrudge them for intruding on my solitude. We scouted out the available campsites, and found one by the lake with a couple just packing up ready to leave. Rather than hover over them, we retreated back to the main beach area to relax and put our feet up. When the couple still hadn't left after an hour, we settled for a spot in the trees. The lakefront spot probably was probably too close to the water anyway.

After setting up camp, we started to head towards Yoho Pass and Emerald Lake. Once over the pass it was 4km straight down to Emerald Lake, and we were a bit hesitant to hike that far down and end our day with a long uphill hike. I felt suddenly very clammy and sweaty, and really wanted to go back to Yoho Lake for a swim. We abandoned our hike and headed back to the campsite, which was now deserted. I took the opportunity to don the special swimsuit given to me at birth, and jumped in the glacier-fed lake. The water was a bit warmer than the rivers at the other campsites, and I managed to cleanse myself without risking hypothermia.

After my swim, we noticed black thunderheads racing towards us over Wapta Mountain. The air thickened, then shook with thunder. We quickly strung up our small siltarp and had dinner under the shelter while the heavens opened up for an hour-long deluge. Goretex laden campers hurried in from their various explorations and sought the shelter of their tents. It seems we were the only ones who have discovered the 4 oz. siltarp. I wonder if my sudden need to abandon our hike was my body's spidey-sense tingling and detecting the coming storm long before my eyes did? Maybe I'll get a job as a meteorologist. Or a superhero. Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's a Weatherman!

I digress. The storm passed and everyone emerged from the nylon cocoons. The rest of the evening was spent reading, relaxing, and chatting with our new friends Barry and oh-I'm-so-bad-with-names. If you're reading this, please forgive my ignorance, you know what we all smoke out here in BC. And mom, I know you read my blog, I'm just kidding. (Edit: Barry and Jennifer sent me an email too!)

Sunday morning we awoke early and quickly packed up camp. It was a short 4km hike back to the car, and we knew we could make the 9:00pm ferry if we didn't dawdle. Just as we put our packs on it started to drizzle. Hiking in the rain is fine, but I'm glad we didn't have to pack up in it. 45 minutes later we were in the car, and headed into Field to have breakfast at the Truffle Pigs Cafe. With casual service, excellent coffee, and a small but tasty menu, Truffle Pigs is an adventure in itself. Allow for an hour or so as it's usually busy, but there's plenty of knickknacks and distractions to pass the time.

The drive home was long and uneventful, an although we got to the ferry terminal at 6:45, there was a two-sailing wait so we were on the 9:00 sailing anyway. The buffet made the crossing bearable, and shortly before midnight I was home to a warm shower and soft bed.

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