Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park in the fall


Sometimes, you just get lucky. Getting into Lake O'Hara is not the easiest affair, but it is usually worth it. Especially in late September when the larch trees have turned golden, and it happens to be a calm, bluebird day. A few of us booked campsites in this amazing gem of Yoho National Park in late September.

Days previous, snow blanketed the area, but it warmed enough to melt it away from lower elevations - such that we were able to hike the Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit (11.8 km) that reaches a maximum elevation of 8300 ft (2530m). It goes up and down three distinct climbs that traverse cool ledges, small waterfalls, and amazing views of many lakes. Add the larch colours, glaciers, and spectacular 500 million year old Cambrian rock, and you have one of the most iconic walkabouts in the Canadian Rockies. 

Kudos to Lawrence Grassi and others who created this hike - the efforts put into the rock work along the way are a showcase as to how trails should be created and maintained! 

Access to Lake O'Hara is restricted. It makes for somewhat of a painful process to book yourself on a day hike (or camp) months in advance, so that you get access to the bus up the 11 km road from the TransCanada highway. Or, you can book into the Alpine Club of Canada hut, or the Lodge at Lake O'Hara ($$$S), which will give you access to the bus. Or, walk up the road - and back down, which would not likely allow you time for this hike. But, there are many other shorter hikes to the myriad of lakes and vistas in the area.

Mt Field ski tour

It was -25C when we grabbed another coffee in Lake Louise, and continued into Yoho National Park, just beyond the Divide into BC. We parked just off the highway at the gate, put the skins on our alpine touring gear, and headed on up the road that had been packed down by Park's Canada skidoos before the last storm. Numerous frozen waterfalls are displayed on the cliffs around you as you make your way along. After a 6km trek on the road (almost 2 hours with the AT gear), we had some tea, and then headed up a creek drainage heading west off the road. At times, it was a little tough going through tight trees towards Mt Field, but before too long, we were into the alpine, cutting our own track way north, below Mt Wapta.

We weren't in the sun much, being November - stopping on a cold day like this isn't in the cards. We ripped the skinsoff, and headed down on a semi-predetermined route that we had eye-balled from the road.. We had to adjust the route a bit when we ended up standing on a reasonably substantial cliff, but it wasn't a big deal. The snow was fantastic for the third week of November - really only wind-affected at our high point. Soft and fluffy to the valley bottom on a nice firm snowpack with 10-15 cm of new stuff on top! Apart from the cold, and a still-open creek by the road, it was a stellar day! -15C back at the car, after an hour of doing the xc shuffle - and I could feel both my feet...

Given the 12 km of road travel - not a venture I would do every week. But for some awesome scenery, and one great run, I wouldn't have missed it!