I’m trying to sum up the trip we just completed at Mount Robson Provincial Park – hiking the Berg Lake Trail over five days – and all I can come up with is a big ole Wow!
Everything about the trip was amazing, to the point of being faintly blessed – even the difficult first day which saw Brian and I heat-exhausted served to cast the rest of the trip into relief rather than being a downer. The views were incredible, the people we traveled with amazing, and at Berg Lake we had all-but private camping. So for those of you who like to follow along here is the trip in a nutshell:
(This is ridiculously long – check out the photos instead if you don’t feel like reading.)
The Cast of Characters
This was a large group hiking experience, though we eventually broke up into smaller hiking units according to interest and skill. Eleven of us in all we were myself, Brian, Mica and her oldest friend Ruby, Brian’s brother David and his partner Xiowei, Brian’s Uncle Bill, our friends Jon and Al, Al’s son Kalen and his grown nephew Zack. We ranged in age from 15 to 62 and at all levels of expertise (from zero to lots) at the backpacking game.
Day One: Driving Vancouver to Valemount
We drove eight hours in a heat wave from Vancouver to Valemount, arrived at the Valemount Hotel which boasts the only bar in town, had long chats with the barkeep/owner Peter, ate small-town Chinese food that wasn’t horrible, and attempted to sleep in the stuffiest, hottest room I have ever slept in. Oh, and trains woke us up every hour. Most of our party got no sleep, or very little.
Day Two: Checking in, Hiking to Whitehorn
Getting up at 6 am wasn’t hard because none of us had really slept and the rooms were still uncomfortably hot. We made a beeline for the truck stop up the highway and loaded up on greasy trucker breakfasts before driving on in to Mount Robson Provincial Park. Before you can go on this hike, check-in is required as is watching a video about the park and things you need to know about hiking in the backcountry. I’m not sure why they make you watch a video at this park in particular – but they do. In any case the Parks staff were all really friendly and processed us as quickly as they could. We were at the trail head by nine, just as the day was starting to warm up.
I haven’t backpacked for awhile so I will admit that the first few km, though not steeply inclined, were a bit of a slog for me. Not terrible, but I could feel my body protesting as it stretched itself out under the weight of a forty-pound pack. The other thing about the first day is that you do 250 meters of vertical incline…. but it’s not 250 metres over the whole 11 km. It’s 250 metres over 1.5 km – which in 35-degree heat conspired to almost kill Brian and I on the way up. Rather than dying, we opted to take a nice long break about 1.5 km from the end and I have since had a chance to reflect on what was going on there besides the fact that it was hot and we did not have enough water…… the pace throughout the day was just greater than what we are used to doing and by the time we hit that last difficult stretch we were in need of a longer break. Sadly, one of the people we were hiking with had some sort of a speed complex going on and was setting a faster pace than I like in a hike (even without a pack). Fortunately we didn’t do another day of hiking with him, so this didn’t become an issue again.
When we finally reached Whitehorn, Brian and I were not sure we wanted to go on the next day – the ascent being double the length and double the incline (500 metres over 4 km) – especially if the weather was blistering again. We figured we could hang at Whitehorn and chill out for a couple of days while everyone else went up which would have suited us fine. However, we also knew that the girls would not likely go up without us and we didn’t want to deny them what we had come there to do. After some serious consideration we agreed that we would set the alarm for 4:30 am and work to complete the ascent before the worst heat of the day, that we would hike as slow as we felt like going and take many breaks, and that anyone at anytime could call it quits.
Day Three: Whitehorn to Berg Lake
We started our day as planned, at 4:30 which probably wasn’t necessary since the day was cool and a bit overcast – but so much the better! After eating breakfast and hanging out with David and Bill, our party of five (Brian, myself, Jon, Mica and Ruby) set off around 5:30 dubbing ourselves the “sloth hikers” and pretty sure that David, Xiowei and Bill would catch up to us on the trail at some point.
Now the hike from Whitehorn to Emperor Falls campsite is definitely a hella-slog – switchbacks and inclines the whole way – but it is also stunningly beautiful. For every break we took, we looked out on a new scenery of peaks and waterfalls, ice fields and glaciers high up in the mountains and stopped for lengthy breaks at the three major viewpoints on the trail (White Falls, Falls of the Pool and Emperor Falls). True to our word, we took short breaks frequently and a few longer breaks, taking about four hours to go four kilometres – but we also ate awesome snacks and had lots of laughs – plus Jon gave lessons in the geology of the area as we wended our way up the trail. By the time we were snacking at the Emperor Falls campsite, Bill, Xiowei and David had caught up to us and we completed the next portion of the hike together.
The next six km took less than two hours and followed a route through the forest, across a scree slope and then into the valley at the base of Mt Robson.
It was all pretty incredible and we hung around in the valley for awhile having our minds blown.
The photos really don’t do any of this scenery justice. Let me say now that this was without a doubt the most beautiful day of hiking I have ever done.
After we reached the edge of Berg Lake, it was an easy 2 km to the campsite. Brian’s brother beat us there and managed to snag a set of sites that were separated from the main camp by a bridge over a rushing river and so we essentially ended up with our own private campground.
As I said to Brian and Jon that day – I think Tuesday was one of the best days of my life. Not only did I meet a challenge head on, the scenery was breathtaking and the company was excellent. I felt life-affirmed on so many levels – including as a parent – that I would be hard pressed to think of anything better than that day.
Day Four: Adolphus Lake & Robson Glacier
Brian, Bill and I hiked around together for most of the day while the teenagers went off to the other end of Berg Lake to attempt a dip (they only got partway in, that’s one cold lake!). We hiked up to Adolphus Lake across the Alberta border in Jasper Provincial Park, and then back down and over to the sign for where the Robson Glacier once reached in 1911:
The weather was incredible that day and mostly we just took it easy in the sun and I got lots of photos:
Other members of our party went on various hikes and walks – including the Snowbird Pass trail which is apparently quite the hike! David and Xiowei took it on and were an hour late getting back, owing to an undercalculation of the difficulty.
In the evening we sat around and ate lots of noodles and I laughed more than I probably ever have in my life. For real. And then I got this evening shot of Robson:
Day Five: Berg Lake to Kinney Lake
On Day Five we basically hiked fourteen kilometres, and a lot of it was sharply downhill. It was all the beauty and amazingness in reverse and though it was a long day, it was mild and overcast again making for a pretty nice hike. Once at Kinney Lake we had lots of time to hang out and make clam chowder! (Seriously, Brian and I did some pretty fancy cooking on this trip) Also we still had a bottle of wine that we had cached at Whitehorn – a nice touch to our last night in the bush.
Day Six: Kinney Lake and Out to Kamloops
We hiked out on Day Six, but not before meeting and hanging out with Olympian Clara Hughes and her partner Peter who were also camped at Kinney Lake. They are on a cycle tour around the province right now so I gave them some advice on BC highways and places to check out, as well as an insider tip to some petroglyphs. We all ended up trading stories about our travels and basically just shooting the shit for quite a while before heading out of camp. I gotta say – those are two of the nicest and most grounded folks I have ever met – and meeting them just added a little extra-special to what was otherwise just the hike out.
We got to the trail head around noon, zipped across to the provincial car-campground to grab a shower, and then headed back to the truck stop for fried sandwiches and coffee before getting on the highway for real. Fortunately we were only traveling to Kamloops because after coming out of the woods my nervous system was all a-twitch at the fact I was on the highway again. If I was going to do that again, I would definitely stay another night in Valemount or Blue River and then do the drive home – but we had a party to be at!
Our friend Al’s brother lives in the ‘loops and so we ended up there for the night, drinking beer and hanging out in the warm valley with his brothers. We played some tunes, sang a bit, and told tales of derring-do long into the night. I was basically entertained for hours by two of Al’s brothers trading off stories and complaints while I sipped a beer and laughed at the appropriate junctures. Brian and I slept in the back of my car rather than set the tent up one more time, and I have to admit, it was way more comfortable than sleeping on the ground.
Day Seven: Kamloops to Vancouver
Totally uneventful drive home in the morning with a single stop in Merritt for breakfast. While it was nice to get home to my luscious summer garden, I was also heartbroken for the experience to be over.
Backpacking provides a lot of opportunity for thinking and reflection and during the five days we were on the trail a lot of things welled to the surface that I hope to explore more in writing. In particular I was struck by what true support and leadership looks like, the nature of family bonds, and the difference between racing to the finish versus enjoying the journey. I’m feeling really energized since returning home and am looking forward to all our other adventures planned for the summer and fall – including another overnight trip at Garibaldi or Cheakamus Lake if we can swing it. I also feel renewed in my commitment to working out so I can do more trails!