Wanting to test our elevation limits before leaving for Peru, we did this hike, high in Banff National Park. Situated across the valley from Bow Lake, Bow Glacier, Crowfoot Glacier and Iceberg Lake, it was a hike with breathtaking views! Seriously, it was stunning… one of my all time favourite hikes!
The hike to Helen Lake, and then up and onto Cirque Peak was a hike that would take us up into an alpine valley that was at approximately the height of Machu Picchu. From there we’d ascend a long scree ramp that would take us up another 800m to a point that was still 500m or so shy of Cusco (where we plan to acclimatize for 4 days). It wouldn’t get us to that Cusco height or to the height we’d be attaining over the Sulkantay Pass, but it would at least give us an idea if we’d be in trouble at elevation in Peru as it takes us into the arena where altitude issues begin to rear their heads. Thankfully, other than a wee lack of energy, we felt no side effects!
As we ascended the ridge, we kept hearing a marmot call out warnings to its colony with its seriously loud & shrill whistle. They love to hide in bouldery rocky rubble. Up top there were lots of marmots around, like this mom & babe, snaggin’ all of Seamus’ attention!
Below was our tea spot on the rocky are of Dolomite Pass. With views of Dolomite Peak (in the background) and alpine tarns, it was spectacular. But what was most intriguing is the rock formation that we sat on. Like a petrified mud flow over giant dinosaur eggs, each one of these humps was a good foot high. We sat on them like seats in an amphitheatre.
We would be heading up the thin line in the red part of the mountain’s shoulder that you can just barely make out here. In hindsight, we’d have been better off scrambling up the small rocky cliff at the far left of the ramp, than climbing up that steep sandy, scree slope.
As we came up the side and onto the scree ramp, we got views once again of Bow Glacier as it cascades into Iceberg Lake (a lake that had been hidden to us on the hike up so far). It was hard work, making our way up that ramp, but the beauties revealed along the way were like hidden gems, making the sweat and toll on our breathing so worthwhile!
Climbing higher and higher, we ascended 600m up the scree slope.
The scree was loose and rough at times. Sometimes there was a distinct trail, and sometimes it was just rock rubble that slid and moved under your feet. You just had to trust that each time you slid, you’d stop.
Here’s one up close. It’s amazing how well they blend into the colours of the rocks.
Hiking back along the shores of the lake to the rocky ridge above Helen Lake.
Heading through the flowering meadow with Dolomite Peak across the ever-widening valley on our left.
Click here for more terrific hikes in Banff National Park. And check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.
Trekking up a mountain’s shoulder, hiking through a flowering alpine meadow, snowshoeing through a dense pine forest, or taking in the 360 degree views from a ridge top vantage point make me feel alive. The experiences in these places give me a profound sense of space and place.
Travel does a similar thing, pushing me out of my comfort zone, exposing me to new experiences, new people and new ways of thinking; it also gives me that sense of space and place in this world.
I believe that life is lived in the contrasts: when you experience simplicity and complexity and life's ups and downs, whether they be physically in this world or mentally in your own personal inner landscape, you know that you are truly living.
The bigger they are, the more there is to explore!