Wenkchemna Pass & The Valley of the Ten Peaks

Another one of those iconic hikes, this adventure took us through the Valley of the Ten Peaks, those towering beauties that used to stand in a line across the face of our Canadian $20 bill, past startling blue and green lakes and on up a mountain pass, perched on the edge of a vast wilderness.It was spectacularly beautiful and an incredibly fun day!

[In an effort to build up a resource library, of sorts, for those wanting to visit this area of the world next hiking season, I thought I’d revisit another one of our favourite hikes from last season.]

IMG_6412.jpgThis hike started out from the shores of Moraine Lake, one of those picture-perfect, startling blue lakes in the Lake Louise area. Even arriving at 9am, it was touch and go whether or not we could get up there by car as the place was packed and they start closing off the access road, only letting one car at a time up as others leave. As it was we had to park far down the road from the popular parking lot.

***Please note though, that 90% of people who crowd that parking lot and visit this lake stay right beside the parking lot, snapping photos & climbing a pile of rocks, and do not venture up the trails. 10% venture up the trail, but of that only about 2% do the trail to Eiffel Lake and Wenkchemna Pass, our goal for that day. 

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Counting the 10 peaks that make up the valley… Wenkchemna, our goal for the day, is the indigenous name for the number 10… so we were heading to the pass beside the 10th peak of this valley.

So this is still a trail that is most definitely needs to be on your hit list if you have time for a full day’s adventure! If you’re in the area, get an early start (8am at the trailhead), lace up those boots, bring along coffee to make the early start bearable, and pack a great lunch and plenty of water. You won’t be disappointed!

IMG_6416.jpgThe trail quickly turned away from the hoards at the lake shore and headed up a series of switchbacks which we did at what our friend called a “blistering pace” to dodge the numerous other hikers on that main trail. After 45 minutes or so of switchbacking (a slog, to be sure), we turned left off the main trail and onto the one for Eiffel Lake. That’s when things got very, very good. We relaxed into a leisurely pace as the trail broke out onto the slope, far above Moraine Lake, across the valley from those majestic ten peaks. From that moment on, and for the remaining 6 hours or so of our hike, we were “in the views” the entire time! (And in relative solitude.)

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Moraine Lake is the startling aqua lake in this photo (this shot was taken on our way back when the light was right and the colours were vivid). You need to view it from up high to really appreciate its colour.

One of our first view points had us counting those iconic 10 peaks as they splayed out across the valley on the landscape before us. They were beauties! With glaciers tucked up in between their peaks, towering moraine piles of rock debris and colourful lakes at their feet, they were an incredible sight to behold.

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Even in the summer you can still see the glaciers up high, tucked in between the peaks. The silt and sediment in their meltwater is what gives the lakes below their startling blue colour.

IMG_6425.JPGWe were heading to the low spot between those mountains… Wenkchemna Pass (Wenkchemna is the indigenous word for the number 10), on the right side of the tenth mountain in that incredible lineup of peaks.

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After a while, we came onto scree slopes that our trail went along at a nice, horizontal angle. A little exposure (the perspective is off in this panorama shot), but nothing tough here.

At the edge of this scree field, we came across a VERY tame marmot. A marmot looks a little like a beaver without the tail and the watery habitat & the wood chewing teeth. It has the strangest high pitched whistle that warns others in its colony of approaching predators, so you hear them frequently on trails when you hike in the mountains. They live a little like prairie dogs, but in the scree rock debris or moraine piles left behind by the glaciers.

The weird thing about the encounter was that our dog, Seamus, hardly paid this big, pot-bellied marmot any attention, and it was completely unafraid of Seamus. We stopped and watched and it eventually waddled across the trail in front of us and went up into the scree rocks. 

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At this point, our trail was well above Eiffel Lake (the small lake at the base of the grey moraine piles just left of the middle of this photo).
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Looking back on the ten peaks and the valley we’d come along (our trail went along the left hand side of this photo).
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Our trail cut through the valley of lichen covered boulders, and teeny tiny alpine flowering plants. This photo looks back on the trail we’d come along.

It never ceases to amaze me that flowers like these can grow in such harsh environments!

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Soon the rock debris became bigger.
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Eiffel Lake was a spectacular colour!
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Where a stream trickled through, there was such incredibly vibrant green moss, creating a huge moss garden, like a forest of miniature plants.
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Next came a series of switchbacks to gain the pass, up over rocky ledges.
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There were a bunch of anemones up there… I always think of them as Dr. Seuss’ Thing One and Thing Two characters.
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Occasionally we’d cross snow patches that Seamus loved to bite in great big chunks, and then roll in. It must have felt good in the hot July sun in that black fur coat.
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From a viewpoint along the switchbacks, we could finally appreciate the massive size of those glacial debris piles that surrounded Eiffel Lake. Can you see the other hiker in this photo for perspective?
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From higher up we could see the lakes once again.
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There’s something so fun about hiking over the snow in shorts!
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Almost at the pass!
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Made it.
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These mountain passes are such rugged, barren, wind-swept places.
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These are the views over the other side of the pass.

According to our map, peering over this side of the mountain shoulder was a glimpse over the edge of a vast expanse of wilderness with no hiking trails or backcountry or warden cabins at all for a tremendous distance. It was so neat to be perched on the edge of it.

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Soon it was time to head back down.
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Our views heading back down were bathed in light, now that the sun was directly overhead and filling the valley with light, rather than shadow.
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In this landscape, you easily lose all sense of perspective. It is so huge!
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… And we are so small! See what I mean now that there are people in the same photo as the one above?
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On the way back, the light was hitting the lakes at just the right angle, showing off their incredible colours.
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An “in and out” trail, it was no less spectacular on the way out!
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We hiked back out across the scree shoulder.
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Our track… it was a beauty to follow!
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And as Moraine Lake popped into view down below, it was an unreal colour!

Such a spectacular hike. All told, getting back down the road to where our car was parked, we hiked 20km this day… and every step was worth it! 20km… rather fitting for the scene on a $20!

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This is the old $20 Canadian bill that features this Valley of the Ten Peaks.

Click here for more terrific hikes in Banff National ParkAnd check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.

8 Comments on “Wenkchemna Pass & The Valley of the Ten Peaks

  1. Beautiful place! It was great to read about the hike and see tons of photos of the place to get a glimpse of what it’s like. Thanks for taking time to post about this wonderful hike.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Un-Peaked Eiffel Peak – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

  3. Pingback: Hiking the Paradise Valley to Sentinel Pass & Moraine Lake – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

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