Adventuring on Snow Pillows: Emerald Lake Part 1

Deep snow! At last! We’d been searching and searching. We hadn’t found the incredibly deep, need-to-wear-snowshoes-to-stay-afloat snow on the Karst Spring Trail up at higher elevation in the Spray as we’d hoped. So we figured we’d need to head deeper into the mountains, across the BC border, near the infamous Roger’s Pass, where it always snows more heavily, to find it. And find it, we did! It’s a bit of a gamble though, as the wintry roads to and from can be dicey and, at times, need to close for avalanche control (or clean up), so you can get stuck on that side of the mountains in the winter, if you aren’t lucky.

Emerald Lake is a vivid green-blue lake in the summer, just as picturesque as Lake Louise, but not as heavily visited. You can see its astonishing colour, caused by the suspended sediments (called “rock flour”) entering its basin from the melting glaciers on the President & Vice President mountains (in the background of the photo) in the summertime. Our trail on this day would take us completely around Emerald Lake, and then through the delta area that you can see clearly in the photo below.

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A view of Emerald Lake from the Burgess Shale fossil site.

The glaciers that are melting into the lake, giving it its spectacular colour, are the ones we hiked along, on the other side of the mountains in this picture, when we hiked the spectacular, not-to-be-missed Iceline Trail last summer.

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Emerald Lake is located across the Alberta-British Columbia border, west of Lake Louise, near the town of Field, in Yoho National Park.
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The lodge itself, and its beautiful cabins, lie on the shores of the Lake and it is a great place to stay, or stop for a meal. We had stayed here with the kids one spring break, many years ago, and loved it. We’d been meaning to return ever since.

When we arrived at the day-use parking lot, it was snowing lightly. The area has maintained ski and snowshoe trails that are very gentle, rolling only ever so slightly, through a spectacular setting, with often terrific snow quality.

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There was a beautiful hush in the forest, caused by the deep snow on the forest floor, and the softly falling snow absorbing a lot of the sound. And those mounds? They’re not hills, they’re piles of snow!
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You do need to be careful and aware, hike with a great deal of separation between you & your partner, (hike early in the morning before the sun warms the slopes, if at all possible) and keep your eyes up-slope and ears listening for that womphing sound as you hike below an avalanche slope, as we did, briefly, here.

One of the things that’s so neat about snowshoeing through an area that experiences deep, deep snow like this is just what happens with the snow: it piles around the outside edges of the trees as it slides and sloughs off, creating deep “tree wells” followed by mounding snow piles that encircle the trunks. It creates a beautiful, undulating, up-down-up-down rolling to the trail as you work your way through the forest.

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This is one of the “tree wells,” a nemesis of back country down-hill ski enthusiasts who find themselves skiing through the treeline.
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Alpine trees have another neat adaptation: they are very skinny so that the weight of the snow doesn’t accumulate on long branches, snapping them.
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Someone had tried to hike in boots before us… they must have sunk up to their thighs!
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The trail follows the shoreline of Emerald Lake.
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Springs feed into the lake that are slightly warmer, above zero, temperatures, leaving open water channels, surrounded by deep, pillowy snow mounds.
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The water is very shallow at the delta area of the lake, but the snow piles are very big… you have no sense of perspective here, so look at the next photo…
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…this is the snow pillow, pictured above! They were quite challenging to climb up and down in snowshoes!
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It was so fun to play around on those mounds. And I have to confess, though Bill didn’t get it on camera, I did a few lovely face plants! It is hard to get back up, buried in deep snow with huge anchors on your feet!
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We went up and down, up and down through the delta area.
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The wet stones, the frost crystals, the deep snow, the darkness of the day, the gentle hush of the falling snow, and the dramatic landscape with the looming, dark, foreboding shapes of the mountains all worked together to create sheer magic on the day’s experiences.
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Despite the deep snow, the far end of the lake’s shoreline is quite exposed.

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There’s something so wonderfully atmospheric about those low-lying clouds.
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To think that we were hiking the Iceline on the shoulders of the other side of those mountains in the summer!
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Clearly, it has been colder here. Look at the way this small tree is cuddled by the snow pillow!
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Soon it was time to head back into the forest & find our trail for the way back.
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Looking back at the delta, we saw a skier having trouble negotiating the bumps (far left)! If you’re going to fall, this is about as spectacular a place as you can get to do it!
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We went back into the forest on the other side of the lake, with its boulders and tree stumps piled high with snow.
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In places, the snow caps had been played with, like this one, that’s been turned into a jack-‘o-lantern.
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Up and down, up and down the trail went over the tree-sloughed snow mounds…
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…over and under the occasional obstacle… a tricky thing to do in snowshoes(!)…
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…through the forest of snow-covered skinny trees…
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…across the outflow of the lake…
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…past the spring-fed pond with the beautiful mirrored surface of its open water…

… and back to the lodge where we took a break with coffee… and planned the next trail we’d adventure on that day… (more to come in the next post).

It was a fun day, and worth the (hour plus) long drive to the trailhead because we got to experience the deep snow that we’ve been searching for all winter, we got to be away from the crowds (there are advantages to going to out-of-the-way locations), and we got to return to a place we’ve been before and loved.


As a side note, we will be returning to the Emerald Lake area this summer, as we’ve signed up to do a tour of the Burgess Shale. It’s one of those life bucket-list things for me, as I’ve always wanted to see the fossils there, and learn how to find them and read them. The area is rich in 500 million year old fossil deposits, and you can only access them with a guide, as they are a highly protected treasure. And what is truly unique, is that many of the fossils allow you to see their soft body shapes & details (usually with fossils, only the bones are preserved). For more info on the Burgess Shale, go to the Royal Ontario Museum site (they’ve been sending teams out here to study the fossils for years). Should you want to visit the site yourself, go HERE to find out more info & book a guided hiking tour. Personally, I can’t wait!


Click here for more terrific hikes in Yoho National Park. And check out more hikes from Canada and our adventures around the world here.

9 Comments on “Adventuring on Snow Pillows: Emerald Lake Part 1

  1. Sheri, I’m officially jealous. Emerald Lake set against the monstrous presidentials (and vice presidentials) in the background transfixed me. beautiful photo. Then a playful romp through the snow.

    I’m not going to say I’m jealous (even though we both know it’s true 😉 ).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful place Sheri. You slowly started to convince me that I need to try winter hikes some time. 😀

    Like

    • It is beautiful. Entirely different, it gives you another way to experience the mountain landscapes without hurtling yourself down at break neck speeds on skis. You just have to carry a bit more and wear a bit more… and not stop for long! Ha ha! And at some point, you have to experience that deep “hush” that a ton of snow puts on the atmosphere if a wintry trail. There’s really nothing like it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Hamilton Falls: Emerald Lake Part 2 – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

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