Abbot Hut… A Bucket List Adventure (Part 1)

This the first in a five part series of posts on our adventures in the Lake O’Hara area. It serves as an introduction to our Abbot Hut experience and gives you a sense of what’s to come.

Abbot Hut is an Alpine Club of Canada hut in the backcountry high up and beyond Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. Perched on a col between Banff National Park and Yoho National Park, and tucked away in the Lake Louise area, out of sight of the average tourist, it’s been credited with being one of the birthplaces of Rocky Mountain mountaineering. Set in a dramatic, inspiring landscape, far above the tree line at 2925m (9596′) with a heart-pounding, hands on the rock, steep scree ascent to a hut that is the second highest building in all of Canada, it is an incredible introduction to the mountaineering hut experience. 

It lies perched both on the border between British Columbia and Alberta and on the Continental Divide, that line that follows the tall peaks of our mountain range, north west to south east, dividing the continent’s watershed in two. West of the Continental Divide, water flows to the pacific Ocean; east it flows to the Arctic Ocean, Hudson’s Bay and ultimately all the way to the Atlantic Ocean clear across the massive North American continent. It is an important, dramatic setting, for sure.

Look carefully and you’ll see the hut, camouflaged into the mountain’s shoulder off to the right, made out of the rock that surrounds it.

It is a dynamic place, sculpted by howling winds, flowing and calving glaciers, rocks moving and cascading down steep slopes… and so it is a landscape that changes itself before your very eyes. I sat out there, the day we arrived, taking it all in from the vantage point of the photo below.IMG_7121.jpgExtreme landscapes, extreme experiences and extreme beauty inspire. And this place has it all. Those experiences get your heart racing and make you feel like you are truly living this life, and not passively letting it slip by.

IMG_7169.jpgIt is a very special place with impressive and inspiring mountaineering history. To walk in the footsteps of such intrepid explorers and adventurers is such an incredibly moving experience.

The hut was full of photos and stories from its iconic past that made for fascinating reading. It is a place steeped in adventure. It is a place set on having you experience the raw power and beauty of the dynamic, thrilling, awe-inspiring mountainous landscape.

IMG_7130.jpgOur good friends, the Frickers, organized an adventure for us and a few friends to head up to that iconic place. And what a fantastic opportunity it was to be included! We just got back this week.

Our gang of friends who came on this adventure.

It was our first time in a back country hut, ever… and our first time hiking with heavy packs, ugh….and it was such an incredible way to begin!

The packs were heavier than anything I’d carried on my back before! Here Bill and I are perched above beautiful Lake O’Hara on the Huber Ledges.

Most people come up to Lake O’Hara to hike the alpine circuit, an incredible series of day hike trails that take you around picturesque lakes lying at the base of incredibly dramatic mountains. Each lake is a different colour, and many are stacked in the landscape, occurring at different heights, held in by rock bands and moraines, and separated by stunning creeks and waterfalls.

Access to the area is limited to prevent excessive erosion to the trails and to the fragile landscape over time. You need to book passage on a school bus shuttle that takes you up a rough 12km access road, whether you are doing a day hike, staying at the (very expensive & exclusive) Lake O’Hara Lodge, or using one of the Alpine Club of Canada huts (there are 2) or the small campground.

Booking passage on those busses happens in April and they are all booked up in the blink of an eye… demand for this experience is so hot! And deservedly so!

At the beautiful Lake Oesa, you head off the trails marked on the maps, and head up to the hut on the alpinists’ route, tucked around the corner on the left of this photo.

Getting up to the hut is a real challenge. You need to veer off the hiking trails and head up a tall scree slope to attain the hut’s lofty col.

Climbing up the scree was an all-hands-on-the-rock adventure some of the time.

It was the toughest scree slope we’ve climbed to date. It was very steep and had lots of deep, moving rock at times. We’d been training on hard hikes with intense elevation gains and scree slopes to get comfortable on what would be grueling ups and knee jarring, quad-killing downs all summer long to be better prepared to make the most of the trip. And I’m glad we did.

These photos had been pinned to our planning board since winter… and I studied them over and over, wondering just how I was going to be able to make it up that route! It haunted my dreams, that’s for sure. And it was the impetus behind the steep scree hikes we did recently, to help wrap our minds (and muscle memories) around what we were to experience there.

It was so worth it! The hut is perched high, high up on a col… kind of like a horse’s saddle feature between Mount Victoria and Mount Lefroy, suspended above The Death Trap, an icy gully that plummets down to the Victoria Glacier (that’s the glacier you see suspended high above the end of the lake at Lake Louise).

The beginning of the Victoria Glacier, seen in the soft morning light, is such a beautiful spectacle. The “Death Trap” is the snowy bit in the foreground of this photo.

It was so neat, getting to know the Lake Louise area from yet another vantage point. We’d seen it from the top of Fairview Mountain, we’ve stood on the shores of Lake Louise and looked way up the valley, we’ve done the Plain of Six Glaciers trail up to the base of the glacier, we’ve looked at it from atop the Beehive… so seeing it from here was like learning something new and deeply satisfying about an old friend. It brings greater intimacy to the landscape.

This experience, if you have the right level of fitness, have trained on scree, and have comfort with exposure, is one I highly recommend. We loved it… even when it was Type 2… or Type 2 & 1/2 fun.

(You know about the 3 types of fun, don’t you? Type 1: fun all the time, when you’re experiencing it and in hindsight. Type 2: fun only in hindsight, and not much fun while it’s happening. Type 3: thought it would be a fun challenge but it wasn’t, at the time or in hindsight!)

See the narrow window slot on the side of the outhouse at the level of the door handle?

I’ll leave you with views from its iconic outhouse’s window…

Not bad, eh?

To be continued...

To find out more info about the hut, and booking passage on the bus, go here: Alpine Club of Canada. If you are wanting to book passage on the bus to the Lake O’Hara area for day hikes use, go here: Yoho National Park Bookings. Or if you’ve missed the deadline to book, call for cancellations, contacting Parks Canada reservations at1-877-737-3783. And if you want to find out more about the amenities at Lake O’Hara, go here: Lake O’Hara Lodge.

Don’t be too discouraged. Access is limited for a reason, to preserve the beauty and ecosystem of this incredible place. And people DO bail on their bookings… especially if the weather is bad.

  • SO it is possible to snag a cancellation (calling ahead 1-877-737-3783).
  • You can go to the bus shelter pick up spot at the base of the road and talk to a Parks Canada person (green uniform & a clipboard). You can get on the bus if there is space from no-shows that day.
  • Also, watch the Hike Alberta and the Scrambling In The Canadian Rockies facebook pages for notifications of people selling off their spots as their plans change closer to hiking season.
  • Cancellations are also posted on the Yoho Trail Conditions page by Parks Canada. Be flexible about your dates, keep this page open on your phone, refresh it frequently, and you’re far more likely to get in. (Thanks for the tip, Ian!)

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

28 Comments on “Abbot Hut… A Bucket List Adventure (Part 1)

  1. Wow, what an epic hike. Great photos. The scenery is absolutely spectacular and the climb looks so challenging, a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahh, yes… to be young again! I anxiously await the remaining posts of the series. I must see what comes next, and next… I do like your characterization of the 3 types of fun. I’ve been at 2.5 or higher… and yes, after some thought… a 3 comes to mind (it had been pushed to the back), but the rating was due to my own actions -so I guess it really wasn’t a 3… does that make any sense? Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great read Sheri. Loved the photo of the hut camouflaged in to the rocks. That certainly was a hardcore scree slope to go up, appreciative of the red line if ever I have the opportunity (and the knees and the guts) to do it. You should think about stringing this altogether for a handbook in Canadian trekking. Some of your routes appear to be certainly the road less travelled.

    I never thought of fun having different flavours… that’s novel.


    • Thanks, I’m flattered, But it’s definitely been done… and the excellent guide books that are out there are the source for our inspiration & the crazy ideas for fun that our friends have!

      It certainly takes a certain breed to do these kinds of hikes and adventures, but the adventures I showcase here are by no means extreme, by Rocky Mountain standards. I love them, though! And I hope that this blog can show what an average person can do, when exploring a craving for adventure!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m grateful I came across your site. Hiking is my new passion. Being in the outdoors and testing yourself is what life is all about. Thank you for the Type breakdown at the end, made me laugh and do a little introspection. Mark me down as a Type 1.5 (and a 3 if I actually attempt this)


  5. I’ve heard great reports from my gang about your awesome experience. Thanks for the details. Those photos of your route up the scree really tells the story and scares the shit out of me! Glad you’re all back safely.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Abbot Hut Stories (Part 4) – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

  7. Pingback: What Goes Up Must Come Down (Abbot Hut Part 5) – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

  8. From the bottom, it looks absolutely insurmountable. You have really managed something amazing here. Great photos. I can only aspire to visit such breathtaking places. Until I can, please keep the photos coming and the stories that go with them.


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  11. Great photos and writing! We are heading to the Banff/Kootenay/Yoho for four days in July. Curious if you would put Lake O’Hara hiking on your list of must-see sights. I didn’t know about the shuttles until I read your blog, so thanks for the heads up. Also, we thought we had discovered the world’s greatest outhouse with a view on the Gem Lake trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, but I think that one has it beat.


    • Lake O’Hara is a must! It sounds like I need to search out the Gem Lake Trail!

      Have a terrific time in the area. And don’t forget to book your spot on the bus to get up to the area, and at Abbot Hut, if you plan to overnight (If you’re strong and fit, it is possible to pop up and then back down on a day hike).


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