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.
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.Extreme 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.
It 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.
Our 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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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).
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!)
I’ll leave you with views from its iconic outhouse’s window…
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.