Gettin’ Screed (Abbot Hut Part 3)

This the third in a five part series of posts on our adventures in the Lake O’Hara area. Here, we take you along on a virtual scramble, up the steep scree slope to Abbot Hut. If you missed the earlier posts, go here:

For months, I’d been staring and staring at these images on our planning board. How in the world would I be able to get up that red lined route? How would I be able to climb something that steep? that shifty? that unstable? and that scary!?IMG_6933!?

We’d been practicing on hikes and light scrambles, like Eiffel Peak and Memorial Lakes and the Paradise Valley approach to Sentinel Pass (probably the best of the bunch as it’s most like what you encounter here), all with steep sections and unstable rock, scrambling parts and plenty of exposure. The practice was an attempt to to wrap our minds, hearts, fears and muscle memories around how to do the Abbot Pass scree slope with ease. We’d been working on our endurance with lengthy distances. We’d been working on our fitness with runs and hikes and bike rides. We were as prepared as we could be.

At some point you just have to commit. You just have to do it. And so we did! And it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared it would be.

  • It was hard from an endurance standpoint… I was certainly huffing and puffing with the elevation, the weight of the pack on my back and the steepness of the climb.
  • It was loose and exposed, but we had a solid plan, and everyone in our group was careful and deliberate in their actions. We had people more experienced with us to ensure we were keeping to best practices, and we were committed to staying together.
  • It was certainly long, taking us about 2.5 hours to get up there from the shore of Lake Oesa to the top, with breaks (the young climbers and endurance athletes in our group could have gone up much faster without the old people (like me) and those with bionic knee braces slowing them down! (ha!).
  • And it was most definitely type two, maybe 2.5 fun! But the sense of accomplishment (and relief!) once we emerged up top was like nothing in this world!

Come along and see for yourself what it was like.

We left the beautiful, smoky shores of Lake Oesa and headed back up the trail to where it branched off toward the gully below Abbot Pass.
On the shores above the lake, we came across this lone fella. Spotting mountain goats is such a rare occurence… and this one, set against the stunning blue of the lake’s waters, was a special treat. (Photo cred: Alex Fricker)
It was steep, but at this point we were still relatively fresh and the trail was quite firm. We were heading up to mount that cliff band.
We were now into the rockfall area, so we put on our helmets and quickly gained a lofty height.
Getting up this cliff band was actually easier than it looks…
The cliff had nice steps in its natural horizontal layers.
This is the kind of scrambling I love… the occasional high step, great views and hands on the rock to pull you up here & there.
There was nothing too exposed, just high steps & hands on the rock… and amazing views all around! Can you see the painting on the rock? Those are the trail markers we were following.
Above the cliff band, the colours were getting more vivid in the lakes below. We could now see the little green lake that had been tucked away behind a glacial moraine pile. It was invisible when we were down below.
Just over this rise, then a little descent to the base of the moraine pile, and we’d be heading up the scree.
One advantage of being the weakest link in the group, when it comes to uphill fitness (and desire to take lots of photos!), is that you get those great perspective shots. The ones that show how little we are in the scheme of things. Here, our group is heading up the scree mound at the base of the cliff… after this point it gets quite challenging.
We’re now getting up above the snow piles… and it’s mid to late August… we’re that high up.
But we had a long way to go. Those things that look like small mountain peaks up above are the rocky boulders that emerge from the scree that we’d need to climb along side (remember that scary route photo diagram?). So that’s not the top!
At times it was more packed down with a lot of eroded dirt and rock. And sometimes the rocks were small and gravel-like and shifted beneath your feet.
But at other times, they were large and we had to tread carefully, steadying lose boulders with our hands so that they did not give way and begin a rock slide or fall on those below.
We travelled in a tight group for safety, taking breaks as we needed them. Our group of 10 is the maximum size they recommend heading up the scree at one time.

When those loose boulders are big, they can carry tremendous momentum when they get dislodged and fall down the mountain side. They pick up speed and can bounce, delivering a punch that can knock a man flat or start a rock slide. They are so loose in places like this that walking below them and shifting another rock below them can send them and the rocks beside them, sliding down with ease. Staying close together means that no one gets caught by a bouncing missile!

Even though it was mid August, there were snow patches to cross (and these were easier as you could follow in the footstep-steps of the leader of our group and they were nice and stable).
It was a real relief when we got to those big, solid boulders that emerged through the scree like mini cliffs. They had lots of good handholds and ledges on which to place your feet.
It became more scrambling/climbing with surer footing and hand holds up around those gigantic boulders. Here George emerges above the top part of a big one.
Up and ever up we went…
… through incredibly dramatic scenery.
And as we got higher, we emerged above the smoke. The mountains, and the colour in the sky and the rock became so much more vibrant!
Of course there was that moment when we’d topped another of the gigantic boulders, rested, watered up, looked up and realized there was still THAT MUCH MORE to go! The faces in this candid shot are priceless!
Pat was our intrepid route leader. Here he pulls that dreaded photo map out of his pocket to make sure we were not off-piste. You can see how steep it is!
But the climbing boulders were pretty clear!
We were getting closer… it was emotional grunting & tortured facial expression-worthy, that’s for sure!
Down in the distance, you can see a couple of hikers coming up from below.
Another hands-on-the-rock climbing section later and we were getting closer.
At this point we had to layer up again. Despite our exertion, it was getting colder up there!
I’m grinning because someone up ahead just yelled, “We’re there!”! (photo cred: Steve Frangos)
IMG_0021 2.jpg
The final push to the top!
And then, oh thank goodness, we were there! I was so done. But we’d made it!
It was such a spectacular climb! We’d come up from the left (BC side in this photo). To the right is the Victoria Glacier that hangs over the end of Lake Louise. The man in orange in this photo is a mountaineer who was using the hut as a base from which to climb Mounts Victoria & Lefroy. A great guy to talk to, he was the real deal.
And the sun came out, lighting up our ascent. What a climb!

It was time to use that fabulous outhouse, melt some snow, boil some water, unpack, and settle in for the night, sharing some great food (including a fortifying pasta meal), wonderful friendship, much-needed drinks, music, laughter, comraderie & games! (And push to the side all thoughts of what it was going to be like to head back down that slope the next day!)

To be continued… next up: Abbot Hut Stories.

To find out more info about the hut we stayed at, go here: Alpine Club of Canada. If you are wanting to book passage on the bus to the Lake O’Hara area, go here: Yoho National Park Bookings. 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.

27 Comments on “Gettin’ Screed (Abbot Hut Part 3)

  1. Sheri, you have documented this adventure so well with your beautiful photos and descriptions. And I love the candid shots of the group’s facial expressions (the one with Steve grimacing is priceless).

    Liked by 1 person

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

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

  4. Wow!! These views look so pretty! You guys are tough what a hike! So worth it when you get to the top! It’s so fun to follow this trip and see every aspect of it! 🙌👍 great job!


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

  6. Like I said, I am slow going through your Abbot Hut series here because of the weight of you pack. 😉 This series deserves a full attention of mine. I love looking through and zooming in on these pictures to appreciate every little details and the perspective of steepness of the mountain side. Very nice to see happy faces inside the hut. Oh, the picture of the mountain goat over the brilliant blue lake is one of my favorites.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi, have you heard of anyone going to the Hut and back in one day? just curious. About how many kms or miles is it from O’Hara to the hut. Great post.


    • Yes, people do it that way, especially because of issues of availability of access spots to the trailhead.

      The catch is you need to get a ride in on the bus, as it’s 7km from the road to the lake area where the trails begin. And those spots are tremendously difficult to get. If you book a stay at the Lake O’Hara Lodge there, or book a spot at the hut, you are guaranteed a bus spot. So that journey in, if you do it on foot, is 14km round trip before you begin the hike to the hut. And it’s boring. And dry. And dusty. And they do not allow bikes, which seems criminal to me… but it’s all about limiting access to keep the spot pristine.

      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.

      Now, should the only way to get there be a hike on that road, there is a way to do the hike to the hut from the lake shore that is shorter and more direct (to Lake Oesa) than what we did, but it would be such a shame to miss those ledges! The shorter route takes 3-4 hours, depending on how quick you are on that 915m elevation scree slope. Sorry I don’t have a distance for you, but I hope this info helps. Just know that if you walk in, you will be adding 14km to a very long in and out day to the hut.


  8. Thanks for the info, i just managed to get a hut reservation with a bus pass. Really stoked!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. We just finished this adventure and your photos and descriptions are spot on. So much so that I can feel the little nigglings of trepidation that were close to the surface the entire time I was on the ascent/descent! It was worth it undoubtably but do I ever want to go back? Solid no haha!


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