We climbed and climbed, keeping a good distance between us in case we let loose rock… we should have had our rock helmets with us! In the photo below, Bill is up above me, balanced on the top of the moraine.
And here’s the really neat thing… a moraine like this has a very pointy top… it’s really a lot like a 3D triangle with a rectangular base, so the top is quite sharply, steeply shaped. As I emerged up onto the moraine, it was quite steep… and as my head came level with Bill’s feet I saw the reason for his, “Oh MY! You have GOT to see this!” As my head came up, THIS is what I saw!This is the top of the moraine. We had to actually descend it a bit to get down to the lake. (If you are going to try to repeat our adventure, be sure to go up the moraine from that rock-arrow photo, instead of coming the way we came… it will be easier, faster… and despite the steepness of the moraine sides it is solid footing).With a cold wind coming down off that ice, a beautiful waterfall at the end of the lake cascading down from the toe of the glacier, and the rock flour (that sort of grey looking cloud in the water at the forefront of this photo that gives the lake, as if by magic, its startling beautiful colour!), it was a brilliant setting.We poked about for a bit, our boots sinking into the very soft shores of the lake. The fine, powdered light grey sand mixed with little rock fragments, ground into existence by the action of the glacier, were lapped gently by the icy waters of the lake, before overflowing over the cliff band and becoming the powerful, pounding, loud and raucous waterfall that became Bow Glacier Falls, at the end of the lake.The lake drained over the lip of the cliff band here, so we followed it to what would be our lunch spot. We bundled up to keep the chill off and settled in for our lunch. Somehow, a sandwich just tastes so much better outdoors, in a place like this!
Time for the next stage of our adventure: heading up the moraine again, over to the base of the rock feature known as “The Onion,” and then heading out a long alpine valley to meet up with the trail to Bow Hut.One last look at Iceberg Lake.Then it was time to climb that moraine again and head toward The Onion.Being up high on a moraine is like being on top of the world! I love it!Where the moraine meets the cliff, it dips down somewhat, making it easy to pass through and into the valley on the other side (being mindful of rocks falling from the cliff above).Next up: making our way down this valley toward the waterfall coming off the cliff to the right of the end of the arrow. There is no path. You just poke your way, wherever you want to go, keeping the gully by the trees on your left and the cliff on your right. Down, down you go… and it’s a lovely alpine romp!
When we got to the end of the valley, we were met with this site! What a thunderous roar! With icy waters coming from the Bow Glacier above, we knew we were in for a treat, tracing this to its source. But crossing it was going to be a bit tricky! That was some volume of water cascading down! Yikes!What better to do then just get on with it! So we wandered downstream a bit, trying to find a ribboned, shallower spot to cross. BUT, it went up to my thigh in one place and was very powerful! The water wanted to wrench your poles away and carry your feet out from under you. But cold temps mean no algae, so the rocks were grippy, thank goodness! No matter, it was wet feet for both of us from then on!Next up: where was the trail and how were we going to get up the tall cliff band? From a distance, looking back, it looks like there’s absolutely no way you can get up there! But those crafty, mountaineering trail builders made a way up a rocky crevasse between two waterfalls.It’s like so many things we’ve learned in these mountains… things often look far worse and far steeper from farther away. Get up close, and the way becomes apparent. It becomes do-able.After we mounted the cliff band, crossed two more streams and passed the alpine club hut, we went off in search of the glacier toe. I was going to touch it! We hiked up past rock scoured and scratched by the retreating glacier. Up and up we hiked over sculpted rock, mini waterfalls and little stremlets. Though the sun was hot and bearing down on us, the wind coming off the surface of the ice left us chilled and putting on more layers.Then finally, we were there! We were at the toe of Bow Glacier. (One of her magnificent toes, anyway!) We decided to keep exploring up there… the sculpted rock, the little water channels, the waterfalls, the scouring marks, the views…. they were all so incredible. Rather than push on up to the onion, we stayed put, poking about and taking it all in.There were lots of little puddles that reminded us of tidal pools.Some of the little ponds had that rock flour in them so that they caught the light in ways that brought out that startling, glacial blue colouration.You could You could see the ways that the weight of the glacier dragged little rocks across the surface of the underlying rocks, making really interesting marks across their horizontal surfaces… they were like the formations you’d see dripping down vertical cave walls. This landscape was off kilter!There was a larger lake up there, catching some of the run off from the melt water, spreading its tentacles out into what looked like ancient, prehistoric mud flats.Up close, those petrified mud bubbles were really something! And big, too!
It was an incredible place.
We followed these layered rock steps to a good viewpoint for the rest of our tea and cookies.And what a viewpoint it was!Then we headed back toward the glacier to go explore a cave we’d seen.The wrinkles of the glacial ice, like aged skin… it’s fascinating to see.We headed out over the mud bubble rock… it was the best playground.We jumped from ridge to ridge over clefts of water and digested rock rubble.We passed water oozing out of cracks in strangely coloured rock bands.
And then we got to that ice cave! It was like peeking under the toe nail of the giant glacial toe! When you got up close and peered inside, the ice was so dense and incredibly blue! The drip line of surface ice melting over the lip of the cave made this little rain curtain across its opening.
Sadly, it was time to start heading down. We had a long hike out ahead of us on what would be a good 12 hour day. So we followed this orange band of rock, knowing that the stream that flowed alongside it became one of the waterways we had to cross to hook up with the trail once again.We hiked down the cliff below the Alpine Club hut, enjoying the coolness of the lengthening shadows of the day. We’d be following this stream out until it ultimately hit Bow Lake, where our journey began.Our trail out took us up high, as the water soon rushed through a deep canyon that grew ever deeper as it worked its way across the landscape. Looking back, we could see the hut, the thunderous waterfall, parts of the glacier, and the heights to which we’d climbed.The canyon lay below our trail out (can you see the trail to the left?). Can you see the beautiful fall colours coming out in the plants?Our trail passed through and beneath many rockfall areas, with the sound of the rushing river flowing up from the canyon. The water levels are higher now, with the heat of the day’s melt powering it through the rock crack.At times our trail climbed higher! (What the heck… we’d had a lot of climbing in the day already!)And then we were back at that boulder canyon crossing, with the waters rushing below.
This was a BIG day with lots of elevation gain and steep slopes, but it is one we highly recommend. It had a little of everything: the ledges of the Lake O’Hara area, the lofty moraine walks of a good ridge walk, a number of drop dead gorgeous gorges and canyons, pristine mountain water crossings, tight little alpine forests, BIG high alpine meadow romps, incredibly powerful waterfalls, little scrambles, lofty viewpoints and high peaks. Seriously. It was amazing!
A word of caution: While you most definitely need to have experience in these types of alpine environments and features to do this adventure (as you’re going off-trail for some of it) nothing is too difficult, from a technical standpoint. You need stamina and endurance, and a healthy respect for heights. You need experience on scree and a bit of five-fun climbing experience. A good set of warn in hiking boots and gaiters, of course.
And you need water & high energy food!
Remember, too, that though we had a good weather window, this is the mountains and weather can change on a dime, so bring layers. You’ll need warm clothes for those breezes coming off the glacier (and a toque) and some strong sunglasses meant for high alpine environments as the sun is intense up there. Don’t forget the sunscreen and sun screened lip balm. And have a blast!!
This was a BIG day. Because we weren’t working from official trail guide recommendations, I can only hazard a guess based on our Gem Trek map (Bow Lake and Saskatchewan Crossing) and my step counter. Distance: approximately 18-20km. Elevation gain: about 600-700m.