Iceberg lake + Bow Glacier’s Big Toe

Fall is often spectacular in the Rockies here in Canada. Having a perfect weather window, we were up for a little adventuring. Loading up our packs, we went on a bit of an exploratory romp along, up and through the amazing landscape on the shores of Bow Lake. Our goal: to get to the source (the true source) of Bow Glacier Falls, that magnificent waterfall near Num Ti Jah on the Icefields Parkway.
Our first stop was Iceberg Lake, the lake that lies above the cliff band, down which  the waterfall cascades. We followed that with going over to the location of the Alpine Club’s Bow Hut so that we could hike up and touch the tow of Bow Glacier that feeds that lake, those falls (among many others) and ultimately Bow Lake.
It was such a fun adventure!!!
We climbed ancient moraines, balancing along their very pointy, lofty, narrow ridge-like tops. We scrambled up steep scree slopes. We accessed heights that from below seemed totally daunting, but up close were simply a grunt. We crossed (and got soakers in) many mountain streams. We hiked through pristine high alpine meadows with no trails, marmots, pikas and fall colours. We revelled in lofty views. We walked along airy ledges. We scrambled a bit through notches in cliff bands. We saw cascade after cascade of icy glacial water. We got above the Bow Glacier to marvel at its wrinkled skin and poked our head into the vast blue depths of its toe (a little like peeking under a toenail!!).
Come along and see…
Version 2Here is a glimpse of our day. We started off hiking along the shores of Bow Lake. What’s really neat here is you can see for yourself the path through which the glacier has retreated. It used to fill the bowl where the falls are, pushing with incredible force, ground up rock up and into the towering pyramids of rock you see off to the left, immediately below peak known as The Onion. The moraines are towering! Standing on top of them is like standing on top of an office building! That’s how big this landscape is!IMG_1610.jpegHiking along the path that borders Bow Lake, we could see where we were headed.IMG_1613After passing through the delta at the end of the lake, we hiked up the side of this canyon. IMG_1614Branching off the main trail to the falls, we started off on the trail to Bow Hut. To access it, you have to climb this boulder… a taste of the adventures to come in the day. What this picture doesn’t show is that the boulder is wedged in place over the top of the canyon, forming a natural bridge! (It’s called the Chock Stone.) Here Bill climbs up its polished side (polished from the hands and feet of those who have gone before).IMG_7571The first scramble of the day: getting up and over that boulder bridge!IMG_1616These are the views from on top of the boulder! Bow Lake is that turquoise jewel off in the distance.IMG_1617We’d be hiking up the canyon, along the left side of this photo. The tremendous cutting, carving force of water always amazes me… just look at how deeply cut this passage is!IMG_1620 2.jpegWhen we emerged from the canyon, we saw the first part of our route ahead, across the wide open valley filled with glacial till. We’d be heading up the side of the lateral moraine, to the point where there were two gigantic boulders embedded in the till, and then setting out along a series of ledges to get into the next level of terraces on this gigantic landscape.IMG_1621The first obstacle to cross was the stream. Though it was early in the day, the current was strong and there was a lot of water tossing through it. Then we were aiming for those two big boulders you see, near the top of the moraine.IMG_7576The stream wasn’t too deep. No soakers (yet!).IMG_1629We headed up that moraine slope with views of the valley, the canyon, and Bow Lake behind us.IMG_7578It was a bit steep, but not too bad. It’s always amazing what you can do, simply putting one foot in front of the other: obstacles like this pass relatively quickly. You can see the boulder we were heading for up above. That’s where we’d turn left and head out onto the ledges.IMG_1624Nestled in amongst the boulders were these tiny plants, putting on their brilliant fall colour displays. We saw these a lot throughout the day.IMG_1635At the top of the moraine, we could see where we needed to be: across that jumble of big boulders and onto the ledge. Can you see Bill up ahead?IMG_7585The boulders were big, and grippy underfoot, so they were easy to navigate.IMG_7582.jpegI set out ahead and it was very easy to find our way… even though you couldn’t see that there were ledges for the life of you, from below!IMG_1643.jpegThe ledges weren’t bad at all. The ground was solid and they were a good width. At times there was actually dirt on the ledges and plants growing. It reminded us a bit of hiking at Lake O’Hara.IMG_1650.jpegBy now, we’d covered some good distance. You can see Bow Lake off in the distance. Pan around and you’ll see the wonderfully lofty views from the ledge. We stopped there for our first tea & cookie break of the day and took in the views.IMG_7594At times we needed to step up bits of rock to connect ledges.IMG_1654Here Bill clambers up one of the cliff steps. The footing is good. The hand holds are solid. The consequences are minimal. It’s a very easy scramble.IMG_1657.jpegThis is the point where you emerge through the trees at the top of the cliff band.IMG_1659.jpegWhen we came through the little forest up top, we were in a tiny alpine meadow, nestled at the base of the upper part of that lateral moraine.IMG_1660.jpegThat moraine began again, near where pour trail emerged. If we were to do it again, we’d ignore that rock arrow, and head up the moraine right here, climbing ever skyward until we were above Iceberg Lake. Instead, we followed the arrows and the cairns of those who came before us. But first, we went over to the right in this photo to see the falls (we could hear them!). It was a very neat perspective.IMG_1663.jpegNow time to climb…. up and up that giant moraine of rocky rubble. At times it was smooth going because the rocks were big and like steps. Grippy and textured and firmly cemented into place, they made the going easier…IMG_7601… easier than the parts that were like this (the photo below) where the stones were small and the dirt was dry and the earth beneath your feet wanted to move and slip and slide with gravity and the action of your weight on moving feet on that steep slope!

IMG_7603.jpegWe 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.

Here 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!IMG_1673IMG_7613.jpegThis 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).IMG_1683.jpegWith 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.IMG_1685.jpegWe 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.IMG_1689.jpegThe 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!

IMG_1696.jpegTime 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.IMG_7616.jpegOne last look at Iceberg Lake.Then it was time to climb that moraine again and head toward The Onion.IMG_7621.jpegBeing up high on a moraine is like being on top of the world! I love it!IMG_7622Where 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).IMG_1707.jpegNext 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!

It was a beautiful alpine valley.

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!IMG_1715.jpegWhat better to do then just get on with it! So we wandered downstream a bit, trying to find a ribboned, shallower spot to cross. IMG_1732.jpegBUT, 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!IMG_7628.jpegNext 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.IMG_1805.jpegIt’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.IMG_7632.jpegIMG_1736.jpegAfter 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. IMG_1749.jpegUp 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.IMG_1745.jpegThen 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.IMG_1750.jpegThere were lots of little puddles that reminded us of tidal pools.IMG_1754Some 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 IMG_1756.jpegYou 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!IMG_1758There 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.IMG_1759.jpegUp close, those petrified mud bubbles were really something! And big, too!

More of that other-worldly moonscape!

IMG_1771.jpegIt was an incredible place.

IMG_1766.jpegWe followed these layered rock steps to a good viewpoint for the rest of our tea and cookies.IMG_1765.jpegAnd what a viewpoint it was!IMG_1768.jpegThen we headed back toward the glacier to go explore a cave we’d seen.IMG_1770.jpegThe wrinkles of the glacial ice, like aged skin… it’s fascinating to see.IMG_1780.jpegWe headed out over the mud bubble rock… it was the best playground.IMG_1781.jpegWe jumped from ridge to ridge over clefts of water and digested rock rubble.IMG_1787.jpegWe passed water oozing out of cracks in strangely coloured rock bands.

And then we got to that ice cave! IMG_1788It 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.IMG_1790

Can you see it raining inside the ice cave?

IMG_1797.jpegSadly, 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.IMG_1802.jpegWe 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.IMG_1807.jpegOur 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.IMG_1814.jpegThe 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?IMG_1823.jpegOur 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.IMG_1829.jpegAt times our trail climbed higher! (What the heck… we’d had a lot of climbing in the day already!)IMG_1830.jpegAnd then we were back at that boulder canyon crossing, with the waters rushing below.IMG_7647 2.jpeg

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!!

Many thanks to On Top for inspiring us to try out these ledges and to the Rocky Mountain Ramblers for motivating us to connect the Onion and the Iceberg Lake in this way.

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.

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


Blustery Bourgeau Peak

The wind, the wind, the wind blows high, the rain comes scattering down the sky….”

This week saw us doing quite a neat adventure in Banff National Park. We went up Wolverine Creek Canyon to its source, the Bourgeau Lake basin, and its upper reaches, with Harvey Pass and its three gorgeous alpine lakes. Attaining the peak of Mount Bourgeau (at 2931m, or 9614′) involved a long slog up a scree ramp. Battling the wind up that rocky rubble, we eventually found ourselves standing on a very large, wide peak, with views all around, having climbed 1500m on the 23km trail to get up there… that’s a long hike that includes climbing one and a half kilometres straight up into the sky! 

Wolverine Creek waterfall

The trail began with a long hike up through a cool forest on well-maintained switchbacks. It passed this beautiful waterfall, after about an hour of hiking.

As the forest began to thin, we could see our ultimate destination for the day: Bourgeau peak (see the green arrow?).

Read More

Smutwood Peak

A few days ago, we went out on an awesome adventure up a small peak in Kananaskis Country. Locally referred to as Smutwood Peak, it lies between Mount Smuts and Mount Birdwood (and that’s how it gets it’s name…. smut-wood).

With mountain peaks cresting like waves all around us, picture perfect alpine lakes and wildflower meadows far below us, snow patches for our dog, Seamus, to roll in, a bit of scramble on rock added in for fun, and moody skies all around, it was both a challenging and a super fun day!

The hike began as a double track trail along a fire road, giving us a chance to stretch our legs, visit side by side, and warm our muscles up. Eventually, it veered off and became a single track trail that followed the beautiful Commonwealth Creek.  Read More

Rae Lake Romp

Wanting to explore a little more of Kananaskis country, we set out for Rae Lake on Canada Day. A busy day in the mountains, July 1st tends to be when Canadians come out in droves to celebrate one of the things they love best about our country: its great open spaces, its wide tracts of wilderness and its unparalleled natural beauty.

We chose to explore the popular trail that cuts through Sheep River Provincial Park, a place we’d never been before. A multipurpose trail, it takes you into a beautiful, wide open valley. Lots of people tend to go there on foot, horseback and bike and do a little back country camping, but it’s easy to get away from the crowds if you get off the main trail and head to one of the hidden gems, like Rae Lake.

Elbow Lake

The trail sets off from its parking lot alongside highway 40 and cuts steadily uphill through the forest on a wide, multiuse trail, until, quite quickly by mountain standards, you reach the shores of Elbow Lake. This lake is the headwaters of the Elbow River that ultimately runs through Calgary. (There are established backcountry campsites at this lake.) From that point on, your trail is relatively flat. Read More

Mist Ridge

Spring has been a long time coming in the mountains around Canmore this year! Rain, snow, rain, snow. Would it ever make up its mind and dry up?!?

Finally, a rainless weather forecast with warm temps was upon us, and we had a free day… so that could mean only one thing… it was most definitely time for a good, long, soul satisfying, heart stopping ridge walk! Mist Ridge, deep in K-Country fit the bill perfectly.IMG_9445.jpegMist Ridge involves a long hike in and out… a little over 23km when all is said and done. So it is a BIG day. But I wouldn’t let that stop you. Its ups are not grueling. Its downs are not knee pounding. It IS long… but when you have to work for something, it seems that much better, doesn’t it? Reach out to your inner masochist. Take lots of food and water. And then enjoy the views when they finally come, and you’ll love it!

Our trail started off in the forested depths of an alpine valley bottom, just south of Highwood Pass (highway 40 is the road that goes through Kananaskis Country, and as it goes over that pass, near the trailhead, it earns its cred as the highest elevation road in Canada). Read More

Ancient Rock Art: The Petroglyphs and Pictographs of Moab

“Stop!” I barked out, startling Bill… who at that point had no idea what was on my mind. “Park over there, by that car on the other side of the road.” With an eye roll (I’m sure of it), Bill passed by the cliff, did a u-turn, and then pulled over in the spot I’d indicated. Read More

Riding at Dead Horse State Park

Having to turn back on Day One of riding in Moab, separating from the group, was disheartening. Nine kilometres into our ride, I was hacking away with my upper chest in a lot of pain whenever I breathed hard on uphills. Only a third of the way through the route, I was seriously holding things up. So Bill took one for the team and slowly rode out with me, back to the trail head and our car while the two other couples we were with rode on.

Bye. Have fun. Ride hard.

I’d fallen sick with a brutal cold that was fast developing into bronchitis. Day Two I sat out. Day Three, I wanted to ride something… anything. Surely it was just a bad cold, and that’s it. So Bill took me out to Dead Horse State Park, a place with some relatively flat trails that wouldn’t get me breathing too hard. Little did I know it’d be the last ride for me of the trip. Read More

Riding My Trusty Steed in Moab

At one time, riding horses in the Moab area, shod with metal shoes, was a treacherous thing. The horses would slip like crazy over the surface of the sandstone. And so the rock earned its name, “slickrock.”

Today’s modern steeds are sleek, two wheeled, wide tired, well treaded, swift, rugged awesome beasts with wicked suspension. Yup, I’m talking about mountain bikes.

See the grins plastered on our faces?
Look at the dotted white line… doesn’t it make you want to hop on two wheels and see where it’ll take you!?

Believe it or not, bikes take to the slickrock like geckos to an adobe wall, clinging to its impossible angles like no one’s business. The rock is abraded, like sandpaper, and so its grip is incredible.

IMG_6228 3
The bikes grip angles like this, and ones far more extreme, with relative ease.

Riding on the slickrock is such a fun experience.

The riding can be fast, with punchy ups and very steep downs, when you’re riding on the petrified sand dune shapes of the upper cliffs.

The riding can be dusty as you wind through cacti and snake through sand patches, created where erosion smooths the sandstone and gets trapped in ditches and gullies. Watch out for those sand traps! They get riders that are clipped into their pedals in spectacular, slow motioned, soft-cushioned falls.IMG_6199

The slickrock riding can be breath-taking as you struggle up long inclines… and breathtaking in an entirely different way as you take in views of mesas rising up out of a desert plateau or the Colorado River, like a snake, winding through a canyon far below you.

The Colorado River snakes far below.
The Mesas rise up out of the high desert plateaus like huge skyscrapers, and this trail takes you out, weaving up and down and through those sandstone bumps toward them.
It is seriously thrilling to ride along the edges of canyons like this one, at Dead Horse Point State Park.
Moab’s bike trail system is superb. There are tons of trails dedicated to single track riding, with no motorized vehicles allowed. All trails are very well marked with great names and easy to read maps at every intersection.
There are lots of trails, like those in the Navajo Rocks area, that are intermediate level trails.

For every up, there is a super fun down. And so the trails can have tremendous drops and bumps that have you rolling over big rocks and ledges, and rattling down rocky inclines, thankful for the cushioned travel in the suspension of your trusty steed.

The trails are easy to follow, with markings spray painted on the rock. See the blue?

We’ve been to Moab twice now, to ride its fun and technically challenging trails. And we will be back again. Each time we return as better, more skilled riders, and so the fun that we have is different, and better.img_0582.jpgIMG_2452.jpgSadly, I developed bronchitis during our Moab week and had to cut my riding short, so I need to return again. I will. Me and my swift fox (my trusty steed) will be back…IMG_6215.jpg

If You Go…

  • You’re going to have to trust me on this. These photos do NOT do the riding justice. The trails can be wonderfully hard and technically challenging… it’s just difficult to take photos when you’re caught up in the thrill of the moment, and ricocheting down a steep section with all of its bumps and ledges, drops and boulders, steep inclines and even more steep ups. Watch this video to see what I mean… Biking Moab (man can these guys ride!)
  • You can go to a biking specific area, like Amasa Back, Horsethief, or Klondike Bluffs and spend the entire day out there. There are that many trails in each of the biking areas.
  • Be sure to bring plenty of water and food on these biking trails, along with what you need to change a flat. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, out there to help you in a pinch, save other riders going by.
  • Riding with a group can have its advantages. There are more heads, tools, spare tubes and fingers to put into play, should a repair issue develop with one of your trusty steeds.
  • There’s another advantage to biking in a group too… it can be quite fun to arrange a drop off and a pick up vehicle at different trailheads, meaning that you can ride some of the trails all downhill (like taking Rocky Tops and a few other trails to Ramblin‘ at Navajo Rocks, and blasting down it), and not have to do the gruelling ups to get back to your car.
  • Almost all the trails in Moab are free to ride. The Slickrock Trail in the Sand Flats Recreation Area is the exception. It has an entrance fee and is used by jeeps as well. It has a bike practice loop to try out your skill level on that I recommend. It lets you know what you’re in for, before testing your mettle and maybe getting in over your head on the entire length of the Slickrock Trail (it is a 16km/10.5 mile long loop). But it is worth it.
  • You can rent bikes and gear in town at Poison Spider Bicycles. Their staff are helpful and can give you a good sense of which trails should be ridden in one trail only, and which can be ridden both directions.
  • There’s TONS of awesome info on the Discover Moab Mountain Biking page. Go there, poke around and dream!
  • Other terrific biking-specific websites to visit for up to date trail info are Trail Forks and MTB Project. Just remember to download maps before heading out on the trails, as many of the areas have no cell service. There is also an app available called Moab Trails 2.0, but it’s for androids only.
  • For more info on making the most of your stay in Moab, go to the “If You Go…” section of my first post, An Ode to Moab.

An Ode to Moab

“Hey dude! How’s the desert treating you?” asked our friendly neighbour, looking a little like Bon Jovi meets a wizened 1960’s flower child. He looked us carefully up and down, sussing out just what type of Moab visitors we might be. Read More

A Desert Journey

With my fingertips missing their defining ridges, my legs covered in a bevy of happy bruises, and my heart light from a week spent outdoors, playing on rock, we headed toward Moab Utah for the next stop on our holiday.

It was a long drive and my mind wandered through what I’d seen and experienced in the Nevada desert, and what I was seeing before me, now that we were passing once again through a similar landscape in Utah. The crazy sandstone shapes: fingers, pinnacles, chimneys, columns, rounded mounds and arches. The strange colouring in the golds, pinks and reds. The striping and spotted, measle-like dimpling of red through rock. The cacti that lived and thrived through extremes of hot and cold, dry and flooded. The power of rainstorms that could create washes, the size we’d seen and hiked through. The power of the tectonic forces that can thrust sandy sea bottoms skyward, transforming what was once flat, soft and shifting into hard, near-permanent mountains. The power of water and wind, those erosive forces that wear rock into sand, only to be foiled by geologic forces that turn it back into rock, only to be eroded once more into sand…. Read More