There is something about beautiful places that draws us back to them again and again. This was not our first trip to the Rockies, and rest assured, it won’t be the last. But every time we make the long drive, past numerous lakes and rivers, across mountain passes, and basically cross the province to reach that beautiful area known as the Rockies, I know it will be well worth the effort. Even if in the beginning the sun does not shine in our faces, and the mountains look sad and sometimes are well hidden behind a thick wall of clouds, I know that in the end it would all be worthwhile.
We decided to take it easy. We stretched the drive over two days, only leaving Vancouver at around 1pm of the Sunday of the Labour Day Weekend. Even before it got dark we found a nice recreational forest service site by the side of Harper Lake just after Kamloops. Almost every time we try to reach a recreational site it is a mysterious experience. We drove up a logging road for quite a while, not sure we are actually in the right place and at each fork we had to gamble: left or right? Eventually we found a fisherman who said that the rec site is just around the corner. We couldn’t reach it with the car, so we carried our stuff there and and had a relaxing night.
We didn’t wake up too early either and along the way we made a few more stops – breakfast supplies at the supermarket at Chase and lunch in the ‘famous’ Nomad restaurant in Revelstoke. Then we got stuck in traffic, behind a caterpillar of cars all with Alberta license plates, making their way back to their province on the Monday of the long weekend. It also started to rain hard so we stopped at the visitor centre at Glacier National Park, where we enjoyed the small museum and the nice fire place. Another stop in Golden for ice cream and groceries and then we entered Yoho National Park. Despite the gloomy weather the spiky mountains were still impressive and we found a nice but noisy campground (it was close to the highway).
During the night it didn’t stop raining for a second. I found it quite relaxing to be all tucked away in my sleeping bag inside the tent while a storm was raging outside, but it would have been nicer to wake up to a sunny morning. Alas, the morning was just as gray and wet as the night before and we reluctantly packed and made our way to the Lake Louise Visitor Centre.
We had to make the arrangements for our hike, such as reserving the backcountry campgrounds and deciding if we’d stick to the original plan which was to start on that day. Maybe in different circumstances we would have gone to soak our misery in hot springs close by, but it was not to happen this time… So when we realized that our options were either to do a day hike somewhere in the rain, or start our six day hike as per as our plan in the rain, we decided to put on our game faces and brave the storm, and so we did.
Even though we were told that the bridge at Painted Pots trailhead was no longer there, we heard from other hikers that there was a temporary bridge in place, which was wide enough for a car. So we started our hike from there, admiring the bright red soil around us. Since our start time wasn’t exactly early (around 3pm), we hiked no more than two and half hours on that day, till we reached the first and smallest campground at Helmet-Ochre Junction. At first we thought we lucked out and that we were going to be by ourselves for the night, but we were soon joined by a group of boys from some sort of a bible college in Salmon Arm.
At night the rain continued, but by the time we emerged from our tent in the morning the rain had stopped. We had our breakfast and off we went. We crossed a few small bridges over wild rivers and when we sat down to have our lunch we noticed how muddy our rain pants were. There is something very liberating about being so dirty…
A few kilometers later we reached the second campground of Helmet Falls. By this point the “Rockwall” was already quite visible: an impressive 30km long piece of rock, a chain of steep sided mountains. The hike pretty much follows the Rockwall, and we saw it from many different angles.
At the campground we found the most isolated site, set up camp, had a nice nap and went to explore Helmet Falls near by. On the way we noticed a group of mountain goats up high on a steep rocky cliff. When we were having dinner the sky turned blue and it seemed that maybe the weather was changing. Maybe.
On the third day we crossed our first pass out of three, Rockwall Pass, finally some flat terrain after half a day of ascent. The sky was somewhat gray, but the views just got better. We were very close to the dramatic Rockwall – and we only met two other people the entire day.
At first sight the Tumbling Creek campground did not look appealing. It seemed dark and in the trees with no real views. Gili went to snoop around and discovered a whole different section of the same campground with open stunning views towards the Rockwall from the dining area. We managed to find the one and only site with a view – somehow they do a very good job in those campgrounds to make sure (almost) no sites have a view…
Since the weather seemed like it was improving we didn’t bother hanging the tarp that evening. So of course while we were having dinner it suddenly started to pour so we hid in some nearby trees. Gili discovered that our campsite was turning into a pool, so he dug very impressive channels around the tent, which made me feel like our tent was a small fort. All we needed were some alligators in the moat. Of course by that time it stopped raining, and it was the last drops of rain we saw on that trip.
We woke up to a frosty morning. The tent was covered with ice on the inside and outside. When we opened the tent door we saw the most beautiful blue sky and the Rockwall just in front of us. I could almost imagine a dove with an olive branch telling us that the storm passed and it is safe to leave the tent now. It took a while for the sun to reach camp, and since we knew that a short day was ahead of us we weren’t in a rush.
We climbed to Tumbling Pass, which again was an open area with great views. I finally could enjoy a first nap in the warm sunshine and it wasn’t long before I was fast asleep dreaming about beautiful mountains and rocky cliffs, but the dream seemed like a reality and the reality felt like a dream. From the pass we had a long descent to Numa Creek Campground. We were the first ones to reach camp, but by dinner time the camp filled up with many people.
On a longer hike you develop a routine and life is very simple, focused on the present. Hiking in the Rockies is very spoiling, every campground has a food cache and Gili didn’t have to struggle for an hour to hang our food from a tree or a cliff. The luxury of taking our time on this hike also allowed us to get much needed sleep and we slept for 10-11 hours a night, which was heaven.
The next day was definitely the highlight of the hike. We climbed our way to Numa Pass, the highest point of this hike (2,355 meters). On the way we met two groups who made a point of telling us that we’re not even close and how far we still had to go. Only the last group was much nicer -they told us to “get ready to be amazed”. When we finally got closer to Numa Pass the views were indeed amazing. We could see the Rockwall in all its glory, and after climbing to the Pass we could see a turquoise jewel known as Floe Lake, our destination for that day.
We had a long lunch break and a nap at the pass and from there we descended to Floe Lake campground. Despite it being a weekend the campground was not busy at all, and we only saw two other tents. We found a nice spot overlooking the lake and spent the last hour of sun relaxing on the beautiful shore, before the sun disappeared behind the impressive Rockwall.
From there it was all downhill and we passed through a forest of dead trees – there was a fire in the area a few years ago. The advantage of this fire was the abundance of raspberry bushes all along the trail, and our progress was quite slow due to this fact.
After a few hours we crossed the Vermillion River, which had the bluest and purest water I’ve ever seen. We just needed to cross one more bridge and we were done! An amazing six day adventure was coming to its end, and despite the gloomy weather in the beginning, this was a picturesque and fulfilling hike. The fact that we enjoyed a few sunny beautiful days definitely aided our feelings of happiness and accomplishment.
At the parking lot Gili upgraded our stale tortillas with cheese to yummy quesadillas with a little help from the stove. We also needed a ride to get back to our car. The first people we asked, a couple with Washington license plates, said no, but then two friendly women from Calgary happily agreed despite the fact that they barely had any room. Gili went and brought the car, we packed up and were quickly on our way.
Luckily we had a very soft landing for the night we finished the hike. Our friends from Creston Jenny and Johannes that we met a few years ago while we were looking for Cherries, invited us to sleep over at their place. So after a well needed dinner at the local pub in Creston we headed to their mansion. It was great to catch up with them, and of course having a shower after a week without one is always well appreciated. Sleeping in a bed was also really nice, although we like our tent very much.
In the morning Jenny spoiled us with breakfast and then we spent a few hours picking peaches, plums and apples from their orchards, and all of which they generously gave us. With a car full of fruit we said our goodbyes and began driving up Kootenay Pass which we once spent the better part of a day cycling up.
Again we had our fair share of hitchhikers on this ride. Like last time we picked up a Quebecois couple who were on their way to Oliver to pick apples. We dropped them off in Osoyoos and went for a quick dip in the lake (one of our favourites), our second time this summer. Then we picked up the happiest guy in the world – a French dude who just loved everything about life and living in Canada. It was very uplifting to talk to him.
We stopped in Keremous for samosas: we discovered a while ago that that is one of the specialities of the area due to the many Punjabi residents. The third guy we gave a ride to was a homeless person who we took all the way from Keremeos to Vancouver, about a four hour drive. He moves from place to place selling his small psychedelic paintings. On that evening he was heading to his little spot in Stanley Park where he spends the night. The next day I actually met him on the street, by chance, setting up his paintings.
We had dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant on Commercial Drive and headed home. Another great adventure was behind us, making us wonder yet again, what would be the next one…?