"COMING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN”, MOUNT ROBSON PROVINCIAL PARK, “BERG LAKE TRAILS”, BRITISH COLUMBIA.
From “A Summer of Adventures, Love and Photographic Journeys (Episode 10C)
Like awakening from a dream, it is hard to believe I am here, among these majestic mountains, closely acquainted with the monarch of our Canadian Rockies, Mount Robson…
Hardly a day ago, I couldn't have known how small I’d feel being here, how exhilarated I’d be by the presence of these awe-inspiring giants. As soon as we woke up, the freedom of the hills was calling us strongly and brought us up to our feet within minutes. Under the covered area of the main hut, we sat in the same seat that had welcomed our arrival and ravenous presence last night. First things first, a sturdy breakfast prepared us steadily toward the brilliance of another epic day.
Sylvain and I proceeded to take down the tent, packed up the locker with everything he didn’t need for the day while I had to take everything back down the hill on my way to leave behind both my dear partner in crime and the beloved Rockies. The clear skies and sunny demeanour of the day was announcing a scorcher and a half. Leaving early would only help both of us on the long run. Yet, the separations were carving our hearts, every scar etching memories of esteemed reverence.
The commemoration of our passage here had to be preserved for posterity making a photograph or two necessary. Half the waters were glassy and reflecting Mount Robson Emperor’s north face all the way to our feet as we stood on the placid shore of its lake. Meanwhile, glistening diamond-shaped laser-like beams came shooting from farther across the water. A solemn air filled space.
We took a few shots and, pressed for time, Sylvain had to go. His day consisted of a minimum of 22 km of hiking up “Snowbird Pass”, a real challenge even for the experienced trekker. After this spectacular walk, he thought he might have enough stamina to keep on going all the way down to the parking lot. This would of course add up the same distance we had travelled the previous day, 21 kilometres. Keeping in mind that, only half a year ago, Sylvain had never ran more than 5 kilometres in a row… He was actually planning on travelling more than what a marathon would ask from him on that day!
After a long hug, deeply heartfelt salutations, our time together was coming to an end. We kept the salutations short, shared smiles and good wishes to each other for a safe journey back to our respective destinations and moved on. Though I knew he had to experience this one by himself, I sure would have loved to share with him the experience of this coming day.
Leaving early was going to allow me so much latitude in terms of pace, breaks and detours. A little ice chunk had detached itself from Berg Glacier and unhurriedly floated toward Emperor Falls. Step by step, the excitement rose as I took a similar leisurely pace along Berg Lake.
Today, the avalanche cycle was increasing as the heat and winds were rising hand in hand as time advanced unaltered by nature’s leaps and bounce. About two kilometres away from my point of departure, the lakes shore became accessible again. There, the minute “Marmot Campground”, with its seven tent pads, laid at the south-western end of the lake. I decided to leave the comfort and straightforwardness of the trail to go venture on the shore. The view offered from here allowed for a shot giving a bit of perspective on the size of Berg Glacier. Considering the trees at the lip of the glacier, one can appreciate the size of the ice blocks hanging, ready to tumble down the steep cliff. Like rapids on a river, the turmoil enhances movement translating into ice block formation called “serac”. The word was aptly created in the 19th century after a Swiss French compact white cheese.
A quick series of narrow wooden bridges crossed over the Hargreaves Glaciers waters, rivulets finding their way to their elder sister Robson River. Being alone in the middle of such majesty, I thought I had to record what surrounded me to be able to share at least some of it with others. Here’s the legacy of this moment of solitude with the Monarch of our Canadian Rockies:
Standing almost half a kilometre away from “Mist Glacier”, I was inspired to go see if there was any way I could safely cross the river in order to climb up to the base of the glacier and see its lake’s milky water. The sheer amount of rocks that have built at the base of the glacier somehow manages to contain its waters. Staggering! The day before, we had witnessed a few avalanches thundering their way down, hitting the rock face to my left while finding the path of least resistance all the way down to the lake… Walking along the rapids, I came to the realization that I couldn’t safely cross here and kept on walking downstream looking for a bridge or anything that could potentially help me, but in vain. So, I retired from here to head back to the trail.
The temperatures were soaring in this microwaved location and could feel the exposure within minutes. Hydration and shade would be mandatory and a careful awareness of body heat monitored. I walked as lightly as I possibly could on the little stones and at every occasion preventing my stepping over highly sensitive vegetation patches eking a living in such extreme environment. Alpine plants take a tremendous amount of time to grow and are as much a delicacy for the eyes as they are delicate. Walking passed the dry rugged characteristic vegetation around me often offered a certain monotony compensating in a wild resilience commanding the utmost of respect. Some exceptions bursted into my spaced out blurred field of vision. Time to chug!
Reaching the edge of the plateau, a gentle breeze blew in the pines delimiting the mountain foot and the valley floor where the trail ambulates sinuously along the arms of Robson River. It was time to say goodbye to this highly memorable space, gather a few more memories for friends and family and keep going to the “pièce de résistance” of the day, Emperor Falls.
Looking south-easterly, Mount Robson’s world renown north face, the Emperor, challenges the most experienced mountaineers in this part of the country and climbers from all over the world attempt to summit this tempestuous peak. Though rather inviting under such weather, in the middle of summer like today, August 12th, 2016, snowstorms, high icy winds, avalanches, rockfalls and drastic weather changes can occur and tackle you, if not simply squish you like a bug… Mandatory training, equipment and precautions are necessary on such hazardous ventures.
Turning almost a hundred and eighty degrees, I looked to the west on my way back down: Mount Whitehorn, at 3395 metres, as seen from Berg Lake Trail, clearly exposes the source of the “Valley of a Thousand Falls”. After a fairly quick 2 kilometre walk on the remaining of the plateau, the staircases and steep rocky switchbacks brought me to what was to become the ultimate joy of this day…
In the middle of the last section, I had had a decent snack and rehydrated, but I was still really hot and the thought of waterfall mist entranced my mind. From here, I could already easily hear its roar and almost feel it travelling through the ageless granite. A clear sign indicates the little trail that lead me from a narrow dry treed path to an ever-drenched foliage and large slippery rocky ledge. Trying to find an angle to shoot from, I tried here and there till I realized that the only possible location was at the very base of the waterfall. Hugging the wall from which the river propels itself into the abyss, I found a sheltered area where the moss had dried up a bit. I put my camera bag down while dreaming of a good soak. The oxygen laden air filled with positive ions gave me an automatic natural high, took a few shots from different angles and finally decided to put down the camera for a quick video. The pressure wash of a lifetime! Bliss…
In less than ten seconds, I went from dry and hot to a cool inner-core temperature, soaked to the bones, even right through my leather approach shoes! I know everyone around the globe doesn’t have the potential to do this but, for many of us, we’ll have the chance to try the following to get a clear picture of what it felt like: On a very rainy day, jump in your car, find a highway, drive on and stick a limb or two out the window. If you can get soaked right through thick leather in less than ten seconds, you will have accomplished it. Maybe one would need autobahns for that matter though!?.
Completely psyched for the rest of my day, I threw my backpack on, cleared the water fallout area within seconds, and found myself back into this very dry hot weather. Every single hiker I walked passed must have seen my radiating smile from a mile away. I was beaming, maybe even overshadowing the sunshine of that day. Many asked me what had happened to me and, by the sounds of it, fell under the spell to go for the soaker.
Arriving in the “Valley of the Thousand Falls”, I had to attempt a few more shots, the conditions were too good to be true, perfect really.
Here, the presence of the main waterfalls resonated in the entire valley. Compared to the Empire Falls, the now smooth rushing waters of the Robson River seemed benign. Its resplendence shun only accentuating the light and general vibrancy of the space in this dazzling moment.
About half a kilometre later, looking back out toward where I had came from and into the roots of the valley, the pyramid shape of Mt. Hargreaves gloriously rose into the azure. We couldn’t see this panorama with the low ceiling yesterday and the new visions widened the dreamscape.
While enjoying lunch in the same little shelter we had stopped the previous day, a familiar figure showed up. Matheus Schneider, a young man, from Switzerland, in his mid-twenties, neurologist and avid hiker who had made the same hike yesterday around the same time Sylvain and I were on the trail. He came and joined me for lunch. Since we had the same pace and a rich harmonious connection, we joyously shared the remaining of the hike.
From the get go, an avalanche of discussions came through. First, about our day on the mountain but it naturally moved on to topics such as spirituality, neurology, philosophy, environmental and social issues, world economy and, of course, you guessed it, crypto-currencies and Steem.
Content with our copious lunch, we moseyed on. The view from the bottom of the bridge was priceless today and jumped on the opportunity to take one decent shot of it as my new partner in crime was about to cross it.
Though small in size, especially as one looks upstream, its seems like nothing to go across it. But looking to the left, one quickly realizes the seriousness and mandatory presence of this bridge as the waters are engulfed into a mishmash of rapids abruptly dropping out of sight.
What had been a steep trek all the way up to this point the day before, taking what seems like a serious chunk of time, quickly lost its characteristics from here on. The long walk down from here seemed like a breeze. The constant chattering didn't allow us to realize the speed at which we were going covering great distances in a matter of minutes. Finding a good view point to picture Kinney Lake, we stopped about a minute, watered our guts in multiple gulps and we quickly resumed our pace.
Easily seen on the picture above, the trail goes diagonally across the bottom end of the picture and extends itself toward the lake where the very first campground is. This is also the location where bikes have to be left behind as there is no access for them beyond this point. THAT would be a ride of a lifetime to go back down the hill from here! Seven kilometres descending through the radically changing forest, swerving and jumping here and there, oxygenated and enlivened in the speed of the moment. I can only imagine, for the moment…
Finally down on the second valley floor, “Resplendent Mountain” (3426 m), on our left-hand side, throned as if watching us in its serene posture. Yoga to the fullest; sit like a mountain they say! I guess it could be said that such mountains are the giant version of their southern cousins called “mesas”. Down here, around 3 p.m., the temperatures were now soaring around 30 degrees Celsius.
Though sublime and inviting, the lake’s colours are a sign of silt, sediments left in suspension in the fast moving waters coming straight from the glacial melt. These waters are frigid, to say the least. Like the Venus flytrap, the waters still manage to catch a few swimmers every so often. Luckily, to our surprise and delight, they survive it. The show is usually quite worthwhile. Seriously though, popular for the traditional “Spirit Baths”, recommended for healing and cleansing, having the courage to plunge oneself in cold water actually promotes great health benefits. For instance, to name but one advantage, it kickstarts your lymphatic system to flush itself more rapidly.
Now at the southern most tip of Kinney Lake, the trail becomes a highway: At least three lanes wide and, on the standards of the past 24 hours, crowded. It is even recommended to make reservations if you are considering camping here. Only tent sites are available, some strictly on reservation. It is especially important during long weekends while some are available on a first come first served basis. Multi-day hike require registration and camping fee payment upon arrival as well as a short mandatory orientation video viewing.
Since most people coming up here can’t or simply don’t want to camp out here, this last stretch of the trail was very social and to our great satisfaction mostly under the shade. Having met with a young Australian woman who was on her way down and walking the same pace, we travelled as a triplet, often side by side sharing of who we are, travelling stories and philosophized all the way back down to the vehicles. Within minutes after arriving at the cars, the physical realization of what happened to the body in the past day and a half kicked in. Though soar and stiffening, how could the smile have left my soul, it wasn't for today.
This chapter ends the quick report of my travels in the Canadian Rockies. I hope some of its passages will inspire and entice you enough to come and visit our world heritage parks in the course of this summer as Parks Canada is celebrating its 150th year anniversary with free admission all year!
Till next time, keep your smile, take good care, thrive on and namaste :)