Out of breath, with hearts pumping, the hikers stop on an outcrop of rock. They are only halfway to the top. The trek up has been steep, with drops off the single track trail that taunt vertigo. Watching your footing is an unspoken necessity. Now at an obvious break in the climb, the hikers turn out towards the endless vista.
Someone confirms what they suspect, “This is epic”.
From their lookout, the hikers take in a ring of mountains, their snow-capped jagged peaks like teeth towards the sky. Some cradle glaciers that silently hold onto their 15,000 year perch. Streams and rock slides form vertical stripes, slowly moving the mountains that host them. Larch trees dominate the region forming a soft green carpet below. A hanging valley – a series of elevated plateaus, cliffs, lakes and waterfalls – bring the glacial run off to the centre piece of the region; Lake O’Hara. Its brilliantly bright blue waters act as a magnet for the eye, defying you to turn away. There’s no reason to. The water is so clear and still, Lake O’Hara perfectly reflects all of its surroundings in their enormity.
Lake O’Hara is located in Yoho National Park, British Columbia. The entrance to the park is fifteen minutes from Lake Louise, just over the provincial border. Lake O’Hara’s overwhelming beauty, a perfect combination of lakes, trees and mountains, make it truly one of Canada’s gems. And one of the hardest to get into. Due to strict conservation rules, only 60 people are allowed to take the bus into the park per day. Camping is a three night maximum. Campsites are booked three months in advance and spots for day hiking sell out by June. The result is quiet trails, a clean park and campsite and an aura of respect. That this is hallowed ground. When you’re in, you’re among the dedicated few. Those who know, go to O’Hara.
Not wanting to deny ourselves any less time in this slice of primeval heaven, Connected In Motion took the full three nights and four days to explore the region. Even so we could have stayed a second week. We were treated to such great views and an inviting camp atmosphere it was hard to envision ourselves anywhere else. Over those four days were had 10 months of weather, not one of them being July or August. Snow, hail, high winds, rain, sun, cool days and colder nights became standard.
We set up shop for the duration in the park campground. The campground was a pleasant community. Designated and standard sleeping platforms meant that we were all equals in Eden. Communal campfires, cooking shelters, gear storage and washroom facilities, meant that story swapping and cooking bravado with other groups were required. As always, CIM meal times were extravagant and jealousy inducing. Charcuterie board appetizer? Bacon Burgers? Maple and goat cheese salad? Chocolate fondue dessert??!! Not to mention our incredible plethora of snacks. The CIM dinner table became the envy of the campground.Our day hikes to Lake McArthur and the Odaray Grandview Prospect provided spectacular scenery and were great warm ups for what was to come. McArthur boasted alpine meadows complete with flowers in bloom, a short and harrowing ledge climb, and rewarded us with a beautiful isolated lake nestled in the palm of mountains. So what if it snowed sideways? July snow is a story, and added to our hardcore vision of ourselves. The Odaray Grandview was a little steeper, with a little more challenging terrain, but again, the view was worth it. Not that we could stay too long to enjoy it. It was so cold and wind whipped that all layers and toques came out and our hands went bright pink with numbness. Hardcore, we reassured ourselves, patting our backs. Then we quickly scurried along the McArthur Pass, an area known for harbouring large grizzly like mammals. At the end of the second day, our team felt that we had gained our altitude legs well enough to tackle the Alpine Circuit.
The Alpine Circuit around Lake O’Hara is considered by many to be the greatest and most spectacular day hike in the Rockies. Having done a small handful of day hikes in the Rockies, I will now add my humble name to that list. The route ascends quickly and steeply to the Wiwaxy Gap, and follows an elevated ring around the mountains immediately towering over Lake O’Hara. This loop has it all, and probably contributed so much to my boasting that O’Hara was “one of the most beautiful places in Canada”. The view is incredible, gets better and never stops. It’s almost distracting to foot placement. You are walking rubber necked – very dangerous. We powered up climbs, creeped across ledges, stepped through mountain streams, scrambled boulders, cut through scree, strolled through alpine meadows. All the while, Lake O’Hara was there in the centre, beckoning for another photo. We could look back across the lake to a previous mountain and exclaim with disbelief that we had ever climbed those impossibly steep looking cliffs. By the end of the day our feet were sore, our cameras full and our brains reeling from geography and perspective.
Our final day was a hike around the lake. Zero elevation gain, but a nice pleasant cool down. No one had the feet to attempt anything … epic. Of course the sun was out and the lake reflective, which only made us more reflective as well. Hard to leave a place when it’s nice out. Especially a place as magnificent as Lake O’Hara.
Keep up with our adventures by following @ConnectinMotion and share your own with us at #CIMAdventures.
Oh, and did you hear – Hank’s got a drone! It’s the coolest thing since the backpack pump! Check out a sneak peak of the footage collected in the west.