Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Berg Lake Trail and Snowbird Pass - Mt. Robson Provincial Park

Long weekends are awesome! That extra day is just enough to allow you to get away to destinations that are too ambitious for a regular weekend. This labour day, I was able to weasel my way onto Kyle's "boys" trip, since lots of the boys ended up backing out at the last minute (I seem to be getting good at that). The trip was a backpacking trip to Berg Lake in the shadow of Mt. Robson, near Jasper, AB. Kyle, Nick and I drove up to Jasper Friday afternoon and we met Geoff who was coming in from Edmonton. We spent a rainy night at the Provincial Campground near the visitors centre, and awoke to grey skies and chilly temperatures. As per tradition (Geoff has done this hike a few times previously), we went for breakfast at Cafe Mt. Robson before disembarking. Unfortunately, we arrived a few minutes before a big tour group so we were denied anything off the hot breakfast menu. Undeterred, we grabbed muffins and fruit before we registered at the visitors centre where we were subjected to an informational video about the hike that was made in the 90's. No boom boxes allowed apparently.
Grabbing breakfast before the 21 km hike to Berg Lake Campground
The hike into the campground was 21 km. The first 7 km started off gradually on a double track up to Kinney Lake. Next time, I would bring a bike to ride up, it would have been very nice on the way out. The trail gradually climbs but wasn't too strenuous. We covered this part of the hike pretty quickly, but got totally soaked when it started to rain.
Ready for anything, even a bit of rain
After a snack at Kinney Lake picnic shelter, we crossed the flats which is a more direct route than the hiking trail. The clouds were low so we couldn't really see the huge mountains around us, but the sun was trying to break through. Not for long though, as soon as we took our raincoats off, another cloud would move in and rain on us.
There were lots of creeks to cross, swollen from all the recent rain 
The trail was very well maintained and easy to follow
We started gaining a bit of elevation after Kinney Lake. 4 km of rolling uphill got us to a big suspension bridge and the Whitehorn picnic shelter where we had lunch. It was really nice to have a break from the rain, but stopping for too long was a good way to get chilled.
Suspension bridge to the Whitehorn Campground
Geoff crossing the suspension bridge
Ranger Station across the creek from the Whitehorn Campgound
After lunch, we walked into the Valley of 1000 Waterfalls. I didn't see one thousand falls, but there were quite a few! This was our last flat section for a while as the trail started to switch back all the way up to Berg Lake after this, about 600 metres of elevation gain from Whitehorn.
Some of the many waterfalls in the valley
A sudden break in the clouds allowed us to catch a glimpse of Mt. Robson high above
Falls of the Pool
Some of the nicest weather of the whole trip. You can almost see the top!
Finally we made it up the climb. By this point we were eager to reach the campground but we still had a few kilometers to go. The last section of trail emerged from the trees and crossed a big scree slope. The Mist Glacier was the first to come into view as we approached Berg Lake.
Crossing the scree with the Mist Glacier in the distance
 As Berg Lake drew nearer, we started picking up the pace! Only 2 more kilometers to go. The Berg Glacier was spectacular and the lake looked frigid. Kyle had been talking about doing the ice bucket challenge during the trip, but changed his mind as we saw icebergs floating by, having calved off the glacier.
Berg Glacier, Berg Lake, the top of the Helmet (far left) and the Emperor Face (far right)
We reached the campground after 6.5 hours of hiking. The rain was holding off so we quickly found tent pads (despite the weather, it was pretty busy up there) and set up camp. Once the tents were up, we hurried over to the Hargreaves Hut to shelter from the cold and damp. The hut is meant to be a cooking shelter and doesn't have any beds in it, but it does have a wood stove. The fire was roaring and it was hot and humid from all the damp gear and people. Once people started cooking, it got pretty tropical in there. We elected to spend much of our time out on the deck because it was so stifling inside.
The brand new hut, re-built this year
We had an early bedtime after all the hiking and woke up Sunday morning to torrential rain. After a slow start, we decided to continue with our original plan to hike up to Snowbird Pass (22 km return from Berg Lake Campground and 780 m of elevation gain). It rained on us initially but we got pretty lucky for the majority of the hike, especially as the clouds lifted slightly to give us a better look at the surroundings.
Hesitant to venture out into the rain
Approaching the Robson Glacier as the clouds start to break up
The trail follows moraine up to an alpine meadow to the left of the Robson Glacier
Starting up the steeper section of the hike to gain the meadow. Light packs were nice today!
Looking up the meadow to Snowbird Pass (the low point on the horizon)
The top of Snowbird Pass gave us a great view of the Robson Glacier. Mt. Robson is somewhere in that cloud 
Snowbird Pass is actually located at the continental divide. We had spent the weekend in BC, but stepped over into Alberta for lunch. The glaciers on the west side of the divide are the headwaters for the Fraser River, while those on the east side drain down into Alberta. 
Having lunch at Snowbird Pass, overlooking the Coleman Glacier which is on the other side of the pass
Mt. Robson attempting to poke through the clouds
 We were able to catch a few glimpses of Mt. Robson, but never quite enough to see the whole thing. The sun did appear for a bit, but with it came the wind so it was pretty cold up there! After lunch, it was time to head back to camp. It was a long descent back down but we were able to move quickly with a little help from gravity. As we got back through the meadow, some nasty looking weather started to roll in so we tried to get home quickly.  
Back down the meadow
Just below the meadow, about to start the traverse along the large moraine
 We got a bit wet on the way back to camp, but it wasn't too bad as we knew there was a nice warm hut waiting for us. Too warm in fact! We had our dinner out on the deck once we changed into our warm, dry clothes. Nick made us some awesome noodle soup and we finished off the whiskey that had been rationed for the evening. It tasted amazing after 7 hours of hiking. Once the hut had cleared out a bit, we moved inside to play some cards and drink hot chocolate and baileys before heading off to bed. 43 km done, 21 more to go!
Berg Lake from the deck of the hut. It is named for the icebergs formed from the glacier calving, which happens pretty frequently. First you hear a rumble, then a puff of snow and a big wave as the ice crashes into the lake.
 We got up Monday morning to a steady drizzle. We quickly packed up the tents then had a hot breakfast in the hut before starting the hike down to the valley. The rainy theme of the trip continued and we found ourselves quite damp for most of the descent. It was nice to know that there was a warm, dry car waiting below and a change of clothes.
The boys of the "boys trip" with Emperor Falls behind
It took us just under 5 hours to hike down from Berg Lake. My feet were so sore, taking off my boots was heavenly. A visitor had been in the car while we were gone. It appears that a mouse got into the car, ate some cliff bars and chocolate and pooped everywhere. I certainly wasn't expecting that! We changed in the parking lot, cleaned up the mouse droppings, and then drove to Jasper Pizza for a delicious meal before the long drive back to Calgary for us and Edmonton for Geoff. Thanks so much for letting me crash your trip Geoff! It was super fun.

A few Robson Facts: 
  • Mt. Robson is the tallest peak in the Rockies at 3954 m tall
  • Snowbird pass is 2410 m high
  • We hiked 64 km and gained over 1500 m in three days
  • There are 4 bio-geo-climatic zones in the Mt. Robson Provincial Park 
  • The first ascent of Mt. Robson was in 1913 by Conrad Kain

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