Monday, June 29, 2015

The Forks and Turbine Canyon Backpacking

On June 27/28th, a big group of us from the WMIG went up to the Forks Campground for a backpacking trip. Half the team left Calgary early so that we could drop off our gear at the Forks and hike up to Turbine Canyon and the Haag Glacier. It was hot already when we left the parking lot at 8am, but the first few sunny kilometers beside Upper Kananaskis Lake passed quickly and we were soon in the forest, making our way gently up to the campground. The trail is well maintained and enjoyable, but you stay low in the valley all the way up to the Forks and the trail is almost dead flat. We covered the 7km to the Forks really quickly and were happy to leave our overnight gear behind, stashed in the woods near the campsites.
Taking a breather on the way to the Forks
The trail continued up the river in the trees, then started to rise steeply up through avalanche slopes covered in small trees and beautiful alpine wildflowers. It was really hot in the sun and every bit of breeze was welcome. This is when the views started to open up and we were able to look back down the valley to huge mountains that we hadn't been able to see from the Forks trail.
Kelly looking back down the valley after ascending from the Forks
With the steep side hill behind us, we moved into more forest that hadn't been affected by winter avalanches. It was nice to have some shade and we all soaked our hats in an icy stream to cool off. The relief didn't last long though, the air was very still in the trees and we were all soaked with sweat. Steve had his GPS watch counting out the kilometers of our hike and there was always a bit of a celebration when another one ticked by. I was amazed with how immaculate the trail still was, especially after hiking Tent Ridge the weekend before, a trail that could use some love.
Bridget looks ready for a beach chair and a book with that hat! Nice and shady though!
As the day progressed, we moved through lots of sub-alpine, slowly ascending, but it was never very steep and we were able to move at a comfortable pace. We stopped at small lakes for photos, water, and to take in the sights as new mountains came into view with every turn.
Alpine reflections
We grabbed lunch at a large lake and refilled the waterbottles. We had come about 11 or 12 km at this point (I think that Steve's watch battery had already died) and estimated that we had 3km to go before the Turbine Canyon Campground and another ~2km to the Haag Glacier.
Good spot to stop for lunch and fill up on some water
Brett looking stoked after lunch
Alpine lake below Turbine Canyon
We contoured around the lake after lunch, crossing more avalanche slopes, including one that had lots of broken trees from a more recent avalanche and it smelled like pine, yum! At the Turbine Canyon Campground, there were lots of backpackers and they directed us to the famous Turbine Falls.
Getting close to the snow line and happy to have arrived at the campground
At Turbine Canyon, the water flows down from the glacier and suddenly drops into a slit in the rock, falling about 100m almost straight down and into a deep canyon. It was unbelievable. You could jump across the narrow opening and lie out on the cliff to see over the edge. It was hard to get out far enough to see the bottom of the canyon!
Taking a leap over the canyon
John trying to get a good look and not plummet to his death
From the Turbine Campground, we followed a trail marked with flagging tape up towards the Haag Glacier. This was probably the hottest part of the day and it didn't help that the trail was steep. We all walked with our heads down, not talking, suffering our way up. It didn't last too long and we popped out into the alpine for the first time all day. It instantly felt cooler as we crossed small snow patches and enjoyed the refreshing breeze.
Beautiful ladies in beautiful mountains
From where we were, the glacier looked close, especially after we had come so far. "The thing about glaciers," I said, "is that they look close... but they're not!" Everyone thought that this was hilarious and that quote was repeated a few times during the remainder of the trip. Unfortunately, it was true! As we made our way up towards Haag, we realized that it was going to take at least an hour to get up there and we still had about 10km to go to get back to the Forks Campground for the night. It wasn't going to happen today.
Steve and Brett looking towards Haag Glacier with the Canadian XC Team hut looking extraterrestrial on the right
Alpine boulder session
Good guy Steve giving Bridget a lift across the snow (runners and snow don't mix)
Instead of going for the glacier, we decided to take a swim in the iceberg lake. At first it was just Brett and I, but once we had gone in, everyone else decided that it was a great idea. To ensure nobody chickened out, we put the camera on timer and counted down. It was cold!
Frigid swim in an iceberg lake
Yogi Bridget
Feeling refreshed, we started the hike back down to the Forks. Some clouds had moved in and it looked like the weather was going to turn, but they soon passed. Fortunately it was much cooler in the late afternoon and we were able to cover the long descent really quickly, arriving back at camp just in time for dinner! We had covered 29km and about 575m of elevation.

While we had been out on our mountain adventure, the rest of the group had a lazy morning and had made it to the campground only about an hour before us. They had dinner and drinks going already so we set up camp quickly then sat down to join them around the fire. It was a fun, social evening, but I think that the hikers crashed pretty early (I know I did!!). To save weight on the trip, I hadn't brought a tent so slept out by the river on my thermarest under the stars. What a great way to spend on of the warmest nights of the year!
Hanging out with the crew at the Forks Campground
I was up early on Sunday morning thanks to the sun. To make the most of it, I went for a run up to Three Isle Lake. Well, it was supposed to be a run. On the map, it said 4km, but didn't have any topo lines or elevation marked. It started out harmless enough, but suddenly rose straight up beside a waterfall (350m up approximately). The topography of that trail reminded me of a condensed version of the Bugaboo's Kain Hut approach! Needless to say, not much running happened for the steep part of the trail, and backpackers passing me on their way down gave me some weird looks (all I had with me was bear spray and a camera).
Alpine waterfall on the way to Three Isle Lake
Getting to the lake was such a reward! I went for a quick dip, expecting it to be super cold, but after my experience the day before, Three Isle Lake was actually quite a pleasant temperature. In order to get back to camp before the others sent out a search party, I didn't stay long. I would really like to come back through here and do Northover Ridge sometime though!
Calm reflections at Three Isle Lake
The rest of the day was spent packing up and hiking out. Thanks to the whole crew for making it an excellent weekend!! Also, photo credit to Kelly for some amazing pictures! Thanks for letting me use them.
Most of the crew
The picture below is taken from