Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Waterton Hikes: Carthew-Alderson Trail

Distance: 20 km one way
Elevation Gain: 650 m

The Carthew-Alderson Trail is best done starting at Cameron Lake. Since this trailhead parking lot is currently under construction and the road is closed to public vehicles, there are free shuttles being offered to take hikers up to the trailhead. You need to reserve a spot on the shuttle, preferably a few days in advance if the weather looks good. Taking the shuttle was really nice because we didn't have to go retrieve our car at the end of the day as the hike finishes right in the town of Waterton.

We showed up early so we wouldn't miss our 8 am shuttle, and were actually early enough that we got on the 7:30! There were 9 other hikers on the bus, 6 of which were doing the same hike as us. When we got dropped off at the trailhead, Alan and I were first on the trail. Within a few hundred metres we came across a small lake with a large moose wading around. We must have spent 20 minutes watching him dunk his head and eat the weeds. It was fascinating to watch this huge animal, especially when he would shake the water from his antlers.
Mr. Moose eating his breakfast
Wildlife spotting complete for the day
We ended up seeing two more moose a few minutes later at Cameron Lake. What a treat! From Cameron Lake, the trail started up switchbacks for a few kilometres to Summit Lake. This part of the trail gains elevation quickly and offers view of Cameron Lake below. As you approach Summit Lake, it flattens out in sub-alpine meadows for about a kilometre, a nice break from the uphill.
Summit Lake - not actually at the summit of anything
We ate a second breakfast at Summit Lake before starting into the alpine. The trail crosses a huge alpine bowl and contours around to gain Carthew Ridge. It was hard to pay attention to walking when the views were so good behind us! You barely notice that you are going up during this part of the hike because it was pretty gradual until a few steep switchbacks to get up to the ridge.
Contouring the huge alpine bowl to the gain the ridge at the far right side of the photo
Getting into the alpine with views of Glacier National Park
On the ridge, we got a 360 degree panorama of mountains, lakes and glaciers. This was also all of the elevation we had to gain for the whole day. We had been making good time so we took a slight detour to the end of the ridge to have some hot tea and take in the views. We were lucky that it wasn't very windy on the ridge and we were able to linger for quite some time.
Ice on the trees, winter is coming
Alan is in his element
View from the top of Carthew Ridge (2310m)
It was not warm up there
The next part of the trail descended down a scree slope to Carthew Lakes. We watched a couple scramble up Mt. Carthew and considered doing the same, but we wanted to drive back to Calgary that night and still had about 12 km of hiking to do. The trail wove its way through the lakes, crossing bands of multi-coloured rock that were purple, pink, red and yellow.
Mt Carthew (left), Mt. Alderson (right), Carthew Lakes and a view to the prairies
We passed waterfalls and mountain streams and descended into a small meadow that was full marmots. We stopped for a while to watch them as fish jumped in the lake beside us.
Marmots watching us
Descending to Alderson Lake was stunning. The water was a beautiful sapphire blue and Mt. Alderson rose straight out of the lake, a shear cliff hundreds of metres high. There was a beautiful campground on the shores of the lake and we paused here for another round of hot tea and soup before the final 7 km back to town.
Alderson Lake
Looking across Alderson Lake back to Mt. Carthew (centre) with Mt. Alderson on the left

The sun is shining! How did we get so lucky?!
The views ended at Alderson lake. The last 7 km of the hike worked its way down the valley through dense trees.  We tried to get through this part of the hike as quickly as possible as it was quite monotonous and you had to share the trail with horseback riders. This meant that you needed to watch where you were stepping due to the large amount of horse poo on the trail. It was a relief to arrive in town and have our vehicle waiting for us. Overall I thought that this was the most stunning of the three hikes that we did over the weekend, but its downfall is that you only get views for the middle 10 km of the hike, with the remaining hiking spent in the trees. It would be really nice to come and camp at Alderson Lake sometime and try to scramble some of the summits in the area.

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