Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Waterton Hikes: Crypt Lake

Distance: 19 km return
Elevation Gain: 700m

For Labour Day weekend, Alan had booked Northover Ridge and we were all set to go backpacking in Kananaskis. Unfortunately as the weekend approached, the weather forecast grew more and more dismal. Chilly temperatures with sleet and snow did not sound very appealing, and we made a last minute decision to cancel the trip. This was the second Labour Day weekend in 2 years that Alan has had to pull the plug on for Northover Ridge. I guess it just wasn't meant to be. Instead, we drove to Waterton National Park in Southern Alberta where the forecast was marginally better and we would have the luxury of staying in Alan's camper. This was my first trip to Waterton and I wanted to tick off some of the classic hikes. The one I had heard the most about was Crypt Lake.

To access the Crypt Lake trail, you need to cross Waterton Lake. There is a company that provides boat rides across for $24 per person, and leaves the town of Waterton at 9 and 10 am, with return trips at 4 and 5:30. Unfortunately, this means that there are waves of hikers leaving the trailhead all at the same time and your day is limited by the return boat. Unaware of these facts and solely because we are cheap, we had borrowed an inflatable kayak from a friend with the intention of paddling across the lake under our own power.
Geared up for our crossing of Waterton Lake
It was a cold and windy morning. If you have been to Waterton before, you will know what I mean about the wind! There were whitecaps on the lake and rain clouds in the sky. Alan and I packed our hiking clothes into dry bags and chose our paddling attire knowing we were going to get soaked. It took us about 45 minutes to paddle across the lake, directly into the wind. It was cold and it was hard work. The kayak wasn't the most sea-worthy of vessels and we should have known from the warning on the side to "avoid high wind and waves" and to "never paddle more than 300 m from shore". Waves broke over the front of the boat, drenching me as I was in the front. I was very happy to have warm, dry clothes to change into on the other side!
Looking back to the town of Waterton and the Prince of Wales Hotel
When we arrived at the trailhead, there was nobody to be seen. We were over an hour behind the last boat which made for a very peaceful hike for the first half of the ascent. We took the detour to Hell Roaring Falls on the way up (add 2 km to the total hike), and got some great views down the lake and up the canyon. I really enjoyed this part of the trail because you walk right on the edge of the canyon for over a kilometer. On the way down we skipped this part and took the switchbacks through the trees which was nowhere near as interesting, although much quicker.
Hell Roaring Canyon
The hike is an uphill climb right from the beginning and you gain 700 metres over the 9 km, most of which happens at the switchbacks above the Twin Falls where we stopped for a snack. It was here we started to encounter our first hikers who were on their way down from the lake. There was a steady stream of people all the way until we reached the old campground at the bottom of the scree slope and it made me very glad that we hadn't started with the masses.
Some of the many sets of falls on the way up to Crypt Lake
The Crypt Lake hike is really beautiful. The majority of the hike contours up the canyon and allows spectacular views throughout. You start in the forest and pass many sets of waterfalls on the way up to a scree slope. Here you are in the alpine and climb a ladder, pass through a narrow natural cave in the mountain and scramble up some steep rocks (protected with a chain you can hold onto) before reaching Crypt Lake. The lake itself is surrounded by soaring mountains and we saw mountain goats high on the rocks above. Apparently the fishing is pretty good too.
Sun is out but its still chilly
Looking back down the valley
Huge waterfall below Crypt Lake
Gaining the final bit of elevation up the scree to the lake
Natural cave that is part of the trail
Made it to the lake
Amazing colours
When we arrived at the lake, the last few hikers were just leaving to catch the last boat. We were fortunate to have the whole place to ourselves. We had a late leisurely lunch and hiked around the lake (about 1 km) before starting our walk down to allow everyone else the time to get ahead so we wouldn't catch up. We considered going for a swim but the water was cold and the air temperature was even colder. We decided to pass on the swim as we still had to paddle back across the lake at the end of the day.
We had the lake to ourselves
Calm waters
Sunshine and wildflowers
Back down the trail
Alan on the rock section
It was a great start to our weekend of hiking. I would definitely recommend Crypt Lake to anyone visiting Waterton. One thing to be aware of is that there are lots of bears in the area. We didn't see any, but we heard that there had been a bear that ran through the cave earlier in the day while there were people inside! There was evidence of bear scat all over the trail, especially higher up where blueberries were plentiful. It took us about 6 hours to do the full hike, including stops for snacks and detours to Hell Roaring Falls and around the lake, with an extra 1.5 hours of paddling to access the trail. If you decide to take the boat, there is plenty of time to do the full hike, stop for photos and still make the return boat to town. There are some steep sections and you want to be prepared for a lot of uphill in the first few hours, but you have the reward of quicker descent back down to the lake, most of which is pretty cruisy.
Through the blueberries
Perfect conditions for a paddle home

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