Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mount Robson Backpacking Trip June 29-July 2, 2009

Mount Robson, Berg Lake and Berg Glacier

Monday, June 29
Left Edmonton at 2:00 am and drove to Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia. Saw and photographed a number of deer near Jasper National Park and a small herd of cow elk and calves near the Junction of Highway 16 and the Icefields Parkway in Jasper. In Mount Robson Provincial Park stopped several times to take pictures of the sunrise in the mountains and saw and photographed two large bull elk and a cow moose.

Bull Elk (Cervus canadensis) in VelvetMorning in the Canadian Rockies

Arrived at Mount Robson Park headquarters at about 6:30 am, having forgotten that the park is in British Columbia and in the Pacific Time Zone. Since headquarters did not open until 8:00, drove on west to the town of Dunster, about thirty miles west of Tete Jaune Cache on Highway 16 on the way to Prince George. Had been told there were Mountain Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium montanum) blooming there. Found them growing on very muddy disturbed slope on a side road to the town of Dunster. After scrambling around taking pictures and getting very muddy, drove back to Mount Robson, stopping on the way to take pictures of field of naturalized lupines. Arrived at Mount Robson at 7:45 am.

Mountain Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium montanum)

After checking in and confirming our back-country reservations and watching a required fifteen minute video we drove to the trailhead and started out on the day’s eleven kilometer hike to the Whitehorn campground. The day was mostly cloudy, but had some very good views of the mountains. Only a few kilometers up the trail found our first orchids, a few Western Spotted Coralroots (Corallorhiza maculata var. occidentalis), some Broad-lipped Twayblades (Listera convallarioides) and some Northern Twayblades (Listera borealis), as well as some Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera ophioglossoides) that were not in bloom but were easily recognizable by their distinctive foliage. The Coralroots are saprophytes, that is, it grow without the need for chlorophyll and feeds on fungi in the soil. The two Twayblades are tiny plants less than six inches with very small, but intricate flowers.

Western Heart-leaf Twayblade (Listera cordata var. cordata)

Listera borealis (Northern Twayblade)

Other wildflowers were in bloom all along the trail, Red Columbine (Aquilegia formosa), Bunchberry (Cornus unalaschkensis), Hairy Arnica (Arnica mollis), Western Meadowrue (Thalictrum occidentale), Bog Wintergreen (Pyrola asarifolia), and at lower elevations Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum), Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia), Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja hispida), wild roses (Rosa gymnocarpa) and Queen-cup Lilies (Clintonia uniflora). Most exciting, though were the orchids, especially the Lady’s Slippers and Fairy Slippers. In all we saw around fifteen different species of orchids on our hike, more than on any other hike, and in several places saw hundreds, some in very large clumps, of Yellow Lady’s Slippers, something we had never seen before.

Just before Kinney Lake and in the forest nearby we found our fifth orchid, the Small-leaved Bog Orchid (Platanthera obtusata subsp. obtusata). It is at Kinney Lake, seven kilometers in, that most of the day-hikers finish their excursions. The path is open that far to mountain bikers also and there is a picnic area and other amenities that are not found further up the trail. We, of course, hiked on having only just begun our excursion.

We stopped for lunch at the Kinney Lake shelter at noon, having hiked something over seven kilometers. We shared a freeze-dried meal of Pad Thai (very good), had a cup of tea and refilled our water bottles at the lake. Just before the camp, however, we found three orchids growing in area near the bridge at a spot where the horse trail diverged to the north. One of the orchids was the Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) which we found growing scattered over a large area, singly and in clumps, by the hundreds. We also found one clump of the Sparrow’s Egg Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium passerinum) and thousands of the Round-leaved Orchid (Amerorchis rotundifolia). Two of these we had found several days earlier on an access road near Tete Jaune Cache and the junction of Highways 5 and 16.

Small Northern Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin)

Sparrow's Egg Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium passerinum)

Round-leaf Orchis (Amerorchis rotundifolia)

Continued to see the Yellow Lady’s Slipper and the Round-leaved Orchid near the camp and in the flood-plain north of the camp. After crossing the flood-plain, the last section of the trail was fairly hard and so we arrived very tired at Whitehorn at about 4:30 pm, after crossing the river on a rope bridge.

Whitehorn Basin, Mount Robson Provincial Park

Set up camp near the Robson River which we had been following all day and had a supper of Jamaican Barbequed Chicken and Kathmandu Curry (both very spicy). Many Round-leaved Orchids were growing in and around the camp along with other wildflowers, most notable a striking blue Pinguicula.

Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris)

After supper we packed our things away in the bear boxes, hung our packs on the bear poles and went to bed at 7:00 while it was still light out. The night was very cold but we were both tired and were warm in our sleeping bags and fell asleep quickly, lulled by the sound of the river and of the breeze in the trees. Had a good night’s sleep.

Tuesday, June 30
I awoke at 6:00 the next morning, but Nance wanted to sleep in. Made tea and brought her a cup in the tent and then took more pictures while waiting for her to get up. She finally awoke around 8:00. This was the only morning she did not get up early and showed any sign of tiredness. She always surprises me with her ability to hike and is like the Eveready bunny - she goes on, and on and on and on.

While Nance was still sleeping took pictures around the camp of the Round-leaved Orchid, the American Globeflower (Trollius laxus), the white flowered Labrador Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja septentrionalis) and the small insect-eating Common Butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris). This latter plant has sticky glands on the leaves which capture and digest small insects. Also took some pictures of the first light on the canyon walls and of the river.

American Globeflower (Trollius laxus)Labrador Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja septentrionalis)

After a breakfast of granola with powdered milk we broke camp and were on the trail at 8:30. We stopped just beyond the camp at White Falls and left our packs behind while we climbed the shale for a better view of the falls and pictures. Crossing the bridge below the falls we took on the hardest part of the hike, four kilometers of a very steep and often precarious series of switchbacks that brought us up Emperor Hill. We stopped along the way to see the Falls of the Pool and ended that part of the hike at Emperor Falls, where we hiked a short side trail to the falls and were soaked by spray from the falls.

Emperor Falls with Mount Robson in the Background

It was on this section of the hike that we began to see Fairy Slippers (Calypso bulbosa var. americana), along with many other wildflowers, all of which we admired and photographed. We stopped for lunch at Emperor camp, having done six kilomenters, and had a lunch of MRI’s along the river. Nance had ham and shrimp Jambalaya and I had a barbequed pork chop.

Eastern Fairy Slipper (Calypso bulbosa var. americana)

After Emperor the trail was much easier and we hiked above the river plain and then across it through falling snow, passing the Marmot camp and coming into view of Mount Robson and Berg Lake, almost obscured by snow as we arrived. A short walk through the forest along the lake brought us to Berg Lake camp where we decided to set up even though we had reservations at Rearguard (another kilometer down the trail).

Mist Glacier and Berg Lake in a Snowstorm

We liked the views of Berg Lake and Mount Robson from Berg camp and also the fact that the camp had an enclosed shelter with a wood stove. The weather had cleared when we arrived and we had spectacular views of the mountains (Mount Robson, Wall Mountain and Rearguard Mountain), the glaciers (Mist Glacier and Berg Glacier) and Berg lake. We set up camp in the woods and had supper at the shelter of tea and freeze-dried meals of Chili Mac and Lasagna.

After relaxing in the shelter and meeting some of the other hikers we took pictures and headed for bed. Among our fellow hikers were a United Church of Canada minister and his wife from Prince George, three Canadians, two from Edmonton who were taking a friend from Toronto on his first backbacking trip and first visit to the Rockies, and a lawyer who had hiked up with his two teen-aged sons and younger daughter.

Hoary Marmot Begging

Before bed and after supper we hiked back down the trail along Berg Lake where we saw and photographed Harlequin ducks and several different orchids as well as the mountain, the glacier and the lake. The orchids were Fairy’s Slippers, the Boad-lipped Twayblade and the Northern Twayblade and we also photographed a yellow Columbine. On returning Nance saw and photographed a caribou near the camp. Went to bed at 7:00 and slept well in spite of the cold (had to keep the tent buttoned up on account of the cold). Heard the glacier thundering and rumbling during the night and saw new ice in the lake the next morning.

Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)
Western Heart-leaf Twayblade (Listera cordata var. cordata)

Wednesday, July 1 (Canada Day)
Up at 5:30, we found the shelter deserted. Started a fire and had breakfast of freeze-dried eggs and bacon, which were horrible - tasted like soft chunks of yellow styrofoam with bacon bits mixed in. Filled our water bottles and started at 7:30 on the trail to Snowbird Pass, approximately twenty-two kilometers each way. The trail took us along the Robson River to Robson Lake where we could see Robson Glacier and the north face of Mount Robson. After passing the lake we had a very hard climb up the end of the moraine on the north side of the glacier and then a very precarious hike along the ridge at the top of the valley.

Robson Glacier

On the way to the glacier we photographed a green and white Paintbrush (Castilleja occidentalis), some willow catkins, the Steppe Sweetpea (Lathyrus pauciflorus) which seemed to be growing everywhere, and spreading stonecrop (Sedum divergens). The walk along the river was easy and pleasant with wonderful views of Mount Robson and of Robson Glacier which came into view as we followed the river around the corner of Wall Mountain.

At the end of the ridge we saw mountain goats, first two adults and then a family of five. The French-Canadian fellow who had been hiking near us went after them to get pictures, however and chased them all away before we could get good pictures. At the end of the ridge we turned north and after another short, hard climb found ourselves above the tree-line on the tundra. There we followed a stream across the tundra toward Snowbird Pass, a very pleasant walk.

To Snowbird PassWestern Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja occidentalis)

The tundra was like a garden with the globe flowers and Pasque flowers in bloom, as well as the red plox and the yellow peas. We photographed Sagebrush Buttercup (Ranunculus glabberimus), the catkins of several alpine willows, a few Western Pasqueflowers (Anemone occidentalis), though these were mostly finished blooming, Columbia Windflower (Anemone deltoidea), a small cream colored vetch, Silky Locoweed (Oxytropis sericea), Moss Campion (Silene acaulis), Pinemat Manzanita (Arctostaphylos nevadensis), a black-headed sedge with white seeds, and a small purple flower growing in the rocks, Purple Mountain Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia).

The Route to Snowbird Pass

Moss Campion (Silene acaulis)Purple Mountain Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia)

Unidentified Alpine SedgeArctic Willow Catkin (Salix arctica)

Silky Locoweed (Oxytropis sericea)

We only went as far as the talus slopes at the base of Snowbird Pass, since the hiking was very difficult, through snow and with no discernable trail. We had been hiking for eight hours as well and thought it best we turn back, though Nance was inclined to go on (Energizer bunny). The pass would have taken us to the end of the trail and a view of the icefields which we still regret missing, but we were out of time and energy and wanted to see the ice caves at Robson Glacier.

On our way back we scrambled down to the ice caves at the foot of Robson Glacier and took photos inside the caves which were spectacular with the light shining through the ice. After scrambling back up to the trail and hiking the rest of the way back we arrived a camp very tired at about 4:30.

Ice Caves, Robson Glacier

The day was partly cloudy and Mount Robson was never entirely free of clouds, but we were told that it is very unusual to see the peak unobscured by clouds. Apparently the saying is that Mount Robson’s peak can only be clearly seen seven days in a year. We nevertheless had great views of the mountain and the glacier.

At camp we had supper of spaghetti with meat sauce and beef stroganoff and tea. Later went back to the trail to photograph some orchids we had seen on our way back in a wet area near Rearguard camp. These turned out to be another new species, the Green Bog Orchis (Platanthera huronensis). After relaxing at the shelter we went to bed at 6:30 and had another good night’s sleep, though we several times heard the glacier thundering and groaning during the night.

Green Bog Orchis (Platanthera huronensis)

Thursday, July 2
Woke at 5:30 and had a breakfast of granola with powdered milk at the shelter where we also started the fire because we were the first ones up. After filling water bottles and taking care of other camp chores we headed up the trail along Toboggan Falls, just north of the camp. The falls are beautiful and aptly named since the water toboggans down a forty-five degree rocky slope for many hundreds of yards and through numerous channels.

Mount Robson, Berg Glacier and Berg Lake

The day was clear and Mount Robson entirely free of clouds, an amazing sight. It was hard to stop taking photos, especially since the mountain was in view during most of the morning’s hike. At the top of the ridge, above the falls, we turned south and hiked through new-growth forest and meadows that were just coming into bloom and where the snow was still on the trail in many place. The Globe Flowers and Pasque Flowers especially were blooming, and made for a very pleasant hike. On the way up we also saw heather in bloom and took pictures of it and of several other wildflowers including a yellow Columbine and Western Meadowrue.

Mount Robson, Berg and Mist Glaciers and Berg Lake from the Hargreaves Lake Trail.

The trail brought us finally to Hargreaves Lake and Glacier. To see the lake and glacier, however, we had to scramble up a very high moraine, but the views were worth the climb. Coming down we hiked back to Berg Lake near Marmot camp and then back to the camp itself where we arrived about 11:00. On the way back we took more pictures of the Fairy Slippers and of the yellow Evergreen Violet (Viola sempervirens) and the white Macloskey Violet (Viola macloskeyi), both also very tiny at these elevations.

Hargreaves Glacier and Hargreaves Lake

Macloskey Violet (Viola macloskeyi)

Decided to pack out part way that afternoon, since we were unsure of our ability to hike all the way out on Friday. This turned out to be a good decision, since though we could have made it out in a day’s time, we were shattered by the time we made camp again in the evening. So, after packing up camp we had lunch, Jamaican Barbequed Chicken and Beef Stew.

The day was very warm and the hiking fairly hard - a lot of downhill hiking on loose stones. We stopped for half an hour at Emperor, where we filled our water bottles and soaked our feet in the river, though the mosquitoes were quite bad there. Did the same at Whitehorn camp and continued on to Kinney Lake camp where we arrived about 5:30, a day’s hike of about 15 kilometers.

The mosquitoes were quite bad at Kinney Lake also so we did not linger over supper and were in bed at 7:00 after setting up camp on the shore of the lake. Supper was MRI pasta in alfredo sauce and Jamaican Barbequed Chicken (we’d had enough of that one by this time). The night was quite warm in spite of keeping the ventilation flaps down on the tent, but weariness is a good sedative and we slept well.

Friday, July 2
We were both awake an up at 5:30 and eager to get started. We packed camp, skipped breakfast, gave the last of our filtered water to a family of campers and hit the trail at 6:00. We made only one stop on the way out at the bridge near the middle of Kinney Lake and the beginning of the horse trail where we stopped to photograph the Lady’s Slippers we had seen on the hike in, especially the Sparrow’s Egg Slippers which we found in abundance when we looked further down the horse trail. Interestingly, these were always growing in and around a brushy spruce that was often dying, though the Yellow Lady’s Slippers seemed to grow with less regard for their location.

Small Northern Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin)

The morning was clear and the weather warm, but we hiked hard and fast and were back at the visitor’s center at 8:00, having gone about seven kilometers. The seats of the car seemed strange and we still had a long drive back to Edmonton, so we did not tarry. After checking in at the visitor’s center we drove back east though Mount Robson Park and through the north end of Jasper National Park and on to Edmonton, stopping only to take some pictures of wildlife.

We took pictures of some mountain goats and were going to take some of a beautiful bighorn sheep when an idiot with a pickup truck full of dogs drove up and parked at the side of the road. The dogs went berserk when they saw and smelled the sheep, and though on leashes, were jumping out of the truck, strangling themselves and each other and so scared the sheep away.

At Hinton we stopped at Macdonalds and Tim Hortons for some "civilized" food and drink and arrived aback in Edmonton at about 3:00 in the afternoon, tired and ready for hot showers, clean clothes and real food at Scott and Rose’s.

This was the longest hiking-backpacking trip we’ve been on, but without question it was also the best we’ve been on - the scenery, the flowers, the hiking were topnotch and the weather was good or better than good. We’ve hiked in the North Cascades and in the Olympics, but this beat them all, though we’ve seen some wonderful backcountry elsewhere.

Especially exciting for us were the orchids. With three or four others found at Dunster, along Highway 5 on our way to Alberta, and near Tete Jaune Cache, we saw a total of fourteen or fifteen different orchid species on this trip. Many of these are orchids that also grow in the State of Washington and which the Washington Native orchid Society will be interested in learning about.

N.B. We have plans to return to Mount Robson around the beginning of July, 2010, for a week of hiking and backpacking. This post seemed a fitting explanation of why we are going there two years in a row.


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