Monday, July 12, 2010

Backpacking in the Canadian Rockies (1)

Day One - Monday, July 5, 2010

Left our son-in-law and daughter's home in Edmonton at 2:00 am for the five hour drive west to Mount Robson Provincial Park.  Forgot that British Columbia is in the Pacific Time Zone and so arrived at the park headquarters at 6:00 am with two hours before we could check in, confirm our reservations and get our backcountry camping permits.

On the way saw several moose feeding, but too far away to get a decent picture, and a number of deer and elk.  I stopped to get pictures of two bull elk along a small lake in Jasper National Park and they plunged into the lake and began to swim across.  That was a picture I very much wanted, but it was still quite dark and the pictures turned out a bit grainy.

We were hiking the Berg Lake Trail, a very popular trail, and so had made reservations several months earlier, a good thing, since the backcountry campgrounds, especially the campground at Berg Lake, were quite full most of the time we were there.

After checking in and watching the obligatory 15 minute video on hiking and camping in the backcountry we drove the short distance to the trailhead and were on the trail by 8:30, crossing a footbridge across the Robson River and following the river north.

The weather had not been very good the previous week and we had watched the weather reports carefully.  We'd had fairly heavy rain while driving and there was still light rain as we started our hike, but the weather quickly improved and we had beautiful weather the rest of the day and the rest of the week.

Red Columbine (Aquilegia formosa)

Had to make only 11 kilometers to our first camp at Whitehorn, but that took us six hours since we stopped often to take pictures, especially of the wildflowers that were growing everywhere along the trail.  This usually involved taking off our packs and putting them on again, a rather laborious chore.  Landscape pictures were more easily taken.

Red, White and Blue for the 4th of July

Soon saw several native orchids, Listera cordata var. cordata, the Heart-leaved Twayblade and Platanthera huronensis, the Green Bog Orchis, the latter growing in every boggy or wet area along the trail, and its tall, bright green spikes very visible.

Listera cordata is a tiny plant only a few inches tall and was usually growing among other plants in shady well-drained areas.  As its name suggests, the two leaves are heart-shaped and are opposite each other a little above the ground.  This plant we found growing at all elevations up to our final camp at Berg Lake.

The first four kilometers of trail to Kinney Lake are much used by day hikers and bikers and are very easy hiking.  This gave us the chance to adjust our packs and get into the rhythm of hiking, and pictures of the Robson River which we were following, gave us some quick "breathers."

Arriving at Kinney Lake the weather was still cloudy, though the rain had stopped, and the trail, now through the woods and somewhat more difficult, gave us some wonderful views of the lake and of the mountains in the distance.

In the woods around the lake we began to see plants of Platanthera obtusata, the Blunt-leaved Rein Orchis.  We had seen this plant the previous year but then only a couple plants in flower.  Now it was everywhere along the trail and we would continue to see it nearly all the way to Berg Lake.

This plant was easily recognizable by the unique shape of its flowers and the rather long single leaf at the base of the plant.  Also saw three or four plants of the much larger and very elegant Platanthera orbiculata, the Pad-leaved Orchis.  They were near blooming but not a single flower was open, a huge disappointment.  Also saw a lot of the Lesser Rattlesnake Orchis, Goodyera repens, but none of these were in bloom either.

At the north end of the lake we had hoped to see again the Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) and the Sparrow's-egg Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium passerinum), but were disappointed to find that these were all finished - not a flower to be found.  Though we were hiking at nearly the same time as last year we saw everywhere that spring had come much earlier this year and that everything was further along.

Stopped at the Kinney Lake campground for lunch, having made about seven kilometers in four hours, nothing to brag about.  Each had an MRE for lunch, very convenient since it doesn't involve heating water and not too bad as far as hiking food goes.  Refilled our waterbottles and went on, now under better skies and in much warmer temps.

After hiking across the flood-plain north of the lake where we had found Yellow Lady's Slippers a year ago but none in bloom now, we started up Whitehorn Hill and along the last few kilometers to our first camp.  Saw a huge porcupine but were unable to get pictures.

Arrived at Whitehorn at about 2:00 pm, set up camp, soaked our feet in the river, and pumped a container of water with the purifier, one of my least favorite camp chores.  The camp at Whitehorn is in a beautiful basin along the river, and the campsites in the trees.

Finished setting up camp we took our cameras and headed north from camp toward White Falls.  Were delighted to find Yellow Lady's Slippers blooming in the woods and along the trail north of camp, and the Small Round-leaf Orchis (Amerorchis rotundifolia) as well and one tiny flower of the Sparrow's-egg Lady's Slipper.

The Yellow Lady's Slipper was interesting in its variable colors.  The pouches varied from a deep to pale yellow, but sepals and petals were even more variable, ranging from green to a rich mahogany color.

Amerorchis rotundifolia is an interesting plant, most closely related to the European genus, Orchis, and with no other close relatives in North America.  It is a small plant, about five inches tall, with delightful flowers that look like little pink-spotted angels.

At the falls, a beautiful cascade of four different waterfalls that are only partly visible from the trail, we climbed a loose and steep talus slope to get a better view and some time exposures of the falls.  Perched precariously on the slope, we got our pictures, but were relieved to be down at the bottom of the slope again.

By the time we finished photographing the orchids and the falls it was nearly 6:00 and we wandered back to camp where we had our evening meal of freeze-dried beef stew, teriyaki chicken and tea.  Afterward chatted for a while with some of the other campers and then headed to the tent where we read for a while (I started Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods) and finally went to sleep at about 8:00.

Note: The third, tenth and last pictures were taken by my wife.


  1. Amerorchis rotundifolia is enchanting, you are right, little girls in polka dots

  2. I've looked through all your Mount Robson photographs. They are delicious.

    Sometimes we don't remember how lovely our world is until we hike right up to it.

  3. Thanks for looking, Julie. Wished we lived closer. We'd be there even more often.


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