Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hiking The Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park (British Columbia) - Days 1-1.5.

I hope that you, the loyal readers of BTOG, are having a fine summer.

Every summer, it seems, I embark on some kind of big adventurous trek in the Rocky Mountains.

I just came back from Kootenay National Park, British Columbia where I completed, along with my pals Ahmed and Larry, the spectacular Rockwall Circuit.

(Note: We hiked from July 28th to August 1st, 2009)

Larry (left) and Ahmed at the Floe Creek trail head ready for five days of wahoo fun in them Rocky Mountains. The clouds were pretty low and threatened to burst open on us any moment that day. (Back in '95 we snickered at the Europeans who used trekking poles while walking in the Himalayas. We called them the "clickety clacks" 'cause we could always hear them coming. Its come full circle. I can't imagine not using the poles now. My rickety old knees thank them.)

First came the crossing of the Vermillion River. Its kind of obvious in the photo, but in 2003 a massive forest fire swept through these parts, traveling up the Floe Creek valley... almost to Floe Lake itself.

Bridge over the River Vermillion. Moments after this shot, the skies just opened up. For a few minutes there I thought the trip was going to be damp and miserable. The weather turned for the better as the rest of the trek was brilliantly hot and sunny (except for third night).

The Floe Lake hike was pretty popular. We started at about 2:30 pm and came across large packs of dayhikers (many who were elderly) heading back to the parking lot.

More evidence of fire history.

Fireweed (Epilobium augustifolium) seemed to proliferate in the burnt over forest.

I neglected to bring my macro lens but the 18-200 mm (zoomed out) was an adequate substitute. The bokeh produced by this all-in-one lens was surprisingly nice as seen in this pic of more fireweed.

The boys sitting on the only bench along the way. Floe Lake was nestled at the foot of the mountain in the background (left). Up till this point, we were gaining altitude gently, following the valley floor. All hell broke loose after this little break. The trail would gain about 1000 m in the next 2 km following a set of heartbreaking switchbacks, ending finally in the alpine meadows of Floe Lake.

Common Stonecrop (Sedum lanceolatum). Succulent stems and leaves are purportedly tasty.

More Common Stonecrop. Low lying (10-15 cm tall), Stonecrop grows in scree slopes.

Golden Buckwheat (Eriogonum flavum).

Tall Purple Fleabane (Erigeron peregrinus). Pretty, ubiquitous plants (60 to 80 cm tall).

Tall Purple Fleabane from the side.

Common Harebell or the Bluebell Bellflower (Campanula rotundofolia)

The Cree Indians used the dried roots of the Common Harebell to stop bleeding and swelling.

Looks delish but the Common Harebell is packed with nasty tasting alkaloids and are passed over by grazers.

Home sweet home. After 5.5 hours, we reached the Floe Lake, the first over night stop in the Rockwall Circuit. Did I mention that we stayed in Warden Patrol Cabins along the way? Once I got a taste of staying in these rustic log cabins, I swore I was never going back to the primitive practice of roughing it in tents.

I've stayed in other cabins, in Glacier National Park (BC), but none were comparable to the palatial digs of the Floe Lake cabin. Propane gas fixtures were to die for.

Soft bunk beds!!! Man, the Wardens live a cushy life. I could imagine the New Year's Eve parties they've had here over the years...

View of the Rockwall and Floe Lake from the deck of the cabin. The "Rockwall" is actually part of the Vermillion Range of the Rockies, extending 40 or so km to the north. Floe Lake is named for icebergs calving off the glaciers found at lake's edge.

The Nitty Gritty...

If you plan on approaching from the north, look for the Highway 93 junction on the Trans Canada. Drive south at this point for about a half hour.

We chose to hike in Buddhist-esque tradition (i.e. clockwise direction). In this case, look for the trail head at the Floe Lake parking lot (A). If you're an animist (Bon), hike the trail in a counterclockwise direction starting off at the Paint Pots parking lot (E).

For the record we camped at Floe Lake (B), then Wolverine Pass (C), and finally at Helmet Falls (D).

A very good reference for the hike is found in the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide (Patton and Robinson).