Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Paradise Valley

Trip Date: July 2016

The hike through Paradise Valley to the Giant Steps Waterfall is one I've wanted to do for quite some time and just recently I finally had the opportunity. The trailhead is located 2.5km up the Moraine Lake Road in Banff National Park, just outside the town of Lake Louise. The hike is considered difficult by Parks Canada as it's approximately 20km round-trip and gains almost 400m in elevation. Despite the length the trek is more than worth the effort. Paradise Valley didn't come across its name by accident and the Giant Steps Waterfall is quite spectacular if not unique.

When we were there Parks Canada was only recommending group access, meaning travelling in a tight knit group of 4 due to the frequency of bears in the area. However it's quite common for group access to be mandatory and anyone caught disobeying can face a maximum $5,000 fine!
Crossing Paradise Creek
Walter Wilcox and his fellow alpinists were some of the first Europeans to set eyes on Paradise Valley from a high pass back in 1894. He had this to say about first viewing the scenery before him, 
"This beautiful scene opened up before us so suddenly that for a time the cliffs echoed to our exclamations of pleasure...The beautiful place which had been discovered in such a delightful way we called Paradise Valley."
The trail starts out gradually climbing its way through dense forest (similar to sections of the Boom Lake Trail) before eventually opening up closer to Paradise Creek. From here you're rewarded with outstanding views of Mount Temple, Sheol Mountain, and Saddle Mountain. You'll cross Paradise Creek a couple of times before re-entering the forest and beginning your ascent towards Lake Annette.

Mount Temple
Sheol Mountain
Another bridge crossing over Paradise Creek
Thankfully this was the closest we got to seeing a bear all day!
Lake Annette sits below Mount Temple's towering north wall in a picturesque location. Many hikers opt to end their day on Annette's calming shoreline, but our final destination was the Giant Steps, so after a short break and some photos we were back on the trail, climbing steadily through stands of Alpine Larch.

Lake Annette
Sitting below Mount Temple
After a solid climb the trail opens up and we're rewarded with breathtaking views of Paradise Valley from a scree slope on Mount Temple. Even though much of the view was shrouded in low-hanging clouds, we could still see enough to know how Wilcox and his team must have felt. Luckily for us the clouds were moving fast and we were given glimpses of the surrounding peaks at different intervals throughout the day.

On the trail
Here the trail crosses a rocky slope offering great views of Paradise Valley
Christine, Rome, and I on the trail
As the trail re-entered the forest we flushed out this White-Tailed Ptarmigan and several of her chicks
After a few quick photos we left mama to recollect her brood!
After the scree slope the grade evened and we continued at a leisurely pace; hopping across creeks and dodging the muddiest sections of the trail. With all the rain southern Alberta had received over the past week it's a wonder the trail wasn't completely impassable! At that point we heard low rumbling in the distance and assumed that it was an approaching thunderstorm. We soon realized that it wasn't thunder at all, but small avalanches tumbling down from Mount Lefroy and The Mitre. From the sound reverberating off the granite walls one would assume that these were large avalanches crashing down, but as we watched small amounts break away from the larger snowpack I was amazed just how loud it was. A short time later we arrive at the trail junction, indicating we must now descend the final 1.5km to the Giant Steps. We were close, which was great because we were all really hungry!

Mount Aberdeen peeking through the clouds
Small avalanches rumbling down Mount Lefroy
Descending to the Giant Steps
The boardwalk leading to the Giant Steps
The Giant Steps area with Pinnacle Mountain in the background
Looking down the Giant Steps Waterfall
Unfortunately the weather didn't allow for much exploring. Shortly after eating and snapping a few photos the skies opened up and it began to rain. We donned our rain gear and started back up the trail.

Giant Steps
Massive boulders nearby
Ryan standing at the top of the falls
Another section of the falls
Christine at the top
Giant Steps Waterfall
Back on the trail in the rain
Shortly after leaving the waterfall Rome met a porcupine. This was just her second run-in with the quilled critters and it would appear she hasn't learned her lesson. Her first encounter (in the Paskapoo Slopes area of Calgary) resulted in a single quill between her nostrils. This time, however, she ended up with two quills. I really hope this pattern doesn't continue or we'll be in real trouble if she gets up to 50! We were basically at our furthest point from the car so I pulled both quills out while on the trail. Rome was just fine in the end, but it took a while for our hearts to stop racing as we originally thought it was a Black Bear cub. Boy were we relieved when it wasn't!

A couple of quills but no worse for wear!
An eerie view of the Sentinels on Sentinel Pass
Climbing back up to the Paradise Valley Trail from the Giant Steps
The rest of the trip back was uneventful. The rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds. It was nice to lose the rain gear and continue back to the parking lot in the warm sunshine.

Crossing the scree slope below Mount Temple
The sun was shining as we passed below Saddle Mountain
I would definitely recommend this hike to anybody looking for a long day-trip with rewarding views. Be prepared for inclement weather and the potential for bears. Read the Trail Report and review the Closure/Restrictions to ensure you're abiding by the rules for the area. As mentioned the rewards outweigh the effort required for this trip and I would love to head back into Paradise Valley at some point, maybe without all the rain!

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