Sunday, July 31, 2016

Yoho National Park: Monarch

Trip Date: July 2016

After learning I had been accepted on to the Burgess Shale hike (it's so cool it deserves its own blog post!), Christine and I immediately planned a camping trip to Yoho National Park for the August long weekend. I was on holidays the week prior, but Christine had to work, so I headed to Yoho early Thursday morning to get us a campsite as all of the campgrounds within the park are first come first serve. Unfortunately the Kicking Horse Campground was already full, so we had to settle for Monarch Campground. It's quite nice, but there are two things that diminish its quality in my opinion; it's too close to the highway so there's a constant drone from all the traffic and campfires are not allowed. We'd stayed in Kicking Horse on a previous trip and really enjoyed it, so we were a little disappointed we couldn't get in, but that's how it goes on a busy long weekend.

While driving through Banff on my way to Yoho I spotted this Grizzly Bear near the road. Unfortunately there were dozens of tourists outside their vehicles trying to get photographs. I snapped these from the safety of my truck before leaving the scene and calling Banff's Wildlife Hotline.
Turns out this is Bear 136, also known as Split Lip, due to a large chuck missing from his upper lip. He's a 225kg dominant male that once killed and ate a a smaller Grizzly last year.
Campsite in the Monarch Campground
Colombian Ground Squirrel looking for scraps in our site 
The view from the site was pretty sweet!
After setting up camp and having lunch I headed for the Emerald Lake parking lot. I wanted to scout the lake for paddleboarding later in the weekend and also to go for a hike. I settled on Emerald Basin, a 9.2 km round-trip trek to a natural amphitheater surrounded by towering peaks. To access the trailhead you need to hike the first 1.4 kms of the Emerald Lake Shoreline Trail before accessing the 3.2 km trail to the basin. The basin trail gains 225 m in elevation.

Emerald Lake with Michael Peak (left), Yoho Pass (centre), and Wapta Mountain (right)
Mount Burgess as viewed from the Shoreline Trail
A section of the Emerald Basin Trail
My first clear view of The President
Arriving in Emerald Basin. That's Mount Carnarvon on the left and two waterfalls on the right.
Sitting in front of The President
Looking back down the valley. Left to right; Wapta Mountain, Fossil Ridge, Mount Field, Burgess Pass and Mount Burgess. The peak sticking up above Burgess Pass is Mount Stephen.
Back on the shoreline trail after spending some time in the basin I opted to finish the final 3.8 kms instead of going back the way I came. This put my total hike for the day close to 12km, which was an excellent warm-up for the Burgess Shale hike the next day! The shoreline trail offers some great views of Emerald Lake and the surrounding peaks. The trail itself is 5.2 km in length with minimal elevation gains. For this reason the trail is busy with visitors of all ages and abilities.

The Emerald River flows into Emerald Lake at the far end. That's Yoho Pass in the distance.
There are several boardwalk sections along the Shoreline Trail
The lower slopes of Emerald Peak (left) and The President in the background
Michael Peak
The highest point on Mount Burgess is called Walcott Peak, named in honour of Charles Walcott who discovered the Burgess Shale
After completing my hike I headed back to the campsite and cooked dinner. It was too early to go to bed, so I took a drive up to Takakkaw Falls. The falls are very popular with tourists and for good reason; it's one of the tallest waterfalls in Canada, but if I could give you a piece of advice it would be this, postpone your visit until just before sunset. Not only will all the crowds be gone, but on a clear day the waterfall will be illuminated by the setting sun. I honestly had the place to myself, which was a nice change of pace from battling the throngs of people during the day. 

Spotted this female Elk on my drive to Takakkaw Falls. There was a second one hiding in the trees nearby.
Takakkaw Falls illuminated by the setting sun
There is an informative plaque near the falls that reads:
When you say "Takakkaw", you are saying "it is magnificent", in Cree. It is the right name for this 254m waterfall, one of the highest in Canada.  
Daly Glacier, 350m from the brink, feeds the falls. The glacier, in turn, is fed by the Waputik Icefield. Snow falling on the icefield becomes moving ice in the glacier, which melts to become Takakkaw Falls.

In summer, the rock face roars with the plunging mountain torrent. But in autumn, the melt is slowed, and by winter, the raging falls narrows to a ribbon of ice awaiting summer to set it free.
Takakkaw Falls is also home to two red Adirondack chairs as part of Parks Canada's Red Chair Program. The program is a neat way for visitor's to connect with nature and discover the best that Parks Canada has to offer. There are two sets of chairs in Yoho, the other being on the shoreline of Yoho Lake, which you can see on my Burgess Shale post.

The red chairs at Takakkaw Falls
You can read all about the Red Chair Program by visiting the Calgary Guardian website and reading my story titled, Share The Chair.

As I was driving back down the Yoho Valley Road I noticed Cathedral Mountain almost glowing from the setting sun
There are two other informative stops along the Yoho Valley Road (the road that leads to Takakkaw Falls), so I decided to stop at both on my way back to the campground as they were completely empty! The first is The Meeting of the Waters where the Kicking Horse and Yoho Rivers combine. The sign in the parking lot reads:
There is a marked contrast in the colour of these two merging rivers. The milky colouration of the Yoho River is caused by glacial silt from nearby glaciers. Glacial silt in the Kicking Horse River has settled out in a series of upstream lakes leaving clearer water.
Meeting of the Waters
The Kicking Horse River (top) is more of a bluish-white colour when compared with the siltier Yoho River (foreground)
Again it was nice to visit the site without dozens of people being around, but since the sun had set behind the mountains it was difficult to see the difference in water colour. I am assuming that during the day with the sun high overhead the distinct colour differences would be unmistakable.

Kicking Horse River
My final stop before calling it a night was the Upper Spiral Tunnel Viewpoint. The Spiral Tunnels are a marvel of engineering that reduced the grade of the difficult Kicking Horse Pass and allowed the railroad to continue its journey west. For reference the Lower Spiral Tunnel Viewpoint is located 7.5 km east of the town of Field along the Trans-Canada Highway. 

Upper Spiral Tunnel Viewpoint
I didn't time it right, but it would be neat to watch a train enter and exit the tunnels
Friday morning I was up at 5:45am in order to be at the trailhead by 7:00am to start the hike to Burgess Shale. We were on the trail for 10.5 hours so I wasn't back at the campground until early evening, which turned out to be perfect timing as Christine and Rome had pulled in 15 minutes before I did. We relaxed and cooked dinner before taking an evening drive up to Takakkaw Falls. Surprisingly our drive was filled with wildlife sightings including two female Elk with their calves, a White-Tailed Deer, a Porcupine, and a lone Moose. By adding that to my own sightings of Marmots, Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels, Pika, a Golden Eagle, Columbian Ground Squirrels, and a Grizzly Bear this was shaping up to be a wildlife-filled weekend!

Considering this Elk was in the same spot as the previous night it might be the same one. The second female was close by.
One of the Elk calves
This second must be a little younger as it still had its spots
You don't get to see Porcupines very often. Glad I was able to get a quick photo!
Christine, Rome, and I had the place to ourselves again!
I was tired from my long hike so we called it a night pretty early. Unfortunately we were woken up around 2:30am by one of the loudest thunderstorms I can remember. I don't know if the storm was truly that loud of if it was just echoing off of the mountains, but it was incredibly hard to get back to sleep. Thankfully morning broke calm but cool with the sun burning off any last vestiges of the overnight storm. After breakfast we packed up the paddleboards and headed for Emerald Lake for some time on the water.

Stand-up paddleboarding on Emerald Lake
Rome enjoying the scenery
Christine taking Rome for a paddle
Rome didn't last very long on Christine's board. She spent most of the time crying and trying to get back over to me!
You can see the thunderstorm building on the left side of the photo
Heading for home as we didn't want to be caught on the water if/when the storm hit!
Our time on the water was perfect with blue skies and warm sunshine, but we could see the storms building. My mid-afternoon it was storming again so we took a drive up the Icefields Parkway thinking the storm might be isolated near Field. We were wrong and the storms only gained intensity as we drove north. We turned around and headed back to our campsite only to discover large piles of hail on the ground. I guess we had missed a bad storm while we were away and things weren't looking any better. The forecast was calling for sever thunderstorms for the the rest of the day, overnight, and the next day so we decided to pull the pin and head back to Calgary a day early. We packed up all of our wet gear, loaded the vehicles, and hit the highway. We were obviously disappointed with the weather, but were still happy we managed to get out for a few days.

It's easy to see why Yoho means 'awe and wonder' in the Cree language; it describes the park perfectly!

To read about my other forays into Yoho National Park please visit my previous blog posts titled, Yoho National Park and Emerald & Hamilton Lakes. You can also read the story I wrote about the Burgess Shale in several places including this blog post (Burgess Shale), the Calgary Guardian (Yoho's Stone Bugs), and GOT Parks (Yoho's Stone Bugs).

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