Monday, September 19, 2016

Taylor Lake

Trip Date: September 2016

Autumn in Alberta means changing colours, fewer crowds, and no bugs; a recipe perfect for hiking in the Rockies! The Larch Trees are one of the biggest draws for people to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the fall season. Alpine Larch are fairly small, slow-growing deciduous coniferous trees typically found at higher elevations. Describing a tree as both deciduous and coniferous might seem contradictory but Larch Trees feature characteristics of both. Trees in the deciduous family are typically leaf bearing and those leaves change colour and eventually drop to the ground in the fall. Coniferous trees on the other hand, are needle bearing and usually don't change colour, hence the name evergreen. Larch Trees are covered in needles and look similar to other evergreen species, however they lose all of their needles at the start of winter, but not before turning a vibrant golden colour. It's this drastic colour change that lures thousands of visitors to the mountains each autumn.

Starting the hike
The trail crosses Taylor Creek a couple of times
Likely the most popular trail for viewing the Larch Trees is the aptly named Larch Valley in Banff National Park, but if the weather is nice the trail and corresponding parking lot are overrun with people. I can't blame them as the scenery is truly spectacular, but those endless crowds can get old after awhile. Luckily there are other options for Larch viewing in Banff.

A typical section of the Taylor Lake Trail
Unfortunately the Larch Trees don't become visible until you're near the lake
One of those options is Taylor Lake, one of the most accessible high lakes on the western slope of the Bow Valley. The lake is set in a picturesque natural amphitheatre that was carved by a glacier from the quartzite and limestone bedrock of Panorama Ridge and Mount Bell. The trailhead is located approximately 165km west of Calgary or about 20km east of Lake Louise along the Trans Canada Highway. The hike itself is listed as 6.3km one-way (12.6km roundtrip) with an elevation gain of 585m, but we found the distance might be inaccurate. Our group was using two different smartphone apps to track our progress and both of them reported the distance to the lake as being closer to 8km. We also ran into a solo hiker using a handheld GPS and his distance was almost 8km as well. I asked a representative for Banff about the distance and was told that it was accurate as they double-checked it using guidebooks and a topographical map. I'm not discounting the Parks Canada staff at all, I just want to make everyone aware that there could be some discrepancy in the actual distance and the hike itself might be between 6.3 and 8.0km one-way.

Our first glimpse of Mount Bell
The final crossing of Taylor Creek
The trail follows a well-built track as it steadily switch-backs its way through the forest until finally opening up into a meadow near the lake's outlet. This section of the hike was very soggy as the ground was fully saturated. Route finding was key during this short section otherwise the result was soaking wet feet. From the meadow the lakeshore is a quick walk through the trees before opening up again near the backcountry campground (Ta6).

Mount Bell as viewed from the meadow. You can also see the Larch Trees here!
Taylor Lake
Unfortunately the wind coming off the lake was quite chilly and the clouds opened up with a light rain. We bundled up in additional layers and ate lunch along the shoreline, but didn't stick around too long due to the biting wind. We would have liked to have stuck around longer and done some additional exploring, but that'll have to wait until another day.

Mount Bell as viewed from the Taylor Lake backcountry campground
Christine enjoying the scenery
Our last look at Taylor Lake before heading back to the truck
Once back on the trail we were sheltered from the wind and began to warm up fairly quickly. The hike back to the parking lot was uneventful, but we were all quite happy with the day's results.

Heading for home!