Backpacking to Reset in the Canadian Rockies
By Judith Kasiama, KEEN fan and founder of Colour the Trails
Whether enjoying a scenic picnic in a park or fending off bears from a tent in the backcountry, this year has taught us to be creative in terms of enjoying some vacation time closer to home.
For me, it gave me a chance to get back to an activity I enjoy, right here in my own backyard of the Canadian Rockies: backpacking.
Over the years, backpacking has taught me that positivity goes a long way. It may be raining; it may be cold; and mosquitoes may get you. But it's in those moments of discomfort when I find personal growth, and feel my endurance and strength. And, in the end, it’s the good memories that stay.
With that recharge in mind, I was excited to head out for a couple of weeks of living in nature with a mix of front- and backcountry experiences.
Two Nights' Backpacking at Berg Lake
Judith wore her Targhee III waterproof hiking boots.
Our trip started with early morning drive through the Canadian Rockies, passing though Jasper National Park, watching beautiful sunrise overlooking the Columbia Ice fields. We arrived to Mt. Robson ranger station and thankfully were able to snag a few permits that became available due to cancellations. Usually this trail is impossible to book due to its popularity.
The Berg Lake hike is around 13 miles one way, and has seven campgrounds along the way for those who want to take it slow or aren't ready to push it in one go. The trail travels from the south to the north face of the stunning Mt. Robson.
I am not running away to hide in nature, I am just returning home where I heal and restore my energy.
On the way, we passed Emperor Falls, which stand about 150 feet high and 5,300 feet above sea level. After dropping over the edge of the cliff, the water strikes a ledge just under halfway down. This causes the formation of a rooster tail, which produces a large amount of spray. Make sure to have extra clothing if you come close to the falls. I was completely drenched!
The trail winds its way along Berg Lake to the Robson Pass and the Alberta-British Columbia border. During our 13-mile hike, the trail gained about 2,634 feet of elevation and crossed through three different bio/geo climatic zones. When we finally made our way to our camping spot, we saw the beautiful turquoise water of the lake that is fed by the chunks of ice coming off three glaciers, (Mist, Berg, and Robson). We were able to snag the prime spot to pitch our tent with a clear view of the lake and Mt. Robson.
Kayaking at Emerald Lake
After spending seven days in the backcountry, we wanted to enjoy a quiet lake day. So we headed to Emerald Lake in the heart of Yoho National Park, known for its diversity of activities and landscapes. While most visitors enjoy renting a canoe, we borrowed some kayaks from a local friend and spent our time relaxing and enjoying the calmness of the water with amazing views of the surrounding mountains.
Sentinel Pass via Larch Valley Day Hike
We decided to have a simple day hike to save legs after a 4-day backpacking trip and see the amazing Sentinel Pass near Moraine Lake. On the way we walked through Larch Valley. Larch tree is the only member of the evergreen family whose needles change color to bright yellow in autumn and eventually drop needles to the ground. Sadly we were too early to see the transformation. As we hiked I really couldn't think of more picturesque and peaceful spot to experience.
Athabasca Glacier Guided Tour
I was really curious about the Columbia icefield when we passed it on the way to Berg Lake. We decided to book a walking tour and do some glacier exploration in a safe, guided manner. The Columbia icefield is a huge expanse of ice that sits along the Continental Divide and spans British Columbia and Alberta. As we approached the icefield, we got to get a clear view of the Athabasca Glacier. We passed streams of glacial water running through the ice. We learned about crevasses, the history of the land, and Indigenous communities who used this area as one of the key trade routes. Our guide told us the glacier is said to be retreating. The Athabasca Glacier is currently advancing at about 49 feet every year thanks to snowfalls, but retreats 114 feet due to the warmer temperatures. So there’s approximately 65 feet of glacier shrinking each year. It is believed to fully melt in the next 60-100 years.
This experience of discovering Canadian National Parks made me reflect on many things: ecology, history, and social behaviors. I’ve learned that I am not running away to hide in nature, I am just returning home where I heal and restore my energy. This is where I actually manage to disconnect, only worry about basic necessities, enjoy myself in the moment, simply let my eyes and mind rest, and soak in the scenery.
A few tips to make backpacking more enjoyable
Be on top of your snacks game! I find that breakfast and dinner are the meals we are planning the most. But in between we often end up on the go and there's no time for cooking. So having snacks to keep you going is key.
Bring entertainment. If you are camping later in the season when days are shorter, or you expect rainy or cold weather, then you could end up spending a lot of time in your tent. Bringing a tablet with some videos, music or just an animation of a fireplace can make that time much more pleasurable.
Give trekking poles a try. I used to explore without them. But once I got a pair, I could not go back.
Lastly, please leave no trace. Nothing you bring on a hike should stay on trails. When leaving a rest/camping spot, look around and make sure you haven’t left anything behind.
Judith Kasiama is the founder of @colourthetrails and a former refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Raised in South Africa, Australia, the U.S., and Canada, Judith’s unique upbringing allows her to draw from diverse experiences and cultures. “I believe nature is for everyone, and sometimes it can be hard to feel invited into that space due to lack of representation in outdoor media," she says. "My goal is to change the narrative that People of Colour are not active participants in the outdoors. Colour the Trails was created to combat just that—a community group that focuses on getting Black, Indigenous, People of Colour and allies out in nature."