September 22 2013

Hikes Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit

Hiking two thirds of Lake O'Hara's alpine route in constantly shifting weather

Lake O'Hara is one of the most beautiful spots in the already ridiculously beautiful Canadian Rockies. Access to the lake is limited by Parks Canada (something that isn't without controversy) to preserve the delicate alpine environment, which has a growing season of barely two months.

The alpine circuit is a loop trail that circumnavigates the lake at elevation, crossing the two hanging plateaus to the south of the lake, and crossing a lot of exposed ground, on a trail often made by moving boulders into place. There are spectacular views for nearly the entire circuit, with the exception of a the wooded ascents/descents at either end, which are still spectacular in their own way (especially if the larches are changing color).

Over the years of visiting Lake O'hara we gradually hiked all the portions of the circuit until we were ready to hike the whole thing in one go. On this occasion, we didn't quite make it all the way around due to weather, but it was a unique experience that netted one of my favorite photos I've ever taken in the Rockies.

This is how the trail looked starting out, as we headed counter-clockwise towards the Elizabeth Parker Hut.

In the lower wooded sections of the trail, the larches were turning yellow, and also covered in snow.

The larches stay with you for a while, as you wind in an out of them on the ascent towards All Soul's Prospect, until they give up and you're left to find your from marker marker painted on the lichen-encrusted boulders.

Or make your best guess as to where the trail is thanks to snow, as the case may be.

All Soul's Prospect

It was starting to snow pretty hard when we reached the prospect, so lunch was a pretty quick affair.

Looking towards the lake from All Soul's Prospect. The view only looked like this for a few minutes during a break in the snow. I snapped a dozen frames panning from left to right.

This photo is now hanging in our hallway printed 4 feet wide, as an xpozer print from Bay Photo.

And a bit below the prospect, in the other direction. This panorama was taken earlier in the ascent, before the storm moved in.

Moments after taking the panorama of the lake, the storm moved back in:

Opabin Plateau