Home is where we are parked

Home is where we are parked
Home is where we are parked

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

AB -- Pincher Creek & Waterton Lakes National Park, 28 Jun - 7 Jul 2019

Nine days in Pincher Creek AB...

Why we came...
To explore Waterton Lakes National Park – our first Canadian National Park!
That’s a nice welcome!
The campground...
Pincher Creek Veteran’s Memorial Campground is a municipal park with 18 RV sites, seven of which are full hookups. Eleven of them are electric only. The friendly campground hosts set us up in what they called the honeymooners site, #6.

#6 was a gravel back in and was one of the longest. It was a bit unlevel due to a divot in the gravel. There was plenty of room between sites. We had a park-like setting behind us where they allow tent campers. There were different folks back there each night but no one was loud.

Overall, we really liked the small campground and it was a very good alternate to staying in the Park. Getting reservations in the Park were nearly impossible due to the closure of their largest campground due to a big fire two years ago.

We were able to get satellite without a problem and had a good Verizon signal and the wi-fi worked well except when the campground was crowded and it was raining.

They have clean restrooms/showers. There were a number of families coming and going during our time there that included the big Canada Day Holiday. Children were running and playing and enjoying their summer. But all was quiet by 10pm each night.
We had a sweet spot with full hook-ups and were very comfortable
Nearby towns...
The story goes that a group of prospectors dropped a pincer, used to trim the feet of horses in the creek here in 1868. The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) exploring the area found the tool in 1874 and called it Pincher Creek. They established a horse farm here a few years later.

Pincher Creek has a population of about 3,600 and sits at an elevation of 3,710. It is a vibrant town and appears to be healthy economically. They have most basic services and shopping including a Walmart.

Lethbridge with a population of almost 93,000 is only 60 miles to the east.

Waterton Lakes National Park was about 30 miles, or a 45 minute scenic and winding drive to the south.

Waterton Lakes National Park
“Waterton was the fourth Canadian national park, formed in 1895 and named after Victorian naturalist and conservationist Charles Waterton. In 1932, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was formed from Waterton and Glacier NP in Montana.”

“It contains 125,000 acres of rugged mountains and wilderness. Although this park has a lot of diversity for its size, the main highlight is the lakes which are deeper than any other lake elsewhere in Canada. They are overlooked by the historic Prince of Wales Hotel National Historic Site.”

“In September 2017, a large forest fire forced the evacuation of the town site and park. The fire burned through 50,000 acres of the park, destroying the visitor centre, stables and other buildings. Some 80% of hiking trails were affected and several remain closed for the 2019 season.”

Waterton Park townsite
“All commercial facilities available within the park are located at the Waterton Park townsite.” One of the first differences we noticed between United States national parks and Canadian parks are the commercial facilities, businesses and private homes. Waterton Park has a population of just 100 and has 168 private dwellings.

Businesses included lake tour operators, kayak/canoe rentals, bike rentals, restaurants, and many shops.

On our first day in Waterton we stopped at the visitor center to find out the details of all the closures. It was discouraging because most of the areas we wanted to explore were closed. But we found out about a couple of roads that were closed to automobiles but open to bikes. There were a few hikes we could do. And we walked right from the visitor center to the trailhead for the first one.


On 29 June we walked back to the US…
As we drove into Waterton Lakes National Park, we had to drive by all three lakes. By far the prettiest is the largest, Upper Waterton Lake. The pretty fjord-like lake is almost 7 miles long, a half mile wide and 490 feet deep. About a third of the southern part of the lake is in Montana. So our goal was to walk to Boundary Creek and the United States.

We walked from the Visitor Center to the Lake Shore Trailhead, passing a pretty waterfall on the way. The first mile was crowded with folks that were going to Bertha Lake and lower Bertha Falls. Once we hit the junction, the majority of the crowd peeled right while we stayed true and hiked down to the Lake Shore Trail.

The next mile of the Lake Shore Trail was through a burn area and the trail unfortunately has eroded and is very rocky.  The views were nice and the wildflowers were very nice.

Finally, we moved out of the burn area and the trail was in better condition.  Some areas were just Lodgepole pine but other areas were a combination of Quaking aspen, Douglas fir and White spruce trees and looked very healthy.

We crossed at least two bridges with babbling rocky creeks.  Only a couple of times did the Lakeshore Trail drop to the actual lake.  One of them was in the Bertha Creek area where there were a few camping spots.

We took a nice long break when we arrived at the border on the United States side. We had to ham for a few pictures of the border marker. The border is even marked with a line of cleared flora all the way up the surrounding mountain sides. Though there is nobody there to check passports, there are a BUNCH of signs on each side of the border.

Then we walked to Boundary Creek.  It was lovely with some very pretty waterfalls.

Along the way we met only a few dozen folks, including several that were on their way south to New Mexico along the Continental Divide trail.

We learned on the way back that “crowded” is perception. When we hit the junction from Bertha Lake, it was Disneyland crowded. There was no room on the trail to get around folks and we had to walk a very sloooow pace. The trail closures had corralled everyone to the few open trails.

We had to escape and find some serenity. Perhaps a closed road and a bike ride would be the answer.
Hike route on the Lakeshore Trail to the international border
Cameron Falls drops into town and is near the trailhead
This is one of the high points of the trail
Dropping through the burn area
Rugged trail along a cliff overhang
Arleen’s in Canada and I’m in the US
There’s a boat dock by the international border
Boundary Creek is beautiful. We filtered water here.
Waterton Lake in the afternoon sun
On 30 June we biked another closed road…
The fire two years ago did work to our advantage in one way.  Due to the fires the two scenic parkways were closed to vehicles.  However Red Rock Parkway was open to hikers and bikers.  Areas along Akamina Parkway were open to hikers and bikers but you had to get there via a mile and half long rough trail from Red Rock Parkway.

We parked at Driftwood Beach on the main road.  We were the third vehicle to park there at 09:00am. We rode our bikes about a mile up the road to the Red Rock Parkway. The parking areas there were already full with attendants directing cars.

The road pitched up right away but only for a short bit.  We saw a family of hikers stopped at the top of the hill looking excited and pointing over at the golf course.  We heard the man say, “Look, it’s a bear!” Arleen and I spotted a cinnamon colored bear in the distance.  They were pointing to a black bear that was in the grass just on the other side of the creek and much closer.  We felt safe and were excited to watch both bears for a while.

We resumed our ride.  From there the road tends to roll up and down, though overall it climbs. By the end of the road, we would climb 800 feet. However with the hills, the total ascent would be 1,500 feet.

We rolled past a ravine where Arleen yelled and pointed, “Bear!” Where?!? Then I followed her finger and just 50 feet from us, tucked near a tree were a chocolate colored mama bear and her cute little baby bear.  Arleen first spotted the round ears on top of the head in the foliage.  They were WAY too close to stop and get a picture.  I warned a few hikers and a few cyclists to look out for them.

We rolled on to the next overlook where we stopped to take a break.  We were standing at the overlook looking down across Bauerman Creek to a grassy area.  Arleen pointed out another bear!!!  We watched him for a good 20 minutes.  He was bear number five in just 45 minutes of riding! 

As we walked back to the bikes Arleen pointed out some mountain sheep up on the cliffs the other direction.  Her eyes were really tuned to the wildlife!

We stopped at the Crandall Mountain Campground which is about six miles up the road.  It was here we could take a mile and a half trail to the Akamina Parkway.  It was the only way to get to the actual open portion of the road.  We checked the trail out and our tour bikes would not be able to handle it.  It was a great area to take a break though.

We got back up on the road and we met a group of people that included one of Waterton Park’s retired superintendents.  We rode with them the rest of the way to the end of the road.  He gave us information on a few short hikes to do at the end of the road as well as advice on many other Canadian parks.

Where the road ends, there’s the fork for the Snowshoe and Blakiston Valley hiking trails. We hiked the half mile to Blakiston Falls. They are very pretty! However, Canada Parks has built up unsightly fences and viewing platforms to keep people from trampling the surrounding area and getting hurt in the rugged canyon.

We returned to the trailhead and hiked a portion of stunning Red Rock canyon. The pretty stream tumbles down multiple stair-stepped drops through a narrow canyon lined with red rock walls. A bridge was closed so we could not do a loop. Again, the park service has it all fenced off. But we were able to scramble down to the creek to filter water.

In addition, to our five new Canadian friends, we occasionally saw a few other bike riders but it never felt crowded. There were even a few hikers who had hiked much of the ten mile long road. We could always tell when one of the rental electric bikes was coming up behind us, by the sound of what could have been a swarm of angry bees.

We didn’t see any more bears on our ride back. Nevertheless, after earning the downhill, the ride back was a lot of fun!
Bike route on the Redrock Parkway
The start of our ride with the famous Prince of Wales Hotel in the background
The first bear we spotted near the golf course
The second bear we spotted near the golf course
 We watched this grizzly for awhile. Shortly before this we rode by a momma black bear with a little cub. We saw FIVE bears in the first five miles or so! 
We had our own national park again! We LOVE close roads!!
Lots of pretty flowers throughout the burn area
Blakiston Creek cuts through a rocky canyon. We took a snack break on the bridge.
The mountains are so jagged and there were flowers everywhere
At the end of the road near the Redrock Canyon
Blakiston Falls
This herd of goats was hanging out on the cliffs far above Blakiston Falls
Redrock Canyon. This is where we filtered water.
Near Redrock Canyon and about to head back
Biking closed roads in national parks is always special!
On Canada Day, 1 July, we hiked to Crypt Lake…
It was Canada Day. Waterton Lakes Park was having a number of activities to celebrate their day. Normally, we stay away from such festivities. We both have issues with crowds.

However, there was a weather system moving in and the rest of the week looked like it was going to be cloudy, cold, and raining. The Crypt Lake hike in Waterton was high on our list of things to do.

National Geographic has rated this hike as one of the World's 20 Most Thrilling Trails!

We took one of the commercial ferry shuttles to the trailhead. Each morning there are three ferries. The two mile boat ride cost us $27 each. We got there just in time to see the first ferry depart at 8:30am and it was packed full with about 50 passengers.

Our ferry, the second one, departing at 9:00am, only had about 20 people.  With a scheduled 4:00pm return time, we had six and half hours to hike eleven miles and climb almost 3,000 feet.

We hung back at the trailhead to allow ourselves some space between other hikers. We would hopscotch and pass a number of folks throughout the day.

The trail had some nicely pitched switchbacks in the beginning.  It was a steady ascent where we didn’t have to stop to catch our breath.  Then, it went flat for a while where it entered an area of woods with a nice needle softened trail.

After about three miles, the trail pitched up again and this time it was not fooling around as it was steeper and also rocky.  The next two miles would be work!

At the same time our views were becoming more spectacular as we moved above the tree line.  We saw a number of waterfalls. The most impressive was Crypt Falls, 574 feet high, pouring out of the Crypt Lake cirque far above us.

As we neared a drainage, we could see a wall blocking the way in front of us.  Then in the distance we discerned people creeping their way along a shelf above a steep drop-off.  Then they disappeared into a wall.  We teased that the mountain was eating them.

Finally, we were on the shelf ourselves.  It was a good 3 feet wide and we felt comfortable.

The shelf ended where an eight foot metal ladder was screwed into the stone wall taking us up to a gaping hole in the fortress.  We climbed the ladder and got a look into a narrow sixty foot long tunnel.

Arleen could stand in the entrance but had to crouch as she got to the middle of the tunnel.  I had to stoop the whole way and it became very uncomfortable.  We were glad to see the other side of the tunnel but this is where it got very tricky.

There were ascending high steps that had been cut into the wall. A misstep would result in a thousand foot plunge to death! Arleen had to get on all fours and climb.  The ledge was even narrower and the rocks were jagged.  We were relieved to conquer that section.

Happily, we made our way up and around the lip of the cirque and were treated to a view of the emerald lake that was littered with some remaining ice.  We found a spot on a log and took a nice long break.  Not too long.  We had a ferry to catch.

We retraced our steps across the brutal shelf and into the tunnel.  It had taken us three hours and 20 minutes to climb to the lake.  But it only took us two hours in 30 minutes to return.  We only saw one pile of bear scat and we only saw a marmot.

It really was one of the most challenging hikes we have ever done. The 30-40 mph winds didn’t help. Still, we’re very glad that we did it… it’s one of our favorites!
Boat route across Waterton Lake and then hike route to Crypt Lake
Our boat captain. Note the Prince of Wales Hotel.
Our first rest stop on the Crypt Lake Trail provided our first good view of Waterton Lake
Burnt Rock Falls is about midway up the trail
Getting higher
Crypt Falls is 574ft high
Looking back down the valley
Getting closer to Crypt Falls. Our goal is the cirque above the falls.
We walked along a narrow ledge to a ladder and then through a small 60 foot long tunnel
One end of the tunnel
After you exit the tunnel, there is a daunting scramble. The steel cable is helpful.
Crypt Lake… One of the best hikes we've ever done!
On 6 Jul we took a drive...
On our last day at Pincher Creek, we decided to do a scenic day trip after a few cloudy, rainy and cool days.

First, we drove about 40 miles to the northwest to Crowsnest Pass. At 4,455 feet, it “is the southernmost rail and highway route through the Canadian Rockies. It is the lowest-elevation mountain pass in Canada south of the 3,710 foot, Yellowhead Pass”, which is further north in Jasper NP.

“On the Alberta side, the Crowsnest River flows east from Crowsnest Lake, eventually draining into the Oldman River and ultimately reaching Hudson Bay via the Nelson River. Summit Lake on the British Columbia side drains via three intermediary creeks into the Elk River, which feeds into the Kootenay River, and finally into the Columbia River to the Pacific.”

“The area hosts the world-class Sinister 7 Ultra Marathon, a 100 mile foot race that winds through the mountains around the community. Crowsnest Pass also has a local ski hill, Pass Powderkeg, and an outdoor pool.”

“Crowsnest Pass is known for tragedy. In 1903 the tip of Turtle Mountain broke loose and decimated part of the Village of Frank, known as the Frank Slide. In 1914, the Hillcrest mine disaster occurred in the Hillcrest Mine, killing 189 men. Serious spring floods occurred in 1923 and 1942. Periodic forest fires have swept the valley, including one in the summer of 2003 that threatened the entire municipality.”

We continued 12 miles into British Colombia and onto Sparwood. Our friend Todd had said we needed to see the world’s largest truck there.

It is easy to spot the green behemoth from the road.  “The Terex 33-19 "Titan" was a prototype off-highway, ultra class, rigid frame, three-axle, diesel/AC electric powertrain haul truck designed by the Terex Division of General Motors and assembled at General Motors Diesel Division's London, ON, Canada assembly plant in 1973. Only one 33-19 was ever produced and it was the largest, highest capacity haul truck in the world for 25 years. After 13 years in service, the 33-19 was restored and is now preserved on static display as a tourist attraction in Sparwood, BC, Canada.”

We stopped at Chinook Lake on our way back east to go for a nice a mile and a half stroll around the pretty mountain lake. “Chinook Lake is located in the valley at the foot of Mount Tecumseh (SW) and the foot of Crowsnest Mountain. The lake is great for swimmers, kayaker's, canoeists, tubers and other water enthusiasts. Power motors are not permitted.” There is a 90 site no-services campground there.

Finally, we stopped to look at the famous landmark, the Burmis tree, which represents the eastern edge of Alberta’s Crowsnest Pass. “The Burmis Tree is a limber pine that tree died in the late 1970s after losing its needles. Limber trees are known to survive harsh conditions and the Burmis tree was estimated to be between 600 and 750 years old. In 1998, it was toppled by wind, however members of local community refused to leave it lying. The tree was stabilized by Alberta Culture, Historic Sites staff using stainless steel rods and brackets. The community rallied to have the new Highway 3 built around the tree rather than destroy the heritage symbol it has become.”
The Bermis Tree marked the edge of the mountains for an estimated 700 years
Had to stop for a doughnut near Blairmore. That’s Crowsnest Mountain in the background.
The largest truck in the WORLD is in Sparwood BC
Hike route around Chinook Lake
We enjoyed the short trail around the lake
We had two adventurous weeks in spectacular Banff, Alberta! Now we are back in Roundup MT helping Arleen’s mom.  We don’t know how long we’ll be here and will have to figure out a route when we leave.

Parting shots...
Waterton Lakes National Park from a few miles away
The walkway near the marina
We always like seeing marmots!