Hike: Peyto Glacier (on the Caldron Lake trail)

This post should have been called “Hike: Caldron Lake” but I’m a bit of an acrophobe apparently so I’ll leave the Caldron Lake hike for another year. I had flagged the Caldron Lake hike in our hiking book as it sounded pretty epic, and even better, not well traveled.  It’s been a busy year for Canadian parks with the free Parks pass, and Dana and I are always happy to explore a quieter trail.

We got a reasonably early start on Friday, leaving Calgary around 8 AM. Dana and I both (oddly) had miserable sleeps the night before so we really could have gotten on the road sooner… We pulled into the Peyto Lake viewpoint parking lot around 10:30 and got going pretty quickly.  It was amazing to both of us how busy the viewpoint was, but not surprising given the brilliant blue beauty of Peyto Lake.

When you so tired but #hikingislife

The Caldron Lake hike is interesting because the trail is a there-and-back, but you lose 350 meters elevation right from the viewpoint down to the lake level almost immediately (~2.5 km). It takes about 30 minutes to descend.  Which is great and all, but you know you will have to climb that same 350 m at the end of your day too in order to get back to the car.  Gulp.

The Caldron Lake trail is unmaintained and although there used to be a bridge to cross the river, there isn’t one now. (There is a sign at the top of the trail warning hikers about the bridge being washed out.)  Laughably, as we crossed the flats, there were some small streams to jump over and I figured that was the water the bridge previously crossed.

You eventually go inland a bit to skirt the river, then come back down to the flats where there are rocks and boulders as far as the eye can see. We could see the ridge we needed to ascend to get up to Caldron, so we worked our way over towards it where there was a waterfall, only to realize the river was flowing too fast there to cross.

We hiked downstream about 0.5 km to where our crossing would hopefully be a bit safer and switched into our Vibrams. Vibrams may not be the coolest shoe in town, but they are AMAZING for water shoes!  Dana crossed first and left his pack on the shore then came back for Penny, and carried her across.  I was nervous to cross as I could see the water was moving fast and knew it would be so, so cold.  Dana came back to help me across, and very carefully we made it to the other side together.  The water was indeed glacially cold and mid-thigh on me, with a threatening amount of force behind it.  My heart was pounding!

We toweled off and had our lunch, then worked our way up the boulders to where a rough trail was hidden along the top. We made it to the next stream crossing with the same pattern: Dana taking his pack across, then Penny, then helping me jump across on the slippery rocks.  Then it was time for the ascent up the ridge.

I had been nervous about the ridge since it had first come into view.  Dana took Penny’s leash so I could use my poles and just focus on the climb.

Although we gained about 600 m, I was so focused on how utterly terrified I was of the ridge drop-off that I didn’t even notice my heart pounding or my lungs burning.  I only stopped to cry once, but at least I wasn’t clinging to a rock this time.  Of course the whole climb I thought about how terrified I was to get back down the mountain.

Penny was such a trooper and basically pulled Dana up the mountain. While we were climbing, Dana had his eye on where we thought the path to Caldron Lake went – basically over the waterfall.  I was such a nervous wreck when we got to the top, we decided to head down to the Peyto Glacier first.

It was unbelievably windy at the top!  Some gusts almost knocked us over.  We checked out the little weather station and shack, but were getting so windblown that we found shelter in a little crevice and had a snack. We made the decision to head back as between my fear of heights and the apparent storm clouds that were looming, starting the hike back seemed like a wise decision.

Funny enough, the ridge hike back down was way easier and less scary. There were just a few loose rocks, but overall I felt pretty confident in my footing and abilities.  We crossed the stream again but decided to stay up on the ridge as long as we could so that perhaps downstream the return river crossing would be less fast and deep.

We chose a spot to cross and followed our routine. Unfortunately, as the day had gone on, the river was flowing faster and slightly deeper.  Dana crossed once with his pack and Penny.  Penny was not pumped about being carried, but she seemed to understand the danger of the situation and stayed pretty still until he came close to the bank.  I was going to cross after them, but Dana urged me to stay put so he could help me across.

I’m so glad he was there or I might not be writing this recap.  I undid my pack straps and had my poles out, but the current was so hard and fast, and I was waist-deep in the river.  I couldn’t seem to place my poles because of the strong, freezing current, and moving my feet seemed impossible.  At one point I for certain was about to topple over, but luckily Dana was there to grab my arm and help me get grounded.  Let’s just say I was a little shocked after that crossing.

I should have packed my spare clothes in Dana’s dry pack bag, as the shorts I was wearing were drenched, and my shirts were wet up to the belly button. And my spare pants got wet too in the bottom of my bag (from when I nearly fell in).

At least it was a warm and windy day, so once we got moving, most of my clothing dried out.

After we’d left the viewpoint, we hadn’t seen a single other hiker all day. We ran into our first hiker at the cairns on the other side of the forest path, and then two more on the ascent back up to the viewpoint.

Although being alone in the world on an epic hike for the whole day was a cool experience, had we needed help in a first aid situation, it would have been a hard hike back to the viewpoint alone. So if you’re considering this trail, make sure you have a plan in place and let someone at home know where you are hiking for the day and when you expect to be back.  There is no cell reception.

The ascent back to the car was just as hard as we’d thought after a full day of adventuring, but we made it back with Penny pulling Dana the whole way up. I think Penny was asleep before we left the parking lot!  And Dana not shortly after.  🙂

It was a 16 km day, despite not getting to Caldron Lake, with 1000 m elevation gain, and we were all so tired. I felt like the hike was exhausting, but compounded with the stress of the ridge hiking and the river crossings, it was just a brutal hike!


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