Hike: Picklejar Lakes

Thanks for the pics Rozie, Dana, and Megs 📸

Two Sundays ago, we got out with a few of our friends to hike up to the Picklejar Lakes in Kananaskis. It was supposed to be a 30 degree day but didn’t amount to that heat thankfully.

According to the Alberta Parks website, Picklejar is 8.2 km return/450 m elevation gain. Somehow the hill climb seemed spicier to all of us!  The trail, although not maintained, is well-trafficked and in good condition and we passed lots of people on our journey upward.

People had kids and tiny toy dogs with them so that gives you an idea of what kind of trail to expect.  Also lots of folks with fishing rods (or axes as Rozie thought initially… haha).

We made it up to the second lake before a bit of a storm started blowing in. Somehow none of us had packed a raincoat, so continuing on to the third and fourth lakes seemed unnecessary.  Rozie had packed a plastic bag but there was no way five of us were going to fit in it if the heavens decided to open up.

It was quite smoky that day and my lungs were feeling it by the time we were heading back down. The views were pretty, but I wish we could have seen them without the haze hanging on the mountain peaks.

My great uncle always tells us about Picklejar Lakes when we see him, and now I’ve got big respect for his hiking skills because the climb up there is a lung and leg burner! I’ll be taking his trail recommendations with a grain of salt now.  🙂


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!

Hike: Elk Lake Walk-In/Wilderness Campground

Guys, put this on the record: Dana and I went backpacking and we didn’t get rained on. It was a first!  And it was glorious!

I’m back with another backpacking trip recap – the only thing Dana and I were missing was my sister, Haley.  She brings the best backpacking treats!  Oh, and Penny, our loyal Mexican cocker spaniel, but I’m not so sure I want to tent with her.  🙂

We just got back from a two night stay at the Lower Elk Lake hike-in campground.

We headed out to Kananaskis at our usual pace, leaving the house at a healthy 9:30 AM. It was forecasted to be a super hot day, so I was a bit nervous about how I would handle the heat (I’m quite fair-skinned – you could say I glow in the dark).  We pulled into the trail head parking lot around 11:00 and got started pretty quick.

The first couple of kilometers are along a forestry/access road, but don’t let that discourage you. We were treated to beautiful big blue skies, the occasional lovely breeze, and glorious wildflowers along the way.  Although there are hundreds of wildfires burning in British Columbia right now, it wasn’t too smoky or hazy for us as we hiked out towards the BC/Alberta border.  Just after you cross the border, there are two trails that take you down to the Lower Elk Lake campground: one takes you by the Alpine Club of Canada cabin but this route adds a kilometer.  As we took that trail last year, we decided to turn right at the Y and take the slightly shorter trail for a total hike in distance of 11 kilometers.

Although the sun was hot and we worked up a sweat, I wore a hat and drank lots of nuun-infused water (electrolytes!) and didn’t get heat stroke. So that was a win!

We were setting up camp by 2 PM which is pretty crazy. We love Elk Lake because it’s such an accessible hike for all levels, yet incredibly beautiful.  Most of the other campers at the site were from BC (Fernie!), and there was only one other AB couple.

Dana and I had a pretty lazy afternoon, him reading in his hammock and me reading in the bug-free zone of the tent. We even got hot enough to head down to the glacially cold Lower Elk Lake, and go for a bit of a dip.  Brrrr!  Felt pretty awesome after getting so sweaty hiking in though.  

Since there are no campfires allowed right due to the fire ban and we were tired from the heat and the hike, we had a pretty quiet night and headed to bed around 9:30.

A bit of marital humour for you all. Dana has always dreamt of sleeping with the tent fly off, feeling the cool evening breeze and seeing the stars.  Since I sleep so poorly when we backpack, I would much prefer to have the fly on so I can feel cozy and protected.  As a compromise the first night, Dana got to keep his side of the tent’s flap open so he could feel the air.  Joke’s on him!  We both nearly froze that first night as the cool mountain air blew through the tent all night.  Lesson learned:  Kaitlyn is always right.  😉

We were treated to another beautiful day on Saturday, although it started off a little overcast and grey, perhaps from the wildfire smoke. It wasn’t cold though!  A very warm breeze was blowing and we were warm enough when we started our hike to the Petain Creek waterfall.  

We headed off on our hike around 9:30 and enjoyed the warm weather, arriving at the waterfalls in time to eat our lunch.  Our next stop?  Hiking from the waterfalls up to the Petain Basin.

We weren’t super prepared/knowledgeable about the Petain Basin hike, and the trail definitely seemed less utilized (although it is marked). It’s a “stair climber” for sure!  500 m elevation gain over 2 kilometers!  Up, up, up we hiked – it was so steep in places I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t mind the parts through the forest, but eventually up near the top there is a lot of scree.

I really, really dislike scree (small loose rocks that slide like marbles when you step) and scrambling. There was some internal self-talk for a large chunk of the scree.  I was doing okay for a bit.  I felt if I could scramble up to the top, once we got to the Petain Basin I’d be fine.  Of course, mentally I was also freaking out about how I would crawl down the way we’d came when we were heading back.  Although I had my poles with me, for large parts I was bear-crawling/rock climbing up.  My feet started to slide a bunch and I couldn’t get a solid hand-hold on anything it seems.

Of course I burst into tears in a sheer moment of terror where I was certain I would slide down the mountain to my inevitable demise. As I clung to a single stable rock, curled in the fetal position, hyperventilating/sobbing,  Dana calmly reasoned with me (while standing upright like a normal human being) and then when I finally stopped crying, helped me maneuver over to what seemed like the only large flat safe rock on the entire mountain.


[No joke, as I write this post on Monday, my forearms hurt from the death grip I had on that rock.]

Anyways, although we had made it quite far up the slope, I was shaking so badly that I didn’t think I could carry on any further. It killed Dana I’m certain, but after he went a little ways ahead to see how far was left (too far for me), we decided it was best to turn back and head for the campground.  Dana talked me down the scree slope and helped me with my footing, and then I was fine and nearly laughing about the whole thing by the time we got to the forest again and the sun came out from behind the grey sky.

We were both happy to be heading back to camp as the elevation gain and kilometers were catching up with us, and we were pretty tired and hot. Around kilometer 15 we ran into an Elkford local who regaled us with hiking adventures of years past, and eventually we got back to the campground for another glacially cold swim and some cool beer (Dana) and delicous salt & vinegar chips we packed in.  We hiked about 21 kms on Saturday.

Dinner was Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai (6/5 stars – seriously) and some wine. Another night we were in bed by 9:30!

Sunday we were up around 7:30 again and packed up camp pretty smoothly. I brought my AeroPress coffee maker this weekend and it was amazing to have a great cup of coffee in the wilderness.  We headed out around 9:30 and were back in Calgary by 2:00.  Other than Dana nearly losing a knee cap on a hidden broken tree branch, the return trip was beautiful but uneventful.

I can’t say enough good things about Lower Elk Lake – so convenient for us Calgary folk and such a pretty spot too!

After a nearly 45 km weekend, suffice it to say I’m definitely taking a rest day off from crossfit today and instead doing some restorative yoga after work.  Hope you are enjoying July so far!