Banff National Park

Ten Days off the Beaten Path in Banff
By Mike Potter
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As the author of four guides on hiking in the Rockies, I certainly have many favorite spots. One fall trip stands out: a solo ten-day backpack in the remote northeast corner of Banff. Backpacking grants an in-depth exposure to the essence of the wilderness, a solo journey intensely so. Traveling alone means taking complete responsibility for choices and certainly has its risks; however circumstances dictate that I go by myself this time.

Heavily laden, I start with a stiff climb to Dolomite Pass, surrounded by limestone pinnacles. Then I head down Dolomite Creek, en route passing a big bull moose—since it's rutting season, I decide to give him a wide berth.

There is good fishing at Isabella Lake but I'm no angler so I don't stop long. I turn up the Siffleur River, whose name is the French word meaning "whistler." Siffleur refers to the hoary marmots I see and hear (they give sharp, loud, whistle-like alarm calls) who, at this point, are busy packing on reserves for their long winter hibernation.

The vast meadows of the Siffleur Valley are the best areas in Banff National Park to see woodland caribou—this region is the farthest south where caribou are found in Alberta. Although I don't see any, I do come upon a discarded antler near Clearwater Pass.

The Rockies are known for changeable weather. English climber Edward Whymper of Matterhorn fame renamed the days of the week when he visited in 1901: "Stormday, Rainday, Mistday, Hailday, Thunderday, Snowday, Sleetday." So it's no big surprise when I poke my head out my tent one morning at Devon Lakes to see that the rain overnight has changed to snow. Happily the sun soon comes out, melting the white stuff, and it's easy going down the valley of the Clearwater River.

Elk splash about in the shallows at Trident Lake, where I spend my next overnight falling asleep to the surprisingly quiet lullaby of Roaring Creek. I enjoy two nights at Indianhead Creek, where I free myself from my heavy pack to do a side trip over the undulating trail to Whiterabbit Pass. Continuing on, the ford of the Clearwater presents a challenge even this late in the year. Once safely across, it's steeply up Peters Creek and down Divide Creek, over which a rainbow arches, lifting my spirits—dampened by the inclement conditions—with its shimmering colors.

I descend toward the Red Deer River, where I pick up a supply of food I had earlier packed in. Before carrying on, I savor a welcome beer included in my cache, then head upstream toward Lake Louise. A highlight of this section is a view of the Drummond Glacier, whose name honors pioneer botanist Thomas Drummond, also remembered in the Latin for yellow mountain avens (Dryas drummondii), the small wildflower that carpets the rocky flats all around.

A fitting finale to the trip is an off-trail scrambling ascent of Mount Richardson, the highest peak in the compact Slate Range. Then I stride down from the backcountry campground at Hidden Lake to bring to a close ten days of discovery in the Banff Rockies. The long solo backpack has been challenging and the source of a feeling of accomplishment, yet at the same time humility in face of the wild country I have witnessed.

Other recommended Banff National Park backpacks: Healy Pass to the Egypt Lake area, where a network of trails connects a cluster of alpine lakes; and the trek to Glacier Lake near Saskatchewan Crossing, which because of its low elevation, is possible by early summer.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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