I have done a lot of hikes in my life so far, but this one in particular blew it out of the ball park for me. Assiniboine Provincial Park is situated nice and snug on the British Columbia and Alberta border. The route we took started us in Banff National Park, then we entered into Assiniboine and finished off in the Kananaskis Country. These 6 days were some of the most life changing ones I’ve lived. There is a lot to say for living in the wild for a week let alone off a backpack holding everything you need to keep you alive. It doesn’t seem like a long time, but when it’s just you, your pack and your fellow co-hikers; you learn a lot about yourself and grow an immense appreciation for the little things.
The Trip Details |
Dates: July 17th. 2016 – July 21st. 2016
Route: Sunshine Village > Mt. Shark Trail head via Citadel Pass & Wonder’s Pass
Weather: Raining first few days, hot and balmy the rest
Day 1: Sunshine Village > Howard Douglas Campground
We departed from Calgary this morning…well late morning. Today we left the stampede behind and entered the wilderness once again. The Stampede took a lot out of the three of us, we were tired and sore. My feet got more of a beating dancing at the stampede than it did hiking to Berg Lake lake a few days prior. Blisters were present, and knowing I had to hike in these conditions wasn’t the best feeling at the time.
I won’t lie though. This Assiniboine Trek was what I was looking forward to the most. It was going to be my first “thru” trek. All the hikes I’ve done in the past have been loops. This was going to be very different. I was going to see a new view each day.
To begin, we had to drop off one car at the end point – Mt. Shark Trail head in Kananaskis Country. Once we dropped off the car, we headed north for Sunshine Village Ski Resort (where we would leave the second car and begin the hike). By the time we got our packs on, and prayed to the mountains; it was 4:30pm – by far the latest I have ever started a hike. Oh also, it started to pour – perfect. Thank you, universe for making this more difficult than it is.
There were two options. We could hike the first 6 km by foot, or take the gondola. Considering the elevation gain, our energy levels and the time of day; we decided to spend the 21 dollars and caught a ride.
It felt like the longest gondola ride ever. I was feeling incredibly anxious for some reason (something I usually don’t experience when camping). I felt like Katniss Everdeen when she was about to enter the Arena. Except my arena was a Provincial Park. I blamed my fatigue for it, but in the back of my mind all I could think of was: Were we going to have enough food? Did I bring enough clothes? Will I wake up sane tomorrow?
Once the agonizingly long gondola ride came to an end, we started the 8km towards Howard Douglas Campground. In general it wasn’t awfully hard, but because of the stampede blisters and my overall tiredness; it felt like I hiked 16km. Marmot holes lined the trail and beautiful wild flowers guided our way. Despite the rain, this place was stunning. I could only imagine it on a sunny day.
Sunshine Meadows is simply amazing. The views go for miles. What I didn’t know before hand was that the meadow actually straddles part of the continental divide!! Crazy. Many a times I pinched myself during this trip.
We arrived to the campground about 2 hours later. The rain was still coming down – harder now. Between blinking away the rain drops and motivating my cold fingers to finish tying knots; I prayed this storm would stop.
Well it did…right as we nestled in the tent for supper. The universe has its ways. Most of the time they’re eery, but it never fails to amaze me. We all hunkered down and cooked up some cous cous with veg for dinner (one of the many healthy meals we like to consume on the trail).
Day 2: Howard Douglas > Porcupine Campground
By morning, the rain had settled and I woke up to see patches of blue sky in the distance. Today we hike 8 or so kilometers to Porcupine Campground. For some reason prior to this trip, I thought there would be a whack of elevation gain this day…well was I wrong. I couldn’t imagine hiking back up that 1.5 km. Good thing I had my poles with me.
On the way down we actually were stopped by a big mound of Grizzly scat (shit!…literally!). It was fresh which scared me the most. To preserve my sanity, I quickly clipped on my bear bell and ensured my spray was nice and accessible.
Once at Porcupine, the clouds didn’t look too great. At this point in time I was fed up with the “mountain weather.” I couldn’t keep up with it. The tent was put up and water was filtered. I took a quick bath in the tiniest yet coldest creek I’d ever soaked in. A few sips of fireball were needed for courage. To make the process even smoother it started to pour – not surprised. My towel was soaked, the whiskey had worn off and I looked like a miserable, dripping naked mole rate.
Porcupine, in general, is a lovely campground. There are many tent pads, and a cooking space situated by the cache. The site is nice and snug to a mountain side so the views are gorgeous. It was definitely beginning to feel like we were in Grizzly country. I was beginning to notice more and more bear activity as the days continued.
Day 3: Porcupine > Lake Magog Campground
Today was our longest day; 18 km to be exact. Before we left camp, we stopped to chat with a lovely french Canadian couple who were hiking in the same direction as we were. Many a times we rendezvous’d on the trail till the end of our trip! Thank you Jean and Andrée for keeping us kooky kids company and making us laugh.
Hiking today was pretty exhausting, but it was one of the most beautiful to experience. I saw all sorts of landscapes: Rocky beds, African-like planes, and of course Mt. Assiniboine at the end of the day. At our halfway point, we stopped for lunch at Og Lake and enjoyed a *ahem* 2 hour siesta and swim. Simply amazing.
Right before we were about to reach Lake Magog Campground, we met up with our french friends once again. The Campsites at Lake Magog run on a first come first serve basis. Luckily, the overflow area was open or we wouldn’t have been able to snatch a tent pad.
The location of our little home couldn’t have been more perfect. Mt. Assiniboine was right smack in our view. We spent two nights here. Tomorrow would be full of fun day hikes and tea at the lodge!
Day 4: Lake Magog
Mt. Assiniboine is definitely not a morning person. Every time I woke up she was completely clouded over. She wouldn’t make an appearance till around noon. Today was out free-for-all day. No need to pack up camp.
The weather was iffy. While having breakfast it actually down poured, but cleared up just in time for our hike. The initial plan was to do the 7 km Sunburst Valley Loop. Well, those plans changed once we spotted ant-like figures way in the distance (which turned out to be Chucks Peak). We could only imagine the view from where those folks were standing.
Well, we hiked it! The actual hike only took about 25 minutes, but you gained about 800 meters. I’m sure you can imagine how horrific the grade was to climb. One false step and you’d be rolling down the mountainside into Elizabeth Lake below.
It was worth every step to the top. The picture displayed below became our primary entertainment for the next hour and a half. Not a bad view, eh?
After the hike, it was tea time. We arrived to the Lodge for 3:55pm BC time (in our minds it was perfect timing because tea is from 4:00 to 5:00). Well, weren’t we wrong. Apparently the lodge runs on Alberta time – not BC time (even though you’re technically in British Columbia). We had 5 minutes to spare. I definitely suggest taking part in this. The cakes are delicious and exactly what you need. Instead of being classy with a cup of tea we got beers instead.
Once you order your food, you have the freedom to chill out on the front porch of the lodge to enjoy your treats and chat with other fellow hikers. Right in front of the lodge is a protected area for marmots. They put on a show for us with their cuteness.
Day 5: Lake Magog > Marvel Lake Campground
To reach Marvel Lake Campground there are two different routes you can take: Assiniboine Pass and Wonders Pass. I highly suggest taking the Wonder’s way. It’s entirely open and gorgeous. As you reach the end of the pass you’re greeted with a superb view of Marvel lake. It’s colour will take your breath away. The rest of the way situates you along the lakeside until you reach the Marvel Lake campsite.
The only downside to this campsite was that it took 15 minutes to walk to the lake. I ended up meandering there by myself for a quick (cold) dip and journaling session before supper. Tonight was our last night on the trail.
Day 6: Marvel Lake > Mt. Shark Trail Head
We woke up at 6 and hit the trail by 7:30. The way back today resembled a typical “walk in the woods.” The elevation change was very minimal which made it seem almost never-ending. Nonetheless, the walk was bittersweet.
We reached Mt. Shark Trail Head around 11:00 – record time in our books! I ran the last 200 meters to my car once it came into view. We’ve come so far. This adventure would be over in a couple of meters. I couldn’t have asked for better team to hike with. 70 something kilometers we trekked this week. What motivated me? (and no, it wasn’t the quinoa we ate for dinner every single night if you’re wondering). It was simple, really: moments of gratitude, fear and enlightenment – that’s all. I think you know you’ve really succeeded in a trip when you are able to utilize those motivations into your daily life back at home.
Thank you to BC and Alberta Parks for continually keeping your parks as beautiful as ever.
Stay adventurous, keep exploring.