The Rockwall Trail Part 3: Floe Lake and Numa Pass

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photo by Daphne

Days five and six. During our Marble Canyon interlude, Ron decided that it would be better for him not to come with us to Floe Lake and Donna stayed to keep him company. So six of us hiked into Floe Lake for the final night, on the hottest day of the year.

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from the bridge over the (not at all vermilion coloured) Vermilion River near the trailhead

This bridge over Floe Creek is about a kilometre from the trailhead and about 200 metres from the highway. I like the dents in the railing, presumably caused by the other half of that log you see on the left. I heard that the bridge was replaced a couple of months after we were there. It looked pretty solid to us, and there were definitely other bridges that could have been more of a priority, but I suppose this one is easier for them to get to…

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This section of the hike is very different from Helmet Creek or Tumbling Creek. The 2003 fire spared those valleys but burned most of the Floe Creek valley. Most of the trail is pretty gradual (note “most”), but there is hardly any shade so it’s not much fun on a hot day. And there’s something psychological about hiking through a burned area on a hot day that makes it feel even hotter. One person threatened to turn back and another accused me of trying to kill her. I reminded people that our destination was Floe Lake, and the cooling reason why it’s called that.

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Burned areas do provide lots of great views. There was a golden eagle soaring high over the valley when we stopped for a break in what shade we could find.

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Fireweed is called what it’s called because it’s one of the first things to grow after a fire. And there was a lot of it here.

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Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to build this stone throne here in a rocky area. There were a few species of plants here that we didn’t find anywhere else on the trail.

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photo by Helen – note that my pack is now more or less straight

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There were two creek crossings on the entire trail to Floe Lake. We had a lunch break and cooled off at this one. Don’t worry, she has lots of revenge photos of me.

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After several kilometres the trail climbs up a steep headwall. Thankfully most of that section wasn’t burned so we got to do it in shade. We could look back down Floe Creek valley and across the highway to Mount Ball and the Hawk Creek valley leading to Ball Pass and Shadow Lake.

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At the top of the headwall we found this Parks Canada sign. It’s a long way to hike for a playground, and we wondered if it was warning of another questionable creek crossing. But the campground wasn’t far.

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The tables at Helmet Creek were too tall. The tables at Tumbling Creek were too short. The tables at Floe Lake were just right, but the benches were too close to the table to sit on. Goldilocks had given up by this point and just decided to enjoy the view. The food cache had a Jameson’s whiskey bottle in it, which was unfortunately empty. You would think if someone could pack in a (presumably) full glass bottle they could pack out an empty one?

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We wandered around and explored the lake in full battle gear (long pants, long sleeves and mosquito jacket). This is where we saw more birds than anywhere on the trip, especially chipping sparrows, juncos and yellow-rumped warblers.

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photo by Daphne

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what I was photographing

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There were no floes in Floe Lake.

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But the colour changes with the hour.

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I woke up once during the night to hear thunder, heavy rain and howling wind. Being confident in my tent I was able to get back to sleep with no trouble. Apparently not everyone slept as well because I was told in the morning that three other storms came through during the night.

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The sixth and last day was the WOW day.

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We were up at six and had a quick breakfast before heading up to Numa Pass. Helen decided to hang around the campsite and wait for us, so it was just the five of us who made it to the high point.

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Numa Pass is one of the highest trails in the Rocky Mountain parks at 2355 metres.

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North from Numa Pass across Numa Creek toward where we’d been the past few days and further. Distant right is the Ten Peaks with Moraine Lake on the far side.

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It would have been quite a grind coming up the 755 metre climb from Numa Creek with full packs. Hiking the 250 metre gain from Floe Lake, having left most of our stuff at the campsite, was much more enjoyable.

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There isn’t much in the way of words to say about the views.

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We all did lots of photos and it would have been nice to take more time exploring. But we’d promised Ron and Donna that we’d have Bill N back at the trailhead by 3:00 so they could continue to their trip to Assiniboine.

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We reluctantly hiked back down from the pass to meet Helen and pack up our gear for the hike out. There were only two or three other tents camped near the lake and we’d had the upper section of the campground to ourselves, but on this August long weekend Saturday there was a steady stream of people hiking in while we were hiking out. I gave them lots of encouragement with the news that they were almost at the hard part soon and things like that.

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After coming down off the headwall and rounding a mountain spur, most of the rest of the way you see the highway even when there are still a couple of hours to go. We got to the trailhead right at 3 and the afternoon rain started right away. This was a trend for me in the summer of 2016; on three other hikes this year we got to the car just as the rain hit.

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We said our goodbyes and headed off our separate ways. Donna, Ron and Bill to their accommodations in Canmore to prepare for Assiniboine. Jen and Rick to try and find a place to stay in Golden or maybe back to Kelowna. Helen and Daphne and I went into Banff to look for showers and food. One more big storm hit on our way into town, a full-on Alberta style thunderstorm. We headed to the hot springs, in twice the volume of traffic as the previous Saturday, to find that they’d been closed down during the storm and were just about to reopen. With about a 45 minute queue to get in – well after a week we needed showers. A couple of elk along the roadside made the traffic coming back from the hot springs a little more challenging (all the large wildlife we saw on this trip were seen from the car; the biggest animals we saw on the hike were marmots).

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photo by Rick

After coming clean, we decided against trying to find another place to park in Banff and get into a restaurant on a long weekend Saturday evening and decided to go to Lake Louise for dinner. The Husky station there actually has quite a good restaurant, not your typical Husky truck stop. We had post-hike bookings at Castle Mountain, but a couple of months beforehand they discovered that they’d overbooked. They offered us a free night at the Kananaskis hostel, which would have been great if we were going to Assiniboine, but as we were planning on driving home the next day that wouldn’t have been much use. I asked them about Mosquito Creek, up the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise, and they were happy to book us in there instead. It’s more rustic and cozy and very pleasant. Late evening driving up the Parkway most of the traffic had disappeared, but we got to see one black bear along the roadside. And a cyclist heading in the bear’s direction about a kilometre further along. We wondered if we should have warned him and we would have if it had been a grizzly, but this bear looked less of a threat.

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We packed up one more time the next morning and went to Lake Louise for breakfast. The final good wildlife sighting was a small flock of bighorn sheep between Field and Golden, which got one person in the car very excited. Most of the rest of the drive home was uneventful, and with a stop for ice cream at De Dutchman Dairy in Sicamous and lunch at Harold’s Diner in Kamloops we were home for a late dinner. We talked a lot about trip ideas for future years. There’s a lot more out there to see and we’ll try to get out and see what we can.

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Postscript: Daphne took her tent back to MEC and was given a gift card for its full value. She had planned to put that toward a new pack and look elsewhere for a tent, but decided on snowshoes instead. Helen got the taillight fixed on her car but I think it still has the dent in it from the booboo in downtown Banff. And a couple of friends have offered me old packs which I’ve tried out and may work.

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