As part of a peaceful and relaxing solo hiking trip to the Lake O'Hara region in 2010, I scrambled up Mount Schaffer early in the day on the 30th of September in perfect weather conditions. After checking out McArthur Lake (stunning) I had the rest of the day to explore part of the so-called Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit, a gorgeous series of trails staring near the Lake O'Hara lodge and working its way up past Mary and Moor Lakes to Hungabee and Opabin Lakes before looping back around the upper Opabin Plateau and along Yukness Mountain's south and west flank towards Lake Oesa. From Oesa the route traverses under the south face of Mount Huber and back down to Lake O'Hara from the Wiwaxy / Huber col, finally ending again at the lodge, or the Elizabeth Parker ACC Hut where I was staying for a few nights.
For the first day, since I had already done Schaffer Mountain and McArthur Lake, I was going to only do the All Souls Prospect and part of the Opabin Plateau circuit. The following day I would go back to Opabin Pass at the extreme eastern edge of the Lake O'Hara region before coming back around the Alpine Circuit near Lake Oesa and finishing with a scramble of Wiwaxy Peak - East.
It was around mid day when I got back from McArthur Lake and started the steep grunt up All Souls Prospect from near the lovely Schaffer Lake which sits between Schaffer and Mount Odaray.
[This is the stream that exits Schaffer Lake. If you're doing All Souls Prospect you don't cross it. I crossed it since I was going towards McArthur Lake and I advise you to hike the extra 5 minutes and at least check out Schaffer Lake on your way up All Souls.]
[Schaffer Lake at around noon as I make my way to the All Souls Prospect which starts near the far shore]
[In the Lake O'Hara region, you know you're on an 'alpine' route when there are markings like this on the trail. The hike starts out in lovely larch / pine tree forest with the strong smell of fall in the air and a warm sun on my face.]
The trail is well marked and obvious to the summit of All Souls. Being an alpine route, it is a fairly steep grunt with minor exposure in places. Once I started getting above tree line the views of the Lake O'Hara region were stunning in every direction. The crisp, clean and clear fall air conspired with the warm sun and sublime mountain views to give me one of the absolute best hiking experiences of my life. A very special day that will never leave me as long as I have memories.
[The route is easy to follow with a great trail and clear markings painted next to older orange square ones.]
[You will not find better maintained or positioned trails anywhere in the Rockies. Mount Huber rising dramatically in the distance.]
[One of my absolute favorite views from the entire day. From L to R, Mount Owen, Schaffer Lake, Odaray, Steven and Cathedral. ++]
[Mount Huber looms over the All Souls Prospect trail.]
As I neared the summit of All Souls, I knew that this was going to be a very special day. The views of Lakes Mary and O'Hara directly under the prospect, combined with the Moor, Hungabee and Opabin Lakes and giant 11,000 foot peaks guarding the sparkling aqua gems and yellow larches below were mind blowing. This hike is clear proof that it's not only mountaineers who can enjoy incredible mountain vistas!
I spent an hour at the All Souls summit, relaxing with a coffee and taking panoramas of the views. If you're OK with exposure, I recommend stepping just off the summit towards Lake O'Hara for a better view down to Mary and O'Hara lakes. Just don't slip! ;)
[A sublime panorama from All Souls Prospect. From L to R, Odaray, Stephen, Cathedral, Wiwaxy, Victoria, Huber, Lefroy, Yukness, Ringrose, Hungabee, Tuzo and Biddle. Lakes include O'Hara, Mary, Moor, Hungabee and Opabin. ++]
[The Opabin Plateau is where I'll go the next day and is also part of the O'Hara Alpine Hiking Circuit. Yukness is the shale pile in front of lovely Ringrose and Hungabee but is a lovely scramble in its own right. Opabin Pass is at far right.]
[A wider panorama including Little Odaray and Schaffer Lake showing almost the entire Lake O'Hara region minus Lake Oesa which is hidden between Yukness and Victoria just right of center. ++]
[Cathedral Mountain is one of the sexiest peaks I've had the pleasure of climbing.]
It was tough to leave the beautiful summit of All Souls, but there was a lot of hiking and exploring left for me to do before dark so I started down the scree trail towards the Opabin Plateau far below. This trail is the most rugged part of the Lake O'Hara Circuit. I would recommend doing the circuit in the same direction I did, simply because you'll take advantage of good lighting in the morning and you'll descend the loose scree rather than grunt up it. Hikers not used to the alpine might find this section a bit unnerving - hiking poles will help your confidence immensely!
There are some options when descending to the Opabin Plateau. I choose some off-trail hiking near some nice running water and small falls in order to take late afternoon / evening photographs. I also chose to hike past the lovely Cascade and Moor Lakes before descending to Lake O'Hara and walking the shoreline in growing darkness.
[I had to hike off the main trail to find this scenery - still above the plateau under the north face of Schaffer / Biddle. Opabin Pass at center.]
[There is a lot of running water in the Lake O'Hara region due to all the large mountains and glaciers in the area.]
[One of the best features of this area is the colorful nature of everything from rocks to flowers to trees to lakes.]
[Later afternoon light is challenging on the Opabin Plateau thanks to bright white snow / glaciers above and deep, cool shadows in the valleys. The trails around the Alpine Circuit are truly amazing work - many of them originally built by an Italian miner by the name of Lawrence Grassi, an incredible man who was not only a great lover of mountains but an impressive trail builder.]
[The trail continues up the Opabin Plateau with Biddle looming high above.]
[I felt like I was on another planet most of the time during my hike. Because it was early evening and the last weekend of bus service up the approach road, I had the entire Opabin Plateau pretty much to myself - a very unique and rare opportunity for solitude in this lovely, famous area.]
[Mount Biddle rises impressively over the stream running down from Hungabee and Opabin Lakes.]
[Can you guess where the 'Cascade Lakes' got their names from? :) The lighting for this shot was almost impossibly difficult thanks to cool color below warm sunshine on the surrounding peaks. Hungabee on the left and Biddle on the right.]
[More of the lovely stream running between the Cascade Lakes.]
[A higher view looking over Cascade Lakes.]
[Moor Lake with Wiwaxy on the left and Huber on the right.]
[Larch needles line the perfect trail.]
[Cathedral reflects in Mary Lake in this view looking down from the Opabin Plateau.]
[A gorgeous sunset with Mount Huber reflecting in a stream to end my visually overloaded day.]
[Huber, Lefroy, Yukness, Hungabee and Biddle reflect in Lake O'Hara. Note the cabins at the far end - these will cost you approximately $1000/night per couple, minimum two night stay... ;) ++]
[A perfectly calm evening.]
[Last look before heading back to a warm, cozy Elizabeth Parker hut for supper.]