Every fall I try to get away for a solo trip to the mountains before work gets crazy for the fall and winter months. In 2012 I spent time finishing up the Nugara scrambles in the Castle Wilderness in southern Alberta but for 2013 I planned something a bit different than a peak bagging excursion. I've wanted to see Mount Robson up close and explore around Robson Provincial Park for years already and 2013 was going to be that year for me. The weather wasn't looking too encouraging at first but eventually it looked like I might manage to squeeze two decent days in between my approach and depproach days so I went ahead with my plans for a 4-5 day trip. My plan was to hike the 21 kilometers to the Berg Lake campground on Tuesday, September 26th. On Wednesday and Thursday I would try to ascend a few of the supposed scrambles in the area and do some hiking. Friday would either be easy hiking with a Saturday exit, or if the weather crapped out I would head out on Friday already.
The first thing I realized as I drove from Calgary to Robson Provincial Park is how far the bloody drive is! It took me over 6 hours before I was finally pulling into the visitor center! Good thing I left at 04:30... There was a lot fresh snow in the mountains and I even had to use 4x4 around the Columbia Icefields due to an icy / snowy highway. The second thing I realized is just how freaking huge Robson is. The peak was mostly covered in clouds but the bulk of the mountain was visible from the visitor center and it looked massive. I could clearly see Little Robson and the Wishbone Arete along with various other routes on the south face. The slopes were all plastered with fresh snow making it look even more foreboding and inaccessible.
[I got a nice sunrise along hwy 93 on the long drive from Calgary to Robson P.P. ]
[Mount Robson looms over the visitor center. It's hard to realize just how massive it is from this far away but it's over 10,000 feet higher than where this photo is taken!!]
The info center folks were friendly enough and told me there were very few bear sightings in the Berg Lake area since June - probably due to the extreme amount of human traffic this area gets in the summer months. There were a few bear sightings in September but no resident bears that they knew of. This was good news as I was traveling solo - but I kept my bear spray out anyway, just in case. I confirmed my suspicion that there would be very few folks camping with me and that there were far fewer visitors in the park than during the summer months - this was a good thing as I was looking for solitude on this trip.
I felt great as I started up the long approach to Berg Lake on the Kinney Lake approach trail. My pack wasn't light, with 5 days worth of food and supplies, but I'd completed a few grueling trips earlier (Recondite, Willingdon, Fortress Lake) that prepared me well for this outing. I was looking forward to using my new Black Diamond Hilite solo tent which doesn't weight much more than most bivy sacks. A very light rain was falling as I walked the easy first 4km to Kinney Lake through typical BC forest including some pretty impressive Cedar stands and lush undergrowth beside the trail. The first 4km of 'trail' are more like a road - literally. Biking the first 6km is a great option, the only reason I didn't is that my bike is worth a lot of money, and I didn't like the idea of leaving it for up to 4 days, unprotected from vandals or porcupines.
[I should have paid more attention to this sign at the trailhead. Note the elevation change from Kinney Lake to Emperor Falls...]
[Views already as I leave the parking lot and cross the Robson River]
[BC forests are so much more lush than AB ones!]
[Brilliant green and some yellow fall colors as a gentle mist / rain falls in the forest.]
[An impressive stand of cedar trees can grow on the south side of Robson thanks to it's ability to generate rainfall due to it's massive bulk relative to the surrounding peaks.]
[Kinney Lake with a gentle rain breaking its surface.]
Hiking along Kinney Lake was an interesting experience. There was a lot more up and down than I was expecting. There are two main frustrating sections to get through. The first is almost right after arriving at the lake when the trail suddenly gains elevation very quickly and steeply. The second isn't until after the Kinney Lake campground and the bike drop and also gains at least 100 meters vertical before plunging back down to the river flats at the back of the lake! Don't be fooled into thinking you're gaining any substantial elevation in the first 7-8km to Berg Lake - because you're not. This is also why I've listed the elevation gain to Berg Lake as 1000 meters and not the stated 800 or so that BC Parks will tell you. There is around 800 meters elevation difference between the start of the trail and Berg Lake, but when you add up all the gains / losses it's over 1000 meters of total vertical and your legs will feel the difference! The trail was nice and quiet for the first 7km - only a few day hikers were bothering with the hike to Kinney Lake on this dreary fall day. At the campground I met my first backpacker. He was from around Edmonton and fully decorated in army / camo gear, complete with a giant ax and knives! He was grumbling something about;
there's no route from here to the Dome - I don't know what the internet was talking about...
Uh oh! This wasn't sounding very sane so I hurriedly said some polite stuff before hiking quickly up the trail, leaving him behind.
[Signs of fall alongside Kinney Lake.]
[The Kinney Lake campground cook shelter - note the complete lack of people! Most of the campgrounds have some sort of shelter with the ability to have a fire in emergency situations. The issue with the shelters at Kinney Lake and Whitehorn is that they have no wind protection whatsoever - an oversight IMHO.]
[Amazing scenery across Kinney Lake]
[The trail after the Kinney Lake CG is narrower and steep.]
[Another bridge crossing of the Robson River at the end of the Kinney Lake flats - after losing height again... :(]
The section of trail from beyond Kinney Lake to the Whitehorn campground and Ranger Station finally gains some real elevation. Fall colors were also more prevalent on this section and I enjoyed the easy uphill hiking and amazing scenery of the valley at the end of the lake. The rain mostly stopped here and I was already getting stunning views of Kinney Lake behind me and the Robson River valley below. Shortly before the Whitehorn campground I crossed the river on an interesting swinging foot bridge. This valley is a very lovely spot for the ranger cabin - I instantly wanted to live there permanently. :) I met my second group of backpackers at the Whitehorn cook shelter. They looked a bit weary and told me that I was timing it much better than they had. Apparently they didn't see much of Robson on their 4 day trip and had nothing but snow, rain and sleet at the Berg Lake area. My decision to hike in my giant (but warm) alpine boots and bring long underwear was starting to seem brilliant at this point...
[Crossing the river flats at the head of Kinney Lake on my way to the steady uphill hike to the Whitehorn CG.]
[A pleasant trail leads up to the Whitehorn CG and the Valley of a Thousand Falls.]
[Looking back at the flats and Kinney Lake from the trail.]
[View of the Whitehorn Ranger cabin and the start of the Valley of a Thousand Falls from the pedestrian cable bridge across the Robson River and near the Whitehorn CG. I think a lot of the waterfalls must have been dried up because there wasn't very many that I could see on this section...]
[The bridge is a nice touch - it felt a bit safer than the one I crossed on the way to Fortress Lake a few weeks previous... :)]
A very pleasant walk through the river flats at the start of the Valley of a Thousand Falls brought me back across the river and and to the first tough section of trail. A sign just across the bridge warned me that the next 4km would be the worst hell of me life. Just kidding! But there was a sign warning that there was no water access for the next 4km and a steep hill to be climbed. At this point I was a bit tired of yellow warning signs (IMHO people should know their own limits and not need all the babysitting warnings that we insist on posting everywhere to cover our butts from lawsuits...) and I largely ignored the sign. Ooops. ;)
This 4km wasn't easy for me. My pack was starting to feel heavy and my boots weren't the easiest to hike in - they're giant alpine climbing boots and are warm but NOT comfortable hikers! At least the sun was poking out of the clouds and there were 3 nice waterfall distractions on this section. To be honest, the Valley of a Thousand Falls was much different than I expected. I didn't expect to be climbing a steep trail most of the way - I expected to be wandering through a valley with waterfalls cascading down walls around me. I'm wondering if normally there are many more falls around the Whitehorn CG river flats but in September a lot of them are dried up? White Falls was very nice, as was the Falls of the Pool. But there was a much bigger falls waiting for me further ahead.
[The access route for climbing Whitehorn Mountain (11,000er) is somewhere on these slopes.]
[A very sturdy bridge back across the Robson River (this is looking back at my approach) just before a steep climb to the Emperor Falls and CG.]
[There are a few too many yellow warning signs on the trail IMHO. I think people shouldn't do a wilderness trip if they need this much hand holding... The steep hill sign is a good idea though.]
[An excellent trail leads up this steep section.]
[I took a brief detour to get to the bottom of White Falls from the main trail which was worth it.]
[This section of trail had a "flying trestle" built by Donald "Curly" Phillips in 1913 as part of his contract of $50 / mile of trail he built to Berg Lake for the BC government and ahead of the first ACC camp at Berg Lake in 1913. The rock face was finally blasted out in the 1970's to make the trail safer and now there's no trace of the trestle at all.]
[Looking back at my approach - Whitehorn is out of sight on the upper right.]
[The top of White Falls from the trail.]
[Falls of the Pool]
[Oh goody. Another yellow sign warning me to do my job as a parent and not let my kid free fall down the cliffs... ;)]
After completing the steep grunt past the Falls of the Pool, I came to a very interesting section of trail. This section was separated from the Robson River by a deep valley. The weird part was that the river didn't run through the valley bottom, but rather along a channel far above the valley floor on the opposite side from me! As I worked my way up a small, winding trail to the end of the valley, I could see the impressive mass of water known as Emperor Falls crashing down a steep rock wall ahead. Eventually the trail crossed a small wooden bridge and came back around to a sign indicating Emperor Falls to my right and the Berg Lake trail continuing ahead. I dropped my heavy pack and went down the trail to check out Emperor Falls. The falls were impressive, especially with the Emperor Ridge on Robson's west side towering imposingly high above the raging torrent of water. I took a nice break here, enjoying this very special place all to myself. I love hiking in the off season!
[The trail after Falls of the Pool is a gentler grade and interesting.]
[Emperor Falls plunges into the channel that is high above the valley that the Robson River must have run down previously - very cool terrain feature!]
[The trail actually goes right past the falls on the opposite side of the valley before looping around and back to it again.]
[Do I continue or go to the falls? I decided to drop my pack here and head off on a trail to the right to check out the falls. I knew that the weather could be worse on depproach and that I wouldn't feel like it then - good choice on hindsight!]
[An amazing scene of power and beauty. Emperor Falls with the lower part of Robson's Emperor Ridge towering in the swirling clouds above.]
[It's getting sunnier as I hike and the fall colors are really coming out as I gain elevation. No more lush forests or cedar groves up here!]
After rehydrating at the Emperor campground I continued on the trail as the weather continued to improve. The upper trail before the Marmot CG is very well constructed and offers some incredible views of the Emperor Ridge and face, towering over the Mist Glacier and Robson River. Someone put a lot of work into maintaining the rock retaining wall along the scree slopes on the trail - I was very impressed with this bit of work. As I walked the final few kilometers from the Marmot campground to my destination at Berg Lake, I contemplated about how incredibly lucky I was to be out on my own enjoying this spectacular scenery. I felt a very deep sense of contentment that I always seem to find out in the fresh air of the mountains and away from everyone else... Roughly 6.5 hours after leaving the parking lot I was arriving at the Berg Lake campground and Hargreaves Shelter.
[The mighty Emperor Ridge rises out of sight above the trail.]
[The Robson River with the Emperor Ridge rising above from the Emperor CG]
[The trail from the Emperor CG to the Marmot CG is wonderfully constructed with incredible views of Robson's Emperor Face and Ridge - provided your as lucky as me with the weather!]
[Looking back over the Robson River bog (trail on right over scree) - Whitehorn rising into clouds beyond.]
[The trail opens up considerably before getting to the Marmot CG - Berg Lake is OOS to the right here. ]
[I get my first good view of the Berg Glacier plunging into Berg Lake.]
[Looking back at an interesting (random?) bridge just before the Marmot CG.]
[The trail goes back into trees before getting to the Berg Lake CG. Note the fresh snow!]
There were only a few (quiet) people at the campground and I set up my tent away from them and near Berg Lake. After a good supper and some nice pics of a clear and amazing Mount Robson I turned into my sleeping bag around 8pm. The air was cold and there were patches of fresh snow on the ground but I didn't feel any of that in my warm down sleeping bag and was soon oblivious to the world.
[The sky cleared out in the evening and gave me this great shot of Robson and Rearguard reflected in Berg Lake. ]
[The Berg Glacier makes thunder day and night with it's steep ice falls before creating 'bergs in the lake.]
The rest of the pictures are from my exit back to the parking lot on Friday, September 29th under a cloudy and rainy sky.
[An interesting bridge on the section of trail between Emperor Falls and Falls of the Pool.]
[Colors in the cliffs]
[The most work on the Berg Lake trail was spent on the Valley of a Thousand Falls]
[This section of trail used to have a "flying trestle", built by Curly Phillips and was blasted out in the 1970's to make the current trail along the steep cliff walls.]
[Impressive trail building]
[Back in the lush forest at the base of the mountain]
[At the back of Kinney Lake - you can spot the foot bridge across the Robson River if you look closely.]
[Back at the flats at the end of Kinney Lake]
[Around Kinney Lake]
[Map of the trail]