Northern Shade Gardening

Hiking in the Northern Rockies

Wednesday, November 5, 2008 Category: General

 

Medicine Lake 2

 

Medicine Lake 2

The Rocky Mountains are one of my favourite places for hiking. There are many great trails available in Jasper National Park for short to long hikes, with spectacular scenery. There are beautiful strolls around  lakes reflecting the mountains in their smooth surface, walks along the sides of waterfalls and canyons, and challenging hikes up to alpine areas. This weekend I explored the outdoors in the high country of the Rockies again.

This is a picture of the mountains reflected on Medicine Lake. The lake is about 6 km (4 miles) long. The shoreline is rugged, so it is fun to jump from boulder to boulder at the edge of the lake. This water is deeper in the spring and early summer, but is reduced to meandering rivulets in the fall. It received its name because the water from the lake seems to disappear with  no visible outlet. The water goes into underground passageways, and reappears above ground at Maligne Canyon.

Maligne Canyon 2

Maligne Canyon 2

This falls, recessed between the narrow walls, is part of  Maligne Canyon. For perspective, the falling water itself is taller than a tree. It is fascinating to stare into the dark chasms, between the high walls. There is an easy trail along the canyon with many views of the steep walls, different waterfalls and stunning formations. The gorge is very narrow, but up to 50 m (160 feet) deep at its highest point. The rushing water carves fantastic shapes into the sides and creates splashing waterfalls as it drops in elevation. The sides of the crevasse are cushioned in various mosses. There are a few bridges that cross the precipice to give you fantastic views into the inky depths. You can follow the trail along for quite a ways, but the most dramatic scenery is at the beginning. I like to walk along until the path comes out even with the water downstream. The path connects with other trails even farther downstream. It is a very scenic hike that gets quieter as you get further from the dramatic canyon.

jagged mountain range near Medicine Lake

jagged mountain range near Medicine Lake

This mountain range is next to Medicine Lake. It emphasizes that the Rocky Mountains are relatively young mountains, still mostly jagged, tall and pointy, not as eroded and rounded as older mountain ranges. This is an area where I frequently see scampering bighorn sheep, which are perfectly adapted to the terrain. Steep slopes give them the advantage when avoiding predators.

Maligne Lake 2

Maligne Lake 2

Maligne Lake is at the head of the Maligne River, above Medicine Lake. There are fantastic views in any direction, since it is completely surrounded by snow topped mountains. There are some great half day hikes here. This time we just walked by the lake and explored the shore. One of my favourite hikes from the lake is up Opal Hills, which takes about 4 or 5 hours. It is a steady uphill walk, that switchbacks up the mountain, and will get your heart racing. The elevation gain from top to bottom is approximately 300 m (1000 feet). The views across the lake are marvelous from the higher vantages of the trail. You arrive up in a meadow between the hills, and can explore the area. It is frequented by bears and caribou as well.

On the other side of the lake, you can hike up Bald Hills. This is another half day hike, with a superb view from the top of the lake and surrounding mountains. The change in elevation from the bottom to the top is around 490 m (1600 feet). As is usual with these steep hikes, about 2/3 of the time is spent walking uphill, and 1/3 down. The walk itself takes around 4 hours, but it is fun to explore the area when you get to the top, or put your feet up on a rock and enjoy the view. On a warm summer day, when you come back down again with overheated hiking boots, it feels good to soak your feet briefly in the icy cold waters of Maligne Lake, which is only a few degrees warmer than a melted glacier.

camp robber

camp robber

This bird’s common name is camp robber. They are related to the clever jays, ravens and crows. These birds are fun to watch, since they have an abundance of personality. They are friendly, and will get quite close to people. If you have food out, you need to guard it carefully from them. They are very opportunistic. My fellow hiker was not trying to feed the bird, but had just got a snack out of the car, when the bird came swooping in, attempting to scavenge a sausage roll. The human won out in this round of Survivor. The birds stay year round in the park and are very smart. They actually remember where they have stored most of their food supply, which they fasten to trees with saliva, or stash in crevices.

Despite the fact that these are chummy birds that will practically sit on your hand, I didn’t get a good closeup. I’m blaming the fact that I didn’t pay the food toll, for their refusal to let me get a good face shot.

mountains goats, mom young 2

big horn sheep, mom and young one 2

Here is a common animal in Jasper, the big horn sheep. Watching these animals scamper over the rocks makes it look very easy. The young ones seem especially energetic. These are a mom and her young one, so they don’t have the elaborate spiral horns of the mature male. You are practically assured of seeing big horn sheep on a trip to Jasper.

There are around 1200 kilometres (750 miles) of trails in Jasper National Park, so it is easy to explore a variety of scenery when you visit. Some of them are back country trips, while others are day hikes. The wildlife is abundant, so you never know who might be watching you. Here is another post I wrote about camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

If you click on any small gallery photo it will enlarge to a full sized picture.