In Western Alberta, Canada
Wilderness Hiking around
A Cabin in The Rockies
Host: Laura Rutter
When: Anytime, but fall is the best and fall visits are encouraged
Length of stay: to be arranged; several day trips are available, as described below
Fee charged: $125 (Canadian funds)/day for whatever size group. This price covers cabin accommodation and all meals. You are paying for the cabin -- the naturalist's hikes are provided only if you are interested, and they are free.
On your hiking trips, as appropriate occasions arise, Laura will teach the basics the nature study. These will include:
Informal instruction takes place while hiking through a subalpine, boreal forest ablaze with the colors of the changing season. In the fall the large ungulates (herbivores) are in rut, and it is not uncommon for the forest to resound with the mating bugle of a bull elk. Timber wolves are beginning to come back into our area, and visitors may be serenaded by the hauntingly beautiful chorus of a pack. During the fall, days are typically warm (10 to 20 C) and dry, with crisp (-5 to 0 C), clear nights. Stars are seemingly close enough to touch, and a display of Northern Lights is a possibility. Also in the fall, Low-bush wild cranberries, sweetened by a kiss of frost, are ripe for picking! Laura believes that fall is simply THE BEST time for hiking in the Rockies.
The cabins are located in a secluded valley along the front ranges of the Canadian Rockies, adjacent to Jasper National Park (east backcountry boundary) and vast, undeveloped Willmore Wilderness. The cabins sit at an elevation of 5000 ft, with the peak of the alpine meadow at 6300 ft. The Willmore mountains to the north and Moosehorn mountains to the south are well over 7000 ft.
Visitors can walk on what used to be an ancient inland sea in search of seabed fossils more than 267 million years old; touch a possible dinosaur track left in mud before the front ranges were elevated; see the aftermath of glacial presence and demise on the landscape.
Here are the main hike possibilities:
Length of Hike: 6 to 8 hour return; 8 to 12 km
When offered: As soon as the snow leaves the valley (usually by June 1) until snow flies in late fall (usually by November 1).
Level of difficulty: Challenging
Environment: From the cabins (elevation 5000 ft), we'll gradually climb 3 km, hiking through a subalpine forest and along a dry creek bed where guests can search for ancient seabed fossils. From the base of the ridge, we'll climb approximately 1500 ft in less than 2 km. This is the challenging part of the hike, as some of our climbing will be over loose shale, some will be hand-over-fist, and the climb is steep without benefit of a switch-back trail cut into the mountain. Once we reach the summit, visitors are rewarded with a specatcular view of Jasper National Park and, on a clear day, the peak of Mt. Robson 100 miles to the west. The view to the south encompasses the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains and the view to the east expands from the foothillls to the prairies. After lunching on the top, we can decide to either follow the ridge south to the Rock Lake Road or retrace our route.
Highlights: Rocky Mountain Goat and Big Horn Sheep live on this ridge and are commonly seen, especially in June. Bald and Golden Eagles are also commonly seen, particularly in early June when the sheep have young lambs. The interaction between prey and predator can be an insightful topic of discussion.
Special considerations: This hike is not suitable for folks with a fear of heights (we'll be above treeline), nor is it suitable for young children (less than 10 yrs of age) or urban pets. Visitors normally residing at a low elevation are advised of the possibility of altitude sickness.
NOTE: Laura is well aware of the potential dangers associated with altitude sickness and will take a guest off the mountain as quickly as possible should symptoms develope. The summit of Binocular Ridge cannot be attained safely during rainy periods or during a thunderstorm.
Length of Hike: 6-hr return; 12 km
When Offered: May through October
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Environment: From the cabins, we'll drive 15 minutes and park at the Rock Lake/Willmore Wilderness staging area. We'll hike on the broad, well-travelled (for our area) Mountain Trail through mixed boreal forest and open, subalpine meadows. Our lunch stop at Seep Creek (6 km in) affords guests a marvelous view of Daybreak Pass. We'll retrace our route back to the staging area.
Highlights: This is an easy hike through gently rolling terrain on a wide trail frequently used by equestrian and foot travellers going into the Willmore or North Boundary Trail on an extended trip. During June, the meadows and forest are filled with the return of the migratory songbirds and the start of wild strawberries. In July and August, butterflies and wildflowers are abundant. In September and October, nature splahes the forest with vibrant color - goden yellow of poplars, soft peach of aspens, bright orange of tamaracks, burgundy of fireweed and some willows. Tracks and scat of most of the wild animals common in our area can be found along the trail.
Special Considerations: This hike is suitable for all ages and physical abilities, although a leash is recommended for urban pets. We have to ford one creek, the North Fork of the Wild Hay River. During spring melt (early June) or flood conditions, this crossing can be daunting with thigh- to waist-high, fast, cold water. At other times of the year, the crossing is calf-deep, less fast, but still bone-chilling cold. We recommend that guests bring along sandals or "duckie" shoes and a pair of shorts or other fast-drying pants which can be used to cross the creek. During rainy periods, stretches of the Mountain Trail are muddy, so visitors are advised to bring appropriate footwear.
Munn Creek Trail
Length of Hike: Guest discretion, from a 3-km one-way to a 7-km loop, to a 20-km full day trip, and to access Willmore Wilderness for multi-day adventures.
When Offered: Hiking - May through October; Skiing - November to April
Level of Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Environment: The Munn Creek valley, exhibiting the typical U-shape contour of having once been visited by glaciers, runs between the Persimmon and Hoff Ranges in a generally north/south direction. The ecosystem is typical of that found along the front ranges of the Rockies: mixed, subalpine forest; meadows; rushing, spring-fed creek; and home to most of the wildlife found in the mountains.
Highlights: This is an easy to moderate hike or ski on a seldome-use trail. In June and July, the Munn Creek Trail is lined with delectable wild strawberries. In September and October, the trail is ablaze with fall colors. Old-timers maintain that gold can be found in Munn Creek (Laura has been unsuccessful with panning, but visitors are welcome to give it a try!). Our snow season brings a picturesque quality to the trail, with the silence broken only by the swish of our skiis and the twittering of chickadees.
Special Considerations: This hike or ski is suitable for all ages and physical abilities. Our two bear dogs and surrogate guides will accompany us, and a leash is mandantory for urban pets. Heading north up the valley, we cross Munn Creek twice; heading south, we cross it once (during most years, as the creek goes underground about a half-mile from the 'Escape cabins). During spring melt (May, June) and/or exceptionally wet conditions, Munn Creek can be fast and intimidating with knee-deep, ice-cold water. It is recommended that visitors bring sandals or "duckie" shoes and shorts or other fast-drying pants specifically for crossing the creek.
Rock Lake Lookout
Length of Hike: 1-2 hours; 2 km of actual walking
When Offered: May through October
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Environment: From the 'Escape cabins, we'll drive 15 minutes to the Rock Lake/Willmore Wilderness staging area. We'll walk 1/2 km to the Willmore gates on the Mountain Trail, take a left on a hiking path for another 1/2 km through a previously burned stretch of forest, and arrive on a ledge overlooking Rock Lake, the Rock Lake valley and the eastern portion of Jasper National Park.
Highlights: The view is breath-taking! The west side of Rock Lake, where Rock Creek enters from Jasper National Park, is a lowland, marshy area. The valley bottom is a favorite place for moose, elk, deer and bear. Laura likes to take visitors to the lookout at dawn or dusk to afford guests the best opportunity to see wildlife. Wildflowers are abundant on the grassy slopes surrounding the ledge from June through August. September and October bring the fantastic display of color in the forest. Occasionally, Laura can get Timber Wolves to start singing across the valley with her imitation of a wolf howl.
Special Considerations: This hike is suitable for all ages and physical abilities. Mosquitos can be bad during the summer.
Length of Hike or Ski: 2 to 6 hours; 7 to 14 km
When Offered: Hiking - May through October; Skiing - November through March
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Environment: Rock Lake is a small, deep mountain lake, fed by Rock Creek to the west and by underground springs beneath the lake itself. Rock Lake is always cold and, although icing over in the winter, there will be open water due to the actions of the underground springs. The terrain around the lake is generally flat, with mixed subalpine forest and grassy meadows. The hiking trails around the south, east and north areas of the lake are maintained by the Recreation Area lessor, and there are a number of day shelters, picnic tables and camping spots scattered around the lake. Rock Lake receives fairly heavy local traffic in July and August by folks wanting to fish, camp and horseback ride. The 'Escape track-sets a trail for cross-country skiers from our cabins to Rock Lake (7 km) and also sets track along the lake's hiking trails.
Highlights: The view of Rock Lake and Jasper National Park from the east boat launch is spectacular! The hiking and skiing trails are very easy and well-marked. There is a herd of elk (20 to 40 cows) who call Rock Lake their home, grazing on the bald hills surrounding the lake during the day and venturing down to the valley bottom at dusk during the spring and summer. The bald hills typically remain free of snow during the winter, which aids the elk in eluding predation by the Timber Wolves. It is not uncommon to see elk tracks on a freshly groomed ski trail. The Rock Lake area also hosts a number of predatory birds (Bald and Golden Eagles, Northern Harriers, Osprey, Great Horned Owls), waterfowl and songbirds.
Special Considerations: This hike or ski is suitable for all ages and levels of physical abilities. A leash is recommended for urban pets, particularly in the summer. Mosquitos and horseflies can be bad in the summer.
Mountain Shadow Trail
Length of Hike or Ski: 2 days; 30 km total
When offered: Hiking - May through October; Skiing - November through March
Level of Difficulty: Moderate
Highlights: The Mountain Shadow Trail runs through prime boreal forest on an easy, wide trail. From the Wild Hay start point, we gradually climb through mixed forest for 5 km, then it is gently rolling and downhill through more mixed forest and open meadows all the way to the Black Cat Guest Ranch. West Range, located in the Solomon Creek valley, offers rustic, warm cabin accommodation at the half-way point. Denizens of the boreal forest are at home here, and visitors can expect to see evidence of deer, elk, moose, bear, wolf, coyote and cougar along the trail. Songbirds, butterflies and wildflowers will accompany hikers in the summer. Fall brings the riotous splash of color to the forest and the opportunity to hear the mating call of a bull elk. Timber wolves and deer may follow skiers in the winter, but the chance of seeing these shy creatures is rare.
Special Conderations: This hike or ski is suitable for most folks capable of hiking or skiing a 15-km distance. Both are fully supported with packhorse or ski-doo, so guests need only carry a day pack while on the trail. A foot bridge is planned, but not yet in place, for the Wild Hay River crossing at the north trailhead during the summer. In the meantime, guests will be ferried across the river on horseback. During spring melt or flood conditions, we cannot cross the Wild Hay. In the winter, a ski/ski-doo bridge is in place. Of special note: This whole area west of Highway 40 and extending to the front ranges, and north from the Black Cat to the Wild Hay, has been slated for timber harvest and oil and gas exploration. Final plans for cut-blocks, access roads and well sites have not yet been disclosed to the public. Through diligent efforts by Laura and other concerned citizens, we are trying to preserve at least part of this area for ecosystem integrity and recreational enjoyment.
Visitors should bring:
Visitors can drive to the cabins using a detailed map sent via FAX or snail mail upon booking. Hikes depart mid-morning, and the path we take is entirely at the discretion of our visitors. We'll investigate tracks, scat and other evidence of presence of the animals that inhabit our area (wolf, cougar, lynx, bear, deer, elk, moose, goat, sheep, marten, weasel, fox, porcupine, wolverine, birds of prey and passerines). We'll nuture our souls with nature's serentiy, listen for mating calls of elk or moose to shatter the forest's quiet, smell the natural perfume of pine, cranberry and moss. We'll hike 4 to 8 hours, again totally at the discretion of our visitors, before returning to the cabins where visitors can indulge in a hot shower and relax in their cabin before dinner. After dinner, guests can congregate around an evening campfire to relate stories of past adventures, try their hand at wolf howls or elk bugles, and/or simply gaze at the stars.
Caution Flags: Although typically warm and dry during fall, snow is never far away in the high country. Visitors should come prepared for a sudden snowfall and/or cold snap. Encountering a bull moose in rut on the trail is potentially more dangerous than running into a Grizzly. Hunting season is in full stride and, although it is not likely that we'll encounter a hunter(s), visitors need to be aware of the possibility.
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