Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park – Hiking Alberta

 

The amazing hike past Eiffel Lakes to Wenkchemna Pass is through the Valley of Ten Peaks.

 

 

The hike to Eiffel Lakes continues beyond to Wenkchemna Pass.  The drive west from Calgary, Alberta, Canada is largely in darkness and progress past the Town of Banff is achieved before pastel orange light from an uninspiring sunrise into cloudless sky begins illuminating the tips of mountains on the approach to Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Beginning the day very early gets ahead of the daily crowds and provides the opportunity to enjoy the incredible ambiance unencumbered. 

 

Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Autumn days are rapidly and quite noticeably getting shorter as winter approaches. At Moraine Lake, weather is brisk under clear sky and passing the gloomy lake-shore to begin the hike up the trail past streams and familiar, dense forest emerging from moss carpets conjures up good memories of a previous hike to Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass via the same approach. 

The routine ascent over the 11 long switchbacks climbs 457 m (1,500 feet) above Moraine Lake and 3 kilometers (1⅞ miles) later arrival at the Eiffel Lakes or Larch Valley trail junction is welcomed by the familiar log bench. 

Left - Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass

Right - Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass.

 

Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Growing warmth from sun invading the Valley of the Ten Peaks justifies layering down clothing to begin the next 3.2 KM (2 mile) segment in sunshine along more rugged, but still quite good trail to Eiffel Lakes.  The warmer weather combined with shelter in the Valley of the Ten Peaks and slightly lower elevation keeps the larch trees brilliant longer than their counterparts above in Larch Valley

Hiking in the valley adjacent and south of Larch Valley,  the larch forest is on the left and 305 m (a thousand feet) below.

 

Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The Eiffel Lakes trail through Desolation Valley (named by explorer Walter Wilcox in 1893), is actually gaining virtually imperceptible elevation on the hike beneath 3,084 m (10,118 ft) Eiffel Peak to the right.

 

Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

As the day warms up, silence is continually interrupted with the sound of tiny avalanches from mountains on the other side of the valley.  First there is an audible crack, then a roar similar to the sound of an airplane.  Watching the snow tumble down the mountain-side is fascinating. 

In the distance, Wenkchemna Pass, wedged between 3,206 m (10,518 ft) Wenkchemna Peak and 3,237 m (10,620 ft) Neptuak Mountain, appears at the end of the broad valley before the Eiffel Lakes come into view.

 

 

Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The trail gradually declines in quality to become more scree laden on the approach to the tiny lakes.  On the right, the scramble to Wastach Pass between Eiffel and Wenkchemna Mountains is inviting.  Eiffel Lakes water levels are very low, and nestled in the barren debris of rock fall. 

The lake surfaces are perfect mirrors for surrounding mountains.  Immediately beside the Eiffel Lakes a massive rock fall has created huge piles of boulders.  There is a path winding its way through and around the obstruction but an option is traversing up and over the huge rocks for those more comfortable and experienced in bringing the risk profile up a bit by leaping from one boulder to the next.  Accuracy is important to avoid potential injury.

Trail beyond the boulder field continues over scree at the beginning of the additional 4.1 KM (2⅝ mile) extension, in a broad loop past minor lakes and ponds in the valley, to 2,611 m (8,566 ft) Wenkchemna Pass.

 

Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

'Wenkchemna' is the Stoney Indian word for the numeral '10'.  The current names of the 10 peaks, all visible from Wenkchemna Pass, in order, from Moraine Lake are: Fay, Little, Bowlen (Tonsa), Perren, Septa (peak 5), Allen, Tuzo, Deltaform, Neptauk, and on the near side of the Pass, Wenkchemna Peak

The name 'Eiffel' comes from the rock tower above the Pass which, with a tilt of the head and a fairly broad imagination, could be compared to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

 

Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

This range of mountain peaks forms the border between Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.  The names of the ten peaks were originally Stoney words for the numerals from 1 to 10. 

At the end of the valley, the final approach to Wenkchemna Pass is riddled with ice and snow.  The 'trail' is confused with many game trails and partially covered with up to a foot of snow.  The sound of tiny rock falls continually invades surrounding silence but on closer examination the sound is caused by icicles, in the warm sun, breaking away from the sheer face of Neptauk Mountain

Approach routes are compromised with ice and snow.  A straight scramble for the top gets shut down only once by a rift about 6 feet across and 30 feet deep.  It appears quite possible to jump over the chasm but when hiking solo the risk is unjustifiable, so a retreat to an alternate and safer route is more sensible. 

A chilling breeze over Wenkchemna Pass demands attention but the incredible view into the end of Prospector's Valley on the other side is more than worth the compromise.

 

Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

The grand views stretch west into British Columbia's  Yoho National Park, to the barren Eagle Eyrie and the ice-field leading to Opabin Pass and Lake O'Hara. The pack is dropped at the summit cairn to scramble both sides of Wenkchemna Pass and to capture a photo of 'Eiffel Tower'.  The easy scramble is more than justifiable to ascend above 2,743 m (9,000 feet) for views of the broad valley of lakes, moraines and Larch forest. WOW!

 

Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Lunch is enjoyable in the sun with shelter from the breeze provided by a natural rock alcove above Wenkchemna Pass.  In early afternoon the return hike begins by dropping straight off Wenkchemna Pass and off-trailing for a closer view of Eiffel Lakes before scrambling back up the side of the valley to regain the trail.  Hiking in sun, boots, shorts and a day pack is glorious.  Thousands of years ago this entire valley was buried under 915 m (3,000 ft) of ice.

 

Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

On the return drive to Calgary, a single stop near the Town of Banff nets photos of Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain across the colorful Vermilion Lakes in late day sun.

 

Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass – Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Thank you for your comment and kind words, David. You are a more advanced hiker. The valley past Moraine Lake beneath Ten Peaks is often unjustifiably given second billing to Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass. You have provided useful information for me as well. Much appreciated.

Great site Barry! We recently hiked Moraine to Wenkchemna Pass for the second time however we also opted for an easy side scramble up to Wastach Pass from near Eiffel Lake this time which provided great close up views of the Wenkchemna and Eiffel Peaks. Eiffel Peak (light colored and in my opinion one of the highlights of this extremely scenic hike) is even more amazing up close. Wastach Pass route is in my view suitable for an intermediate ability scrambler. I descended part way down into Prospector's Valley and had a nice view of the rock structure called Eagles Eyrie which looks like the lair of a comic book villain but I knew I would not wish to descend all the way down and come back so I only went part way leaving the lair of doom for another day. But the rest of the way looks doable for a longer 25-30 km day with lots of extra climbing and route finding on technical scree and rocks. These kinds of side options make for very long challenging days so leave very early which also ensures you get a parking space.

Well, isn't that special. Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass is one of my favourite hikes and a great competitor with Larch Valley nearby. It does not surprise me the snow pack remains on the pass. There is snow at elevation everywhere I have been above 8,000 ft. I hope you will post a bear picture or two on your blog. It is always special to see wildlife. From a distance is wise. With young, the degree of unpredictability increases. Very exciting and pleased you could enjoy the experience. It always gives me a rush. Hiking solo, I hoot and holler a lot, so they are long gone by the time I get there. It has been a long time since I have seen a bear in the wilderness.

Finally got onto this hike and enjoyed it immensely. Lots of snow still this year near the pass, and unfortunately as I was heading up there, another solo hiker was heading down fast. He pointed out to everyone he passed that a female grizzly and her cubs had just come over the pass and were heading in our direction. Got some interesting pictures of them, from a distance thankfully, as they needed to be given a very broad right of way! DSD

The 5.6 Km Eiffel Lakes Trail combined with the 4.1 KM Wenkchemna Pass Trail can be extended by dropping into Prospectors Valley for a more rustic hike through Eagles Eyrie, over Opabin Pass and on to Lake O'Hara. It would be a long, fairly aggressive day and it would leave you a long way from Moraine Lake so two cars would be required. I have not done that trip one way but I have done the equivalent from each direction in separate hikes. Sensory overload. What I would like to attempt one day is an offtrail from the end of Moraine Lake up through the Valley of the Ten Peaks to Wenkchemna Pass. From above, there are some fascinating features at the Valley bottom which I would like to experience up close and personal. Additionally, I believe hiking the base of the valley peaks would be an interesting and very scenic experience. I am not sure if it can be done. If it turns out to be impassable, I expect the recovery would be easy by backing out or scrambling offtrail to the Eiffel Lakes Trail. Has anyone done this? I would appreciate some intelligence on the hike.

Now this one I have yet to do even with all our many days around Moraine Lake. Great pictures! That further journey over to Lake O'Hara looks even more interesting as well... DSD

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