Today, I will hike to Eiffel Lakes and beyond to Wenkchemna Pass. The drive west is largely in darkness and I am past the Town of Banff before pastel orange light from an uninspiring sunrise, into cloudless sky, begins illuminating the tips of mountains on my approach to Lake Louise.
The days are rapidly and quite noticeably getting shorter as winter approaches.
At Moraine Lake, it is brisk under clear sky and I pass the gloomy lake-shore to begin the hike up the trail past streams and familiar, dense forest emerging from moss carpets. The routine slog up the 11 long switchbacks takes me 457 m (1,500 feet) above Moraine Lake and 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) later I arrive at the Eiffel Lakes or Larch Valley trail junction. Left – Eiffel Lakes and Wenkchemna Pass: Right – Larch valley and Sentinel Pass.
After layering down I begin the next 3.2 KM (2 mile) segment in sunshine along more rugged, but still quite good trail to Eiffel Lakes.
The warm weather has kept the larch trees brilliant in the sun. I am hiking in the valley adjacent and south of Larch Valley. Here, the larch forest is to my left and 305 m (a thousand feet) below me.
The trail I am hiking on, through Desolation Valley (named by explorer Walter Wilcox in 1893), is actually gaining elevation imperceptibly as I hike beneath 3,084 m (10,118 ft) Eiffel Peak on my right.
As the day warms up, silence is continually interrupted with the sound of tiny avalanches from the mountains on the other side of the valley. First there is a crack then a roar similar to the sound of an aeroplane. It is fascinating to watch the snow tumble down the mountain-side. 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.
The trail gradually declines in quality to become more scree laden as I approach the tiny lakes. On my right, the scramble to Wastach Pass between Eiffel and Wenkchemna Mountains is inviting. Eiffel Lakes, water levels are very low, are 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 it is just too much fun to ignore and I scramble up and over the huge rocks. Trail beyond is on scree as I begin the additional 4.1 KM (2.6 mile), in a broad loop past minor lakes and ponds in the valley, to 2,611 m (8,566 ft) Wenkchemna Pass.
‘Wenkchemna’ is the Stoney Indian word for the numeral ’10’. The current names of the 10 peaks, all visible from the Pass, in order, from Moraine Lake are: Fay, Little, Bowlen (Tonsa), Perren, Septa (peak 5), Allen, Tuzo, Deltaform, Neptauk, and on the other 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.
This range of mountain peaks forms the border between Alberta and British Columbia. 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 the Pass is riddled with ice and snow. The ‘trail’ is confused with many game trails and partially covered with up to foot of snow. I keep hearing the sound of tiny rock falls but on closer examination it 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. I make a straight scramble for the top and get shut down only once by a rift about 6 feet across and 30 feet deep. I am confident I can jump over the chasm but I am hiking solo and the risk is unjustifiable, so I retreat and locate an alternate route. A chilling breeze is coming from Wenkchemna Pass but the view into the end of Prospector’s Valley on the other side is worth the effort.
The grand views stretch west into BC’s Yoho National Park, to the barren Eagle Eyrie and the ice-field leading to Opabin Pass and Lake O’Hara.
I drop my pack at the summit cairn and scramble both sides of the Pass to take a photo of Eiffel Tower. It is worth the easy scramble to get above 2,743 m (9,000 feet) for views of the broad valley of lakes, moraines and Larch forest.
Lunch is enjoyable in the sun with shelter from the breeze in a natural rock alcove above the Pass. In early afternoon I begin the return trip by dropping straight off the 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 my pack is glorious. Thousands of years ago this entire valley was buried under 915 m (3,000 ft) of ice.
On the return drive to Calgary, I stop once near the Town of Banff for photos of Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain across the colourful Vermilion Lakes in late day sun.