Crypt Lake is a challenging Triple Crown classic hike in Waterton Lakes National Park.
This moderately difficult hike has something for everyone; hikers, scramblers, spelunkers, trapeze artists.
The hike begins with an early morning, 20-minute boat ride from the Waterton Village Marina to Crypt Landing on the opposite side of Upper Waterton Lake. The cruise on the Miss Waterton, with 50+ other excited passengers, passes the prominent and historic Prince of Wales Hotel, perched on the bluff above the north side of Emerald Bay.
The boat drops us off at Crypt Landing on the east shore of Upper Waterton Lake about a quarter of the distance down the lake, south of Waterton Village.
The hike to Crypt Lake hike is 8.7 KM (5⅜ miles) one way with an elevation gain of 695 meters (2,300 ft) to a maximum elevation of 1,981 meters (6,500 ft). Values are approximate: No two references agree. There is elevation loss as well, so gross elevation is higher.
After the initial crowd moves on hike begins on good, flat trail along and above the shoreline of Upper Waterton Lake. Soon the trail begins climbing on well-graded switchbacks over good, forest trail. The clean, fresh smell of the forest is overwhelming as we pass the left fork trail to Hellroaring Falls.
The Hellroaring Falls trail may be considered as an alternative descent route but this trail is not a wise choice for the ascent hike.
Excellent views of Upper Waterton Lake unfold as switchbacks climb and periodically leave the forest onto open ground. As the trail straightens and levels following the initial set of switchbacks, a welcome pause is taken to enjoy the short detour to Twin Falls at the 3.5 KM (2¼ mile) mark of the hike to Crypt Lake.
As the trail leaves the forest and becomes more rocky, impressive Burnt Rock Falls appears and occupies the attention on the steeper and rocky trail approach.
The steepness of the trail increases substantially for the next 2 KM (1¹⁄₃ miles) on rocky and uneven surface but primary attention is constantly consumed by the beauty unfolding around the journey.
Snow bridges beside our trail contrast with the sheer walls towering above us on the opposite side of Hellroaring Creek Valley within a visual and audible cornucopia. In the distance, Crypt Falls creates white water lace on a 152 meter (500 ft) drop from the forested precipice between Vimy Ridge and Mount Boswell.
A shallow, emerald, alpine pond fed by Crypt Falls, so stunningly beautiful it takes the breath away, appears beneath.
Next, the adventure component of the hike begins with a creek crossing.
Very soon a short forested section wraps around towards another rocky section. A narrow rock ledge, tapered nicely away from the free fall to the right, leads to a metal ladder, firmly bolted to the rock wall, which will provide entry into the 20 meter (65 foot) long tunnel through the rock.
The light can be seen at the other end of the tunnel. Navigating the tunnel requires a variety of movements to squeeze the body plus backpack through the narrow, irregularly shaped but relatively straight channel. Sometimes easy; sometimes a squeeze.
The exit from the tunnel is an interesting experience. First, there is a brief scramble down to a rock ledge with a 200 meter (656 ft) drop-off. Next comes a slanted rock scramble up a ledge to a cable assist anchored into the stone but it is still a bit of a rush with fatal exposure adjacent. Risk is minimal but focus is important.
The final segment of the trail to Crypt Lake is a flat, fair-quality trail through forest and welcome relief from the adventure zone. There is substantial snow remaining in the forest and there are a few wet spots along the trail. Many rock formations are uniquely shaped and the hike continues up over ridges of pure white stone with very interesting glacial wear patterns.
Crypt Lake fills the entire bowl and a few lingering icebergs float on the surface of crystal clear, emerald water. Large, lingering, banks of snow cling to the cliffs around the shoreline.
At least two hikers have chosen to do the hike around the shoreline of Crypt Lake. It is an international walk because the mountains on the south are actually on the other side of the border in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA.
The reverse hike is a different but equally spectacular experience. The down scramble with the cable assist is more exciting because the exposure enters the field of vision. It is always easier to scramble up than down. The tunnel is relatively the same but the ladder is a bit more challenging and it is good to get feet back on terra firma.
The view from the rock ridge, of the expanse of Hellroaring Creek Valley, is equally spectacular. The sun has come around and the valley has warmed up substantially. The pace will be kept as quick as possible to reduce exposure to hypothermia.
On a similar, subsequent mission it would be wise to carry a filtered water bottle.
After passing Crypt Falls and the emerald lake at its base, Burnt Rock Falls and Twin Falls the junction to Hellroaring Falls requires a decision. This route past Hellroaring Falls will be used for the return but is not recommended.
Back on the main trail, arrival at Crypt Landing occurs with 20 minutes to spare prior to departure on the final 5:30 PM return trip to Waterton Village. The day has been an amazing experience which deliberately and successfully attempted to avoid the crowd, to spend quality time together and to take the time to thoroughly enjoy the special hiking experience. The nine-hour round trip can be done more quickly. This hike has been a rugged physical day.
Collectively, over 250 photos were taken and it has been a challenge to reduce them to the few shown here to be representative of the experience.
The Prince of Wales Hotel landmark on the boat ride home represents a welcoming beacon at the end of o log physical day. The boat crew is doing a brisk business selling bottles of water and cold treats. The price is of no consequence.