A hug with my daughter at 6:00 AM is our final gesture before she gets on her flight to join family camping near Kelowna, British Columbia, and I begin my drive south from Calgary to Waterton Lakes National Park in the south-west corner of Alberta. Fields of grain and grasses glow green and golden in early morning sun, hosting hundreds of wind-driven turbines. These monster, high-tech windmills spin gracefully to harness the power of the wind and supplement the province’s electrical grid.
There is time to drive through, rather than around, the small town of Pincher Creek, in south-western Alberta, whose historic downtown seems frozen in time. The town has been an important ranching and farming hub since the late 1800′s, where prairies meet mountains. South of Pincher Creek, mountains to the west and shrouded in cloud, begin to encroach on the field of vision as I approach Waterton Lakes National Park.
After purchasing my annual National Parks Pass (now upgraded to Discovery Pass with additional access to a plethora of other Canadian attractions), I confirm my long-standing reservation at the Bear Mountain Motel, then reserve a seat on tomorrow’s Cameron Lake Shuttle with Tamarack Outdoor Outfitters. Tomorrow is one of the Waterton Lakes National Park Triple Crown and my highlight hike on this mission. I drive west from Waterton Townsite on the nearby Akamina Parkway about 15 KM (9.4 miles) to the trailhead for Akamina Pass. My choice, for this day, is to hike to Wall Lake as a warmup for tomorrow’s main event. The trailhead is in Alberta: Wall Lake is in British Columbia. The popular Wall Lake hike is listed, in the excellent My Waterton Visitor’s Guide, as a 10.4 KM (6.5 miles) round trip hike with 110 m (361 ft) of net elevation and an estimated elapsed time of 3.5 hrs. Perfect!
The trail is excellent, well-maintained and predominantly road width. The trail quickly changes to a gentle and consistent elevation gain. The trail is generally through lush forest with the occasional meadow providing views of richly colored surrounding ridges. There is a wooden bridge over a minor creek crossing and near 1.5 KM (0.94 miles) I can see the Alberta - British Columbia border marker. I will hike from Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta into Akamina-Kishinena Provincial Park in British Columbia. To my right is a concrete border marker. Another faint and deadfall-discouraged trail, not on the map, continues past the provincial boundary marker.
On the British Columbia side of the border kiosk, Forum Lake is announced. There is no mention of Wall Lake. About 0.7 KM (0.44 miles) later the trail marker post lists the branch to Forum Lake, as well as the continuance to Wall Lake and points beyond.
A short, gradual descent delivers me to the Akamina Creek Campsite which likely has an outhouse. I turn right into the pleasantly appointed backcountry campground (Self registration – minimal fee). Rustic stairs lead past the dining area and metal food cache up to attractive camp sites around and above an old, collapsed and roped-off log cabin of unknown origin and historical significance. Most importantly, there is a very fine biffy.
Back on the Akamina Pass Trail, a short distance further, a platform bridge crosses Akamina Creek and signage clearly identifies the junction heading left to Wall Lake. Two short bridges over a small cascading water creek lead to a stony, curving incline and subsequently to beautiful trail through lush forest. Elevation changes are minimal. About 2.0 KM (1.3 miles) later broad avalanche chutes to the left lead to a profusely flowered meadow as the very impressive headwall appears and the trail tracks adjacent to Wall Creek.
A wooden bridge over Wall Creek leads to, and along, the north shoreline of the pristine, alpine lake. The emerald lake exhibits its clarity at the shoreline. Along the north shore, I am hiking through incredible forest damage. Kudos to trail maintenance crews who have worked very hard to clear a path through virtually impenetrable debris. Huge trees have been uprooted or snapped apart. The force to create this level of damage would be huge. The cause is likely massive avalanche from the headwall or hurricane force winds. Often the air displacement from a huge avalanche can create a force sufficiently powerful to cause this kind of damage. The trail maintenance crews have cleared trail past the junction to Bennet Pass and a short distance beyond to the outhouse. I appreciate their effort. Beyond the biffy remains a tangle of difficult to navigate fallen and shattered lumber.
Exiting the outhouse, I witness a large spider enjoying a freshly caught meal. I reverse direction to hike east along the north shore of Wall Lake. The color and tranquility of the lake is palpable. Past the bridge, avalanche chutes down the steep slopes of Akamina Ridge are on my right. It always amazes me how the reverse of the same trail offers such a new and different perspective. It is like a whole new hike.
When I reach the trail junction to Forum Lake, I think…..Hmmm. On the other hand, I have a challenging, full-day hike tomorrow. The responsible and sensible thing to do is, call it a day, return the way I came and, hike to Forum Lake another time.
It is easy to understand why the half-day Wall Lake hike is so popular. It is a magnificent hike on excellent trail with a variety of spectacular features and vistas. I estimate gross elevation is double the published net elevation but this hike is within reach of a broad range of hikers and, in my opinion, well worthy of the time.