Carthew-Alderson is part of the triple crown in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The Carthew-Alderson Trail is one of Waterton Lakes National Park's Triple Crown. The world-class hike is listed in the 'My Waterton National Park Visitor Guide' as an 8 hour, 20.1 KM (12½ mile) one way trek with altitude gain of 650 m (2,132 ft) so, not a season opener.
The hike is between the north end of Cameron Lake, at the end of the Akamina Parkway, and Cameron Falls in Waterton Village.
Many people make a reservation with Tamarack Outdoor Outfitters, for a spot on the early morning shuttle bus, providing transportation to Cameron Lake at elevation of 1,660 m (5,446 ft). Waterton Village is at an altitude of 1,280 m (4,200 ft).
There are 32 hikers and a dog on the shuttle this day. A short time will be allocated to relax at incredibly beautiful Cameron Lake to avoid the crowd on the trail. The surface of the lake is steaming in the chill of the morning.
Carthew-Alderson trail-head is east of the exhibits along a wide, paved path, between the park office/snack shop and the well-equipped boat rental facility, over a sturdy, wooden bridge crossing Cameron Creek and then to a right turn past trail-head signage onto excellent, flat, wide trail. The trail is named Alderson-Carthew at both ends on each Parks Canada sign. They should know. More about this later.
Just past exhibits, boat rentals and the park office/snack shop, a bridge over Cameron Creek leads to the Carthew-Alderson trail-head.
A portion of the 400 m (¼ mile) trail south, along the east side of Cameron Lake, is partially on wide boardwalk, before an abrupt left turn onto consistent and reasonably graded switchbacks for the ascent through dense forest with occasional glimpses of Cameron Lake below. The forest is lush, green and cool in the morning as surface shrubbery shares saturated space with old-growth, sub-alpine fir trees.
There is the constant sound of running water as tiny creeks run under, and occasionally over, the trail, feeding the lush, dense and aromatic forest. Frequently at trail-side, an alcove resembling a sanctuary for offerings hosts a tiny, trickling waterfall over rocks surrounded by greenery. Each is unique, beautiful and visually/audibly captivating.
The long, sweeping switchbacks through dense forest eventually transition to relatively flat trail in more open forest and meadow. Easy hiking through copious wildflowers and hints of mountain vista lead to the trail junction at pristine Summit Lake, 4.3 KM (2¾ miles) from the trail-head at Cameron Lake.
This hike will continue straight through for a short distance on the Summit Trail to another unique view of delicate Summit Lake. Curiosity drives the hike a short distance further east towards Boundary Trail, which culminates at Boundary Bay on Upper Waterton Lake in the United States.
The reward is an amazing view of Lake Wurdeman nestled below the steep and formidable cliffs of 2,867 m (9,406 ft) Chapman Peak in Glacier National Park, Montana. Multiple waterfalls drop thousands of feet and soon the hike arrives at an acoustic sweet spot featuring the roar of thousands of tons of falling water amplified by surrounding mountain walls and reverberating toward this special location.
The main challenging hike demands a return from this short diversion to the Summit Lake junction for the continuation of the Carthew-Alderson hike.
The Carthew-Alderson trail gains elevation consistently through forest on good, and periodically, rocky trail. There are edgy sections with a view to the valley below on the right. Within a kilometer (⅝ miles), views of the trail ahead, along the slope beneath 2,630 m (8,629 ft) Mount Carthew, begin to open up. The trail ahead is below a ridge joining the summit of Mount Carthew with an outlying high point called Carthew Summit at an altitude of 2,311 m (7,582 ft).
Carthew Summit will be the maximum elevation achieved on the Carthew-Alderson hike. The initial views of the scree based trail are both intimidating and awe-inspiring. The anticipation of spectacular mountain views is overwhelming. This section of the route is going to be one impressive event.
There are a few people resting on the dual pinnacles at the top of Carthew Summit. To capture the all around view, two short videos are taken. The first is south, to predominantly west, and ending to the north towards Mount Carthew's summit.
The second video requires a minor change of location for a sweep from north, to east, to south. It is the best that can be done under the crowded circumstances while standing on an exposed and relatively small piece of real estate.
On the retreat from Carthew Summit, there is an opportunity to conceal a summit stone in a crevice close to trail-side for another wanderer to discover and potentially appreciate.
From Carthew Summit the hike returns north on the ridge top towards the summit of Mount Carthew. Massive vistas on either side provide starkly different and spectacular views while a slight breeze takes the edge off the hot, humid day. More people are justifiably loitering in this area, perhaps to rest, but more likely to absorb the incredible ambiance.
The hike continues on the ridge top past the main trail descent to admire the tenacity of unique and beautiful plant life, struggling to survive in the arid, windswept, scree terrain. Some of these fragile plants may require more than twenty, brief, growing seasons to issue first bloom. Where feet land is closely monitored. They will never touch a plant in this incredibly challenging terrain.
The chain of Carthew Lakes begins to peek through the valley to the right (east). On the approach to the summit of Mount Carthew, the trail branches right and descends the slope steeply as Carthew Lakes begin to command full view. Wow!
The hike continues down a steep scree, alternative trail to rejoin the main trail. Carthew Lakes stretch out directly ahead.
At the northwest corner of Upper Carthew Lake, a very brief and easy scramble traverses a rocky, cascading waterfall where melt, from the large snow field above, drains under and through a snow bridge into the lake. The curl right to the southwest shore is achieved on tenuous footing over another snow field which leads to a wildflower emblazoned trail, at the edge of the shoreline, all the way around to the north shore, where the trail enters a brief section of low forest hosting the rise over rock to open ground before dropping on steeper trail to a magnificent, pristine waterfall. It is here water bottles will be reloaded using the Katadyne filter.
The trail approaches Lower Carthew Lake at only one short section which is not particularly photogenic due to close proximity. Lower Carthew Lake altitude is 2,160 m (7,087 ft). The trail past the lower lake passes delicate waterfalls cascading through broken rock before beginning an impressive, edgy and steep descent on rugged trail beneath massive snow fields clinging to the upper walls of 2,409 m (7,903 ft) Buchanan Peak.
Surrounding mountains define the borders of the impressive bowl. The view, as the hike proceeds over a wide variety of terrain, is breathtaking. Several off-trail opportunities are taken for photographs.
The trail winds it way down into the impressive bowl as surrounding mountains gain increasing presence. To the right, a tall waterfall tumbles down a steep rock face, fed by water from Carthew Lakes, now far above and behind.
A steep scree descent on switchbacks presents new views of Alderson Lake below and an off trail jaunt is executed, for better angle of the tiers of waterfalls leading from Carthew Lakes above into pristine, mesmerizing and emerald Alderson Lake, now a short hike through forest below.
Alderson Lake appears below at the bottom of the bowl. The emerald lake is mountain bound by the steep cliffs of 2,692 m (8,832 ft) Mount Alderson. The camera lens is not wide enough to take in the entire scene. Standing here for a bit and taking in this incredible view is recommended. The lake is overwhelmingly beautiful.
The emerald color of shallow water in Alderson Lake is complemented by the vibrant royal blue of deep sections. The lake is stocked with fish and Alderson Lake Campground rests on the north shore, a 6.5 KM (4⅛ mile) hike from Waterton Village.
From the open, rock landscape of the bowl, the hike plunges into descent through dense forest for arrival at the trail junction to Alderson Lake Campground. It is only 300 m (¼ miles) into the wilderness campground and curiosity wins the debate over tiring feet and it is time for refreshment anyway. Entry to the campground is greeted by an excellent outhouse.
Tent pads are well maintained and one is chosen to enjoy nourishment. Nutrition, for this long day hike, on a hot day, comes primarily from in the form of Electrolyte and Chomps, Honey Stinger Bars, Clif Bars and Boost. These products make it easy to carry a lot of nutrition in a small space without risk from spoilage or contamination. From past experience hiking in the desert, this works well. It is a short walk to the beauty of Alderson Lake where water is replenished and mixed up with electrolyte using Nuun tablets for the final stage of the hike.
After a satisfying rest, meal and water replenishment at Alderson Lake, the hike continues the short distance back to the Carthew-Alderson trail junction to begin the final 6.5 KM (4⅛ mile) trek to official trail ending at Cameron Falls in Waterton Village.
This final section is predominantly on excellent trail through forest on a gradual decline with an occasional switchback to buffer the steeper descents. The forest opens up into small meadows periodically to provide outstanding views of surrounding mountains.
There are large and fascinating features along the trail. The view, first of the Akamina Parkway on the opposite side of the deep valley, and then of Vimy Peak rising above Waterton Lake is a welcome sight that signifies nearing the end of the trail, and the end of a long, spectacular hiking day.
The fenced section of trail, above rushing Cameron Creek below, reveals the concrete remains of retaining walls, lumber guards and derelict, concrete structures with large rusty hatches which were once used to provide Waterton Village with their water supply.
The hike ends officially at Cameron Falls. There is another kilometer (⅝ mile) to hike to the Bear Mountain Motel which coincidentally is adjacent to Tamarack Outdoor Outfitters where this Carthew-Alderson experience began nearly 10 hours earlier. The shower looks good and the ginger-glazed salmon steak dinner at Zum's Eatery looks better. Tired. Straight to bed. Exciting plans for tomorrow.
The official, and correct name, of the hike is arguably the Alderson-Carthew Trail. There is evidence the one-way hike is called Carthew-Alderson when executed from Cameron Lake to Cameron Falls, and Alderson-Carthew when the one-way hike is done from Cameron Falls in Waterton Village to completion at Cameron Lake.
Parks Canada calls it Alderson-Carthew. Gem Trek Maps names it Carthew-Alderson. Hiking guides do not agree. There seems to be great confusion. The only important measurement is the nature of the amazing hike. Elevation statistics differ between reference sources and this could be attributed to variance between net and gross elevation.
If you draw a large check mark (√) on a piece of paper, then rotate the paper 180 degrees so the check mark is upside down, it will be similar to the profile of the Carthew-Alderson hike where the short stroke represents the steeper profile of the Cameron Lake to Carthew Summit ascent component, and the longer stroke of the check mark represents the more gentle descent from Carthew Summit to Cameron Falls.
Altitudes are as follows: Cameron Lake - 1,660 m (5,446 ft) Carthew Summit - 2,311 m (7,582 ft) Waterton Village - 1,280 m ( 4,200 ft), so net elevation gain is 651 m (2,136 ft) and net elevation loss is 1,031 m (3,382 ft).
Net elevation is nearly the same as gross elevation. The trail is predominantly all up, or all down, with little variance. Estimated gross elevation is no greater than 2% of net. The hike profile would indicate the ascent from Cameron Falls would be longer, larger and more gentle, with a steeper and shorter descent to Cameron Lake, so the easiest way to do the hike may be from Cameron Lake to Cameron Waterfall in Waterton Village.
Whatever way you look at it, the Carthew-Alderson hike is one spectacular experience. This hike can be added to Crypt Lake which leaves only one hike remaining to complete the Triple Crown. Not all local residents agree on the three hikes which make up the Waterton Lakes National Park Triple Crown. At least one, very knowledgeable person suggests Lineham Ridge is a more than worthy candidate. This will soon be discovered.