The Iceline is an indelibly memorable hike in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada.
A lot could be written but, quite frankly, there are insufficient words in any language which could do justice to this eastern British Columbia Rocky Mountains world class hike in Yoho National Park an hour west of Banff National Park, Alberta Canada.
The single day version of the Iceline hike is best suited to more experienced, well-equipped hikers with a robust positive attitude and a sense of humor.
This Iceline hike is a 17+ KM (10⅝ + mile) loop from Whiskey Jack to the Iceline traverse then past Celeste Lake, Little Yoho and Yoho Valley trails with net elevation differential of 710 m (2,330 ft) and gross elevation substantially higher on widely varied and often rugged trail through diverse terrain. Be prepared for all weather conditions throughout the hiking season. Note: Yoho Valley Road access is customarily available from late June to October 1. Be prepared for an emergency unplanned overnight.
The day begins with very early sunrise departure west from Calgary on the TransCanada Highway past Canmore into Banff National Park past the Town of Banff and Lake Louise, past the entrance road to Lake O'Hara, and a short distance past the Spiral Tunnels to a right turn onto the twisting and turning Yoho Valley Road.
Parking to the left of Takakkaw Falls near the campground area will look good at the end of the day.
This incredible hike begins by walking past Takakkaw Falls and the red chairs (ideal Takakkaw Falls photo) to an innocuous sign labelled 'Hiking Trails'. Follow this short trail through forest to meadow, cross Yoho Valley Road and proceed a short distance on gravel road to trail-head signage near the Whiskey Jack Hostel. There is no trail-head parking here. Impressive Whiskey Jack Falls tumbles over the ridge on the right.
Trail ascends through lush forest and shrubbery, past old wooden duct infrastructure and plank bridges over crystal-water streams about 2.6 KM (1⅝ miles) uphill over switchbacks to the right turn junction onto the Iceline trail. The left trail branch continues up and beyond to Yoho Lake. Views back to Takakkaw Falls gauge distance and elevation gain.
Switchbacks through lush greenery, fed by copious water flow from above, continue to gain elevation fairly aggressively over fascinating trail features into sub-alpine terrain where vistas begin to expand. The next signed trail junction occurs at 1.7 KM (1⅛ mile) where the Iceline trail begins surrounded by incredible scenery. At this trail junction there is also a 2.4 KM option for Yoho Lake on the old, less utilized Highline Trail. The Iceline continues to the right of the trail marker. Heavy weather is building in the distance.
Clouds approaching from the northwest darken and drop with primary direction visibly dumping fair amounts of rain into Yoho Valley. Peripheral weather at higher elevation shows up as light intermittent rain mixed with the occasional dab of tiny hail that requires a rain jacket and hood to stay warm and comfortable.
The Iceline trail rolls up and down through rocky alpine terrain uniquely beautiful in it's own austerity. Vertical bands of predominantly crushed boulder weave their way around more prominent features and form dividing lines which draw the vision towards what remains of the Emerald Glacier dome above barren rock shelves at the top of the rockfall debris. Iceline features are on the opposite side of Michael Peak @ 2,696 m (8,845 ft), the Vice President @ 3,063 m (10,492 ft) and the President @ 3,124 m (10,249 ft) from the side being enjoyed by the folks at or near Emerald Lake or roaming around in Emerald Basin.
Near the beginning there is no glacial ice on the rock shelves above but one pivotal curve in the trail opens a dramatic and spell-binding view of the Iceline in all it's spectacular splendor. Always an indelible memory when it happens.
Clouds that have dumped their rain in the valley are lifting but new activity is forming up in the west. A nearby, trail-adjacent Inukshuk is chosen to host lunch beside white water coursing into the valley from glacier melt just a short distance above. The din of multiple waterfalls on the rock shelves compete with nearby creeks and shallow breeze to create a symphony of background sound.
For those who have never enjoyed proximity to glacial ice thousands of years old, a short off-trail hike and easy scramble provides the opportunity to become up close and personal with remaining ice. Alternatively the hike continues on rocky trail in close proximity to creeks, waterfalls and the emerald water of tarns along the route parallel to the rock ledges beneath the glacial remnants. The trail crosses sections of slab rock polished smooth from powerful glacial grinding back and forth across the surface.
Takakkaw Falls, on the far side of Yoho Valley, gauges distance and elevation differential. Angle of vision across Yoho Valley is beginning to more fully reveal the toe of the Daly Glacier extending from the massive Waputik Icefield and providing the copious water flow which becomes and is Takakkaw Falls.
The long lens captures hiking companions on their final approach to examine glacial features as the main trail passes emerald tarns in a jungle of rushing water over solid rock.
A clear trail spur heads right towards Yoho Valley and ascends a short narrow ridge to the spectacular viewpoint which provides sweeping vistas over the valley and far side mountains embracing the Waputik Icefield with Daly Glacier feeding Takakkaw Falls.
Continuing through the stark terrain on the Iceline trail passes the icy remnants of the Emerald Glacier until a sub-alpine meadow to the right and below reveals itself. The features of this large isolated meadow are so meticulous the apparition seems too perfect to be real.
The parade of glacial features continues along the rock ledges with multiple streams channeling the melt water into Yoho Valley. Occasionally water is temporarily collected in pristine aquamarine tarns which appear, like the meadow, too perfect to be real. Still water creates reflective images of the ice beyond them. The soft images compete with hard rock in the ongoing battle for attention. The eye has too many ways to interpret the scenes and the camera captures tiny components with the unrealistic expectation that some meaningful presentation might accidentally occur. There is no alternative to being present and accounted for.
There is an opportunity to capture a long lens photo of the Daly Glacier extending from the Waputik Icefield on the far side of the valley, just prior to arrival at the junction with Celeste Lake Trail along the Iceline Trail.
The Celeste Lake Trail will truncate experiencing the entire Icleine but will allow this long day hike to be manageable without the need for overnight accommodation at Little Yoho Campground and/or Stanley Mitchell Hut (ACC), Twin Falls Chalet, Twin Falls Campground or Laughing Falls Campground. Reference to the Lake Louise and Yoho Gemtrek Topo Map will clarify the immensity and distances within the entire experience available above the end of Yoho Valley in Yoho National Park.
The good quality, rocky, Celeste Lake Trail meanders past huge rockfall with views of distant glaciers on the relatively gentle descent towards pristine meadow and a plank bridge over crystal water into increasingly dense evergreen forest. Descent angles become more aggressive through the recently dampened forest and shrubbery on typical BC rocky and root-laden trail with muddy patches. Tough, quality footwear is important to reduce the risk of injury. The forest aroma is magnificent and arrival at pristine and rustic Celeste Lake requires more time than expected.
Celeste Lake is a quiet, spiritual oasis suspended in the middle of nowhere. Tiny bays and connecting channels punctuate dense and dark evergreen forest laced with brilliant green shrubbery accented by wild flowers. Passing the larger than expected lake features a variety of rugged trail mixed with swift passage through very civilized and rectangular, flat gravel sections protected by log borders.
Further descent along the Celeste Lake trail reveals a smaller, more gentle, emerald tarn of shallow water with diverse wetland borders. The features seem too perfect to be real. The silence of still water is deafening while pristine beauty is absorbing and overwhelms the senses.
Forward progress is reluctant but necessary as the descent continues for eventual arrival at the short and deceivingly solid bridge crossing the canyon containing the pounding emerald-white water of the Little Yoho River rapidly proceeding downhill towards Laughing Falls and the inevitable merge with the mighty Yoho River coursing through Yoho Valley to meet Kicking Horse River and eventually the Pacific Ocean.
Aggressive descent continues on the muddy, root-laden and rocky Little Yoho Valley Trail past mossy borders and over plank bridges within increasingly aromatic surroundings amplified by recent rain. Trail direction has morphed towards heading back to Takakkaw Falls but a stop for photographs is virtually mandatory at canyon encased Laughing Falls near the confluence of the Little Yoho River with the Yoho River. And, there are outhouse facilities at the Laughing Falls Campground prior to beginning the final loop leg home.
Laughing Falls near the confluence of Little Yoho River with Yoho River
The 4.4 KM (2¾ mile) lush Yoho Valley Trail, which tracks nearby Yoho River is predominantly flat with periodic descents as the Yoho River crashes in descent through hidden canyons. The first in a series of convenient scenic features within surrounding mountain, river and forest grandeur is a short diversion into Duchesnay Lake. Rock hopping reduces the possibility of disappearing into mud but the spectacular views surrounding the lake in all directions are worth the time.
From Duchesnay Lake the Yoho Valley Trail continues along a relatively straight course with minor occasional descent to an important intersection. The attractions here are close by, clearly signed and worth the time to pursue. One direction leads through dense shrubbery on good trail to Point Lace Falls. The other direction is a short walk through forest to the edge of Yoho River for views of Angel's Staircase tumbling down the far side of Yoho Valley.
All that remains is the hike back to Takakkaw Falls on flat, wide, high quality scenic trail adjacent to the milky, emerald waters and soothing sound of the fast-flowing Yoho River. The final stretch features a wooden boardwalk stretch across a wide stony drainage with ever expanding views of Takakkaw Falls and the short hike through the busy Takakkaw Falls Camprground.
The Iceline in Yoho National Park is a classic hike which deserves participation at least once in a lifetime. Forward planning and reservations for very limited overnight accommodation will allow appreciation of spectacular features on the Whaleback Trail (the seasonal bridge must be in), the majesty of Twin Falls, the rugged talus Marpole Connector and massive glaciers surrounding the end of Yoho Valley.
Additional adventures in small but spectacular Yoho National Park, British Columbia can be discovered by selecting this link 10 Great Hikes in Yoho National Park.
Having had the privilege of experiencing both, the substantially different Yoho Valley competes very favorably with the incredibly impressive features of Yosemite Valley in California, USA. And, Yoho is still wild. Catch it while you can.
Photos for this spectacular, approximately 18 KM loop are captured within a broad range of elevation and terrain on Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in the company of friends Elizabeth and Justin.