The hike to Perley Rock and beyond in Glacier National Park, BC, is pure magic.
Mélanie and I will hike about 13 kilometers (8 miles) return to the 2,412 meter (7,913 ft) summit of Perley Rock at the north-east edge of the Illecillewaet Névé. Perley Rock is arguably one of the more challenging hikes in Glacier National Park and arguably one of the best and most diverse day hikes on the planet.
Perley Rock is named for H. A. Perley who managed the Glacier House Hotel which, in its day, rivaled Canadian Pacific Railway accommodation at the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise now managed by Fairmont Hotels.
Glacier House was removed in 1929. Easily accessible foundations in the valley bottom remain along the wide, flat, 1.2 KM, 1885 Abandoned Rails interpretive route between Asulkan Brook and Illecillewaet campgrounds near the Alpine Club of Canada's A. O. Wheeler Hut.
The trail begins gently through lush, cool forest, before gradually increasing in intensity over 20+ reasonable switchbacks within the first 2.4 KM (1.5 miles) until reaching the Mount Sir Donald / Perley Rock trail junction.
Along the way there are spectacular views of the valley behind and the glaciers above accompanied by the constant roar of massive waterfalls created by glacial melt on a very warm, humid day as the sun rises over surrounding mountains.
Vaux Falls from the Vaux Glacier with Mount Sir Donald looming above.
At the trail junction, the next 3.2 KMs (2 miles) are a series of 67 brutal switchbacks of varying length and intensity on steep and difficult terrain. Hiking on very steep terrain is verifiable when occupancy on one switchback provides no evidence of switchbacks below or above. Altitude gain is aggressive but the positive compensation is the awesome view of waterfalls, mountains and glaciers unfolding in escalating and magnificent splendor.
The Perley Rock hike is a visual extravaganza which allows the heart-thumping, gut-crunching hike to proceed more easily. Before crossing the bridge over Vaux Glacier Creek there is a beautiful, trail-side waterfall created by melt from the Vaux Glacier (pronounced Vox) adjacent to and above the trail.
The 3,284 m (10,774 ft) summit of Mount Sir Donald is visible above the waterfall in crystal-clear skies. The hike ascends above the tree-line through rocky terrain, where performing a short, somewhat precarious scramble, carefully crosses the top of a glacier snow slope precludes making the final rocky scramble to the summit cairn on Perley Rock.
Abbott Ridge is fully visible to the west. A short hike and bouldering exercise on top of Perley Rock provides spectacular views of the turquoise, glacial pond at the base of the north end of the massive Illecillewaet Névé. WOW!
The immediate and unanimous decision requires adding a couple of kilometers to the hike for lunch on the shore of the pond at the edge of the glacier, so the scramble off-trail from the summit begins, down and over scree, talus and huge boulders, for an hour of cool relief from the glacier before beginning the hike back via the same route used for access.
The steep down route requires careful negotiation. Sun has come around and the heat is noticeable. Waterfall volume has increased substantially. The 67 switchbacks to the trail junction would be virtually impenetrable in inclement weather. The hike is spectacular under clear skies with predominantly dry trail conditions.
Many photographs are captured throughout the long day but still photos cannot remotely do justice to the perpetually sweeping vistas. Photo credits are shared. It is commonplace for us to swap cameras. Mélanie is a skilled photographer who possesses a much better eye for form, function and detail.
Glacier National Park at Rogers Pass is a place of contrast and well-preserved, rich Canadian history about the fascinating and inspiring development of the Canadian West in the late 1800's. There are many short, flat loop interpretative trails at the edge of the TransCanada Highway which offer absorbing insight into unique, local flora and fauna. Some are wheelchair accessible. Guided tours are provided to fill in detail which might otherwise be missed.
The Rogers Pass Discovery Centre is a gold mine of information loaded with explanatory, multi-media presentations. Many trails in the park are aggressive, requiring above average physical conditioning and significant hiking experience. Sensory rewards are absolutely incredible.
Perley Rock is an aggressive hike and a phenomenal experience destined to become a life-long indelible memory.