Fossil beds reveal ancient life in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada.
An early start, in the dark from Calgary, Alberta, is required for a morning meeting of eight participants at the muster point in Field, British Columbia. Sunrise soars behind, progressively painting the mountains orange to pink, on the drive through Banff National Park, and past the Town of Banff, Lake Louise Village, Wapta Lake and the Spiral Tunnels.
Even with contingency, arrival at the Yoho Trading Post in Field leaves little time to spare, given detours and multiple reduced speed zones for flood-damage repair along the TransCanada Highway.
The extent and dimension of flood devastation is difficult to fathom. Friend and hiking partner, Jen, has arrived just before me, on this brisk early morning.
The hike begins with an uphill walk on streets through historically rich Field where many restored buildings represent its past as a coal mining and railroad town.
Although this hike is short at only 6 KM (3⅝ miles) return, elevation gain of 780 m (2,560 ft.) makes the effort an aggressive aerobic exercise for legs and lungs.
Our very capable guide for the day is Hugh, an affable, young man who sets the perfect guides pace for a diverse group of people.
Additionally, Hugh is a Graduate in Geology which brings a dimension to the animated repertoire that makes the historical component of the experience come alive in an interesting and thought-provoking way.
The initial grade into the restricted zone is consistently moderate and warming through several forest zones. Stops are frequent for explanations of surrounding terrain.
Some sections of trail are occasionally modified as slopes slide periodically towards the valley to the left. The interpretive talks are an entertaining and interesting prelude into the formation of the mountains in this region and the reasons why the Mount Stephen Fossil Beds exist.
Occasionally, narrow breaks in the forest provide framed views of mountains surrounding Field.
As altitude is gained aggressively, the trail to the Mount Stephen Fossil Beds provides the occasional glimpse to the objective. The elevation gain is also providing spectacular views, to the northwest, of 2,599 m (8,527 ft) Mount Burgess and 2,635 m (8,645 ft) Mount Field on the opposite side of the valley above the Town of Field.
At the demarcation point between moderate and steep trail, a stop to enjoy lunch includes a fascinating presentation given by Hugh about the specific stages of the planet's development.
Apparently, the non-concentric orbit of the Earth around the Sun has a profound, slow motion effect on the climate of our planet. Additionally, there are outstanding examples of trilobite fossils to observe in preparation for subsequent arrival at the rich fossil bed.
The final segment of trail is steep. Hugh schedules frequent breaks to gather hikers and to allow time to catch the breath. A portion of this section is along the narrow top of a lateral moraine. Height is an issue for a few. The sequence, as always, is watching where to step and stopping to look around.
Another advantage, as elevation is gained aggressively, is the amazing view between Mount Burgess and Mount Field of the Emerald Glacier to the northwest on the flank of 2,696 m (8,845 ft) Michael Peak which rises above internationally famous Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada.
As forest thins on the approach to treeline, scree increases and amazing numbers of fossils appear at trail side.
Clear signage identifies the trail junction where scramblers doing a Mount Stephen summit bid hang right and the guided-only trail to the Fossil Beds proceeds left.
Note: Hiking the trail for any objective on Mount Stephen requires prior National Park approval. All activity is remotely monitored. It is illegal to remove any fossils from this World Heritage Site.
The tour begins in the Mount Stephen Fossil Beds on a clear, sunny day with breathtaking long vistas in this incredibly interesting and beautiful place.
There is a presentation which, although initially fascinating, degenerates into theoretical babble between geologists and disconnect occurs when conversation drifts to heated discussion about hypothetically, theoretical possibilities which could have occurred hundreds of millions of years ago.
When the rubber meets the sky, time is better occupied by absorbing the spectacular views, fresh air and sunshine while touring the plain of shale in search of fossils.
Occasionally a gentle breeze moderates the warmth of sun on rock. The vistas are amazing. The long lens brings the detail of the Town of Field closer.
Relaxation time is taken to enjoy the time here in this special place on a different and unique day.
Near the end of the tour, permission is received from the tour guide to make a rapid descent to Field ahead of the group for the return drive to Calgary and other commitments.
This very interesting and educational day is recommended for hikers who can do the elevation. Well-in-advance reservations are required.
This guided hike was done on July 21, 2013 with the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation.