Distance: 8 miles
Elevation gain: 2265 feet
Here’s the beginning of my catch-up trip reports for the summer, beginning with three hikes from the Canadian Rockies. I was pretty bad about completing my trip reports for my two trips last year (did I really not post any? Looks like I’m further behind than I thought!). For now, I’m starting with the last hike of the trip because it was also the last hike I did (and did not write about) on my previous trip.
A lot of the hikes I do sell themselves pretty well through pictures. Iceline is not one of them. Last year when I was doing my hike research, I noticed that many people raved about Iceline. But when I looked at photos, I saw this barren wasteland with big chunks of ice and thought, "Seriously?!" On my Cirque Peak hike, I talked to a couple who had been going hiking in the area for many years, and they said Iceline was their favorite. So on my last day in town, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. It didn’t end up being my favorite, but I did like it a lot, especially for its uniqueness. On this trip, having already done a summit hike and a lake hike, Mike and I settled on Iceline for the last day.
There are different trailheads that can be used to access this hike. We chose probably the most popular one, at the Whiskyjack Hostel. Many people park along the road, but we parked in the nearby Takkakaw Falls lot for a closer look at the massive falls before walking to the real trailhead. The falls are a popular drive-up destination.
People who love the Rockies tend to be mountain and glacier people, not forest people. A lot of trails in Washington will sit in the forest, maybe next to a babbling creek, for about two miles before starting the serious climbing. In Banff and Yoho, the beginning of the hike is switchback after switchback until you’re over the treeline. Fortunately, on this hike, there are views of Takkakaw Falls and surrounding mountains to look at as you go upwards (and Daly Glacier, which feeds the falls, quickly comes into view).
Finally, the elevation gain calms down when you hit a moraine. (A moraine is an area of debris left behind by a glacier – in this case, the entire trail is moraine) Here, the Presidential Range is right next to the trail, the glaciers are practically at trail level, and the name Iceline makes sense. It’s impossible to convey the scale and presence of these things from pictures. From a distance or from pictures, all of the debris looks pretty boring. But there’s a lot to see up close. There’s actually quite a variety of rocks, and some of it had interesting imprints. (The Burgess Shale, one of the greatest fossil fields in the world, is located in Yoho National Park.) And even though the moraine looks all rocky and barren, some flowers still manage to grow up there.
Yoho Valley, mountains (more detail)
One reason the Iceline isn’t a typical trail is that there is no destination. Not only is there no single standout sight, there isn’t even an obvious end. You can just keep on walking. The trail forks early on to head over to Yoho Pass and Emerald Lake, then forks later on to go to Lake Celeste and Laughing Falls. There are options to continue on into Little Yoho Valley and the Whaleback, and there’s even a backcountry hut out there for people to stay overnight. But most dayhikers do what we did – walk until it’s time to turn around. It seems like each section of the trail is separated by a small ridge, and when you climb over it, there’s a new surprise to see: waterfalls, a tarn, a view of a new mountain, etc.
Ground squirrel, waterfalls, panoramic views
I was surprised by how many people were hiking the trail this time (there weren’t nearly as many last year in early September). However, since there’s so much open space, it didn’t feel crowded. Hopefully this is a convincing description of the hike that makes it sound more interesting than barren wasteland! More to follow.