Day 1 Moose Meadows Parking Lot to Luellen Lake Campground, 17.4 km, 600 m Elevation Gain, 110 m Elevation Loss, 5 hrs 28 min.Note, I forgot to turn off the Viewranger, so it kept tracking while we were in camp, time for the hike was as stated above.
The hike started on the last day I was teaching summer school, all the students finished their exams early, so Ken was able to pick me up at 1:30 pm, and we were able to hit the trail at 2:00 pm, under very threatening skies.
We headed up the Moose Meadows trail, it is 6 km to the Ink Pots, a popular Banff NP destination. For most of the journey, the trail is very wide, and lightly trafficked. Most people will be hiking the very pretty Johnston Canyon trail. We have both been up Johnston Canyon numerous times, so it was more important to travel quickly and avoid the summer hiking crowds, than take in the pretty views. The Moose Meadows trail is very good and solid except for a short section where it cuts through a swamp. We arrived at the junction with the Johnston Canyon trail after 3 km, 150 m of elevation gain and 50 minutes of hiking.
The trail becomes wide and the hiking is smooth as we ascended quickly up the steepest section for the day. We arrived 20 minutes later at the top, 310 m above the parking lot, before descending 100 m over the next 1.5 km to the Ink Pots. It was on the downhill section to the Ink Pots, that we had to stop and put on our rain gear. We passed many people hiking the other way, heading back to their cars trying to escape the rain.
We arrived at the Ink Pots 1 hr 35 min after leaving the parking lot. Due to the rain, what was normally a busy area was very deserted but there were a few brave people who had stayed. We sped by the Ink Pots, as this was only about 1/3 distance we had to travel and the rain was coming down a bit harder.
Shortly after crossing the bridge at the end of the meadow, we passed two women and their dog heading towards the parking lot. They had just competed the hike we were starting, but in the opposite direction. After hiking for three days in the rain and snow, they had decided to skip staying at Larry’s Camp Campground, and head for Banff for “burgers and beer”. They were very upbeat despite the difficult conditions that they had faced, maybe it was the prospect of beer, but I was a little put off by the prospect of snow.
We arrived at Larry’s Camp Campground at 4:25 pm, a distance of 7.4 km, 2hrs and 25 min after we left the parking lot. There were people staying in the campground. We met a couple from North Carolina, who were headed for Johnston Creek Campground. We would see them again tomorrow.
The trail deteriorated quickly as we left the campground. The trail became deep, narrow and muddy. With all the rain this year the vegetation was thick and lush, in places the grasses and shrubs were over hanging the trail. Pushing through the wet vegetation had a way of helping to soak you even worse than the rain. I have heard other hikers to describe this as hiking through a “car wash”
I was beginning to wonder about my choice of footwear. I was hiking in non waterproof hiking shoes. The theory being that I have never had ankle issues when carrying large loads, so why do I need the extra support and weight of boots. Not being water proof, means if the shoes get wet, they will dry quicker. Once water proof boots get wet, they can take forever to dry. As I hiked through the mud and the water, I was wondering if my feet would ever be dry on this trip.
We came to a gate across the trail, you are asked to close it after you pass through. The gate is for horses, one of the reasons why the trail is a bit rough. Parks Canada Wardens use horses in the backcountry and apparently there is a Warden Patrol Cabin nearby. There was a nice creek on the other side of the gate, so despite the rain I stopped and took pictures. I think the rain was relatively light at this time.
The light drizzle stayed with us, as the clouds rose a little to reveal some of the surrounding mountains. The trail was wide and in good shape and we made good time. Then suddenly, at about the 10.5 km point, there was a sign directing us away from the main trail, to a newly constructed trail higher up the slope. There is obviously some serious damage to the main trail, probably caused by flooding and instead of repairing the damage, Parks Canada had rerouted the trail.
The new trail was narrow, on soft dirt, and had many short ups and downs. I did slip coming down a short drop, definitely needed to pay more attention than on the main trail. Looking back when we rejoined the main trail, we were not able to see any reason for the diversion, but Parks Canada had made it quite obvious you were not suppose to use the original trail. The diversion off the main trail took about 20 minutes.
The trail conditions deteriorated somewhat over the next several kilometers, with plenty of rocks and roots mixed in with the mud, and a very washed out stream.
I was beginning to wonder when we would come to the intersection for the Luellen Lake Campground. I checked Viewranger on my tablet and noticed that we had apparently passed the intersection. I did not panic, and think we had missed it, as I had run into this before. Sometimes the trails marked on the app are not 100% accurate, intersections and campgrounds can be incorrectly marked by up to 1 km. This does not defeat the purpose of using a tracking app, as I have found the GPS coordinates displayed by the Viewranger app to 100% accurate when checked to a map.
Ken had a new hiking app on his phone, and was quite keen on it. I asked him to check his app and see how far it was to the junction. Ken was shocked when his app also showed that we had passed the junction. We both agreed that there was no way we missed the junction, so I suggested that we give it 5 minutes before considering backtracking. I was pretty confident that we had not missed the junction. It was less than a minute later we came to the well marked (thanks Parks Canada) junction to Luellen Lake . It had been 5 hrs 10 minutes since we left the car, a distance of 16.4 km.
A short hike brought us to a bridge over Johnston Creek, it was then another 1 km and 90 m of elevation brought us up to Luellen Lake. We passed by Johnston Creek Campsite, it was off in the woods, so we did not stop to investigate it. We arrived at Luellen Lake at 7:28 pm.
The campground only had a few spots left, we took one at the far edge, near some trees so that Ken could rig up some tarps. Ken is the King of Tarps, always a good thing when its raining. Once we had the tarps set up, we laid a groundsheet (thanks Ken) and quickly set up the tent. Was now time for dinner. We went and made dinner and stored our food in the newly erected bear lockers. It was late, there was not much else to do but go to bed. At some point I told Ken, that I would be keen to hike to Badger Pass Junction Campground in the morning, a distance of about 7 km, but if it was raining on the morning of day 3, I would be walking back to Moose Meadows. I was not overly excited about spending the entire trip hiking in the rain.
I vainly put my shoes outside to dry. We took advantage of every hanging position possible under the tarp to place our wet rain gear in the hope that it would dry overnight. I was so happy to take off my wet socks and get into dry socks. Once into my -9 C sleeping bag, I was toasty and warm, and slept a solid night to relaxing sound of rain landing on the tarp. Here’s hoping tomorrow would be drier.