Day 1 Front Door to Stenton Lake, 18.5 km, 1319 m Elevation Gain, 385 m Elevation Loss, 8 hrs 20 min.
Volcano was a very keen hiker and had got excited when she recognized my backpack. I felt that the hike would not be appropriate for Volcano, too rough and too much elevation. I tried to fool Volcano by putting my backpack into the garage. When Emily arrived we left through the garage not wearing any backpacks. Laura told me when I got home the next day that Volcano was not fooled. She stared at the garage door for a long time waiting for me.
I cooked Emily and I both up a good breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit and after giving the dogs a quick walk we headed on our way. We left the house at about 9:13 am and headed up the street. It is just over of walking on the sidewalk to reach the parking lot at Cougar Creek. It was another km of walking on relatively good trail that brought us the Cougar Creek Debri fence. The fence was constructed after the flood of 2013. One of the causes of the flood was the large amounts of rock and gravel that the creek brought down and filled in the creek bed causing the water to overflow. The fence is designed to hold the debri (rocks) back and prevent the infilling of the creek.
Once past the fence we would spend the next 2 hrs 15 min walking about 7.3 km Cougar Creek. There was no trail just a gravelly rocky creek bed. For the first little while we past climbers on the canyon walls but very soon we would be on our own.
It took an 1 hr 10 min to reach Canada Forks, a junction of two creeks, we followed the left fork. The creek got progressively more rugged and the boulders larger.
The valley soon widened and the creek became a wide gravel bed. Walking is straightforward but good ankle flexibility on the rocks helped.
Once we found the junction with the valley we needed to hike up we found a shade spot in some trees and took a 20 minute break. We had been hiking for 2 hrs 15 min and covered approximately 9.5 km. We did not know it but our hiking pace was to drastically slow down.
We able to follow a path through the trees away from the main stem of Cougar Creek for a short time before being forced back the stream bed. We thought it was rough before but the initial part of the side stream was even rougher.
By carefully scouting the sides of the stream we were able to find some of the original trail. As time went on we got better at finding sections of trail which made the hiking much easier than in the stream bed.
My interest in geology always creeps in while hiking. Cannot help but wonder what causes some the features in the rock.
We hiked up to to a limestone tower that was a way point in Gillian Dafferin’s book. We took a rest beside small freshwater pool. We had covered 1.5 km in just under an hour.
After a 15 minute break we headed back up the creek. The large rocks and boulders disappeared as we hiked up but the creek was now full of water making for numerous water crossings.
One of the passages we read in Gillian Dafferin’s book was that we will be faced with obstacles but when approached they will “resolve themselves”. We came across a waterfall and a steep sided canyon. A faint trail led up a steep slope requiring some scrambling. I went first.
Ten minutes after this waterfall we become hopelessly stuck. We had come to a junction with a smaller creek flowing from the south. Continuing to go upstream was impossible due to vegetation crowding the creek. We could see no way to continue to follow the creek so we hiked straight uphill to gain a better view of our situation. As we climbed directly up the slope the ridge that we believed we were trying to get to came into view. As we gained more elevation the trees thinned out somewhat and we decided we would attempt to follow the direction of the creek but hiking through the trees. We used our view of the ridgeline and the Viewranger App to keep ourselves heading in the right direction. We stopped for a 10 minute break for snacks in a small clearing.
After clearing the trees we followed the drainage straight up the hill to Cougar Col. Our stream that we had been following had dried up. We arrived at Cougar Col at 3:20 pm, 6 hrs and a distance of 14.7 km. To think we had completed the first 9.4 km in just 2 hrs 15 min. It had taken us 3 hrs 45 min to hike just 5.3 km. Being high on Cougar Col was spectacular and was only a taste of the views that we would be getting as we followed the ridge up over the high point and onto Stenton Lake.
There was no distinct trail up the ridge. So we just started heading up. After about 20 minutes a faint trail appeared where there was a discolouration in the rocks and the lichen.
It was an amazing walk up the ridge. The footing was somewhat unstable but we made good time. Just prior to the high point we came across a marker indicating the boundary of Banff NP. As we rose up and over the 2600 m (8600 ft) elevation level, we gained views far and wide that to the South-East includes Mt Assiniboine. The expansive views that were on offer in all directions made all the memories of all hard work melt away.
We did not actually go over the peak but once passing over the flat area where two ridges met we cut across to the left of the peak.
We went over the high point for the day, 2645 m (8815 ft) and side slopped through a break in the cliff. I had not done much high elevation hiking or scrambling in many years and remember being quite nervous about the down slope that lead to a cliff below us. On the way back the next I walked this section with no issues. There really was not a great deal of risk or exposure but we sure were a long way up. As we started to head down the ridge on the far side we came across a group of mountain sheep grazing on the meager vegetation growing between the rocks.\
Many people have seen pictures of Mt Rundle, a mountain that runs 18 km from Canmore to Banff. An interesting exercise is to compare the rock layers of Mt Rundle to those in the picture above on our way to Stenton Lake. On Mt Rundle the Livingston Formation is the topmost layer forming vertical cliffs, with the Exshaw and Banff Formations forming the slopes below and the Palliser Formation making the lower cliffs. The youngest rock layer is on top, so the Livingston Formation is the youngest layer on Mt Rundle. In our hike to Stenton Lake, the Livingston was the oldest rock layer (see picture above). So all those rock layers in the photo above on the way to to Stenton Lake have been eroded off of Mt Rundle. Another thing to think about is those layers that are at such elevation on Mt Rundle, all lie below on feet on the way to Stenton Lake.
The trail was quite steep heading down to the little ridge that would take us to Stenton Lake. There was a cliff band to negotiate but an obvious trail had been well worn into the cliff. We hiked long the ridge and came to our first views of Stenton Lake, it was 4:55 pm.
The trail started to head uphill towards a little peak on the ridge above the lake. Emily and I decided that we did not want to hike uphill anymore with the lake just there below us so we headed down towards the lake picking our way through the boulder field. It was quite steep but fun.
Once off the rocks and onto the vegetated slope it was just over 10 minutes to walk around the end of the lake and to where would set up the tent. It was just after 5:30 pm when we dropped our packs, 8hrs 20 min since we set off. Emily set up the tent while I took photos. Then we filled our air mattresses and got the inside of the tent set up. We started on dinner about 6:15 pm. We sat in the warmth of the setting sun drinking a cold refreshing beer that I had a brought to celebrate our adventure.
After dinner we went and explored around the lake. You can continue to hike west to join up with a trail that will take you east to the South Ghost River or west to Carrot Creek and Lake Minnewanka. We made a desperate attempt to do a bear hang. Unfortunately we could not find a tree more than about 10 ft high. While our food would not have been safe from a bear at least it was quite a ways away from us. If I was to go back to Stenton Lake I would be taking a Bear Canister with me. Once back at camp we took some personal time to reflect. Emily journalled while sitting on a rock and snapped one of my favourite photos of her.
The skies were very clear when we headed to bed at about 8:30 pm. The plan was to get up around 2 am and look at the stars. I was not overly hopeful of good skies since Canmore and Banff are sources of light pollution that are nearby but never hurts to get up and check out the night sky.