Day 2 Healy Creek Campground – Simpson/Healy Pass – Sunshine Village Parking Lot, 17 km, 450 m Elevation Gain, 750 m Elevation Loss, 6 hr 11 min.
It rained overnight and with the late fall sunrise we were in no rush to get up. I got out of the tent just after 8 am and collected the food and set about making a hot breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. The eating area was wet so there was no where to sit to enjoy breakfast. The cool September morning combined with the all the dampness from the rain did not provide a relaxing atmosphere. We ate our breakfast as quick as we could and enjoyed our coffees while taking down the tent.
On the way back to the tent we were entertained by a ptarmigan running through the grass. Our makeshift extra fly worked great. The tent was nice a dry and the tarp being somewhat hydrophobic was quite dry after we waved it in the air a couple of times. We were packed up and ready to head out of camp at 9:30 am. It is only 7 km and 365 m of elevation gain to hike from Healy Creek Campground to Egypt Lake Campground so an early start was not necessary.
After just 400 m we came to a junction and had a choice between heading straight for Healy Pass and Egypt Lake or heading over to Simpson Pass. Without a lot of thought we both chose to explore Simpson Pass and headed left away from the main trail. It was an easy walk of about 1.5 km on soggy trail to Simpson Pass. Simpson Pass is mildly interesting if not very spectacular location. The Pass embodies the two main requirements of a mountain pass. First it connects two valleys and second it is the lowest point on a ridge. Simpson Pass is the boundary between British Columbia and Alberta and also Assiniboine Provincial Park and Banff National Park. There are not shortage of signs and markers indicating what piece of ground belongs to whom.
Simpson Pass is a bit of an odd place well below tree line but is a treeless meadow. The area around the pass is known as a frost meadow. Cold air settles down and stunts the growth of any trees sort of like a micro-climate. Simpson Pass also does not have an exit trail down Simpson Valley along the North Simpson River. The trail that was once there has overgrown with disuse. It is interesting to compare the destinations of for the water flowing off the south and north sides of the pass. The waters south from Simpson Pass and the surrounding area flow to North Simpson Creek and empty into the Simpson River which then turns westward to flow into the Kootenay Valley and joins the Vermilion River. The Vermilion River feeds the Kootenay River which is a major tributary of the Columbia River which is the largest river that empties into the Pacific Ocean. On the north side of Simpson Pass water flows down to join Healy Creek which flows into the Bow River to end up in Hudson Bay. This makes Simpson Pass part of the Continental Divide that funnels water into different major watersheds. Surprisingly at the beginning of the 1900’s the area around Simpson Pass was brimming with activity and was a major part of the local trail system. Banff legend Bill Peyto actually had a cabin at Simpson Pass. If you find a old stump that was chopped by an axe it was probably the handiwork of Bill Peyto. Now the pass is a bit of a lonely place that loses visitors to the more accessible and impressive Healy Pass.
After a quick 600 m hike from Simpson Pass we arrived at the junction for Eohippus Lake or Healy Pass. What we really wanted to do was explore the Ramparts so we turned left and headed down to Eohippus Lake. I have looked extensively online and cannot find a reason behind the naming of Eohippus Lake. Eohippus is small horse like animal that lived approximately 55 million years ago. There appears to be no connection between the animal eohippus and the area around Simpson Pass or Banff National Park. We set off towards Eohippus Lake. The trails were a little wet and greasy from the rain overnight but the skies had cleared so we had removed our rain gear before heading down the trail. The golden fall colours dominated the meadows along the creek.
The trail to Eohippus Lake parallels the Monarch Ramparts and passes by a couple of small and pretty unnamed lakes. We stopped at the larger of the lakes to look around and take in the views. The unsettled weather obstructed much of our views with clouds but in places the sun was doing its best to break though.
I no longer know why but we did not venture beyond the unnamed lakes so never make it all the way to Eiohippus Lake. We quickly hiked the one kilometer back to the junction and headed off towards Healy Pass. The meadows on the way to Healy Pass are dotted with small lakes which contrasted nicely with the golden colours of the meadows.
One of the many surprises when you hike in the backcountry is how the small the world is sometimes. While walking through Healy Meadows we came across a group running and one of the ladies was an old phys ed teacher of Emily’s.
After quick hellos we were both on our way again. We arrived at the junction to Healy Pass at 11:45 am we had covered 7 km in a little over two hours. We hung a left and headed up towards Healy Pass. The unsettled weather must have kept people away as we had the hike to pass to ourselves. We arrived at Healy Pass at 12:10 pm to find people occupying the pass. We headed slightly down the trail toward the Monarch Ramparts to find some solitude but we halted our progress when we came across a sign from Parks Canada stating that the trail was closed. We found a lovely little spot with a private view of Egypt Lake and stopped and had a long and pleasant lunch.
While eating lunch we contemplated what our next move would be. When looking out at Egypt Lake we could see the clouds rolling in. Out of the blue Emily politely asked what I thought of the idea of having burgers for dinner at the golf course back in Canmore. I immediately jumped at the idea. We packed up and hiked with some sense of purpose back to the parking lot. We arrived back at the car at 3:30 pm after a pleasant 6 hour hike.
Despite coming home early we had a great time on our little impromptu trip. I am feeling the need to go back and check out Eohippus Lake which should make for a good day trip.