August 17th, Egypt Lake CG to Floe Lake Campground, 30.1 km, 1576 m elevation gain, 1538 m elevation loss, 12 hrs 5 min (all distances and elevation are as per the guide book), Section C Segment 18 and 19.
This was going to be a big day. Not only was it our longest day with the most elevation gain and loss, but we had a resupply in the middle of it. I think if I did the trip again I would split this day up by stopping at Balls Pass Junction CG. The Egypt Lake area is packed with lakes and peaks that could easily fill a half day of exploring leaving two much more balanced days. The original plan for our GDT hike was to actually spend two days at Egypt Lake CG. Moving forward we will do what we can to avoid days like this or at least have them surrounded by some shorter days to compensate. This day also violated Emily’s unwritten rule of 15 miles (24 km) maximum for a days hiking, making it the second time in less than 10 days we broke the rule.
It was dark when we awoke. Our goal was to hit the trail by 7:15 am and we got going a little after 7:20 am. The focus of the day was our resupply with Laura at the Floe Lake parking lot. We had set a time of 3 pm for the resupply and I wanted to make sure that we arrived on time or a little early. We generally hike at about 3 km/hr when you include breaks and lunch, so 8:00 am had been the latest I wanted to leave. Leaving a little earlier would make it a more relaxed day. I went off to the cooking area, which at the campground was a bit of a hike, to boil the water for coffee while Emily packed up the tent. The campground was very quiet so we minimized our talking and tip toed out of camp without seeing anyone else.
It is 3.3 km and 298 m of elevation gain all the way to Whistling Pass. Going over the headwall of the pass we would gain the bulk of the elevation 215 m in just 1.5 km of hiking. This would be a vigorous start to the day but the views from the headwall would be worth it.
After a short warm up, we veered away from Egypt lake at the junction and headed uphill. The trail is very steep in places and there was some blowdown to negotiate. As had become the norm, Emily lead the way up the climb. The trail flattened out when we came up a slabby section of rock. This brought us to an amazing viewpoint with views across the valley including Healy Pass and Egypt Lake, plus we could make out some tents in the campground below. It had taken us about 35 min to hike up the first viewpoint, a distance of about 1 km. We stopped for a couple of minutes to catch our breath.
The the area below Pharaoh Peak was littered with small boulders and rocks and the trail had to twist and turn its way past all rocks. This made for a fun bit of hiking. As the trail emerged from the forest we were yelled at by a small pika. I did get a picture, but it was far away so I had the crop the photo quite a bit. We cruised passed the junction for Scarab and Mummy Lake. I really thought we were working hard but this was only 1.5 km from the campground and we had been hiking for 45 min.
The trail underneath our feet became much softer as we left the headwall behind. A marmot whistled at us as we passed by. The marmots living at the pass is what gave the pass its name, Whistling Pass. As we entered the sub-alpine leading up to the pass, the cliffs of Haiduk Mt closed in on us from the left, sandwiching us against Pharaoh Peak. With the towering cliffs on both sides squeezing in on us I felt quite small.
We arrived at Whistling pass at 8:40 am, approximately 3.3 km from the campground. We of course paused to take in the view before dropping down into Whistling Valley.
The steep rocky descent from the pass gave way to a wet and moist meadow. The meadow was criss-crossed by small streams, making it hard to keep your feet dry. Haiduk Lake is fed on this end by the streams draining the pass and water arriving from a twin water fall draining Haiduk Peak. We arrived at Haiduk Lake at 9:20 am, having covered approximately 4.5 km.
Emily’s Note: Do you feel like dad was a little preoccupied with distance? Because I feel like he was a little preoccupied with distance. (We DID have to make a resupply, but it does amuse me)
The name Haiduk is a departure from the Egyptian names that dominate the area. When the survey came through the area to map and name the features they had decided that from above Scarab Lake had the outline of a scarab beetle from Egypt which lead to the naming of many of the local features with Egyptian names. Haiduk is a Polish word meaning a Balkan outlaw opposed to Turkish rule, or a Hungarian mercenary. There is no background for the reasoning to choose Haiduk as a name or for the departure from the Egyptian theme.
The walk along the length of Haiduk was quite easy with a very gentle downhill slope. The trail stayed near the shore at first then ventured away to walk in moist meadows. We avoided getting our feet wet for the most part but there were a couple of very minor creek crossings.
The trail moved away from the meadow and to more of a woodland walk as we approached Balls Pass Junction CG. We arrived at the campground at 10:25 am, three hours after starting out and having covered about 9 km. Balls Pass Junction CG was the low point for this leg of our day. It would be uphill until lunch, as we had to hike over Balls Pass. a distance of 2.7 km and a height gain of 220 m, much of which is saved for the very end.
We did not pause at the campground but hiked right on through. The plan was to have lunch at top of Balls Pass to take in the view. It was very clear that the trail to Balls Pass is not heavily trafficked. The trail is much narrower than what we had been on since we entered Banff National Park on Day 2 and just a little rougher than what we have be accustomed to.
The trail flattened out as the forest thinned. This was just the trail playing with us. As we exited the forest we were faced with what looked like a sheer cliff up to the pass. A wonderful but steep trail has been cut up through the cliff which would take us up 120 m of elevation in just 500 m of distance.
It took us 1 hr and 15 min to get to the top of the pass from Balls Pass CG and about 20 minutes to make our way up the final cliff. We were definitely delayed on the way up by constantly looking out over the valley at the amazing view on offer.
It was 11:25 am time for lunch. We had a 30 minutes lunch relaxing looking out over the valley in before us. We were entertained by a very bold and determined chipmunk. Obviously we were not the first hikers to enjoy lunch at this spot, as the chipmunk repeated came within a couple of feet of us before darting away. Just as we were about to leave the chipmunk did take a nibble at the grip on my hiking pole.
Emily’s Note: No snarky comment this time; this was one of my favourite spots on the trail. I could have sat there staring at the glacier for hours. Absolutely stunning.
Emily’s Note: Okay, one snarky comment. If I am identifying my rodents correctly, our little friend was actually a golden-mantled ground squirrel!
We headed off at 11:55 am. We had 9.7 km to go to get the Floe Lake parking lot and 3 hrs to get there. I was feeling pretty happy with our situation. The top of the pass is quite flat for a few hundred metres. We met a couple eating lunch in the middle of the pass who had hiked up Hawk Creek and were heading over the pass down to Shadow Lake. Just as we left the pass we met another couple who were just on the their way up to Balls Pass for a day hike.
The trail down from the pass is called the Hawk Creek Trail and was the site of a major fire in 2003. While the trees are making a comeback, growth is slow in the Rockies. We headed down the trail with the afternoon sun on us and very little shade. This was a section of trail that we were focused on just getting through and it was not one of the more memorable few hours of hiking on this trip.
After a short but refreshing stop at a large creek we continued on our way. It was amazing how much better I felt after cooling down and washing some of the grime off in the creek. We figured we had only about an hour left to hike and would arrive well before our 3 pm meeting time with Laura. The trail was wide and well graded all the way to Hwy 93. There had been some recent trail maintenance which helped keep the pace and the mood high.
We arrived at Hwy 93 at 2:35 pm and rolled into the parking lot for Floe Lake a couple of minutes later. I cannot believe that we do not have any photos of Laura and our resupply. I have to say that the ice cold Coca-Cola that Laura brought must be the best tasting drink I have ever had. Emily passed on the Coke, so I carried her drink with me and treated myself to a refreshing after dinner drink at Floe Lake. I took the opportunity to switch back to my trusty Salomon hiking shoes and to trade my flip-flops for strapped sandals. I also picked up my red fleece. It is quite heavy at almost 22 oz, but I had been just a tad chilly on the first part of the trip. With the weather forecast being a mix of sun and cloud I decided on not taking my 15 mm F2.1 lens that I use for nighttime photography. It was too bad that I made this choice as the sky was beautiful and clear when we stayed at McArthur Creek CG a couple days later, but there was no way we could have known. With our next resupply set for just three days from now, it was possible to carry more gear as we would have less food.
We got ready to head off at about 3:50 pm. A quick check of the notice board had us in a small panic. Apparently there had been a large wind storm at McArthur Creek and the trail was closed. We were intending on hiking out along the McArthur Creek Trail in three days so we needed some clarification and a plan. This was another instance of the SPOT X and two-way communication playing a role in keep us on track. We made a contingency plan to stay at Helmet Falls instead of McArthur Creek CG and hike out to the Paint Pots the next day if the trail was indeed closed. Laura and Kathleen made some inquiries the next day and were able to text us at Tumbling Creek CG that, while the trail had been closed, it was now open for travel.
We said our goodbyes and set off down the trial. While the sign said it was only 10.7 km to Floe Lake CG, what it did not mention about was the elevation. There is about 720 m of elevation gain on the trail with the last 400 m up the headwall compressed into the last 2 km of the hike.
Shortly after crossing the bridge over the Vermilion River Emily called a time out due to stomach pains. We stopped for about 15 minutes at the side of the trail to let things settle down. Emily stated with a lack of conviction that she was ready to go. As we started off down the trail I let Emily lead so that she could set the pace. It was a quiet walk. When Emily is upset or annoyed she does not say much.
Emily’s Note: In this case it wasn’t upset or annoyed so much as a little light-headed, which was not how I intended to start this section. Once I had a snack it calmed down a bit and my head felt less floaty, but I was definitely just focussed on walking and not conversing.
With Emily not feeling well I was worried about what time we would arrive at Floe Lake. Leaving the parking lot just before 4 pm I was figuring the best we could do would to arrive around between 6:30 and 7:00 pm. It took me a little while to realize that instead of hanging back to give Emily some space I was actually having difficulty in just keeping up. I guess I should not have been concerned about our pace.
Emily’s Note: I didn’t know this! Okay, that makes me feel a little better about my forced march.
As we approached the base of the headwall it was 6:15 pm and with dinner having to wait until we arrived at the campground, we decided we needed to eat a little something before tackling the final climb.
Just as we were about to head out when a small rain shower blew in. We quickly threw on our rain jackets (poncho for me) and headed off.
We crested the top of the headwall at 7:20 pm. It had been 1 hour since we had our snack. Floe Lake is just a few minute walk past a nice meadow, with a slightly downhill finish to the campground. We looked around for a campsite and there was only one spot left. The campsites at Floe Lake are pretty much all the same, as there is only one with a clear view of the lake. We got the tent set up quickly as we did not trust the weather. I headed off to make dinner while Emily organized the inside of the tent. I had dinner on the go by 7:45 pm.
Emily’s note: My journal through the headwall reads “Climb. Thought it would never end. Some parts washed out, mud and rocks all over underbrush. Climbed forever. Finally, the light thru the trees isn’t a scam and we crest the wall.”
We ate down by the lake. It drizzled on and off during dinner. I had Emily’s Coke to wash down my dinner. Normally I would not want to drink something with caffeine so late in the day but after a 30 km day with 1500 m of elevation gain and loss I figured I would probably not have much difficulty in falling asleep. I was correct.
We got ready to head back to the tent. As I was getting ready to get into the tent it started to rain but with the sun setting low behind the Rockwall the sky lit up with an amazing orange colour. Emily poked her head out of the tent and grunted. Evidently she was in need of some down time. I ran about the campground trying to keep my camera dry while attempting to capture the amazing colours being produced by the sun and the rain.
I crawled into the tent about 9:00 pm. We both went to sleep quickly as it had been a big day. Tomorrow we would only be hiking about 18 km to Tumbling Creek CG so we decided to we would have a lie in and not rush in the morning.