Pushing the limits up high in Banff.
Vista Lake Trailhead Lot to Sunshine Village Parking lot via Balls Pass Junction, September 3 – 6, 2021.
Siobhan really wanted to do a trip through the Egypt Lake area in Banff NP. The Egypt Lake area is accessible by trails starting from trailheads located east, north or west of the lake making for numerous possible hiking itineraries. We both had priorities on the trip. Siobhan wanted to do an ascent of Pharaoh Peak and for me it was a hike up Ball Pass.
Our target date was the Labour Day long weekend. Securing camping permits would be a challenge as the Labour Day long weekend is a popular time of the year for hiking and the Egypt Lake area one of the most popular areas in Banff NP. Compounding the challenge of securing camping permits was that Parks Canada had very quietly close Egypt Lake Campground for the summer to rebuild the hut at the campground.
The booking process was quite hectic. I lost my booking twice when the system hung up when I pressed reserve after picking my campgrounds. I managed to secure Shadow Lake and Pharaoh Creek Campgrounds for our first and third nights but lost Ball Pass Junction and had to settle for Healy Creek Campground when I was finally able to make the booking. I was not happy about itinerary but I figured I would keep my eye on the website and hope that someone cancelled at Ball Pass Junction.
We made a final alteration to our plan when I switched the starting point from Redearth Creek Trailhead to Vista Lake Trailhead. I had used Redearth Creek trail on 2019 on my trip with Volcano to Egypt Lake and I knew that the trail was not very interesting. After looking at the maps I decided that starting at Vista Lake Trailhead would provide a much more interesting hike passing by a total of four alpine lakes, Vista Lake, Arnica Lake and Upper and Lower Twin Lakes.
What I failed to take into account was the altitude difference that Siobhan would face and the effect that if would have on her on the first day. Siobhan was coming to the hike immediately after completing four days on the Juan de Fuca which is located on Vancouver Island at sea level. Doing some research online I found out that while oxygen makes up 20.9% of the air we breath at sea level at 2300 m above sea level, our maximum altitude on day 1, oxygen only accounts for about 15.7% of each breath. As a comparison for me living in Canmore, approximately 1400m above sea level, each breath for me has 17.5% oxygen. This lack of oxygen is why working muscles at higher altitudes is challenging. The body will adapt to lower oxygen levels but needs time, something we did not have.
Switching our starting trailhead changed our first day from a relatively straightforward hike of 14 km on a gentle gradient rising 500 m with very little elevation loss, to a tougher up and down hike of 1000 m of elevation gain 850 m of elevation loss over 14 km. Needless to say the elevation in combination with the altitude change made for a very challenging first day for Siobhan but we both agreed afterwards that it was the right choice for us.
We did manage to camp at all the campgrounds we wanted to and had an amazing four days on the trail.
What We Learned
- Need to consider the effects of the change in altitude if members of hiking party are coming from a place of significantly lower altitude
- Use a packing list to avoid forgetting items (like hiking poles)
- Siobhan is more a salty snack person, next time I should buy less chocolate and more salty snacks, in general be more aware of the preferences of others in your group