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Backpacking Canada

Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit

By on August 11, 2016

The Lake O’Hara alpine circuit is one of the most coveted hikes in the Canadian Rockies. The permitting makes it almost impossible to get up there and the only way to get there (almost) is to take a shuttle run by Parks Canada that books out 6 months in advance. It’s insane. Needless to say, we were not one of those people who had booked month in advance, so while at a Parks Canada office in Lake Louise, I was asking about ways to get up to the lakes basin and Abbott Pass Hut was recommended to us. Abbott Pass Hut is run by the ACC, The Alpine Club of Canada, and if you’re able to get a spot at the hut and climb up Abbott Pass (no small feat), you get a spot on the Lake O’Hara shuttle and the opportunity to hike the lakes basin. Well, we lucked out. John checked the website the day before and there was a last minute cancellation. He called and booked from a coffee shop in Canmore that we were working from and told Sarah (roughly), ‘Pack your stuff up, because we’re going on a pretty gnarly backpack tomorrow morning.’ We were stoked.

Day 80: Yoho, BC > Abbot Pass Hut

Woke up, packed out packs & hopped on the shuttle to Lake O’Hara lodge. After 12km drive into the lakes basin, we arrived in one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever seen. The clear blue lake was surrounded by steep cliffs lined with young conifers & wild flowers. The smell of pine filled the air. We took a lovely walk around the lake, past some waterfalls, and then began our ascent up to the lakes and glaciers that fed them. The hike from the Lake O’Hara to Lake Oesa was easy enough as light rain fell from the sky. The water of Lake O’Hara only seemed to get more blue as we climbed. Once we got above Lake Oesa & the tree line, the route got more difficult. Loose scree was manageable enough, but soon the incline became steeper & the mountain seemed to slide beneath our feet. Clouds came and went, sometimes completely blocking our view of what was ahead. It was a tough climb, but I never doubted we would make it. We got to the top of the pass and could not believe our eyes. The Abbot pass hut is the second highest permanent structure in Canada, and arguably the best backcountry hut run by the Alpine Club of Canada. We opened the door and felt immediately at home. A furnace, full kitchen and beds with warm blankets awaited us. John and I were the first people there and we enjoyed 20 minutes of excited wonder. Other hikers soon showed up & we passed an afternoon of swapping stories & staying warm by the fire. One group of 15 was supposed to arrive, but only 6 of them did. The afternoon had high winds & sleet that turned many hopeful trekkers away. John & I were so proud of our ascent. The afternoon storm soon passed & the sunset was spectacular at 9,587 feet. We went to sleep in the bunks feeling accomplished. This was definitely one of the most challenging, but one of the most rewarding days of the trup thus far.

Day 81: Abbot Pass Hut > Canmore, AB

We slept in and enjoyed a morning to ourselves at the hut as the other hikers got an early morning start. We tidied up the place, determined to leave it cleaner than we found it – a value we learned from our days in the Scouts. The skies were clear for our descent as we slipped and slided down the scree back towards Lake O’Hara, dreaming of pizza. We took the bus back and made our way into civilization. Our first stop was a shower at Elevation Place in Canmore. It had been a record 6 days since we had properly bathed. The Jacuzzi, pool and showers at the rec center were just what we needed. After a good cleaning, the name of the game was pizza. We ordered a large wwith aspirations of leftovers, but devoured it whole. With full bellies, we were happy to sleep on the streets of Canmore – a river flowing alongside our home on wheels.