The Rockwall, Kootenay National Park

Given how well most of last year’s backpacking adventures went weather-wise, I felt incredibly lucky that both the sunshine and the scenery came together for the first of the 2009 backpacking adventures this long weekend. Clear skies, warm temperatures and gentle breezes make even the drabbest mountains something special – the Rockwall trip in these conditions is spectacular!

We started the trail at the south end, dropping our gear (and most of our group) off at the Floe Lake Trailhead, shuttling the car to the end point, and having one intrepid soul bike back to the start. It took about 45 minutes in total to get this all done, and saved us having to drive two cars. The bike ride is about 15 km and was “not easy, but not hard” according to the lucky biker.

The trail into Floe Lake is through a burn, which isn’t as unattractive as the guide book would have you think. It’s fairly flat, although the elevation gain near the end of the day was a firm reminder of how little we’ve hiked this season. The trees are gone, so you get great views and at this time of the year the flowers were out in full force. It was a carpet of lush green and purple all the way along. Hardly something worth skipping!

The walk into Floe Lake
The walk into Floe Lake

Floe Lake itself (our first camping spot) is pretty darn nice as well. The weather was great when we pulled into camp around 3 pm on Saturday so we spent a couple hours splashing in the lake and sunning on the shore. I think it night have been my most enjoyable afternoon ever in the mountains… I’ve been saying it all weekend, but I just couldn’t get over how few bugs there were in the mountains this time. Hardly any mosquitoes, just horse flies and a few other biters. Numbers were so low that I wore shorts all the time – even at night.

Floe Lake with the morning sun
Floe Lake with the morning sun

Sunday we got an early start (mostly because I woke up at 6 am to see the sun on the lake) and dragged ourselves over Numa Pass for a view of Floe Lake from up high, and then descended downwards forever to Numa Creek, before climbing all the way back up the other side to Tumbling Pass. This was followed by another huge downhill into our camp at Tumbling Falls. It’s a lot of up and down (not to mention nearly 18 km of walking) but you get great mountain views, wildflower filled passes and glaciers everywhere.  By the end of it we were all convinced that up was better than down, and my aching feet still agree with me about it today. I’ve also got some seriously tight calves – which is something that has never happened after a hike and means I really should get a few more day hikes in before the end of the month.

Floe Lake from Numa Pass
Floe Lake from Numa Pass

Our third day was bigger in scenery and smaller in elevation change. We got the meadows, the  famous Rockwall itself, and Helmet Falls (one of the biggest in Canada) all in one day. There were alpine streams, a deer and lots of alpine rodents who were so cute. Please, can I just give him a granola bar? Ok, I would never give a granola bar to a marmot but I like to think of how excited they would be if I unwrapped a chocolate chip dipped…  Even after all the hiking we even had lots of time in camp to scramble close to the falls and sit in the spray for the afternoon.

Alpine Flowers
Alpine Flowers

All the loveliness of the past few days ended around midnight when a thunderstorm rolled in and we quickly found out that our tent pad 1) Didn’t drain 2) Pooled directly under our tent.  Soon it felt as if we were sleeping on a water bed as the pool under the tent deepened. Thank goodness that we have a high quality tent floor – we got a little seepage but the thermarests kept us off the damp and no real water got in. The same couldn’t be said for the gear stored in the vestibules, which was soaked through when we got up in the morning in the rain. With the turn in the weather we felt a lot less like wandering in the alpines meadows than before, which is good since there aren’t any on the way out, and we hiked as quickly as our tight calves and sore feet would allow.

Mountain views
Mountain views

We made it home in time for me to get most of the wet gear away and have a very welcome hot shower. So, even with the lousy night of rain the trip was still amazing. Perfect actually. Finally!

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