we were up and torn down at first light, chilly but well rested, safe from bears. our neighbours from whitehorse were still sleeping, cozy in their trailer, and for a moment i wanted to stay and have breakfast with them, make coffee over a morning campfire. (only for a moment.) once in the truck, warm and layered in long johns and puffy jackets and hats and gloves i felt better. we were headed to yoho national park's visitor's centre in field, british columbia, and eventually to a backcountry campsite in little yoho valley.
at the visitor's centre we crammed gear into our overnight packs, checked the trail reports, and chatted with the rangers about the weather. field is an extremely tiny community (169 permanent residents!) tucked into the kicking horse valley, surrounded by gorgeous outwash flats, and overlooked by mount burgess (of burgess shale fossil fame), mount stephen, and mount dennis. we crawled around the handful of streets, eyeballing the many bed and breakfast establishments and making note of people's mountain vehicles. not wanting to hit the trailhead too early (our hike for the day wasn't overly long) we grabbed awful coffee from the gas station and drank it while staring at the kicking horse river, sitting at a picnic table eating hummus and skittles and warming up with the day.
when we were finally ready to focus our attention on the day's task, we took the beautiful, mellow yoho valley road (complete with two fantastic switchbacks) to the parking lot at takakkaw falls. the area was very busy with people gearing up for the five-minute hike to the falls, but we were headed across the road and in the other direction, up into the subalpine of yoho's iceline trail. at the trailhead in the whiskey jack hostel parking lot we double-checked our supplies, took a couple of deep breaths, and headed out on foot on our very first canadian rockies backcountry overnight hike.
the iceline trail climbs quickly through shrubs and dense, vibrant forest, ascending with moderate and continuous switchbacks for the first few kilometres. eventually, nearing the tree line, a signed fork ushered us right, with the left spur guiding hikers toward yoho lake. soon the trees broke and we were looking down into the yoho valley and out across toward the massive takakkaw falls: bisecting the mountains, fed by the daly glacier of the wapta icefield. the air was misty, even across the valley. everything was very still. we were sweating, lugging packs heavy with tents and sleeping bags for the first time in a good while.
the trees continued to diminish in size; nearly all were flagging dramatically toward the increasingly intense rock shelves and outcrops along the walls of the president and vice president mountains. crushed boulder and smooth rock made up most of the terrain as we left the last of the trees behind.
we rounded a corner as the trail levelled off slightly and were gifted with the unbelievable splendour of glacial ice draped over the rock shelves, waterfalls tumbling down, step-by-step, over the black, striated rock. snow patches were scattered on the dark sides of the mountains above, while metres higher their peaks faded into fog, into nothingness. huge patches of ancient, glacier-worn rock spread out before us, slippery and woven with scratches, broken up by scree and choss, sometimes crossed with small glacial streams. across the valley, the toe of the daly glacier was becoming visible from our still-rising viewpoint. soon, exquisite turquoise tarns began emerging from the fog and mist, perfect and untouchable. we walked in silence punctuated with exclamations of disbelief, trying to absorb every small moment of walking in such an unreal location.
in what seemed like only minutes, we began descending, and caught up quickly with the tree line. we meandered through pine on a gradual decline, skirting around the president and the vice president and continuing into little yoho valley. the sky was still tumultuous and cloudy; we were still afraid of grizzlies. all around were the constant, gorgeous flowers, identified later as alpine cinquefoil, field chickweed, fireweed, purple saxifrage. soon we saw stanley mitchell hut (operated by the alpine club of canada) and knew our campground was just ahead. we set up just metres from the creek, the mountains towering above us, and sat by the water into the early evening. we played cards, built cairns, talked to a father with two young sons, eavesdropped on a group of teenage boys setting off on their first alpine summit. we made dinner (hell yeah to tasty bite), wished we had brought bourbon, and slept early.
in the morning, after oatmeal and instant coffee, we set off on our descent back toward the takakkaw falls lot. the trail here was muddy and winding, crossing streams and darting around fallen logs growing entire moss colonies. the morning was bright, with sun coming through the trees, and the forest seemed insulated and quiet, the ground squishy with peat and loam. we met a moose, standing in a clearing, and made eye contact with her as we crept by. our hike out took half the time as our hike up (despite the fact that both were 10km), and we were at our truck again by mid morning, eager for more coffee (and soylent) and blissfully happy from our night in the woods. we tromped over to takakkaw to check it out up close, and then retreated to the monarch campground to pitch among the RVs. what a change of pace.
that afternoon we went looking for a bouldering area named cathedral forest, positioned in the woods across from the spiral tunnels viewpoint. the approach involved us strapping on the crashpads, and running across highway 1 into the ditch by the woods before scrambling up the unstable slope and diving into the trees. all while unsuspecting tourists looked on. (absurd.) we found some decent boulder problems just within the forest boundary but struggled to get the lay of the land, and wandered about for a while looking for the rest of the problems on the map. despite the area being well documented and also very large, we were only able to identify the first few features on the map; it seemed like no one had climbed there in quite some time. we fooled around on what we could find before heading back to our tent and visiting the neighbouring campground in search of free showers. pulling on real rock felt amazing.
at night we wandered around the flats beside the campground, cooked dinner, read books. the usual. we watched trains pass by and disappear into the mountain across the highway. they were constant, and would have kept me up all night had i not been so damn tired. we had a short amount of time in yoho, but hell, what a ride.