A Hike to Sentinel Pass

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More photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHskxqRXvj

Day 3: 20th Sept

The day dawned crystal clear! Felt very lucky as we headed from Field after our usual small breakfast to Lake Louise village.We were a tad early and didn’t want to get caught out again and not be able to find others to walk with at Moraine Lake. It has a very strict 4 minimum group policy so you just have to hang around and wait for people doing the same walk. Visited the great Outdoor Store and checked out the decent little supermarket and wine shop. Found out we could hire bear spray so decided to do this (£7 for the day or £40 to buy outright) and got some very good advice about how to use it from the assistant. Everyone had been very friendly and helpful so far in Canada. Nice people. Many commented on our accents and we were asked quite a lot about where we came from. So many links between our two countries.

Armed now with bells AND bear spray we headed for Moraine Lake again, arriving around 9.30am on Saturday on a fine, bright morning. There were a lot of people gearing up with boots and rucksacks, as we headed round the shore to the start of the Larch Valley route. Chris wanted to wait until we found another couple to walk with but a big group of guys appeared who looked quite friendly and I just asked if we could join up with them and they said ‘yes!’. We made quick introductions – they were Persians. Wow! Not Iranians , but using the old name for that ancient country. I was mightily impressed and really interested and we chatted away to two of them, nice guys who had lived in Calgary for the past 9 years. They had high hopes that their homeland would improve soon.Most worked as Firemen in the capital.

The first 1 hour or so on the track was a slog up the endless switchbacks which climbed steadily through the forest. Below, the lake got smaller and more densely screened by trees. We kept to the guys’ pace, which was fine for us too.

Soon, the forest thinned and we were in a lovely open meadow ringed with golden larches.I had always wanted to see this area, having been entranced by the description in the Art Book. The paintings of golden larches, shimmering in the foreground and the blue hazy backdrop of sawtooth peaks, had captured me completely.In reality, it lived up entirely to these beautiful images.The 10 Wenkchmena Peaks were now opposite us, fang toothed and snow dusted , the autumn sky was deep blue and the clear glacial lochans sparkled in the sunlight. It was just stunning. Real high mountain country.Not wild though, as there were hordes of people already snapping away and ooinng and aahing ……and why not? What a fine spot to be on such a glorious morning! The hordes didn’t detract somehow, the country was too grand and it was nice to see so many happy smiling people, glad to have made the relatively little effort to be in such wonderful surroundings.It was light years away from the noise and crowds of the lake shore.

Sentinel Pass walk

Actually the place was so busy there seemed no chance of a poor bear hanging around and the group of 4 restriction was obviously not being followed given the couples and singles we saw hiking all on their own. No danger up here on this day.

We stopped to rest at one of the lochans and chatted to our new friends.I looked further up the now open landscape to the headwall of the corrie and the snaking path that zigzagged up to Sentinel Pass itself .Hhmmm.It looked formidably steep ground and I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it but we decided to plod on and I’d see how it went.In fact, it proved to be a superb track, wide enough to feel ok on, steep ground yes, but not too bad and quite an easy final plod up to 9000ft .

The views were worth every single minute, every gulp of hard breathing.

We were on the ridge now, quite wide and giving views into two valleys.Far below lay the now tiny lochans (small lakes) we’d picnicked at, fringed by yellowing grasses beyond which formidable rock walls loomed.On the other side of the Pass was Paradise Valley which was closed due to bear activity, but a few hardy souls headed down the very steep bouldery headwall for an excellent continuation of the route. We looked up, as you always do, to the summit ridge of Mt Lefroy itself and reckoned that another 1.5 maybe 2 hours would do it to get to the top. There is an itch there, the idea of keeping on climbing having done the donkey work.It looked very do-able, certainly compared to what we are used to in Scotland – the scale was bigger but not necessarily more beautiful or spectacular.It was rockier, barer and without the ocean views you so often get in Scotland, or the extensive views we have at home across mile upon mile of lonely, ancient peaks.But it was truly grand, truly spectacular.

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We had our fruit and crisps again, some chocolate , water and that was it. We rarely eat that much on climbs; I don’t know why.We do it all wrong, really. Don’t eat much during the day but then gorge at night.50 nearly 60 years on, it has served us ok so far and we feel fairly fit (touch wood). I suppose your body just gets used to a pattern.

We chatted with some of our new companions, all thrilled to reach this high point on a spectacular day. It was quite mild too. T-shirt weather , even at that altitude.Not something we often enjoy on our own more modest mountain heights which have a more Arctic and perhaps ancient character compared to these young bucks. I always think comparing the Scottish Highlands to the bigger ranges, is like comparing Florence’s Duomo to the 1, 400 foot high Empire State . Both beautiful and spectacular but completely different in character and colour.

It’s never easy to make the decision to descend from a height, giving up the views but down, down, down we had to go.The route up was still busy and Larch Valley even busier but it couldn’t take away from the majesty of the scene. We said goodbye and thanks to our Persian colleagues at the high lochans, where they stopped for a longer break.There didn’t seem any need to be part of a group now ; any Ranger checking things out and ready to slap a £1000 fine on anyone not obeying the rule, would have found it hard to distinguish who was with whom, it was so crowded. The switchbacks down seemed endless, weaving our way through the dark forest, the turquoise of the lake visible now and then below.

It was very warm and sunny and too good not to continue the walk towards the end of the shore itself, rather than heading straight back to the car-park.The colours were wonderful – the lake was deep turquoise, opaque and still.

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We could hear the crack of avalanches high up on the glacier opposite. In fact, I just couldn’t get enough of that almost unreal lake colour, the result of glacial run-off and tiny silt particles which hang suspended in the water.That’s what turns the lakes that intense almost unnatural colour. It actually does look a bit surreal in photos but is much more attractive when it’s there in front of you.


People seemed to be crawling like ants all over the rockpile but we felt quite far removed at the lake’s far end, where there were far fewer people.

Our legs were tired now so we headed back for a welcome seat in the car and got the boots off and – oh the relief – the rucksacks .What a superb day it had been plus – we’d made it.We passed our friendly Persians again having a coffee in the Lodge’s nice looking café sitting outside in the sunshine and exchanged a wave as they spotted us. We couldn’t have hoped for nicer companions for that walk.

A stop in at Lake Louise Village to return our bear spray (we had also found a canister en route). A bottle of wine picked up in the store and some minor supplies and we were ready to head back to the Cabin.

Then, I remembered that we were very close to Bow Lake which had been my favourite overall during my last trip. The weather was glorious and who knew if tomorrow we would see it in such sunny conditions? So off we went to Bow Lake and beautiful Num -Ti -Jah Lodge, built in 1937 by Jimmy Simpson, one of the original Canadian Rockies pioneers. He declared it ‘the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen’ and I can’t argue with that. It is in my heart too and was all these years ago. There is something about the wide, more open vistas there, the tundra -like terrain making it so easy to get right down to the lake shore.It’s largely undeveloped too, just a narrow track winding its way round the shore. Yet it’s only 100 metres off the highway. The shape of the mountain appeals to me above all the other lakeside biggies too. And the Lodge itself; if only Chateau Lake Louise had that same rustic style!

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We wandered about the shore for ages, just enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and warmth. Had a look inside the Lodge, very traditional decor, lots of interesting old photos.We’d had coffee and tea inside here all these years ago and I had been captivated by the Buffalo heads on the wall; the sheer scale of these animals was astonishing.They looked primeval somehow, magnificent.Ordered some tea and sat outside for a while, in easy chairs, drinking it all in. I was fighting back tears now . I felt so emotional being back here and finding it all just as soul searing as I had when the boys were young.It was here, too, that I felt closest to all the powerful family memories of that first holiday. I think as a Mum you often miss the feeling of when your children were small and needed you and you could sweep them up and give them a cuddle.I loved showing the boys new places and trying to widen their horizons and of course nowadays, they are building their own lives.If I could have had a wish at that moment it would have been to have them beside me as 9 and 6 year olds, full of the joys, boisterous and laughing and eating their wee sweets.Happy, happy days.

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Back to the Cabin, so lovely return to.And our last night! I get so attached to places I love.It’s like leaving behind a tiny part of your life, where you were happy.I think as I grow older I appreciate, far more, being happy.It’s not something I feel all the time and when I do – and it can take time to realise that what you are feeling is happiness – it becomes ultra precious as a memory.

On route to Field, the only last task was to check out the entrance to the Lake O’Hara bus parking spot so that we wouldn’t get lost next morning.We were extremely lucky to get on the bus into this fabled area and didn’t want to muck things up by getting caught out re where it was.

We had planned to go out for something to eat that last night, but the Cabin was too attractive and cosy and we really do enjoy just doing for ourselves and relaxing ; so we never did try the Truffle Pig Bistro, despite its good reviews. It was too hard to give up our last night in our little idyll.Relaxed with a glass of vino (sparkling for me) and olives and just talked through what we’d seen and done – and what was to come next day! Made some stir fry beef and veg for dinner,  easy-peasy.

Next day – famed Lake O’Hara and a drive to Jasper Lake O’Hara and Lake Oesa Hikes


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