Banff Part 3: Hiking to Helen Back

14 08 2019

This being a Choose Your Pace Road Scholar trip, I started day two of hiking with my mind set about two things. First, I would go on the Motivated hike, most strenuous of the choices, listed as 7.4 miles and 1800 feet of elevation change.  I knew if I didn’t push myself to do this, I would regret it when I got home.  And secondly, I would lighten my pack.  Out went one of the two quarts of water that the guides recommended, the change of clothing, and the winter hat and gloves.  The die was cast.

crowfoot glacier, with one of the “toes” melted off

After a scenic drive down the Icefields Parkway, the bus dropped our Motivated group off at the trailhead to Helen Lake.  Brian and his achy knees remained on the bus to hike with the Moderate group to Bow Glacier Falls.  Across the highway, we could see Crowfoot Glacier, Crowfoot Mountain and Bow Lake.  Meltwater from the glacier feeds into Bow Lake, and the rock flour from the glacier turns the lake a stunning shade of green, which depending on the position of the sun is sometimes emerald, sometimes jade, and sometimes sea foam green.  

bow lake below crowfoot glacier

Today we were led by Bryce, co-owner of the Company of Adventurers and a very knowledgeable outdoorsman and naturalist.  As I hiked up the steep slopes, gasping for breath, Bryce always seemed to know just how much to push us and when to stop. We stopped at a recent avalanche site, where he told us about the interconnected life of the Clark’s Nutcracker and the Whitebark pine:  this intelligent bird stashes thousands of pine seeds in strategically-placed holes in the ground for access during the winter, planting virtually all the Whitebark pines, which grow only when planted exactly the depth that matches the length of the Clark’s Nutcracker’s bill. 

We stopped to let a string of park rangers with pack horses pass by on their way to a distant bison ranch. 

At one rest break, we watched a hoary marmot collecting plants for his salad dinner. 

We stopped to dissect some fairly fresh grizzly bear scat. (“It starts with an s and it end with a t.  It comes out of you and it comes out of me.  I know what you’re thinking, but let’s not call it that.  Let’s be scientific and call it scat.”)  Bryce explained that at this time of year (mid-July), the scat is nearly identical to horse poop since the bears are eating lots of roots, tubers, and grasses.  By late summer, the scat contains lots of berry seeds.  Not all the folks in our hiking group were as taken by this discussion as I was.  Go figure.

fresh grizzly scat

Bryce taught us how to hike, well, at least he taught me.  Everyone else seemed to know all the tricks. 

1. Using a hiking pole.  Insert hand from bottom of strap so that the pressure of the strap rests on your wrist.  Height of pole should be such that your forearm and upper arm form a right angle, adjusted for uphill or downhill. 

2. The rest step.  When hiking up a hill, straighten out the rear leg and lock that knee to take the weight off your muscles and onto your skeletal frame.  

3. Ballerina step.  When hiking down a hill, take small steps and avoid stepping heel-toe.  Instead, concentrate on placing your foot down toe first as ballerinas do.

When we finally got to Helen Lake, we were ready for lunch.  Once again we ate with one of the most beautiful views in the world in front of us.

helen lake

Somehow, the trip back down the mountain took much less time.  I enjoyed the breeze that kicked up over the alpine meadow. I enjoyed the smell of Christmas as we passed through the spruce woods. 

But mostly, when we were reunited with the rest of the group, I enjoyed telling everyone that I had survived a trip to Helen back.



3 responses

14 08 2019
Robert M Winston

Wow! And, photos, your humor play on words.

14 08 2019

You know me, I can’t pass up a good pun. Or a bad one.

14 08 2019
Sharon Foret Cagle


Sent from my iPad


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