Waterton Lakes

Picture of waterton_lake1 Flying into Calgary, we immediately headed south to Waterton Lakes National Park on the US border. The park adjoins Glacier National Park in the United States to form an impressively large wilderness area (with one road full of RVs that can safely be ignored). The Canadian park centers around the namesake town and lake.
Picture of waterton_beach1 The town itself is seasonal - catering to mostly local tourists during the summer. The far end of the lake (around the corner in the views shown here) is in Montana and several ferries service various hiking trails around the lake.
Picture of waterton_beach2 The 'beach' in the townsite consists of small to midsized rocks as does the lake bottom. While we were in town we made arrangements to take a ferry to the Crypt Lake Trail the next morning.
Picture of cameron_falls This picture is not crooked, the waterfall is. Glacier and Waterton Lakes are strewn with waterfalls (as well as lakes). This one, Cameron Falls, comes right through Waterton Townsite. Most of the rivers are fed by glacier melt during the summer months and the water is predictably frigid.
Picture of bear We stayed in the nearby town of Cardston, Alberta, which we happen to know is the home of Fay Wray (of King Kong fame) because on our walkthrough of town we visited the Fay Wray Memorial Fountain. Cardston was founded by Mormons and a huge temple dominates the town. It is also subject to the Chinook winds which tend to sandblast everything in sight (including us). The natives take this more or less in stride. En route from Waterton to Cardston we spotted this grizzly bear from the road. It was some distance (hence the poor quality picture) but it was our first live grizzly sighting so we were excited.
Picture of pow_lodge Sources seem to agree that the trail to Crypt Lake is one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes in all of Canada. We were anxious to test it out and it begins with a ferry ride to the trail head. The trail begins on the east side of Waterton Lake at the base of one of the several mountains which must be ascended. This view is from the back of the ferry looking back towards the town of Waterton. The building is the Prince of Wales Lodge, the most striking lodge in Waterton Lakes. The 5-mile trail to the lake begins with a lengthy and tiresome series of switchbacks up the first mountain. There are several impressive views of Waterton Lake before it turns towards the east and the lake is lost from sight.
Picture of valley The bulk of the trail is a steadily rising ridge which roughly follows a creek up towards the lake. The total elevation gain from beginning to end is over 2200 feet (670m). It was in this section near the lower falls that we came across several other stopped hikers. They informed us there was a mother grizzly bear ahead on the trail. After several annoying minutes during which we were beginning to suspect their information we were told the bear had moved on. A few moments later we spotted the bear and two cubs across a clearing. We stopped to take pictures but she disappeared into the underbrush. Unfortunately the trail followed in that direction as well. Separated from the other hikers now, we made quite a bit of noise to alert the bear as to our approach but our paths converged again on a small hill. We were treated to an alarmingly (and I mean alarmingly) close view of the family. We're fairly certain due to the lack of back hump and the shape of the face that it was in fact a family of black bears (of the cinnamon persuasion). The cubs were very cute but we were too busy not moving to take any pictures.
Picture of middlefalls The next section of trail went by rather quickly with all the built up adrenaline and general desire to get away from that area. The trail eventually rises above the treeline and begins another series of switchbacks up an exposed rocky slope. The winds were strong, sometimes gusting to 50 mph (80km) and that combined with steep uneven footing made for slow progress. Show here is the middle falls which is along that section. At times, the winds were so strong that none of the water coming over the falls reached the bottom. It simply disappeared as spray into the wind as the right-side flow is doing here.
Picture of beargrass The water is unsafe to drink due to giardia and thus it all has to be carried in with you. The only good part about this is that your pack will get lighter as you drink. The trail finally reaches the base of an enormous cliff in a grove of beargrass. Crypt Lake lies atop the cliff and an underground river running from the lake trickles over in a single drop of over 500 ft (150m). Here the trail becomes truly adventurous and we started to meet hikers who were unwilling to go further. First a goat path leads across a cliff face exposed to the wind. This ends with a short ladder leading up into a narrow cave. A tunnel extends through the rock and emerges next to the waterfall on the cliff face again. The tunnel was small enough that we had to push our packs through in front of us. Next comes a climb up the rest of the cliff with a stunning drop underneath you. An iron cable bolted to rock acts as the only safety line.
Picture of cryptlake1 A short trail remains to the lake which is easily worth all the effort. The oval-shaped lake lies in a high cirque, surrounded on three sides by imposing peaks. The south shore is touched by a glacier which descends from the cliff walls on that side and is actually in Montana in the United States. Most hikers picnic on the north shore and then return. Amazingly we actually witnessed a few people who swam in the lake. After eating our lunch we determined to hike around the lake - after all, David had never been to Montana.
Picture of cryptlake2 The shores are mostly loose rock and in some places steep slope to the very edge of the lake. Going around the lake, despite its relatively small size, is a time-consuming effort and ultimately led to us missing the first ferry back. (Luckily, there are two and we had arrived on the early one just in case). Further complicating the trek is the snow drifts which are still heavy in July.
Picture of cryptlake3 On the far side though lies the glacier and it was kind enough to have a small calving while we were there. Supposedly, one can often see schools of cutthroat trout in the waters but we didn't notice any. The return was uneventful and slightly less strenuous. We left for Banff via the scenic route through Alberta's Kananaskis Country which we extremely highly recommend. The views are stunning, it snowed on us in July, and we saw countless elk and/or mule deer.

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