Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

7/20/16

Mount Assiniboine

Adam and I just recently returned from an absolutely amazing trip in the Canadian Rockies. There were three things that made this trip extra special. First, it's been a few years since we've been able to be away for such an extended period of time. Long trips have their pros and cons, but in this case it was wonderful to have 17 days to explore this beautiful mountain area of Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, Yoho National Park, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, and Mount Robson Provincial Park. With just over two weeks, we never felt rushed, had too much pressure when bad weather hit, and were able to fit in so much that we really got a great scope of all five areas. I'd say it was the perfect amount of time, but who I am kidding? We could have stayed longer. The second reason it was so amazing was because we were childless. We love our Son and he brings so much joy into our lives, but the truth is there are things he makes less enjoyable as well. There are things we want to do that he doesn't like and sometimes we just need a break. Being able to go all day without any whining, without a million questions and non-stop talking, without having to constantly correct behavior or worry about a little human was rather nice. We look forward to the opportunity to bring Landon back with us one day, but the ability to have new experiences together, just the two of us, was a true gift. But the most special part of the trip, was the places we went. There are no words to properly explain how beautiful this area of the world is. Adam took tons of beautiful pictures, but even he will admit they don't do it justice. It's more than a pretty view, but a feeling in your soul that we just can't relay. While this area has been on our bucket list for many years, it exceeded our expectations in so many ways and was worth the wait to be able to do it the way we did. It was one amazing view, lake, glacier, hike, and scene after another day in and day out but there was one place that really stood out from the rest. For me, the true highlight of our trip was our time at Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and our days spent at the base of Mount Assiniboine.


There are only two ways to access Mount Assiniboine, a 17 mile hike or an 8 minute helicopter flight.

Guess which one we picked?



We like hiking and all, but there is no point to endure pain for no reason. Especially when such an awesome alternative exists.  Adam had been in a helicopter once before, but it was a first for me and I was so excited. I got up the nerve to call shotgun in our group before anyone else and so for my inaugural flight, I was in the co-pilot seat. As we watched the first few groups go out and waited for our turn, a girl who worked at the lodge warned me that the pilot was a great pilot, but not very friendly. She said he probably wouldn't say anything to me even though I'd have on headphones and be able to communicate with him directly. So you can imagine my surprise when I hopped in, buckled up, put on my headset, and turned to see him looking right at me. "Hi" he said. He continued to talk to me through the entire flight pointing out things of interest and explaining what we were flying over. "This is a pretty awesome job!" I said. "Yeah, I'm glad I didn't listen to my parents" he replied. 


As our short helicopter ride came to an end, Mount Assiniboine came into view. The first sighting of a new mountain is always a dramatic moment, but this time it was made even more dramatic by the fact that right as we were coming in for a landing a beautiful bald eagle was soaring over Lake Magog which is located at the foot of the mountain. Had we immediately pulled away and gone back to our car, it would have been a worthwhile experience for me. I will never forget that first view of the mountain, the lake, and the freedom of that bird soaring above it all. We we left the helicopter, gathered our packs and headed for the campground astonished by the setting we had just been dropped into.


This area is home to the Assiniboine Lodge which operates a small year round lodge, a number of cabins, and a few little huts. About a mile from there is the Lake Magog campground where we were to be making our home for our 48 hour trip. We knew we were fighting time, that a storm was moving into the area, and the smart thing would be to get to the campground and setup our tent, but we couldn't help ourselves and were immediately drawn to the shore of the lake.


Mount Assininiboine is called the Matterhorn of the Rockies (a little fact I didn't know until standing in front of it commenting to a local how much it looked like the great pyramid mountain in Zermatt). I was surprised I hadn't realized from pictures, but standing in front of it, their likeness was undeniable. As we stood at the base of the glacial lake, the weather became more than ominous so we hurried down the path to our campsite to pick out a site and setup. As we walked, a bald eagle swooped about 100 ft over our heads as if he was welcoming us to his home. We ended up picking the first site we came across out of necessity, however in hindsight it was the best spot. It was away from the cooking pavilion and the bear boxes as well as the food hangars (all necessary since grizzly bears are the true and rightful owners of this land). Best part, it was right next to a stream that lulled us to sleep each night.


We hurriedly setup our tent as it suddendenly began to sleet then jumped in to get out of the weather. We set up our interior and rested for a bit, but it wasn't long before it stopped. We opened up our door to the best view on the planet and the full mountain made a debut just long enough for a few pictures.


It is absolutely memorizing to watch clouds roll around and off the top of a mountain especially when the peak is as dramatic as this one. While the clouds love to linger over the top of these peaks, with a bit of patience and luck eventually you may be able to see it all. Once you do, the wait is always worth the reward. Although it is never for long enough.


The glacier that feeds Lake Magog from Mount Assiniboine hangs precariously on a shelf of the mountain looking like it will go at any moment. Over the course of our two days, we witnessed a number of avalanches which set off a huge thunder and then a long waterfall of snow. One we heard during the night and we hadn't fully realized what is was until the next day when people were talking about it.

The afternoon of our first day, the weather kept bringing bouts of rain. We made our way to the pavilion and talked with a few other campers, two photographers from Costa Rica, and a duo of serious hikers on a weekend visit from Vancouver and Calgary. We also had a lengthy chat with an older gentleman who was scouting for an upcoming hiking trip for seniors. Not only does his group hike in and out, but a number of them are in their 80's and one is 92. The only thing more inspiring would be witnessing the group firsthand. In between rain showers, we ventured around the area and made our way to the beginning of the climbing route. Adam's determined to get me on board with his quest to start mountain climbing, but I'm content to just sit at the base and enjoy the views.


With the rain, we called it a night early and set an alarm for sunrise. However, when 4am came all we could hear was rain so we slept some more and got up for good with the weather still not faring well. After some breakfast, we walked over the lodge to see if we could get any weather information. It wasn't looking good, but we decided to try and make our way to Nub Peak for the quintessential Mount Assiniboine view. As we made our way into the back country, the thought of a grizzly bear was never far from our minds. We were armed with the necessary bear spray, but really didn't feel too secure with it since you have to be 3 meters from the beast for it to be utilized. While the campsite is remote, the hike to Nub Peak takes it the next level. We knew our chances of seeing anything from the peak were diminishing with each step as we became more and more encased in fog.


However, it was so peaceful and calming that while we were a little disappointed with the weather, we didn't feel underwhelmed. The setting was still magical. We came up to Sunburst Lake and an adorable little cabin. A sign told the story of Lizzie who purchased Sunburst cabin in 1950 to fulfill her dream of running a backpackers lodge for hikers climbing Assiniboine. I think we both envied Lizzie a bit as we rested on her front porch, enjoying the lake and a little snack. I have a feeling life at Sunburst was modest and difficult at times, but probably also rewarding in ways you and I will never even know.


We passed Sunburst Lake and around to Cerulean Lake before realizing that we could no longer even see a few feet in front of us and deciding to turn back. We walked around for a bit more, ate some lunch and settled in for a nap as the weather went from fog to rain. Despite  having a bit more bad weather than we would have liked, we were happy just being there. Plus, I had no problem getting a little bit of extra time relaxing in my super comfy down bag next to my favorite man. There's no one else I'd rather live in a 4x4 with than this guy and after all the chaos of moving the last few weeks, this slow down was desperately needed.


That afternoon, we made our way to the lodge for tea time and chatted with fellow travelers over cake. When our designated hour was up, the weather finally seemed to be cooperating so we started hiking towards the Wonder Pass.


We made it a few miles before the weather and a large amount of bear scat made us decide to turn back. As we headed back towards Lake Magog a number of bald eagles were soaring overhead. When I picture Assiniboine in my head now, the eagles are just as much a part of the picture as the mountain itself. I think their presence truly signified the freedom that this area encompasses. We came across a stream and were hopeful that the clouds would part and show the peak for a quick picture. After waiting out a short rain storm, we received our payoff. 


As Adam snapped pictures between the breaks in the clouds, I watched the bald eagles soaring in the wind currents and playing among each other. It was such an awesome sight to behold and we stayed in the same spot for awhile just soaking it all in. I would have wished it to never end, but we couldn't get a break from the weather for too long and so we headed back to our tent just in time for the bad weather to really set in for the evening. 

The next morning, we tried for a sunrise again with no luck. However, by 7 am the sky was looking promising and although we were flying out at noon we knew this was our only chance to make it up Nub Peak. We gave ourselves a turn back time and set out, not too confident the clouds would dissipate, but desperate for a proper farewell. Lucky for us, nature didn't disappoint and right as we reached our turn around time, the clouds opened up and the view was spectacular!


 From Nub, Sunburst peak and Cerulean Lake take the foreground while Assiniboine and Sunburst Lake sit off to its left. This new view and perspective is just incredible and I sat among the tree tops once again watching bald eagles soaring over the lakes and among the peaks and wondering how on earth did God even imagine such beauty much less create it. As I sat in awe and reverence of this tiny piece of our world, I don't think I've ever felt more serenity. 

Unfortunately, the meditation was short lived and we hurried back down to tear down our campsite and make our flight. Of course we stopped a few times along the way for a few more pictures as the weather was finally giving us what we wanted. It was bittersweet for it to be so short lived, but I'm thankful we got it at all.


We got to back and packed it all up in record time. The new swarm of misquotes helped us to make quick work of vacating and we quickly hiked back to the lodge and the helipad to drop off our gear for the trip back. We managed to hoof it enough that we had about 15 minutes before our schedule to departure to snap a few last pictures from the front lawn of the lodge.


After snapping our final pictures, a thunderous roar came over the entire area and everyone watched in awe as the biggest avalanche we had ever seen barreled down the mountain. The waterfall of snow seemed to last forever and it seemed to a fitting goodbye for this place of natural wonder. We boarded the helicopter for another amazing ride, but not quite as exciting since we headed in the wrong direction. Getting back to all the hustle and bustle of civilization felt strange even though we were only making our way to another beautiful area of Banff National Park. I felt awkward at first being around so many other people and a little changed. It was almost as if we didn't fit in any longer. The stark change took a few hours to adjust to and although it wasn't a permanent awkwardness, the feeling of true freedom and the magic of Assiniboine will always stick with me. I hope we have the opportunity to go back. To go back soon and often and share this place with friends, family and strangers. There's a fullness you feel when you are there and a emptiness that leaving it creates.

As John Muir said, "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." He must have been talking about Assiniboine.


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