a conversation with the earth guidebooks + guided hiking
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Done in a Day: Banff

Where Locals Hike in the West Kootenay

Sample of Premier trip

MACBETH ICEFIELD ****

Location Glacier Creek Valley
Round trip 13.8 km (8.6 mi) from Glacier Creek Road
Elevation gain 1098 m (3602 ft)
Time required   9 hours
Difficulty Challenging
Access Easy (until final, short, 4WD spur to trailhead)
Available July through mid-October
Maps 82 K/7 Duncan Lake

OPINION

Isn't this an amazing planet? That's the sentiment behind all the enthusiastic exclamations of wonder that hikers blurt out when they emerge above treeline and see the double waterfall pouring off Macbeth Icefield. The entire setting is powerfully wild; so recently glaciated that it bears the still-fresh fingerprints of creation.

The hike begins beside a creek whose thundering roar hints at the magnitude of the marvels you've come to witness. Then, like a hypnotist regressing you to a past life, the trail guides you into a quiet, dark, moist, leafy-green middle world—a hanging basin, above the valley floor, beneath the icefield.…….

FACT

On Foot

Begin a long, ascending traverse northeast on a slumping, brushy slope. In about 15 minutes, pass a trail register at 1345 m (4410 ft) and enter a stand of timber. The trail steepens but is now better defined. Beyond the trees, sidehill through more brush above convulsing, glacier-fed Birnam Creek. Proceed into forest. At 1455 m (4770 ft), about 40 minutes from the trailhead, the trail turns left and drops to where a log bridge used to span the creek. It was blown out by a torrent in the intensely hot summer of 1998 when the glacier melted furiously and the creek raged for months. If the bridge has been replaced, cross to the far bank and follow the trail right (northeast).

If the bridge is still missing when you arrive, turn right and follow a boot-beaten path upstream about 100 meters (110 yards) to where a huge fallen log (possibly still flagged) should convey you to the far bank. Pick up the trail heading generally northeast. For the next 1.6 km (1 mi) you'll be on a level basin floor that can be inundated in spring and summer. Snowmelt from above often courses down the trail. It's not an obstacle, just annoying. Footlogs help in places but are too few to ensure dry boots.

Want to read the whole description for MacBeth Icefield? Get the book.

Sample of a Don't Do trip

WEE SANDY CREEK

Location Maps Valhalla Provincial Park
Round Trip 29 km (18 mi)
Elevation Gain 1370 m (4500 ft)
Time Required   Two days
Difficulty Challenging
Access Boat Required
Available late June through mid-October
Slocan Lake 82 K/3; Valhalla Society Visitor's Guide;
Valhalla and Kokanee Glacier Provincial Parks brochure

OPINION

Objective discernment has yet to illuminate the mysterious aura that shrouds Valhalla Provincial Park. That's because very few hikers have explored it thoroughly. Yet many have heard of Valhalla, and they swoon when it pops up in conversation. They imagine themselves trekking, deliriously awestruck, through an exalted mountainscape. It's an exaggeration—only slightly less mythic than the park's name, which refers to the great hall of dead Norse heroes.

Valhalla has dramatic alpine scenery, but less than advertised. And what little it has isn't easy for hikers to appreciate. Of the park's six trails, only one reaches the alpine zone (Gimli Ridge), and just two others reach the subalpine zone (Gwillim Lakes and New Denver Glacier. All the rest stay deep in forest. No grand vistas. No peak-studded horizons. No flower-filled meadows.

The Wee Sandy Creek trail is definitely in the "others" category. It's 14.5 km (9 mi) long. That means you'll carry a full pack for at least two days if you want to go the distance. On day one, after nine hours of arduous tromping (steep ascents, frustrating descents, washouts, deadfall, brush, bugs) you'll reach Wee Sandy Lake at trail's end and still be 350 m (1148 ft) below treeline. Most hikers would find that unfulfilling, even depressing. …….

FACT

By Vehicle

Drive to New Denver. It's at the junction of Hwys 6 and 31A, on the northeast shore of Slocan Lake. Proceed to the town campground. It's on the lakeshore, just south of Carpenter Creek, which is bridged on Hwy 6. Park at the outer edge of the campground, near the boat ramp and dock.

By Boat

The trailhead is on Slocan Lake's roadless west shore. To get there, you'll have to boat from New Denver, on the east shore. For shuttle service, call Hank Hastings (250-358-7737). Hank charges $35 per round trip for up to 4 people and gear. Make reservations at least a few days in advance. Ask to be dropped at the campground immediately south of Wee Sandy Creek. That's the trailhead, at 537 m (1760 ft).

On Foot

Follow the trail southwest. Within 15 minutes you might notice an old trail forking left (southeast). It leads 2 km (1.2 mi) to the Sharp Creek trail. Stay right, continuing the ascent southwest. Gradually curve west. This will remain your general direction of travel the rest of the way as you follow Wee Sandy Creek upstream. Near 4.8 km (3 mi) look for mountain goats on the cliffs north of the creek. …….