Paradise Valley, Sentinel Pass, Larch Valley 2014

September 21, 2014, at 06:00 AMerika

This will be my third, unintentionally annual hike up going from Paradise Valley over Sentinel Pass to Moraine Lake. This year was hosted by Lisa, who came along for the Piper Pass trip, and consequently not the 24-26 km loop that I've done in the past. She found a handful of fun hikers to get together for the trek, and when one of them brought along a crew of friends from work, the group turned into a collection of 15 friendly individuals.

The day, Sunday, September 21, 2014, was glorious, with 22oC weather, larches changing a beautiful yellow/light orange colour, grasses turning yellow and fresh almost brisk air that makes fall so delightful in this part of the world. We all made it over, and the fantastic part this time included finally discovering how to safely get up the scree side of Sentinel Pass. Read more...

With Lidia dropping by my place before hand, we headed off to McMahon to meet up with the rest of Lisa's group at 8am. With the group taking a little longer, we decided to head off after a quick stop at Tim Horton's for much needed caffeine. While we chatted in the car, the drive out was surprisingly quiet on the roads and we made it to Lake Louise Village in no time. With some coordination over cell phones (all hail the cell phone!) and describing our plans to the security person controlling entry onto Moraine Lake Road to let us through, our car parked at Moraine Lake, while the others parked at Paradise Creek, and had a driver come grab us.

We were on the trail by 11 am, and I maintained a hands-in-the-pocket pace trying to be more social. Gorgeous elements to take in. Lidia had a fantastic dress choice of yellow pants and a green shirt, well complimenting the green of the pines, and the yellowing of the larches. As always, there were photo breaks along the bridges, admiration of the snow and small glacier established on Temple, and the fun photos of Lake Annette. Unfortunately, its sufficiently late in the season that Lake Annette will likely not see the sun again until next summer, and instead lie in the shadow of Temple. Stone skipping, photo taking, and we were on our way again.

We seemed to walk at a comparable pace of two friendly women in their 50s, and so exchanged friendly comments, photos and successes. They'd not done the hike before and were unsure whether to visit the Giant Steps and return, or check out Sentinel Pass and try their luck at returning to their car at Paradise Creek. Our last exchange at the parking lot we discovered they'd been able to snag a lift with a motorcyclist which seemed like one of their highlights of the day. :)

We paused for lunch at a sun-speckled rock outcrop at the turn off for the Giant Steps. No Giant Steps this year, but worthwhile if one gets the chance. It was so interesting seeing the small meadows and fields with tanned grasses and colouring trees. I could picture in my minds eye their summertime green version with brilliant reds, yellows, blues and bear grasses, which would've been happening a mere month or so earlier.

I was overly concerned about the Sentinel Pass scree climb, given the 2 metre slide from last year, but hoped for a better approach this time. I must remember to try to stay left going up the valley, as its easier to stride along the trail, rather than lose sight of it and end up picking ones way through the lower level boulder field. Yet again starting up the right hand side of the scree slope and encountering the same concern and sliding from past years, I decided this was a terrible idea. There must be a better way to get up this thing and repeating an approach that doesn't work safely seemed like a poor choice. With my stomach doing knots, I broke away from the rest of the group to check out what looked like a better small trail with cairn along the way. If the slope decided to slide, it would end badly, but I attempted to manage my fear by reminding myself that others can make it up, so I can too.

I successfully crossed the trail, only to discover it rapidly disappearing. Crap. I paused. Trying to figure out where I was going. Half the group had successfully been picking their way up, while the other half was behind likely as equally unsure how to get up. Fortunately one of the fellows in the front group double backed to help those behind. Lidia up front kindly offered to double back to lend me a hand, given my likely obvious face of consternation, however I knew that I could make it, but was trying to work out how others manage it.

Turns out there are a collection of very dense switchbacks within the giant boulder field that progresses up the slope. There is an attempt at marking it out with cairns, however there are places where hands are worthwhile. Best to keep the poles packed away. I'm sure that I missed some of the switch backs, but kept a keen eye on finding new ones going under the assumption that they must exist. And when last you get up to the top, its indeed in the center of the pass, rather than the far right (south) side. Next time I feel I should bring spray paint or painted rocks to make the switch backs more obvious.

Glorious views at the top, as we were blessed with sheer blue sky along the way. Such a great day for a hike. Had some fun conversations with the various hikers in the group. Definitely a younger group in their early to mid-twenties, but they were interesting people and I even had some fun techie/computer conversations. They stumbled across interesting connections as well. Two people discovered their siblings had attended the same school and been briefly friends. One of the fellows went to U of C and almost chose to work as a researcher under one of my own supervisors. Some had quick swims in the lake on the east side of Sentinel. I must bring bathers, or be more comfortable in my own skin for lake-side splashes. :) It would also be fun to roam around Larch Valley for a stretch.

The stroll down the east side of Sentinel was straightforward and again down all the switchbacks to Moraine. A glorious turquoise colour. By the time we arrived at Moraine Lake, it was already 6pm. After working out shuttles and what the plans were, it was 7pm. Half went home to Calgary, while the other half ended up at the Toque in Banff. This Canadian-driven restaurant has some fun menu items and the group had a great time experimenting with the hockey sticks (fried back bacon), epic hamburgers (what wasn't in it? Montreal Smoked meat, beef, bacon jam, with a side of poutine) and fancy mac and cheese (with oka no less!).

As all first-of-the-season night-drives home, it was weird to be surrounded by so much darkness. Good conversation in the car ride home (Lidia had returned earlier, given she'd had such little sleep before such a long hike), with everyone dropped off by 11pm and in bed by 12. A long day for sure, but such good company.

Ideas for next time include leaving bikes at Moraine Lake, hiking the same route, and then biking either on the road, or along the Moraine Highline trail back to the cars at Paradise Creek. Epic hikers should be able to take in the Giant Steps, and mucking about Larch Valley for fun. It'd be fun to hike up to the small lakes just west of the Giant Steps (consider staying at the backcountry campsite there?) or ramble the boulder field just beyond Lake Annette, or through the meadows around Larch Valley. Fun places for kids to play games perhaps.

Oh, and did I mention we saw a fresh bear print, and scat along the Paradise Valley trail. ;-) Not to be confused with the horse droppings also present.

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