Distance: 21 km
Elevation gain: 1250 m View map Download GPS track
Sandra and I have explored many areas of the Rockies, but one area we hadn't yet been was Waterton National Park. We'd passively avoided the area in the past as we had so many other areas to explore closer to home, but also because Waterton tends to be hot and very windy and for some reason I thought it was well over 3 hours from Calgary, making it a bit too far for a day trip. However, with smoke and showers in the forecast for our usual stomping grounds this week and a far better forecast for Waterton we figured now would be a great time to pay the area a visit. We planned on a four-day car camping expedition, with the first and last serving as travel and rest days and reserving the middle two for hiking and scrambling. As it turned out the park was just a bit over 2.5 hours from our place, which meant we could have been dayhiking there all these years! We stayed at the Belly River campground, about 20 minutes from Waterton townsite. With the exception of mosquitos, it was a very nice campground and we were allowed to use the showers at the large townsite campground.
Wanting to make the most of our time I planned two days of hiking/scrambling that would get us to the summit of four named peaks. The first day was an ascent of Akamina Ridge. It's eastern highpoint is named Forum Peak and so we figured we could legitimately claim two peaks in one day simply by hiking the entire length of the ridge! My pre-trip research revealed two routes up the ridge. One, described in Alan Kane's scramble guide
, involves bushwhacking along an infrequently maintained cutline that leads directly up a northeastern ridge of Forum Peak. A bit of moderate scrambling is involved to gain the ridge via this route. An easier option is described in Don't Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies
, and while it would deposit us onto the ridge between Forum Peak and the highpoint of Akamina Ridge and thus require a bit of a detour to reach Forum Peak, we figured it was the better option for us.
The trailhead for Akamina Ridge is signed as Akamina Pass along the Akamina Parkway. From the parking lot we ascended along easy trail, reaching and crossing the BC-AB border after about 1.5 km, then after a further 700 m or so turned left onto the Forum Lake trail. Initially fairly level this trail shortly began a steep ascent, passing Forum Falls along the way, before leveling off again about a kilometer before Forum Lake. From Forum Lake we picked up a signed trail for Akamina Ridge heading west, following it up a grassy ridge separating the Forum Lake basin from that of Wall Lake. We took a quick energy break here, then turned our attention to the crux of the trip - a steep ascent through several cliff bands. There were many routes through the rocks, but with careful routefinding we never encountered anything difficult or exposed. A few times I started up a section and found my knee next to my face (so a big step), realized it was too high for Sandra, and then found an easier, shorter step to ascend through.
Above the cliff bands we found ourselves on a grassy plateau about a kilometer west of Forum Peak. We set a course for it, gently ascending towards the ridgecrest while knowing we'd need to lose about 75 m of that elevation on the traverse to the peak. Marmots and a tame deer en route helped boost our spirits as clouds periodically enshrouded Forum Peak and completely covered the tops of all the spectacular peaks to the south. Thankfully we arrived on Forum Peak during a break in its cloud cover and were greeted by wonderful views of Cameron Lake below and, of course, spectacular views in all other directions too. It also appeared the clouds might be lifting, and so we headed back along Akamina Ridge in high spirits.
From Forum Peak to the descent point off Akamina Ridge was a 6 km ridgewalk that we'd been looking forward to for over 6 years (it is Premier hike #1 in Don't Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies
), but unfortunately for us rain started moving in from the southwest shortly after we departed Forum Peak. Rather than dive off the ridge at our ascent point we chose instead to rocket along the ridge, tagging both its highpoints along the way, and reached the descent point after a bit more than 90 minutes on the ridge (we'd wanted to spend hours up there). It was lightly raining and freezing cold for the last 20 minutes along the ridge, but despite large storms to the north and south we didn't get any more rain. We had lunch in the trees about midway down the ridge en route to Wall Lake, then followed the trail back out to the Akamina Pass trail and back out to the car. An enjoyable trip despite the weather issues!