Distance: 19 km
Elevation gain: 750 m View map Download GPS track
After yesterday's successful beat-the-heat strategy of scrambling up a mountain we were hungry for a repeat. However, with a forecast high approaching dangerous levels and the unlikelihood of cloud and a good breeze again today we wanted something short. After mulling over many options, several of which significantly stretched the definition of short, we decided to pay a visit to the Moraine Lake area. Our primary objective would be Eiffel Peak, but should we be short on motivation or energy on the drive out we could easily change that to the Tower of Babel. We also decided Wenkchemna Pass would serve as a backup plan should Eiffel Peak be unfeasible due to snow.
The Moraine Lake area is one of the most scenically spectacular areas of the Rockies, but we rarely visit it due to its ridiculous popularity (it's more crowded than Walmart) and the restriction during most of the hiking season that requires hiking in a group of at least 4 to (in theory) prevent bear attacks. That restriction isn't yet in effect and we figured an early start would avoid the crowds, so off we went, arriving at the trailhead around 8 am after leaving our house at 5:45 am.
After quickly dispatching the switchbacks that lead to Larch Valley a short detour to an open area revealed significant snow on the upper slopes of Eiffel Peak. This may not have been a problem with ice axes, but a porcupine-related misadventure in our garden that morning had stressed us to the point that we forgot those tools at home. We considered hiking up for a closer inspection, but didn't feel like being turned back near the top and instead opted for our backup plan of Wenkchemna Pass. It's been on our to-do list for years anyway so it wasn't too much of a letdown to bail on Eiffel Peak.
It's been a long time since we hiked on an official trail in the National Parks and I'd forgotten how road-like they are. A poorly trained blind horse could lead someone along most of the trail to Eiffel Lake and with a few pokes and prods I'm sure it could find its way up to Wenkchemna Pass as well. Several large snowpatches near the pass made things very marginally more difficult today, but even then all we had to do was follow the tracks from those before us. The only obstacles were of course people, but the extreme heat today introduced a lethargy into the typical spasmodic movements of tourists that I've had trouble dodging and tolerating in the past, making the hike a bit more pleasant than I was expecting.
Thankfully the scenery was absolutely fantastic and the hike easily earns the "Premier" rating given to it in the popular Don't Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies
guidebook. The Ten Peaks, Eiffel Lake, meadows, small streams, and snowpatches were all photogenic under the blue skies today. A nice breeze in the 2600 m pass kept the temperature at a nice level, and I discovered on the way back that if I filled my hat, pants pockets, and shirt back with snow ice I stayed nicely cool while hiking. It was seriously pleasant and there were enough snow patches along the trail that I managed to keep melting ice on me until I arrived back at the car. Sandra wouldn't take my advice on the ice and her overheating was I believe aided by the many men who decided to hike topless today, especially by the much older man who greeted her with "hello beautiful young lady". He also apparently liked my hat.
In spite of (or in addition to) the near nudity, the hike to Wenkchemna Pass was a spectacular one. I'd love to repeat it in larch season, but the crowds that swarm the area at that time are literally newsworthy, and clothed or not crowds are something we like to avoid when hiking.