Zenfolio | Matthew Clay | The Onion and Iceberg Lake, July 26, 2017
Visitors 157
55 photos

Distance: 20 km
Elevation gain: 975 m
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Our hike up Mosquito Mountain yesterday had left us unusually tired, so today we wanted something a bit easier. “Easier” never really seems to mean easy anymore, but The Onion, a small peak rising above Bow Glacier, looked promising with just a bit of easy routefinding and the assurance that most of the trip was on official trail.

We started hiking on the decent trail around Bow Lake around 8 am, making good time to where the Bow Hut trail branches off from the main Bow Falls trail. We headed for Bow Hut, crossing the large boulder bridging the gorge holding the beginnings of the Bow River. We’ve crossed this boulder several times before, but it is certainly mildly exposed and intimidating. The most difficult part, especially for those with short legs, is getting up onto the boulder (and down on the way back). Sandra did ok on the way, but had a lot of trouble on the way back (and it didn’t help that a couple of douchebag tourists wouldn’t get off the rock/trail, preferring to sit in the middle of the trail and prevent the passage of others).

Past the boulder we continued on the trail to Bow Hut. I soon discovered that my memory of the trail being easy was completely false as we found ourselves hopping over boulders and roots for much of its initial length. It wasn’t terrible, but my legs – which hadn’t fully recovered from yesterday – had a harder time hopping along than what I’d hoped for today.

We reached Bow Hut after 2.5 hours of hiking and continued towards the toe of the glacier. After a quick snack in the cool breeze flowing from the icefield we continued towards the base of The Onion, making our way over, along, and around dozens of glacially-scoured rock ribs, tiny pools, and little streamlets. It was slow going, but surprisingly fun and scenic and not much more difficult than an off trail hike. A short distance up we started to see cairns marking various routes through the maze, and while we followed them for the most part, I was having a fun time looking for routes on my own.

It took us about an hour to navigate our way to the enormous summit plateau, but this time could easily be cut down to half that or even less, especially if you don’t mind a bit of scrambling. We had lunch at the summit cairn, then spent quite a bit of time wandering around the plateau to see the valleys and glaciers surrounding it. Iceberg Lake, which we’d visit on our descent, and Bow Glacier, were nearly invisible from the summit, but in full view from a bit further west on the plateau.

We returned to the valley directly below Bow Hut the way we’d come up, but instead of continuing along the trail we decided to head directly for Iceberg Lake. Our route initially crossed a large rubble field, but travel was surprisingly simple and a few cairns indicated others had gone this way as well. Rubble soon transitioned to easy travel up a minor creek, then lovely wandering through a meadow at the base of The Onion. I was a bit concerned about the large lateral moraine looming at the end of the meadow, but a gap between it and The Onion permitted easy passage, albeit on unstable rubble, and we soon found ourselves overlooking Iceberg Lake.

We descended to the lakeshore and made our way to the outlet stream, the very beginning of the Bow River. As we admired the waterfall cascading from Bow Glacier into the lake I couldn’t help but notice that it looked a lot different than when I’d first visited in 2011. Now that I’m home and can see the photos I took then, it’s shocking and quite sad to see how far the glacier has receded in such a short time. If recession continues at the same rate, the photogenic toe of Bow Glacier will likely be gone within five years.

We descended from the lake the same way we’d ascended in 2011. This involved a nasty descent on the hardened mud and loose rubble of the lateral moraine, a short jaunt through forest and a few minor cliff bands on good trail, a traverse along a wide cliff ledge, another slightly less nasty descent of a moraine, and finally crossing the creek to get back to the Bow Hut trail. After that it was an easy, but tiring, plod back to the truck.

Categories & Keywords
Category:Lifestyle and Recreation
Subcategory Detail:Hiking
Keywords:Banff National Park, Bow Falls, Bow Glacier, Bow Hut, Iceberg Lake, The Onion, hiking, scrambling