Minnewanka 'Spirit' Overlook - Winter
Date Walked: 14 February 2013
Distance: 8.1 miles (12.9km)
Actual Ascent: 2437 ft (743m)
Time Taken: 5 hours
Sarah splashed out on a new hiking jacket for me for Valentines day so I had to put it to use...immediately. Because we have had several weeks of warm weather and snow melt, I thought I would head further into the mountains for a change. I selected Lake Minnewanka just north east of Banff as it has a good long distance lakeshore trail which was my intended hike today. The lake was named by the first nations Stoney people, the translation being 'Water of the Spirits'.
The car park only had two other cars and the owners of both were close by so I was guaranteed the trail to myself.
The boat rental hut is closed for winter but I couldn't help thinking they could still make money from skate rentals and associated supplies, still the fewer amenities available the fewer folks there are wandering about. The mountains beyond the hut are Mount Inglismalde and Mount Girouard both almost 10,000 feet above sea level yet bearing only a light covering of snow. This must be the most mild winter ever experienced in the area.
My route continues along the lakeshore trail and I am soon beyond the boat huts looking back at the snow peaks of Cascade Mountain
as I turned along the western end of the lake I was struck by the lack of snow on the south west facing slopes of a very steep looking lump at the corner of the lake. I still haven't actually found the name of it. All I know is that it is the southern most part of the Palliser Range and is connected to Mt Astley by a fine looking ridge, I decided to call it 'Spirit Overlook' in deference to the Stoney peoples name for the lake....and I also decide to ascend it while the slopes are clear of snow.
I love the blue of the ice broken over rocks as the water level within the lake has fallen, this little hump can be seen in the previous photo just to the left of the skinny centre frame tree.
I contemplated crossing the ice (as some have obviously done before me) but being alone I decide to carry on with the trail, it might add 3km to go around by the bridge but I'm OK with that. The ridge I intend to ascend looks damn steep (aascent route was from the lower right hand end of the spine where it is snow free) as it turns out it really is damn steep!
there is a good well trodden trail heading toward the bridge so clearly I'm not the only one who opted for the go-around of the lake rather than the go-across.
The bridge is a fine looking trestle construction that crosses Stewart Canyon and leads me into the forest on the northern shore of the lake
I follow the trail as it heads along the canyon for a while before reaching a junction where switchbacks take me up above the tree line and back toward the lake, the view of Cascade Mountain from the trail whets my appetite and makes me more determined to get higher than I first intended today.
The trail rises and falls along the tree line, at times giving broken views through areas ravaged by forest fires. It is very warm and many of the trees are starting to bud.....I guess I'm not the only one who thinks spring is on the way early.
As I reach the point where my unnamed lump meets the lake I decide I'm leaving the lake side trial and heading up it, there is no sign of an ascent trail and I'm surprised by that, it seems such an obvious approach though I have to say this is as steep a thing as I've ever ascended.
I reach the first of a number of rock ledges that block my efforts and circle to the left until I reach a spot where I can scramble up. The rock is hellish sharp and gloves are soon donned to ease the wear and tear on my old hands.
Once up and over the first ledge I am blowing hard and pleased to stop for a while and take in the views. Cascade Mountain is now fully visible and I can also see across the valley toward Banff which sits between the ranges in the far distance.
The hike is fast becoming a climb in places and real care is needed on the loose shale, the angle of ascent doesn't get any easier and I am really feeling the effort but enjoying every step.
I make my own zig-zag route up the endless slope. It might be hard work but it really is beautiful and so good to be out and getting up high again.
Snow patches come and go during the climb but they are few and far between, as I drift to the right hand side of the rock face I can see along the eastern section of the lake and more stunning mountains beyond.
another ridge, another rest I can't decide if I've got chronically out of shape or if this hill is the steepest thing I've ever ascended...perhaps it's a little of both
the hill narrows and drives me toward a massive bulwark which appears to be guarding the entire ridge, I continue forward in the hope of finding a way around.
The way ahead is blocked entirely by the almost vertical lump of rock and though it does look just about possible to scale it, this is neither the time nor the place for such heroics. From the bottom of the lump the views out across the lake a stunning.
To the east the lake stretches away around endless mountains towards 'Devils Gap' some 28km away, it would make a nice gentle summer hike along its length.
I found myself a perch in the sunshine and had a cuppa in a fantastic lunch spot over looking the lake, my new 'valentines' coat adding a nice splash of colour to the image.
after a 10 minute rest I really wanted to get past this lump of rock so explored the right hand side of the lump, it quickly turned into a sheer wall of stone and though it offered the start of a 'possible' (though not probable) ascent route I quickly discounted it and turned to the tight shelf running around the left side.
it was a dicey little route to start with and I hugged the rock face as I skirted around, but it did widen out a little in places and allowed a well needed 'stop and relax' session
after a while the route narrowed to virtually nothing and the angle and mobility of the scree underfoot made me rethink the whole go-around idea. I do think it would be possible (with care) to carry on but I didn't know if that would be any good to me or if I would be circling the wall indefinitely.
I decide to call it a day and turn back to face the lake and pick my way back along the edge, looking down reminds me that this really is a damn steep lump of rock.
it's nice to get back on a wider section and relax again, I opt for a return to the lunch spot for another tea break before my descent.
for a fleeting moment I consider a long steep glissade on the shaded slopes to get me back to the path but conditions are not right and I reluctantly set off on the long descent happy that I'd made it to over 8,000 feet which I never expected to do today.
after a long and difficult descent (where did all those cliff edges come from) I finally reach the lake shore and decide to follow along it a while to see if I can see around the wall of rock that prevented my ascent, unfortunately the angle was such that I could only see rock going on forever so I turned for home.
back onto the western shore I took one last look across the 'Water of the Spirits' before heading to the car park.
I guess this would have to go down as a failure in terms of reaching a summit, but as I didn't set out with that intention today I'll put it down as a success for climbing an incredible slope I may otherwise have missed out on, I'll come back and hike the lake shore another day.