Sunday, 28 August 2011

Rockbound Lake -- with Pikas!

I wasn't planning on doing much today other than continuing the move process, but a friend of mine from Calgary called us up and wanted to know if we were going hiking today. This retirement thing enables us to do anything we want pretty much any time we want, so we said sure.

A prescribed forest fire burn was lit off yesterday in my favourite area of Kananaskis Country and we wanted to stay away from it and the smoke. So we headed into Banff park and climbed up to Rockbound Lake behind Castle Mountain.

The big cirque is pretty well known to the folks traveling the Trans Canada, as it is readily seen from the highway at a popular pull out. See, for instance, this shot from Panoramio. Castle is on the left, and the cirque is in the middle.

The majority of the hike isn't that thrilling (unless you love red squirrels, of which there were dozens). Like Taylor Lake, the start is about 7 km up through a mostly disenchanted forest with limited views. Unlike Taylor, at the top, it gets very good. First, you get to Tower Lake, a green pool at the foot of steep cliffs.
A shallow puddle of loveliness
The trail continues up the headwall at the end of the lake, with pretty views back up the valley.
Tower Lake just glistens
And then you arrive at Rockbound, and aptly named place.
The lake in the front, Mt. Helena at back. The route up is visible.
Eisenhower Tower at the end of Castle Mountain
The rock walls at the end of the lake
The lake actually overflows from time to time, but at this time of year, it drains out of the bottom though underground passages. When it does overflow, it heads down a wicked chasm in the limestone and down the headwall. But it's an easy walk to the crest of the dry waterfall, and this was the best view of the day.
Tower Lake on the right
Looking down the valley 
Smoke from the Buller Creek fire we were avoiding
Our friend Lynn on the edge
Tower Lake and Eisenhower Tower
It's a really popular scramble to climb Mt Helena, the ridge or any of the other peaks in the area (Stuart Knob, TV Peak or Castle Mountain itself) from the basin, and in truth, in the back of my mind I thought we might try one of the them. But it took a lot longer to get the the basin than I was anticipating, so we just spent time enjoying the basin, looking at the way up.
The gully that leads up (real trail in the trees on the right)
On our way down, we got into the shadows of Castle Mountain, and saw the colours on the back.
Prettier than the picture shows
Those big rubble fields on the backside of Castle...
Hmmn... looks like home to...
...were natural Pika habitat, and with patience, we saw a few.
Too shy; they never came that close
It wasn't a great wildlife day from the perspective of seeing wildlife. We only saw a single chipmunk, 3 Pikas, about 100 red squirrels. But footprints? Boy, did we see lots of footprints.
Two cougar tracks on top of each other
Two sizes of canid, two sizes of cat (probably bobcat)
...but the best of all, a HUGE wolf track.
A full 14 cm (5.5") long
It wasn't my intention to go hiking today, but I'm glad we did. This hike is longer  (9.25 km vs Patton & Robinson's 8.4 km) and higher (820 m vs their 760 m, both according to the two altimeters and the two GPSs that I carry) than the books say. One day, I'll return to hoof it up and climb Mt Helena. And I hope that when I do, the weather is as wonderful as it was today.

Thanks, Lynn, for asking us to go hiking today.


Edwin said...

Lovely weather, great pictures and some impressive footprints. Do you guys actually carry means to defend yourself - if necesarry - like pepperspray?

RyderDA said...

We've been carrying bear spray for years, as do most people in the mountains. It's even mandatory on some trails. But I haven't heard of a single person using it for real (to defend against an attack of any kind of animal) in over 2 years, and that time was a habituated bear bothering campers in a campground who were frying bacon (which you could apparently smell for miles). While they do happen, animal attacks are rare. Make a lot of noise on the trail and you're pretty sure to be left alone.

But carry bear spray anyway.