20151002: Larch+Scramble, Round 2 (Lake O’hara, Yoho)

When people at the office ask how my weekend went, I usually say something like, “Oh, good, thanks, I had a good weekend”. When they ask what I did, I say something like, “Yeah, just went to the mountains”. The mountains are not something I talk about at work, possibly because I doubt anyone would be interested. Plus, the mountains are my escape and I guess I don’t like to mix my two worlds.


When M asked if I wanted to join her and D on a camping-scrambling trip in the O’hara area my first reaction was, YES!!! M and I have been on ice climbing and glacier trips together before through the local clubs and D is like a celeb with the mountain set; I’d seen his name before.

Knowing what conditions can be like at this time of year around O’Hara from last year’s outing and having experienced poor conditions on the other side of the Divide a couple weeks ago and with the sobering news of recent fatality, I wasn’t willing to push any boundaries on this trip. M had this idea that it would be easy for our skill level. Also she’s experienced, intelligent and an excellent communicator, and not one of those whackos who has more energy than sense.

I figured that O’hara’s such a stunning area and there’s plenty to do, so it’s not like we’d have a lot invested in summiting anything if the weather was crap. I was expecting full-on winter conditions and possibility of wildlife encounters.


Friday we headed onto the shuttle into the campground. D was a little concerned about getting his elaborate tent-plus-tarp set-up, set up before the forecasted precipitation. “D, we’re only here for 2 nights you know”, M laughed. Well I can’t make fun because J and I did the same thing for the Tonquin trip! And spent a lot of energy getting our tarp just right. D was not more efficient than J and I were at Tonquin but he succeeded in getting his tarp up without any Health & Safety mishaps…

Yawn, exhausting week at work so I was glad for an early night.


Saturday we awoke to a world of Frozen; I unzipped the tent and a mound of icy slush fell into the vestibule. D and M had gotten up earlier and attempted to quietly and considerately get a fire started, to no avail.  D had even doused the wood in stove gas but that apparently didn’t do the trick.

Around 8AM some kids in the campground started crying and screaming and since that woke most everyone up, I guess nobody cared about the added noise of chopping wood. Someone got some dry wood and the fire got going. At which point the campground was feeling claustrophobic and we headed out.

Lake O'hara in the morning
Lake O’hara in the morning, Mt. Shaeffer on the right.

You’d have thought we’d never before experienced snow! For people who have seen a few mountains you wouldn’t believe how giddy we were at the sight of the snow caps. We literally stopped every few feet to admire the reflection on the lakes.

We did Shaeffer and got some nice views of Little Odaray (Feuz peak) which we were also planning do to. But the blue sky clouded over and we decided to save Lil’O for Sunday. We came down via a great scree slide to McArthur lakeshore. There was a perfectly sane safe trail from the lakeshore up the bands but do you think we opted for the trail when we could scramble?

We looped around the base of the mountain, back up Shaeffer to All Souls prospect (I guess we hadn’t had enough elevation??) and back down to Lake O’hara. My sore ankle was screaming.

Mt Huber from Mary Lake,
Mt Huber from Mary Lake, what we dubbed the Christmas card view.
Starting the ascent of Shaeffer
Starting the ascent of Shaeffer
Still goin' up.
Still goin’ up.
Scrambler's choice! M chooses left.
Scrambler’s choice! M chooses left and comes up over a lip.
Still going up.
Still going up, and getting there…
Summit register
Summit register
The intense blue of MacArthur Lake
The intense blue of McArthur Lake
Looking down to where we started this morning
Looking down to where we started this morning. Clouds moving in.
Descent to MacArthur.
Descent to McArthur.

We spent the evening around the stove in the campground shelter, telling tales of various mountain adventures, of which all were probably true. It was the three of us, a family of three (dad seemed a rather more eager camper than mom or daughter), a solo hiker, and a solo photographer. Partway through the evening a couple came in and proceeded to cook up a storm on two stoves during a 2-hour long cooking session.

Well! Why not. I mean, we were camping in luxury. The campground has bear lockers in which to store food, garbage bins, solar-heated water tap (the regular pipes freeze), and even toilet paper in the outhouses. Not to mention the tiny Relais shop near the lake, that sells postcards and coffee and carrot cake and rhubarb muffins to hikers waiting for the shuttle.

Sunday was another gorgeous morning.

The photographer took up his usual spot across the lake, but after a brief brilliant pink spell the sky looked to be fogging over.

Cathedral, I think
Cathedral, I think

We headed out to Little Odaray via the Highline and had some fun with the wildlife camera that’s set up on a tree by the voluntary registry. Gotta liven up the day of the minimum-wage student watching the video feed, mused M. I giggled at the thought of the video being posted on Parks Canada’s facebook page.

An inversion… As we climbed out of the fog we were completely giddy with a sense that we were somehow chosen, or fortunate, to be able to enjoy near-perfect weather at alpine elevations. Oh those poor hikers stuck doing the lake circuit under the clouds! The arthritic photographer, maybe we could have carried him up here! It was hard to concentrate on the going, because the scenery was so incredible. Every few minutes we’d utter a breathless “wow”.

We made it to the summit and were still in such joyous mood we weren’t even bothered that we couldn’t see anything.  Meaning, it looked like any other peak in the winter.

Shaeffer, and a flock of birds that followed us.. Looking for food, maybe?
The valley below
The valley below
 Odaray highline
Leaving the Odaray highline boulders and starting the scramble
The lakes getting smaller...
The lakes getting smaller…
Fun stuff
Fun stuff
Finally some ice!
Finally some ice!
Mini alpine. Losing visibility.
Mini alpine adventure. Losing visibility.
Aaand, that's it.
Aaand, that’s it.

A bit of glissade, a bit of “self-arrest”, and we were back down in time to break camp and head out at a decent hour. Fantastic trip.


Monday morning, M messaged: “I showed up at work with goofy drunk mountain grin this morning, what about you?”

Heck yes! I’m still hung-over on mountain spirit.


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