Ah yes. I was due for one of these extremely rare days in Waterton Lakes National Park! What days, you ask? Those rare gems where the wind is manageable and “sunny” actually means you see blue sky and the ball of fire sustaining life on our fragile planet! Oh – and of course those days when you have a route planned out that will take 100% advantage of these conditions. In our case Phil Richards and I were planning a grand traverse from Vimy Peak to Arras Peak (Vimy Ridge) to the highest point of Vimy Ridge (GR939323) and back again.
[Our grand traverse route.]
I met Phil at around 06:45 at the Wishbone Trail parking area where we unloaded our bikes and finished prepping our packs for the long day ahead. The bike ride started pretty fast with some downhill single track through light forest and prairie grasses. I’ll state it right up front that we were full of energy this particular day – we must have been because the bike ride felt downhill both ways for us!! ;)
The sun was coming up as we experienced something very unique and special while biking near the river crossing on the flats. At first we heard what sounded like people being tortured – the screaming was pretty intense! After few minutes we realized we were in the middle of a huge Elk rut! Wow. We saw at least 30 elk, including 5-8 LARGE bulls with massive racks. The bulls were calling out loudly, circling each other and generally getting their rut on. I thought we’d have to turn back more than once, but amazingly the huge animals let us through unscathed. We didn’t get stupidly close of course, but we had to wait for the animals to move out of our way several times. I’d have been really nervous on foot – I felt that we looked bigger on bikes. The two images that really stand out for me are two huge bulls ready to engage. They stood there, heads lowered, for about 5 seconds before deciding they’d save the fight for later. The other image is a lone bull, the largest we saw, standing in the morning light with the mountains behind him lighting up and his breath clearly visible streaming from his mouth as he called loudly for a mate.
Pretty cool stuff.
[The largest bull we saw - there were at least 8 of them.]
[The bull is calling loudly]
Since our day was pretty much made at this point everything else would be a bonus. And what a bonus it was! We biked a bit further than the river before coming to the split in the trail. We took the left fork up to Vimy Peak. Maybe I was just in a good mood but the trail up Vimy is fantastic. It’s very well designed in that it doesn’t lose or gain unnecessary height. I admire trails that manage to take the best possible line to their destination and this is one of those rarities. Phil set a furious pace (probably slow for him…) and I must have been feeling good because we still managed to chat about just about everything on the way up. The pace and chatting made the approach fly by and before 3 hours were even up; we were standing on our first summit of the day.
[Our first glimpse of Vimy Peak from the approach trail.]
[The trail is fantastic.]
[The only water source after the biking section, for the rest of the day is this small stream. Use wisely.]
[Phil set a furious pace up the steep approach trail. There are few breaks from the climb.]
[This was my favorite section of the approach - up a draw that used to hold a stream that's now dried up on top.]
[I love fall]
[Finally starting to break tree line - the larches aren't quite turned yet. :(]
[Looking back over Sofa Mountain and the approach valley. We'll descend the ridge between Sofa and Vimy.]
[Phil on some steeper terrain near the summit of Vimy Peak with Middle and Lower Waterton Lakes below.]
[Another shot of Phil on the exposed top part of Vimy Peak.]
Vimy Peak is an easy scramble but it has amazing views of the Waterton Lakes and the small Waterton town site far below. I scrambled off the summit in order to get the best views of the lakes. The most amazing part of the summit was that we could sit there and enjoy our views with very little wind and warm sunshine. This is NOT normal for Waterton. We were thinking that our day was just getting better and better. After signing a very full register (at least 30-40 entries per year) we continued on towards Vimy Ridge, or Arras Peak as it’s also called.
[A panorama from just under the summit where the view of the Middle Waterton Lake is best. ++]
[The small, quaint town of Waterton nestled by the Upper Waterton Lake. The bay near the town is known as "Emerald Bay".]
[Gorgeous morning views over Upper Waterton Lake towards mountains in both Waterton and Glacier National Park, including Richards (R), Campbell (L) and the snow covered peaks, Custer, Chapman and Olsen.]
[Gorgeous view of Mount Cleveland. I was first introduced to this mountain by the climbing tragedy that occurred here in the winter of 1969.]
[Lakeview Ridge isn't very big from this angle!]
[Wonderful Waterton colors on Ruby Ridge, looking over Crandell with Blakiston, Anderson, in the bg. ++]
[More gorgeous color looking across at Bertha, Alderson, Carthew and Buchanan. ++]
[Tele panorama of some distant giants including Custer at center and Richards in the foreground. ++]
[A full - but interesting - summit register. This peak is extremely popular as it rises over the town site of Waterton and has an easy trail up.]
We continued on to Vimy Ridge.