Dogtooth Traverse (pictured)
(8 to 12 hours)
This is a true epic, even if some of the heavy lifting is done by the gondola at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. Don’t let the ride overshadow the work in front of you — you have a long distance to trek through the rough, challenging terrain of the Dogtooth Range of the Purcell Mountains near Golden, which will include some route-finding. Start from the top of the gondola and begin your northward route along the knife-edged boulder-strewn ridgeline — a rugged, unmarked traverse — to the pass between Canyon Creek and Holt Creek. View the gems of Holt Lakes as you pass between the drainages of Holt Lakes and Gorman Lakes. Tireless, head down to Gorman Lakes and complete the 16 km journey.
Mountain Lakes Trail
(a.k.a Heiko’s Trail)
(7 to 12 hours)
Very little traffic, dramatic mountain backdrops of the famed Three Sisters Peaks, scribed wooden bridges, waterfalls cascading from cliff-sides and dark caverns are only a few of the reasons why this is a must-do trail. Approximately 20 km in total, it begins with a tough climb from Hartley Lake Road, ascending over a couple of high mountain passes and through glorious meadows. Further on, you’ll cross through various environs — from dense vegetation and frequent bear digs to barren rock gardens — then enter a large scree bowl before you reach the final, steep descent down to Island Lake Lodge. (Might be a good stop for a beer.) Your best bet is to get dropped off at Hartley Lake and picked up at Island Lake, or do car shuttle early in the morning, to optimize time on the trail for this one way, seven- to 12-hour trek.
St. Mary’s Alpine Provincial Park
Adventure abounds here — starting with the access route, Dewars Creek Forest Service Road, which was impacted by 2013’s spring floods. Don’t let it deter you, but make sure your ride is a sturdy four-wheel-drive. Your destination is Mortar and Pestle Lakes, emerald jewels tucked into a high basin riddled with rocks and awe-inspiring, chiselled peaks. Be prepared for a real epic: bushwhacking and advanced route-finding skills are required — you are set for a truly less-travelled mountainous region of British Columbia that will take your breath away. (Assuming the road doesn’t take the air out of your tires before you get there.) The alpine basin is strewn with lakes — each would be a star in its own show, but you have the whole series to explore. After a short but strenuous four-kilometre hike into park boundary, a game of “pick your route and ramble” begins. Then, head over to Price Lake and choose a pleasant camping spot.
Elk Lakes Provincial Park
Arduous dusty forestry roads lead to Elk Lakes Provincial Park, a little-visited location wedged under the wing of Kananaskis Provincial Park and nudged up tight to some of the most spectacular peaks in Canada. Once the dust settles, it will be clear why this is a must-visit. Trek along the short access hike into Petain Basin Backcountry Campground, along which you’ll pass the photogenic Lower and Upper Elk Lakes and view the eye candy peaks beyond. Give yourself a couple of hours to setup your basecamp at Petain Campground and from there you’ll start an alpine exploration bonanza. Hike from there to Petain Basin or Coral Pass — both showcase Mother Nature’s brilliance.
Kananaskis Country, AB
You may see a few people on your approach or descent route, but more than likely you will have this amazing alpine ridge-walk all to yourself. Weather checks before beginning any of these hikes are important, but are particularly critical on this one as it is famous for high winds and there are sections that will make you pucker with each step due to significant exposure. Deep in Kananaskis Country, this one-way doozy totalling 38 km with an elevation gain of 1,550 metres is best done as a multi-day backpack trip, so to spend more time enjoying the spectacular alpine basins along the way. Starting from Interlakes parking lot, you’ll begin on the Upper Kananaskis Lake Loop Trail until you are parallel with Hidden Lake. Here, you put your route-finding to the test by uncovering a faint trail to Hidden Lake. Following the southern edge to Aster Lake trail junction, thus begins the seemingly endless ascent to Aster Lake (pay attention, as many have lost this trail). From the lake, it climbs up Northover Pass to the famous miles and miles of sky-walking along undulating ridge lines, before descent to Three Isle Lake and return to Interlakes parking lot. There are a few sections where the trail is easy to lose, but the challenge comes with a guarantee — the jaw dropping scenery will blow you away. It can be done in one day — but only if you’re crazy fit, solid in route-finding, well-prepared and start out at 4:30 a.m. from Point Campground.
This article originally appeared in our Summer 2014 issue.