We are getting ready to hoist our backpacks in the parking lot at the Glacier Lake trail head and we chat first to a couple from Quebec and then one from Australia. We start down the trail and meet a family with very strong Spanish accents. We are at an international destination in our Rocky Mountains.
The Glacier Lake trail head is about 1 km away from Saskatchewan Crossing, where Hwy 11 intersects Hwy 93 midway between Banff and Jasper. The hike to the lake is about 9 km on a relatively easy rolling path. We plan to camp one night and hike out the next day to get two days of hiking in a row to practice for the West Coast Trail.
After 1 km we cross the North Saskatchewan River on a bridge. The water is rushing under the bridge working its way to Edmonton, where we live. After another kilometer, we stand on a high bank with a view of the Howse River.
We hike about 5 km up and over one shoulder of Survey Peak on a well traveled path. We cross a small creek numerous times, its burbling keeping us company in the quiet forest. As we start to head down off the shoulder, we know we are nearing the lake. We come across an interesting sight. A perfect circular hole in a tree with a large pile of wood shavings below.
As we stand by the tree, a woodpecker sticks its head out of the hole and peeks at us. Surprise! It disappears, then peeks again! We stand there amazed! The woodpecker doesn’t seem to be afraid of us. It has been building a nest in the tree and the shavings of its labour are strewn on the ground. It flies out of the hole and lands on the adjacent tree, hops around and pecks, as woodpeckers do. We simultaneously dig out our cameras and start shooting pictures.
We reach the campground and find that it is very full. Only one spot left and it doesn’t look appealing to us. A group of young hikers tells us about a campsite 300 m further down the trail along the lake that is very nice. We decide to go take a look at it and when we arrive, it doesn’t take us more than 2 seconds to decide to stay.
We pitch our tent by the water so we will get the morning light and near some trees for shelter.
The lake is an icy grey colour and its mood changes by the minute. We see two glaciers, one at the end of the lake (Southeast Lyell Glacier) and one across the lake. There is a loon floating on the lake and it calls occasionally, each time Murray and I stop what we are doing and look at one another with eyes wide. The call is piercing, lonely and haunting.
We cook soup and then supper, enjoying the view as we munch our rice, chicken and peanut sauce. It’s Murray’s birthday today so we have a treat for dessert – banana chips, peanuts and melted chocolate. We tidy up our camp, hang our food and cooking utensils while watching rain clouds approach from down the lake. We decide to take shelter from the rain inside the tent. The sounds of the thunder bouncing off the mountain, wind blowing down from the heights, trees dancing, waves lapping on the shore and the rain pinging on the tent are like a symphony composed by Mother Nature.
After the rain, we climb out of the tent for a stretch and then retire for the night. In the morning, the sun is bright on the tent and the clouds hang low over the lake.
We watch the clouds lift while we pack up. We take one last view of the glacier before we start our hike back to civilization.