A travel journal
to Yoho National Park by Ben the Grate
Quote: Imagine the coldest, bluest water to have ever melted off a glacier born of thousand-year-old snow. Place it in a basin fringed by cathedral mountains. Pour in seven lacy waterfalls to lap the edge of the lake. And you've got Lake O'Hara.
How superfluous can you get?
Superfluous is really the only word to describe this remote place. The hut sits merely 2 miles and 5,000 feet above over-crowded Lake Louise, but few people are ever aware of its existence.
The hut was built in the early 1900s as a base for mountaineers climbing the challenging peaks surrounding Lake Louise and Lake O'Hara. It is a 2 story stone cabin with communal beds and an outhouse that sits above a vertical mile of empty airspace.
There is no electricity or running water. Bring your own water, or melt snow (which falls and stands year round in this frigid place) in the kitchen over the propane stove. The hut is warmed by wood burning stoves, and you'll be asked to take your turn at chopping logs for the fire.
You'll be sharing the hut with mountaineers from all over the world who are climbing the peaks above you. At night around the fire you'll hear stories of Everest, K2, and Kilamanjaro.
Membership in the Alpine Club of Canada is required ($30US for a non-active member), and the hut runs about $20US per person.
The only way to reach the hut from Lake Louise is to trek across the Victoria Glacier and ascent a steep, ice-filled canyon called "The Deathrap" for the number of mountaineer's lives it claims each year.
However, in hiking season the hut is accessible via a steep alpine scramble from the Lake O'Hara side. Follow the Lake Oesa trail 2 miles from Lake O'Hara and branch right at the sign for Abbott Pass. You'll climb a vertical mile over steep and unstable rock "scree" and you'll think you're about to die more than once. But it's safer than it feels, and strong hikers can make it with no mountaineering experience.
More than once I've sat late into the night listening to stories by LEGENDARY mountaineers in this hut on top of the world.
If it sounds interesting to you...GO!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on February 26, 2002
Abbott Pass Hut
Yoho Park, Canada
Hotel | "Lake O'Hara Lodge"
All meals, taxes, and transfers on the school bus are included in their rates, which for 2002 are listed below.
Room in lodge with shared bath - $240 US Lakeshore cabin with private bath - $320 US
Deluxe cabin - $360 US
$130 US, main lodge with shared bath only
Is this expensive? YES. It is worth it? YES. During the winter you'll be one of only 16 guests. During the summer, you'll be one of 50. The staff-to-guest ratio is often 2 to 1, greater in the winter. They provide everything from personal guides and naturalists to fine cuisine and wine every night. They pack sumptuous picnic lunches for you to take on your hikes.
Staying at this charming and rustic backcountry lodge is the PINNACLE of a Canadian Rockies luxury experience. Forget the Chateau Lake Louise, the Banff Springs, or the Jasper Park Lodge, Lake O'Hara makes fools of them all!
Lake O'Hara Campground
Yoho Park, Canada
Tucked into a corner of a charming alpine valley, 1/4 of a mile from the shores of Lake O'Hara is the Elizabeth Parker hut, built in 1926. It consists of two huts, one bunkhouse, and another bunkhouse/kitchen/living area.
Accomodations here are communal, and the place is so popular that you will likely be sharing the place with up to 30 people. Luckily, Lake O'Hara attracts a special breed of people, and I've always met the friendliest and most interesting people here.
The hut is owned by the Alpine Club of Canada and it's tricky to get reservations, first of all because it's extremely popular, second of all because you have to be a MEMBER of the ACC to stay at the hut! You can buy a non-active annual membership for about $30 US, and the hut costs about $20 per night per person.
There is no electricity or running water at the hut. Water is gathered from a spring mere steps from the doorway (I always purified it, but most people just drank straight from it). Light is by propane lanterns, and cooking is via a well equipped kitchen with propane stoves and ovens.
I did not bring the kind of food that would do this kitchen justice. There were veteran guests here preparing meals fit to serve in the finest restaurants in Canada! Don't bother bringing pans or utensils, just stock up the icechests!
Bedding is on very comfy thick pads in bunkbed formation, but bring your sleeping bag or blankets. The huts are toasty warm thanks to wood-burning stoves and propane heaters.
The hut is a 1km (5 minute) hike from the bus dropoff near the Lodge.
Elizabeth Parker Hut
The Alpine Meadow
Yoho Park, Canada
The number of people allowed to enter this area of the park is restricted, so advance reservations are REQUIRED, and if you're looking for July or August you'd better make them 6 months in advance.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on February 26, 2002
From the marked junction just before Lake Oesa, the trail steeply climbs to a high shoulder (crossing a snowy canyon that can be quite hazardous if you have a heavy pack), then leads out into the middle of the scree slope and disappears 4,000 feet below the hut.
You're on your own from there! You'll be a fool to try and ascend the incredibly loose, small rocks in the center of the gorge. My best advice is to stick to the rock needs jutting out to the left-center of the pass. If you do this, you'll see painted symbols marking the route.
I recommend a helmet to protect yourself from rocks inevitably dislodged by hikers above you. It can be unnerving to watch a 400 pound boulder whizz past your head like a flying sparrow, but it'll happen! I wonder why more people don't die on this climb.
It will take you about 3 hours to ascend the 1.5 miles to the hut from the Lake Oesa trail. Once up there, there's nothing to do but drink in the eye-popping scenery around you.
The easiest way down is via the dead center of the gorge. Just sit on one of your heels and slide down! It's actually safe as long as you're a good distance below the hiker above you, and wear your helmet. It will take about 2 hours to descend to the trail.
Make sure you have plenty of water because after you leave the Lake Oesa trail there is no more water for 6 hours until you get back.
Pack light, and don't forget the camera!
Yoho Park, Canada
It is a lovely short hike to do on an easy day after "recovering" from Abbott Pass or the Alpine Circuit, or to do the afternoon you arrive on the bus.
Get a trailguide at Le Relais or use Canadian Rockies Trail Guide.
Yoho Park, Canada
No, that's not an exaggeration. Any reputable hiking institution or publication will tell you this.
The only problem is that it's not a trail, it's a "route." Which means you have to be a keep route-finder, sure on your feet, and VERY strong, as the trail ascends and descends thousands of feet multiple times on the circuit!!!
The reward for this extreme exertion is an overview of the Lake O'Hara basin, arguably the most spectacular mountain scenery on the planet. The lake and its surroundings are so breathtakingly different from each angle, and the Circuit takes in virtually every viewpoint that can be had.
Start early, and don't overestimate your abilities. This is a SERIOUS hike, climbing loose rock scree, scrambling along thin rock shelves with thousand foot vertical drops below you if you mis-step.
This is a hike that will stay in your memories FOREVER, in both good and scary ways!
Yoho Park, Canada
You start by winding along the Lake O'Hara shore with views across to the Seven Sisters Waterfalls, then a steep climb up to a plateau high above the lake for more eye-popping views. Then it's up a chain of waterfalls and picture-perfect mountain lakes to the stark Lake Oesa (Ice Lake) cradled in a sheer-walled basin. Most years the lake has ice in it year-round. Hoary marmots are common here.
There is nothing technical on the trail, though the climb out of the Lake O'Hara basin is steep. Allow a full day to enjoy this trail, or combing it with a lung-popping ascent of Abbott Pass for a perfect-but-long day of mountaineering, no experience required!
Yoho Park, Canada
Lake O'Hara is located in Yoho National Park in British Columbia, Canada, about 10 miles west of Lake Louise (120 miles west of Calgary) and the parking lot for the trailhead and the bus is literally 20 feet off the trans Canada highway. It is well marked.
There are 2 ways to get to Lake O'Hara from the parking lot: bus or foot. By foot, there is an 8 mile trail to the lake from the lot, and you're welcome to hike in, but unless you have reservations at the lodge, campground, or one of the huts, you'll be turned right around when you get there.
The alternate (and quicker) way is to book a seat on a school bus that takes visitors in a few times a day. If you have reservations at the lodge, campground, or hut, you will automatically be secured reservations on the bus. It is $12CAD (about $7US) each way. The ride takes about 30 minutes and is somewhat hair-raising. (I didn't know school buses could climb roads that steep!)
Unless you're staying at the lodge, Ground Zero for you will be Le Relais, the day shelter on the main road just before the lodge. This is where the trail to the Elizabeth Parker Hut is located. Le Relais serves snacks all day (UNBELIEVABLE pumpkin bread and hot coffee) and provides books, maps, and a wealth of information about the area. At night, people squeeze into this tiny hut to hear lectures or stories from naturalists or old-timers.
Lake O'Hara is located in prime wildlife corridor, which means you're GONNA see grizzlies, you're GONNA see elk, you're GONNA see marmots and you're GONNA see pikas whether you want to or not. Be smart. You are in bear country. If you're not used to that, ask at Le Relais for a pamphlet or talk to a park ranger there.
Be smart while hiking. Most of the best trails here are steep, and many are considered "alpine routes" which is a few steps above "trail" so be careful and don't overextend yourself.
Most of all, just sit back and drink in the views of a place that EVERY VISITOR will tell you is the most breathtaking scenery in all the world.
This is no exaggeration!
Ben the Grate