Above: the braided falls coming out of Crypt Lake are stunning
Meg and I just spent another weekend down at one of our favourite National parks, Waterton, this time to hike the infamous Crypt Lake trail. The weather forecast for the valley and surrounding areas was not promising, and after a lot of trepidation, we finally decided to commit and head down, after all what is a little rain a thunderstorm in the back country?
We arrived at the park gates around 4ish on Friday afternoon and decided to fork out the $130 for the annual national parks pass as I would soon be heading to Banff to meet my family. Immediately upon driving toward the townsite of Waterton, the full effects of last years wildfire were evident with the hillsides scattered with blackened skeletons of trees and the old visitors centre now being nothing but burnt ashes and soil. The grey skies and occasional light shower added to a somewhat sombre tone but we were still upbeat about having a good time, I mean we had never had a bad one here before.
A quick visit to our campsite for the night and the new visitors centre, we could confirm that most of the park and ~80-90% of the hiking trails remained closed because of the fire, despite this however almost all campsites were full and town seemed to be bustling. We decided to spend rest of the afternoon and early evening on a small hike which could be accessed at the Red Rock parkway turnoff, the road itself however remained closed.
The path led us on a nice mellow stroll along the river, parallel to the road and through some patches of forest which had clearly been effected by the fire. As we hiked further away from the main road, some of the trail became thickly grown and we decided to start making some more noise to deter encounters with furry custodians. Just as we got into a conversation about grizzly bears we were about to come to a bend in the river when we spotted one of them the other side, just a little guy maybe 1 or 2 years old. Initially panicked we stopped and looked at the bear grazing and I tried to get a little closer to get a photo without alerting it to our presence. A couple of steps forward and I saw the cubs big momma lingering behind! Only a couple of hundred meters away and with a small shallow river crossing at the bend, we decided to leave them to their grazing and high tail it out and back to the road.
Above: our poor quality iPhone photos of said bear encounters. I swear they were real 😀
A little high on adrenaline, the sun began to poke out as we made some distance quickly back to the car, both of us excited to have seen some wildlife so early in our visit. Not 5 minutes into our brisk walk, I broke our conversation abruptly again to point out another bear across the river, this time a large black one! Now with a larger stretch of river in front of us and the high ground, we spent a few minutes watching it forage through the trees and peeking a closer look with the binoculars. Finally we got back to the car however our evening safari was not to be done yet.
Driving back into town we slowed down to see another smaller black bear ambling on the side of the road and got to take some better snaps this time. The friendly conservation officer then told us another bear had been spotted further down the road in the direction we were heading so naturally we drove on in anticipation and were not disappointed. This time, another larger black bear mother with 3 cubs! We were a little awe-struck, living for years in bear country we have seen our share in the wild but never this many in a day and so many cubs. We watched on as the family of bears did their thing, moving on finally to set up camp and have some dinner before our big hike in the morning.
Overnight and the next morning was dry despite the forecast and after a hearty breakfast we stopped in town for coffee before buying our tickets on the ferry to the trailhead for Crypt lake. Much to Megs delight, with it being one of the few hikes open in the park, the ferry was pretty packed which meant we would have enough company throughout the day to scare off any further bear encounters. We ended up starting the actual hike around 10.30 and under overcast skies and occasional drizzle, we reached the lake just before 1pm.
Above: Comparing the difference in hiking in mid September 2014 to 23rd June 2018.
Having done the hike a few years previously (and in much different Fall conditions) it was still a treat to see the wonderful views along the hike, especially the waterfall and valley that Crypt lake feeds into (I’d argue that the views here are greater than the actual lake itself). Meg conquered her fear of heights in the narrow and more challenging sections involving the ladder and natural rock tunnel and we both agreed that the unforgiving steep hikes around Fernie have prepared us well for this relatively more moderate trail. That being said, after close to 20km return and being slightly damp after the rain picked up a bit in the afternoon, we were feeling the days work and happy once the Ferry picked us up at 5:30pm to take us back to the town. Stoked with completing the “bucket list” hike for Meg and seeing so much wildlife the day before, we drove back home to Fernie and capped off another awesome adventure with some pizza and wine on the couch.