After our rest day for travel to Waterton Lakes National Park, we were ready to hike again. We did learn about one problem when we checked at the park visitor center. The road to Cameron Lake had been washed out by torrential rains in June. We would learn later that the same rains had caused a lot of damage in the other Canadian national parks in the rockies. Because the road was closed, access to several trailheads was not possible. Since Waterton Lakes is a small park, that eliminated a significant percentage of the hikes that were on our list.
For our first day we decided to hike to Goat Lake. It wasn't our first choice but at least we could get to the trailhead. We had about a fifteen minute drive to the start of the hike. Not long after we turned onto the Red Rock Canyon road we came upon two cars stopped by the side of the road. That usually means some kind of wildlife. We pulled over. Sure enough, there was a bear about fifty feet from the road. We watched him for about five minutes and got some great pictures. This was close up and even better than the night before from our balcony. Eventually the bear moved away and we continued on toward the trailhead. Enough car touring. It was time to do some hiking.
Or so we thought. But first we had a minor road rage incident. As I was driving along, there was a big suburban right on my tail. He was obviously in a big hurry, which was kind of stange given that we were on a dead end road that ended in another couple of miles. I guess he was anxious to start hiking. I was looking for a place to pull over to let him by. Before I could find a spot I came over a hill and right in the middle of the road a car had stopped. I have no idea why. I slammed on my brakes and just managed to avoid hitting him. Of course the guy tailgaiting me barely missed clobbering me. I thought that maybe he would have learned his lesson. But when we were at the trailhead getting ready to hike we overheard (probably on purpose) comments blaming us for stopping in a bad spot. There were two big SUV's next to each other with Utah plates. A couple of adults were hiking with a large group of kids. Looked like a Mormon youth group trip. It was bad enough that the guy was driving dangerously when leading a youth group. But the worst part was that he wasn't even aware of what had happened. Sandy and I were both pretty steamed about it so we decided it was time to start hiking. We needed the tranquility of the mountains.
After all the excitement on the drive to the trailhead the hike itself was uneventful. The trail followed the river valley for two and a half miles. It was easy, level hiking with occasional views of the surrounding peaks. Then at a junction our trail to Goat Lake turned steeply uphill. We climbed 1300 in just a mile and a half to reach the lake. The first part was still in forest. It was the usual - hard work, no views, heat, bugs. But then we broke out of the trees onto an open slope. We had nice views. We had a cool breeze. The bugs were gone. But this rising traverse was brutally steep and breeze or not it was still hot. Finally we topped out and entered a hanging valley. Now we were back in the woods but only had about a quarter mile of level trail to reach Goat Lake. The view at the lake was pretty but not outstanding. On a three week hiking trip in the northern rockies you can get develop pretty high standards for scenery. The maintained trail ends at the lake but a well worn route continutes around the lake and climbs onto Avion Ridge beyond. It makes a high level circlular traverse before descending to Lost Lake in the Bauerman Valley, where a trail leads back to the start to make a long loop trip. It's supposed to be a spectacular route and provides a chance to summit Avion Peak and/or Neuman Peak. Since it is an unmaintained route our hiking guidebook didn't say much about it. There is a lot of information on the web but we didn't have internet access at Many Glacier or at our hotel in Waterton, so I didn't really know the route's potential. On this trip we were content to turn around at the lake but maybe on a future visit we'll do the whole loop. It does make for a very long day with a lot of elevation gain.
Since we were turning around the lake would have been the logical place for us to take a break before heading back. But the bugs were bad there. We snapped a couple of quick photos and headed back down. We walked for about ten minutes and stopped at the top of the open traverse, where the outlet of the lake plunged over a cliff. We had our lunch by the waterfall. It was a prettier and more pleasant place to stop then the lake.The hike down was uneventful, as was the drive back to Waterton. We cleaned up and went into town. We ate at place called Trapper's Grill. We had a nice table on the patio. The evening was very pleasant. We relaxed with a cold beer and then had nice dinners afterwards. I had a buffalo burger (which was turning into my standard meal on this trip) while Sandy had a pulled pork sandwich. Afterwards we stopped at the market for supplies and then went back to the hotel. We were hoping that the bears would put in an appearance again. When we looked there were no bears to be seen in the meadow. But in the distance we could see at least ten cars pulled over to the side of the road about a mile or two out of town. It was obvious that the bears were there tonight so we didn't get any close views. But we couldn't complain after seeing the bear so close by the road in the morning. That was really the high point of the day. Our hike to Goat Lake was nice but not outstanding, especially when we had been doing so many fantastic hikes for the past week in Glacier National Park.
We had one more day to hike in Waterton Lakes National Park. I had the hike all picked out - Crypt Lake. It has been called the best day hike in Canada. It involves taking a boat across the lake, hiking up a valley, climbing a ladder up to a natural tunnel through a cliff, and then some airy scrambling with cables for protection. I did the hike on my first visit back in 1977 but really wanted to do it again. But Sandy wasn't too enthusiastic so she suggested an alternative - a trip to Goat Haunt. It's at the far end of Waterton Lake, accessible only by boat. Since the international boundary cuts right across the middle of the lake, Goat Haunt is in the US. It's a trailhead that provides access to a remote part of Glacier National Park that is far from any road. There is also a ranger station there and, we later learned, even a US Customs and Immigration checkpoint. Since I had never been there before but had done the Crypt Lake hike, I liked the idea of going to Goat Haunt too. We would take the tour boat over in the morning, do some short hikes for a couple of hours, and catch a boat back in the afternoon. It also had the advantage that since the boat didn't leave till 10 am compared to 8am for the Crypt Lake shuttle, we got to sleep in.
We got to the dock twenty minutes early and the boat was already mostly full. We managed to get on although we had to ride in the cabin rather than on top where the view was better. But we got the right side where the light was better so I got nice pictures on the way over. There were some beautiful peaks at the far end of the lake that weren't visible from Waterton. The lake is about nine miles long and since the boat was really slow it took about forty five minutes for it to get to the far end. Since we had started from Canada but landed in the US, there were two US immigration and customs officers who had traveled over on the boat. People who got off the boat to hike had to go through immigration. We needed to show our passports. We even got a special "Goat Haunt, Montana port of entry" stamp in our passports. In the past the US border at Goat Haunt was open but after 9/11 it was closed. It has since been reopened but only US and Canadian citizens are allowed to pass through. I guess backpacking terrorists will just have to find another way to get into the United States.
There is a small ranger station there as well so backpackers can register with the National Park Service. There are a few residences for the rangers who are stationed there in the summer. I'm not sure how many there are but I saw at least three different rangers while I was there. It was a pretty remote and beautiful place to work. Heck of an office.
Our first short hike was to Goat Haunt overlook. The trail is only a mile and a half and climbs 500 feet up a ridge to overlook the US end of the lake. Several other hikers got off the boat but they went to other trails, so we were the only ones going up to the overlook. Of course there were the standard signs at the ranger station that they had bear activity in the vicinity of Goat Haunt. The trail up was heavily overgrown - lots of underbrush that came right up to the trail. Visibility ahead was very poor. That's not good in bear country. Sandy noticed that most of the bushes had berries. We later learned that they were buffalo berries, the absolute favorite food of bears in the region. Finally we noticed piles of bear scat on the trail. Not just once, but three times. It was pretty obvious that there was a bear somewhere nearby. It didn't look like a good trail to hike. After only half an hour we turned back. Besides it had been very hot and buggy on the trail so we aren't sure that we would have wanted to spend much time at the overlook admiring the view. It didn't take us long to get back to the landing.
We spent some time just sitting on the lake shore. It was cool. There were no bugs. The view was fantastic. We munched on snacks and cooled off from our abortive hike. But after a while we wanted to do something. We opted for another short hike to Rainbow Falls. It was also about a mile and a half but with only two hundred feet of elevaton gain. This trail was more open and had a few other hikers on it (and no fresh bear poop), so this time we made it to the falls. They were not as impressive as some of the others we had seen in the past few days although the views of the peaks towards Boulder Pass, one of the most remote parts of Glacier National Park, were beautiful. Then it was back to the dock to wait for the boat again. This time we were one of the first in line to board and got nice spots on the upper deck with a fantastic view. The ride back to town was very scenic. We hadn't really done any serious hiking but at least we got to stretch our legs and get in a few trail miles. We also got a very scenic boat ride on the lake and a chance to visit an incredible remote place at Goat Haunt. Not bad for our last day in the park.
When we got back I made a quick trip to town to pick up some road maps for our journey the next day. When I came out our friend the bear was in the field just behind the hotel again. She was only about fifty feet from the parking lot but I didn't have my camera with me so I didn't get any pictures. After I got back from town I decided to do one more short hike. There is a prominent bump on the ridge that rises behind the hotel that is called Bears Hump. There is a steep trail up it that is just under a mile long and gains over 700 feet. It is a fantastic viewpoint for the town, the lake and the surrounding peaks. I had noticed that the peaks on the east side of the lake got good light as the sun was going down. So about 6pm I hiked up Bears Hump to get some pictures. The viewpoint lived up to it's reputation. I ended up staying longer than I expected and had to hurry down to make it by the time I had told Sandy I would be back. I'd knew that I would be in trouble if I made us late for dinner! That night we ate at our hotel. Sandy had seen that they had a special chocolate dessert and had been planning to try it ever since we had arrived.
That ended our time in Waterton Lakes National Park. The hiking had not been as spectacular as in Glacier but that was partly due to the road washout that closed several trailheads. Waterton Lake is still a fantastically beautiful spot. Staying in the classic Prince of Wales Hotel was fun. And we had incredible views of bears up close - without any stress. It had been a fun visit but now it was time to continue moving north. Next we would be going to Lake Louise in Banff National Park for a week of hiking.