Yoho National Park, BC

With rain in the forecast for much of Banff National Park, but not for Yoho, just an hour west, I opted to make the drive to Field, BC and the popular Iceline Trail (purportedly the jewel of this particular Park).  The winding, treelined 20-minute drive to the trailhead leads to Takakkaw Falls, a large waterfall and bustling tourist attraction.  Luckily for me, and other hikers of my ilk, most visitors were only interested in the falls, and not the potentially 22 miles of trail stretching across multiple loops along the Iceline Trail.  My plan was to hike for about 5 hours, but a mid-hike decision to take the Whaleback loop trail off the northern edge of the Iceline Trail extended my hike to roughly 8 hours and about 19 miles in total.


From Takakkaw Falls, the Iceline Trail loop runs either northwest or southeast, depending on which direction you are inclined to go.  As I ascertained most visitors were heading southeast,, likely towards the designated viewing platforms for the waterfall, I proceeded in the opposite direction.  I was generally pleased to run into very few other hikers throughout the day, roughly 20 or so in the 8 hours I trekked, and found a great deal of solitude and natural serenity, particularly on the Whaleback loop near Twin Falls.  Not originally planning to take this loop (which adds just over 5 miles but over two and a half hours in total hiking time, due to the fact that it is almost all uphill), I took one look at the terrain heading north from the Iceline Trail junction and was hooked…


A good deal of the first section of the hike up to the Whaleback is one large moraine field, requiring some degree of skill in scrambling over some large rocks, but the trail is very well marked and difficult to lose, thankfully.  I passed a group of four college-aged hikers, and only a few minutes after doing so, I heard a distinct and high-pitched squeak emanate from a group of rocks on the trail in front of me.  Squinting my eyes and zooming in with my camera, I was thrilled to discover a pika, known to be rather elusive, and generally only found at high elevations.  Little did I know at the time that he (or she) was just one of the dozen or so I would hear, and four or five I would see on the rest of my hike.


While I had obtained a map of the trail, my biggest mistake (avid readers of Brain on Parks may be noticing a theme in this regard), was not having an elevation map of the Whaleback.  I had, incorrectly, assumed that the loop would gradually climb up to a point, and then gradually descend, as that is what appeared to make the most sense given what I could see of the topography.  Unfortunately, the loop instead ascends for 90% of the 5 miles, then plummets through a series of painfully steep switchbacks.  By the time I had completed the loop, I was far enough into the hike that it was going to be a 7-8 hour ordeal no matter what.  I was committed…



For those wondering about the topography of the above photo, my legs are dangling off of a 2,000 foot drop into the valley below.

Just a short distance further up the trail (the “up” seemed to continue endlessly…), the mouth of Twin Falls roared over the cliffside from a swift-moving river cascading down from further up into the mountains.  The following video clip best captures how the water flows into a bowl of sorts in the rock, then flows into the valley below.  If you look closely towards the end, a rainbow is faintly visible…


Just before the descent along the aforementioned ankle-crushing switchbacks, a scenic view of the other side of the valley along the ridge comes into view, following another river that I can only assume meet up somewhere to form a larger body of water, likely feeding one of the larger lakes in the area.  Make fun of my rolled-up pantlegs and long underwear combination all you want, but it was the perfect combination to keep my legs at a moderate temperature.


Descending the Whaleback drops you into a somewhat boring (by comparison) stretch of the hike, mostly through standard forest and not much other scenery to speak of, save for the small but picturesque Celeste Lake (shout out to Celeste Barr).


Completing the entire Iceline Trail would have added at least another hour and a half to to hours to my hike, so I opted to take a shortcut across the loop to ensure the completion of my hike before dark.  The final section of Iceline that I was able to experience was breathtaking, and invoked visions of Lord of the Rings.  At any moment, I was expecting to see a group of warg riders come hurdling over a rock outcropping, or to hear an unknown voice cry out in alarm, “Crebain from Dunland!” in response to a looming cloud of the black avian creatures…





My long, grueling (but completely worthwhile) day of hiking ended back at the bottom of the valley near Takakkaw Falls, and I will admit to feeling a bit superior to the tourists merely arriving to take photos of the waterfall and subsequently departing.  The views, as evidenced herein, as well as the thoroughly challenging outdoor experience of the Iceline Trail and Whaleback Loop were worth every bit of the 8 hour, 19 mile excursion that day.

As you can see, the views from the viewing platform pale in comparison to what awaits you on Iceline…


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