This was probably one of best alpine hikes I ever did. Out of 16.5km only short stretch above Fish Ranger Cabin was below treeline; rest was just one big alpine meadow dotted with lakes, creeks and far reaching views. Took 6.5 hrs; it can be done in far less than that, but why? Perfect weather, no smoke (yet!), crisp and clear, no bugs and warm but not hot. Just perfect. I'd recommend this to anyone really; it is what Banff National Park in summer is all about.
From Fish Lakes trail descends a bit to signed junction: Pipestone River right, Pipestone Pass left. Left is highline route; very few would decide to go to Pipestone Pass via valley / river route. Descend a bit more to Fish Lakes ranger cabin, then -- following signs again -- turn left and cross creek (rock hop). About 100m vertical on a switchbacking trail follows, rest is just pure joy. Pipestone Pass can be reached in ~2hrs from Ranger Cabin on a fast pace; I took 4 with many stop. Several scenic highlights, nicest one might be Moose Lake & it would be perfect overnight spot as well. Final stretch to Pipestone Pass climbs on shale to windswept gap and park table. Photos:
Fish Lakes Ranger Cabin. It was locked. I actually thought about using outhouse but it was locked too
Moose Lake, about 45min from Fish Lakes. Very nice bivi spot would be to the right (east) just as you cross lake outlet coming in from Fish side.
Expansive alpine meadow on east side of Moose Lake
Classic example of terrain between Moose Lake and Pipestone Pass. Pure joy
Climbing to Pipestone Pass. I actually thought trail would go to the left side, but it goes right. Left would work too and would bring you to sizeable lake beneath Quartize cliffs
Parks marker erected on Pipestone Pass; "low route" coming in via Pipestone River joins here as well. You can actually trace it quite a ways down. Parks warn you that this route "is not recommended"
Rock sign someone made on Pipestone Pass pointing "high route" to Fish Lakes
[Closer look at Parks table on Pipestone Pass; it is starting to fall apart]
View on the other side of Pipestone Pass into Siffleur wilderness. Eyes can trace a trail quite a ways down. Directly beneath the pass trail actually goes a bit up, but you can also drop directly on the left side; both routes join in below the pass
From the pass trail gradually descends towards the meadows contouring Devon Mountain on right (east) side, then comes to unsigned
junction I did not expect, but it was obvious -- high (right) side is shortcut to Clearwater Pass and Devon Lakes, left descends to valley floor. I took a right; it climbs a bit then soon exits to vast meadows of Clearwater Pass. From there it is still maybe 20-30 minutes to upper Devon Lake that was way larger than I expected.
Devon Lakes is not official campground; it is bivi site, and I registered myself before departure with Parks Canada for 2 nights. There are no bear hangs or anything, so you need mechanism to store your food. I carried bear canister (bought at Atmosphere for 35 bucks only); it is safer than these ursacks, but heavier. At any rate you need to be prepared.
Most people seem to bivi along the trail on left (north) side of the lake; there are several corrals that testify to that. But I found "better" spot. Approaching the lake I left trail and rock-hopped over the outlet and some marshy meadows, then found delightful spot on west side of the lake. Flat terrain, bit of shelter and many very nicely positioned rocks that served well both for kitchen and higher up for stashing my bear canister. Photos:
Contouring Devon Mountain on the way to Clearwater Pass
Clearwater Pass alpine environs. Upper Devon Lake is behind the corner to the right, still hidden from view. Mt. Willingdon center
Upper Devon Lake. If you look closer, you can see my pack lower left I tossed to the ground; this is the spot I'd erect my tent for 2 nights
Nemo at upper Devon Lake looking north towards Mt. Willingdon
Rest of the afternoon was spent cooking dinner and resting. Nobody in sight, no bugs - just perfect. Enjoyed beautiful sunset colors before retreating for good and peaceful sleep
[... to be continued: Day 3 ...]