We just returned from a 3.5-week car-camping loop through the Rockies, which re-traced several memorable trips long ago when I was a teenager with my parents and their ancient RV trailer. Out of the 24 days of the trip nine were spent hiking. Our three kids, B(12), K(10), and D(7) managed all of it very well with only a small bit of motivational encouragement from mom and dad.
This trip report describes the most challenging yet amazing and spectacular hike of the trip, which we tackled right off the bat.
: 4-day backpacking trip to Berg Lake and Snowbird Pass in Mt. Robson Provincial Park
• Day 1: Parking lot to Whitehorn.
• Day 2: Whitehorn to Berg Lake.
• Day 3: Day-trip to Snowbird Pass.
• Day 4: Berg Lake to parking lot.
This is a very popular area and many of CT'ers will be very familiar with it. Nonetheless I think it is worth another trip report for two reasons. First, it is one of the most spectacular mountain recreation areas in the entire world and even the hordes of hikers (and choppered-in tourists!!) visiting the area every summer cannot detract from the immense natural beauty and variety of this region. Second, we found the trip to be well-suited to a family with kids of our age. D and K handled all of it with good endurance and attitude. D was cheerful the whole time and needed only a negligible amount of help and encouragement to keep up with the others. If you want a challenging yet rewarding trip for a family with fit and motivated kids, I'd highly recommend this one. Of course I should mention that preparation for this trip took up a great deal of time. Thankfully, among other duties, my wife took care of the most finicky part – the food.
We knocked off the drive to the park in one long day and set up in the Robson Meadows Campground for 6 nights. Ironically, back-country camping fees cost more per night than the campsite where we parked the trailer! Sorting, packing, orientation, permitting, and final organizing took place the next day, which was a rare cloudless blue-blazer that begged multiple pictures of the mountain:
1 - Typical tourist shot from the visitor's centre.
2,3 - Not a cloud in sight!
4 -Those packs look heavy.
[u]DAY 1: Parking Lot to Whitehorn Campsite:</u>
Underway at 9:30AM we managed a steady pace to Kinney Lake despite multiple stops to adjust packs, shed jackets, apply bug spray, etc. While having lunch at the Kinney Lake shelter, the sun came out in earnest and the heat increased noticeably. The subsequent walk across the river flats north of Kinney Lake got us all sweating as the sun beat down and the breeze died away. Nonetheless the vastness and beauty of this flat-bottomed valley was impossible to miss.
1 – All set to go.
2 – Bridge at the south end of Kinney Lake. The sun is struggling to come out.
3 – Kinney Lake.
4 – Family shot on the flats. It's getting hot!
The uphill grunt from the flats to Whitehorn was a gut-check for the kids. The heat, grade, and the occasional horsefly required some patience and fortitude for all of us. D's pack needed an alternate carrier at this point so I had to experiment with various carrying techniques that kept pack-straps clear of feet and arms from cramping, while permitting a clear view of the trail immediately ahead. Soon enough we wobbled across the suspension bridge into Whitehorn and snagged one of the sites closest to the cooking shelter. While setting up camp a solo-hiking lady plopped down in the adjacent site 10 feet away from ours, kicked off her boots, and lit up a cigarette. I don't know about you, we are always very grateful when some thoughtful soul masks the stench of a pine forest with fragrant second-hand smoke…..Anyway, she left in a snit when I asked her if she wouldn't mind not dragging butts if she was going to set up her tent next to ours. I couldn't understand why she would want that site anyway when almost all the others were free and not nearly so close to an unruly family! Anyway, we cobbled together supper while the kids did what kids always do around water: chucked stones, waded in their crocs, and built small dams (don't worry; we explained to them that they really needed to leave the river in its natural state and they generally complied…). With everything done at 7PM and some tired heads on our hands we just turned in. Surprisingly it was very warm throughout the night and the new Marmot down bag my wife gave me for my birthday was mostly used as a mattress.
1 – Well-maintained trail and bridges.
2 - Where we're going.
3 – Kids love water and rocks.
4 – Parents love convenient cooking shelters with picnic tables to stay organized and clean.
5 – Trying out the new MEC Wanderer 4 tent – squishy but manageable for 5 as long as only 1 is much larger than average!
[u]DAY 2: Whitehorn to Berg Lake Campsite</u>
Having gone to bed so early we were up and at'em at 5:30 although it was after 9:00 when we finally got boots on the trail again. The elevation gain that followed from Whitehorn to just above Emperor Falls is best done in the morning when it's cool. We puttered up this part stopping often to marvel at the waterfalls, canyons, cliffs, and the summit of Robson high above. A bit more pack-sharing with D saw us up to Emperor Falls. A quick 100m side-trip got us soaked in frigid spray, which turned a sweaty morning into a cooler noon when we reached the flatter terrain south of Berg Lake.
1 – White Falls.
2 – Falls of the Pool.
3 – Emperor Falls.
4 – Finally on the flats of the upper Robson River. Mist Glacier at centre-right.
5 – Mist Glacier at right. Berg Glacier at left.
Proceeding at a good pace to Berg Lake and along its west shore we arrived at the Berg Lake campsite. Given that it was a Thursday, we were surprised to find it nearly full. Fortunately we quickly happened upon one of the two remaining sites, which was in a perfect spot for us: right near the Hargreaves Shelter. B, who reacts badly to insect bites, was delighted at the reprieve from the flies and mosquitoes in this comfortable facility. Marie and I set up the tent while the kids donned crocs and waded through the multiple channels of the Toboggan River estuary. No sooner had we finished with the tent and sorted and stowed our gear when the sky let loose with a two-hour down pour. Fortuitous timing! We enjoyed a late but snug lunch in the hut while many of the other campers swarmed about the campsite battening down the hatches. As it turned out this was the only rain we had for the whole four days (except for a sprinkle the first night) and it cleared up nicely in the evening.
1 – Love that shelter!
2 – Evening light on Robson.
3 – Perfect place for stone-throwing. Lots of good flat skipping stones! Robson Pass at left of shot.
4 – Deer in the distance at the north end of Berg Lake. The kids were glad it wasn't a bear!
5 – Campsite with view of Berg Glacier and Robson – nice!
[u]DAY 3: Snowbird Pass Day-Hike</u>
After some debate on the capacity of the kids to handle a long day of walking after yesterday's effort, we decided to take a crack at the highly-recommended route to Snowbird Pass. It did not disappoint! In fact it was probably the best day-hike that I have ever done due to the sheer variety, vastness, and incredibly beautiful terrain and views. The first hour or two is on the flats north of Berg Lake. The trail then rises up the moraine to the north of the Robson Glacier, which flows down from the col between Robson and Resplendent. There is a very exhilarating kilometer or two of relatively flat hiking along the knife-edge of the moraine with glacier far below on the right. A nice place for lunch! After that, a bit of elevation gain put us in a totally different environment: a lush alpine meadow beyond the historical reach of the glacier. Gentle elevation gain here plus a burst of steep scree-walking at the end propelled us to the pass. And then WOW! The enormous Reef Icefield appearing out of nowhere several hundred feet below us just blew us away! We've never seen anything like it from a vantage point like this. A sea of ice with rocky peaks rising on the horizon to the north and east set off against the north face of Robson to the south and west could have kept us sitting there all day.
Finally, after a snack and some photos we retraced our route back to camp. 22km over 9.5 hours was worth every step and second. We only met five people all day. One of them, a ranger who passed us on the return trip through the meadows, remarked: “we don't see kids up here too often…” But we are glad we took them as they have been talking about this day ever since.
1 – A good morning to see Robson.
2 – We kept taking shots of Robson's summit as we constantly expected it to hide in the clouds as it normally does.
3 – Heading up toward the toe of Robson Glacier.
4 – This area is immense!
5 – Upper north face of Robson above the shoulder of Rearguard.
1 – Lunch on the moraine. Resplendent in the background.
2 – Zoom shot on the upper north face and summit.
3 – Alpine meadows with Robson behind.
4 – B dwarfed by the Reef Icefield.
5 – 3 kids above the icefield.
1 – Family shot at the pass.
2 – Another one just because it's an awesome place.
3 – Wide shot of the meadow / valley we came up by. Lower route is the right rear of the shot. B and D are at bottom left.
4 – Drink break in the meadows looking back at the pass.
5 – Alpine flower shot courtesy of K.
Several shots of us on the move.
[u]DAY 4: Berg Lake back to Parking Lot</u>
There is not much to be told here except that we made our way all the way back down to the parking lot in about 8 hours. The scenery continued to amaze and the weather held up nicely. Most of our talk revolved around our sore feet and all the nice things we could look forward to once we finished the hike (normal beds, meat, showers, ice cream, clean clothes, and beer got a good deal of air-time). The weather held up nicely and we arrived back at the campground none the worse for wear. Campfire-roasted hot dogs, pop (and beer), and beds in the trailer went over well with everyone.
1 – Parting family shot at the shelter.
2 - On bridge with Emperor Falls in background.
3 – Whitehorn Mountain with one of the thousand falls in front.
4 – Down toward Kinney Lake.
The next morning we set off for Jasper to continue our adventure.