Climbing Yoho National Park: Mount Carnarvon

Yoho National Park, British Columbia
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Yoho National Park, British Columbia

Most peaks in the Canadian Rockies are notorious for being loose scree-piles. Mount Carnarvon in Yoho National Park, British Columbia is a pleasant contrast. The final 350 vertical feet, in particular, provides exciting, yet never difficult climbing on solid limestone ledges high up in a grand location. As seen from Trans-Canada Highway, this pyramid-like peak points skyward above rugged Amiskwi Valley and completely eclipses its neighbours. A sparkling alpine lake nestles at treeline, and unobstructed views reveal Wapta Icefields, plus a complete panorama of beckoning summits in the Rockies, Selkirk, and Purcell Ranges.

Though the hike to Hamilton Lake is popular day trip few visitors go on to try the peak. Perhaps it just looks too intimidating, or too high, but whatever the reason, you won?t be waiting your turn on this mountain. In fact you?ll probably have it all to yourself. When you summit, the view of rugged Yoho National Park will look pretty much as it did 100 years ago--wild and unspoiled.

The Route:

Hike 3.5 miles (5.5 km) up to Hamilton Lake from Hamilton Lake Trailhead adjacent to Emerald Lake. Cradled between Mount Carnarvon and Emerald Peak, this alpine tarn entices you to power-snack and rehydrate for the real climb.

Hop across Hamilton Lake?s tiny outlet stream and wander up the hillside and brown shale slopes to gain Carnarvon?s south ridge. Most of the route follows the ridge crest, tackling short steps head-on for challenge. Near the top, rockbands become higher and terrain gets steeper. Most parties then detour left off the ridge for about 250-300 feet and ascend gullies rather than climb directly up the remaining vertical steps, but the choice is yours. Snow and ice in the gullies will require an ice axe, crampons and perhaps a short belay for beginning mountaineers. When completely dry the route can be done as a demanding scramble, but the window for perfect conditions is short. Parties have turned back just short of success because they lacked basic equipment. Above the last rockband a short walk leads to the often snow-clad summit. When sensory overload hits you or you?re out of film, return via the same route.

Access: From the hamlet of Field, British Columbia, west of the B.C.-Alberta border, drive Trans-Canada Highway west for 1.6 mi (2.6 km) and follow Emerald Lake road 5.7 mi (9 km) to Emerald Lake and Hamilton Lake trailhead. The nearest major airport is in Calgary, Alberta, 130 miles east of Field.

Permit: Visitors require a National Parks permit, available at entrances to any of the National Parks or in Banff, Field and Lake Louise. A yearly individual pass for all National Parks is $35 CDN per year (about $21 US). A group pass is $70 CDN. Visitor services, groceries, accommodation and campgrounds can be found in nearby Lake Louise and to a lesser extent in Field. Climbers may voluntarily register at Park Warden offices if desired. The climb is a day trip and camping is not allowed at Hamilton Lake.

Season: Best conditions from mid-July through September..

Guidebook:Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, by Alan Kane. Rocky Mountain Books; 3rd edition (June 1999), $16.95

Contact: Yoho National Park, (250) 343-6783; www.worldweb.com/ParksCanada-Yoho/