After our adventures the day before (see The Gypsy Cowgirl and Circus Vegan Hike: Morrain Lake to Sentenal Point) and the fact we had to drive home from BC that night, we picked an easy rated hike. It took an exceptional effort to crawl out of my warm Nemo Equipment Spoon bag and roll off my comfortable Exped UL 7 Downmat that morning. I wasn’t sore but sleeping really did not go well. Half a flask of my Whisktea and I was still awake much longer than I would have liked. Robyn almost had to give me wake up calls, a significant role reversal in our friendship. Finally my caffeine addiction came to call and I started packing up. A late start meant I skipped breakfast and opted to stop for a quick bite and coffee at Starbucks. Not exactly the backpacking I usually do but Stanley Glacier takes us out of Banff National Park and past a Starbucks and old habits die hard.
The drive to Stanley Glacier is relatively direct but there is little signage for the tiny parking lot which is full and overflowing. We have a later start but we knew we could make up time on the easy trail. I left some of my usual gear behind; which I do not advocate ever doing, however I made the call and fortunately lived to regret it only mildly and to tell the tale.
The sun was hot and I leave my hiking boots and gaiters in the car and take my trail runners, I also strip down to running shorts but keep my long sleeve shirt. I have a rule: Arms or legs only one is left bare. If it gets cold and windy I’ll be fine if only one is exposed, if they both are I’ll be a shivering mess. I dumped my rain gear, trek poles and downed a jalapeño cream cheese teriyaki beef wrap and stuffed some snacks in my bag before I trotted off to the trailhead.
The trail is well maintained as to be expected on an easy trail. A quick skip across a wide bridge and we make steady progress up the gradual switchbacks. The trail goes through a forest fire site, the old decaying forest floor has given way to thousands of vibrant green saplings. Our pace up this section is fast, Robyn and I are evenly matched. As we get further up we start meeting more people, most of which we pass as we make our way up the steeper, root bound section of the trail. Here my nose started to bleed and I let Robyn strike on without me while I stopped the bleeding.
I caught up a short time later and we reached the bowl at the base of the glacier. Dozens of people were here spreading out lunches. Robyn and I head straight to the end of trail sign. We are rather disappointed, we covered the entire hike in just over an hour or did we….
The ‘trail’ continues but is no longer maintained. A quick glance at our map and we set off again into the unmarked but travelled trail. We soon come to a boulder field which requires some scrambling and route finding but is navigated with ease. We then found ourselves at the beginning of a narrow scree goat trail with few switchbacks and a moderate grade. It started to rain, I started to notice the hot spots on my heels and for some reason I am irritable with nothing and no one, just irritable.
Robyn and I stop to treat my hotspots before I have blisters when it hits me I’m hungry and it’s raining. I’m irritable because I do not do hungry, wet and tired at the same time but I had a good start on all three. I look at my bare legs, running shoes and the rain and have half a mind to turn back, we weren’t prepared for scree, especially wet scree. Our guidebook mentioned a possible trail extension but failed to mention the boulder scramble, or scree goat trails. I left my rain gear, my gaiters, trek poles and boots at the car. Robyn’s adventurous nature puts my lack of preparation behind me. I dove into my pack for some carbs and chocolate and Robyn went on ahead. She likes to hike these sections fast and I need a minute to let my blood sugar and my mood regulate before I follow. The sprinkling showers let up as I followed Robyn’s blazed trail over more scree and some boulders; I spot her on a ridge below the glacier.
I hiked the short distance up to the ridge. I down a bit more chocolate and then set about exploring a meadow and a stream which is hidden behind the ridge. I scouted out the trail ahead and spotted a couple good crossings. Robyn joined me and we grabbed our packs before setting out again. The stream crossing takes us beneath the toe of the glacier, and across to a solid rock wall whose only evidence of weakness is the waterfalls which cascade out of it, as if the stone weeps.
The trail becomes less travelled the further we go. There are spots we start to lose it entirely. The scree is loose and mostly at a downward angle. We were careful here, we both wore shorts and runners, a slide here meant legs which will resemble hamburger after a very short distance. We came to a half river, half waterfall. It was extremely fast flowing, slippery, wide, unstable and shallow. We both regretted leaving trek poles behind. I’m too short to make it across in one step, taking my shoes off seems a very poor decision in the scree. I look further down and see a spot where the gushing water breaks into two tributaries and has an eddy in the middle of the widest point. Robyn tests the route first and treats it like a puzzle. She lends me an arm over the longest section. The footing was terrible but navigable and we managed to get across with nothing but soaked feet.
On the other side more scree trails appear and disappear and we choose our own adventure wherever it disappears until we reach the largest waterfall. Here we find a large cave opening from the otherwise impenetrable rock face we have been paralleling. Robyn squealed with excitement and scampered across the boulders while I smiled and started taking pictures. The deep cavern was home to ice climbing rigging and is dark, wet and deep. We both became chilled from the glacier water hitting us from above and we opted to make a dash for the large boulder at the base of the scree basin. By dash, I actually mean careful foot placement, as we attempted not to dash our appendages on the loose footing. Closer to the boulder the footing became large rocks, I managed to turn my ankle on a loose rock and smashed my knee down on another. Fortunately my elastic band ligaments snapped back in place with only a slight tender reminder when we stopped at the tool bench at the boulder.
This bench is mentioned in our guide but the steps to get to it were not exactly laid out. No mention of scree or ‘riverfall’ crossings or even the scramble sections. We laughed and talked here for several minutes despite the lackluster first hour, not being prepared for conditions and starting late: this trail, for all of it’s little oddities, is our favorite for the weekend.
From the boulder we pick our way across the basin and back to the ‘trails end’ (or for us the beginning.) We then retrace our steps back down the trail through the burned out forest and toward the parking lot. We make excellent time down the switch backs and are at the car in less the 45 minutes.
The Gypsy Cowgirl and Circus Vegan give Stanley Glacier 4 out of 4 stars. The entertaining route and nooks and crannies to explore along the way made it a perfect day hike.
Day Pack List:
Total Weight: 6.8lbs
Base Weight: 5.3
Osprey Verve 9L
Silva Ranger Compass
Asics Trail Runners
MEC Phenomena Run Shorts
Fila quick dry long sleeve
1 Type A precut patch
Monday Caloric Requirement:
1984.21 + 1710
Latte Bar x2 332 Cal
Cashews 1/2 Cup – 320 Cal
Beef Jerky – 310 Cal
1/2 Chocolate Bar – 250 Cal
Non Packed Meals:
Bacon Egg Gouda Breakfast Sandwich – 390 Cal
Starbucks Macchiato – 210 Cal
TunaGetti – 390 Cal
1.8 L Platypus
SOL Emergency Bivvy
SOL Emergency Blanket
2 Garbage Bags
Sea to Summit 1L Dry Bag
Small Buck Knife
Spot Gen 3
Sony Cybershot Camera
Joby Gorrilla Pod
6 Ziplock bags assorted sizes, assorted contents.
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