The Icefields Parkway, Alberta Helen Lake and Cirque Peak literally takes you to the roof of the Rocky Mountains with its 2993 meters (9820 ft). It is a tough hike (at least for me!), but the feeling of accomplishment and the views on the top are unprecedented.
The first thing we met after parking our car and getting ready for the hike is this sticky note warning us about two grizzlies frequenting the area. There were several cars on the parking lot indicating other hikers were also on the trail so we decided to keep on!
The 3 first kilometres are mainly through the forest, but the view quickly opens up to reveal Bow Lake and it’s snow covered mountains in the back. After 6 kilometres you reach Helen Lake which still had some ice on the water despite this being in July!
The elevation gain up to Helen Lake is only about 400 meters and fully achievable for everyone. For many this is the end of the hike, and it is well worth hiking up here. But we were heading for Cirque Peak today and after a quick lunch at Helen Lake we continued on.
After Helen Lake the trail gets significantly steeper and a bit rocky and loose. It definitely turned our heart rate up a couple of notches! During this part of the trail we were also surprised by a short period of wind and rain – remember to bring warm clothing even if it seems like a nice and warm day down in town! After a short warm up and snack break we continued on to conquer the last steep hill. At this time the sky cleared up again and we got some great shoots.
The last 30 minutes I have to admit was a bit unnerving as it was steep and loose, I used my hands to get safely to the top. But we made it! The view and the feeling of accomplishment to make it all the way to the top was amazing! This was the tallest peak we had hiked so far in the Rockies with its 2993 meters (9820 ft) above sea level.
On the way down we met this little creature also enjoying the view. This is a hoary marmot and we often see these on our hikes, especially in higher altitudes.
My somewhat subjective hiking rating:
Trail: The trail starts at the parking lot across the road from Bow Lake. The 3 first kilometers are through the forest, but views quickly opens up and after 3 kilometers you have 360 degrees unbeatable views. To continue on to Helen Lake is fairly easy hiking. The last piece from Helen Lake to Cirque Peak is steep and strenuous with the last little piece requiring some scrambling to get to the top.
Worth it? Yes – views are the best you can get in the Rockies. And if you get to Helen Lake and feel you can’t make it all the way to Cirque Peak the hike is still worth it. If you go to Helen Lake you should at least hike to the plateau above the lake as this opens another dimension with only adding 30 minutes of hiking time.
Difficulty: Strenuous + some scrambling
Length: 18.3 km roundtrip
Elevation gain: 1038 m (3405 ft)
Duration: 7 hours
Our next goal is to get above 3000 meters in the Rockies. We were planning on trying it this summer, but the trail we had planned was closed due to grizzlies in the area… What is your next goal?
Thanks for visiting!