Hiking Yoho National Park – Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit

With our first successful completion of the Lake O’Hara alpine circuit almost four years in the past, we planned to replicate the thrill of completing the 11.7 km loop during this year’s visit to the Lake O’Hara region of Yoho National Park.

In the week before our trip, I was unable to find current trail condition reports for the Lake O’Hara region on Parks Canada’s website. When I called the front desk at Lake O’Hara Lodge, I was told the trails were clear of snow and hiking the full alpine circuit should be just fine. Turns out the person I spoke to wasn’t fully informed, because when we arrived at Lake O’Hara about a week later, we were advised against doing the full circuit due to the high incidence of rock falling onto the All Souls’ Alpine Route (typical and due to the daily freeze/melt cycle at this time of year). Not having packed helmets, we heeded the warning and settled for hiking 3/4 of the Alpine Circuit on the final day of our 2018 stay.

Except for the lack of blue sky, the weather was good. The cool temperature meant we could move at a pretty good clip up Wiwaxy. We had a few sunny breaks, no falling snow and just a few rain showers. Overall, the trails were somewhat wet with a few slippery sections on account of the previous day’s snow.

We’ve read that most people do the circuit in clockwise direction, beginning from Le Relais Day Shelter and striding along the Lake O’Hara shoreline trail to where the Wiwaxy Gap trail heads sharply uphill to the left. We’ve also traveled in the clockwise direction. I’m not sure I’d want to come down the Wiwaxy Gap Alpine Route – ascending the steps and ledges is daunting enough to someone with a touch of acrophobia. Coming down that trail doesn’t bear thinking about. 😦

Wiwaxy Gap

Gaining almost 500 meters over 1.5 km, the Wiwaxy Gap trail is definitely a grind. With the temperature in the low double digits (Celsius), we hiked in short sleeves and light pants and were very comfortable. The cooler temperature allowed for a quick pace and we reached Wiwaxy Gap in about 90 minutes, despite several photo stops including one where we set up the tripod with a delayed shutter speed for a couple selfie overlooking Lake O’Hara.

Many of the photos that follow were selected because they show what the trail is like along the way, others because they show off some of the amazing scenery of the Lake O’Hara region.

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mrs GeoK had to muster her determination on sections like this; holding on to the rock wall is a tangible distraction from the drop off to the right

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mr GeoK moving along the trail to Wiwaxy Gap

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Obligatory pose at the Lake O’Hara overlook on the trail to Wiwaxy Gap; this type of couple selfie is possible with a tripod and delayed or remote shutter release

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

This Columbia Ground Squirrel came to check out our camera set up for our couple selfie. Seemed very curious about us…has probably been fed human food a few times 😦

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mr GeoK climbing towards Wiwaxy Gap, Lake O’Hara below; note the fresh snow from the day before

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

A fast-moving solo hiker overtook us at Wiwaxy Gap; after we took his photo, he took ours – a common exchange of favours between hiking parties 🙂

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

View of Lake O’Hara region from Wiwaxy Gap, including Lake Oesa in the hanging valley towards the left, Yukness Mountain jutting into the middle of the frame and Schaffer Ridge across on the other side of Lake O’Hara

Huber Ledges

The Huber Ledges section of the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit is pretty straightforward. The net of the gentle ups and downs is that you actually lose almost half the elevation gained on the hike up to Wiwaxy Gap! This stretch offers some outstanding views of Lake O’Hara down below, so photo stops accounted for 30 of the 75 minutes it took us to reach the rock slabs that make up the western shoreline of Lake Oesa.

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mrs GeoK heading out along Huber Ledges, towards Lake Oesa in the distant hanging valley

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mr GeoK near the start of Huber Ledges; the final switchback to Wiwaxy Gap is visible in the snow behind him

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mrs GeoK on Huber Ledges, east Wiwaxy Peak behind; this is a pretty typical stretch along Huber Ledges

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mrs GeoK on a rock outcropping along the Huber Ledges trail; look at that amazing turquoise water in Lake O’Hara!

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Roughly halfway between Wiwaxy Gap and Lake Oesa, with a fair bit of elevation to lose before arriving at the lakeshore

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Deeper snow accumulation and/or less time in the sun meant we were hiking on a thin layer of snow/ice the closer we got to Lake Oesa

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Looking up from Huber Ledges, at cloud rolling down from behind Mount Huber

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mrs GeoK rounding the shoulder of Mount Huber as Huber Ledges trail begins to descend towards Lake Oesa; Yukness Lake and Lake O’Hara, below

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mr GeoK on Huber Ledges trail, Mount Odaray across the valley behind Lake O’Hara

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mr GeoK on Huber Ledges trail as it crosses a tumble of fallen rocks over the final section approaching Lake Oesa

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Rock slaps just downstream of Lake Oesa, reflecting Mount Huber, Glacier Peak and Yukness Mountain in its still water

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mr GeoK shooting multiple frames for a panorama shot of the Lake Oesa hanging valley

We ate lunch on the same rock we’d used as a picnic bench the previous day and Mr GeoK chatted with a couple of hikers equipped with helmets, who were heading up to the Abbot Pass hut after they finished lunch.

Yukness Ledges

After a half hour lunch break, we resumed our 3/4 Alpine Circuit by heading out along the Yukness Ledges trail. This is the one that woke me up in the night after we hiked it with our boys (then aged 9 and 13) back in 2008. I was pleasantly surprised to find that only a couple of very short sections caused me any anxiety this time out, and one of those was because it was snow-covered with a steep drop off that would have meant at least some bad bruises if I’d slipped.

Like Huber Ledges, there are some great viewpoints along this trail, so we kept our cameras handy and stopped often. Also similar to Huber Ledges, the (not always gentle) ups and downs net out to another modest elevation change – this time a net gain of about 50 meters over 2.2 km. Our time for this leg was 75 minutes, including 25 minutes for photo stops.

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mr GeoK near the start of Yukness Ledges, just below Lake Oesa; first week of July there’s still a fair bit of snow in patches

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

LeFroy Lake looks completely different from yesterday’s slush!

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mr GeoK on Yukness Ledges trail above LeFroy Lake

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Victoria Falls below Victoria Lake, viewed from Yukness Ledges; note the Alpine Circuit trail marker painted on the rock, center right

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mrs GeoK on Yukness Ledges, after crossing another patch of snow

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Overlooking Lake O’Hara from Yukness Ledges trail; Mary Lake on the left

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mr GeoK on the Yukness Ledges trail, Schaffer Ridge in the background (he was quite far ahead and turned around for this photo)

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

With rain tapering off, it’s time to remove a layer to prevent overheating

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Approaching the Opabin Plateau via Yukness Ledges; note the alpine circuit trail marker painted on the rock, center left

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Mrs GeoK on Yukness Ledges, Wiwaxy Peaks behind

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Raining again, as the trail descends towards Opabin Plateau

East/West Opabin

On reaching Opabin Plateau, we crossed the plateau using the trail between Hungabee Lake and Moor Lakes to the southeast end of the Opabin Highline Trail. Had we been continuing on All Souls’ Prospect for the final leg of the Alpine Circuit, we’d have made our way to the All Souls’ trail junction, which we explored for a short distance on the second day of our trip.

But since we’d already decided to heed advice against traveling All Souls’ Alpine Route where it hugs Mount Schaffer, we explored the Opabin Plateau trails a little more fully before heading back to the lodge in time for afternoon tea and our shuttle bus back to civilization.

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Done with ledges, Mrs GeoK heads along East Opabin trail

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

As we worked our way across the Opabin Plateau, the rain stopped and the sun came out

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Overlooking Cascade Lakes from Opabin Prospect trail

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Tussocks and puddles along the Opabin Prospect Trail

lake-ohara-alpine-circuit

Looking down on Mary Lake and Lake O’Hara from the top of Opabin Prospect

Summary

Distance = 11.2 km
Elevation gain = 768 meters (571 net)
Time = 6 hrs 15 min, including 2 hrs 15 min for lunch and photography stops

Many consider the Alpine Circuit as the hike to do if you have only one day to hike at Lake O’Hara. We agree, so long as weather, trail conditions and what you’re capable of line up. What do you think? Is the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit on your list of “must do” hikes in the Canadian Rockies?

One thought on “Hiking Yoho National Park – Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit

We appreciate comments, questions & suggestions. If we're slow to respond, please be patient. We're probably out adventuring!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.