Parts of Banff National Park had so much snow by late October that several ski hills had their earliest ever opening day. And outdoor adventurers were eager to dust off trusty cross-country skis or try newly-purchased snowshoes. We got out on a couple of trails – including a MICROspikes hike to Boom Lake – before a long stretch of above-average temperatures put a “hold” on winter hiking until the next round of significant snow accumulation.
The Boom Lake parking lot is on the north side of Highway 93 just a few minutes west of the Castle Junction turn off, kind of across the road from the Vista Lake parking lot that we used to hike to Gibbon Pass during golden larch season.
When we pulled into the Boom Lake parking lot, it was snowing like crazy! Several cm of new snow had accumulated overnight in the parking lot. With the temperature hovering around zero, the snow was heavy and wet.
We spotted a few snow-covered picnic tables just off the parking lot, and then crossed a cute wooden bridge over Boom Creek before turning into the woods and starting the gentle climb towards Boom Lake. You’ll find photos/video clips taken along the trail in this Relive video recap put together by Mr. GeoK.
A snowshoe hare had been out overnight or earlier in the morning, but otherwise there was a +/- 5 cm layer of fresh snow over a well-packed base. As the sun rose and gravity took effect on snow laden branches, we heard an irregular fwump, fwump rhythm as accumulated snow fell from the trees. And we also heard an avalanche to the south…not a big surprise given all the snow rolls just off the trail.
By the time we were half way to Boom Lake, the fresh snow was considerably deeper, and we spent a minute or two reminding each other that at least one of us should carry our snowshoes, even if trail conditions near the parking lot suggest the snow is well-enough packed for MICROspikes (or other icers).
We measured ten cm of fresh snow along the north shore of Boom Lake. We were first to arrive, and took care not to tromp about and ruin the foreground for anyone starting a bit later in the day.
Early season is beautiful – fresh snow, some lake ice, but also open water reflecting snow-brightened mountain peaks. But thanks to heavy clouds, we might as well have set our cameras to photograph in black & white. Can you see much difference?
Moving along the shoreline (which has a lot of fallen, waterlogged trees – hence the name Boom Lake), Mr GeoK broke through ice to shallow water. Fortunately, changing to a fresh pair of wool socks kept his feet warm and reasonably dry…until he fell through a second time. I offered my spare pair of wool socks, but I guess he thought I might need them, and insisted he and his feet were okay.
While Mr GeoK set up a couple of timelapse series, I post-holed my way across a boulder field towards the west end of the lake, still on the north shoreline. The scenery was worth the effort.
By the time I retraced my deep footsteps, Mr GeoK was ready to head back (with in socks and boots). If it had been any colder, I’d have insisted he change into my spare, dry socks and wrap his sock feet in plastic bags before putting his boots back on.
Anyhow, we made great time on the way back down – until I almost stepped on a couple of spruce grouse! They flapped a bit before settling back down, just off the trail. We hung out for about 20 minutes, watching and photographing them.
Two other things worth mentioning:
- I got a blister on one heel on our way up to the lake. I should have taken care of it earlier, but didn’t because of the time it would take to remove my gaiter and boots, apply a moleskin patch and then reverse the process. This was a rookie mistake. Always attend to a blister when it’s still in the hot spot stage.
- On our way back down, we noticed a lot of patches of yellow snow under the trees. At first we thought it was some kind of animal marking it’s territory, but no animal has a bladder that big! Turns out it was tannins from dead spruce needles, washed off tree branches by melting/falling snow. We may see more of this over the coming months, as spruce needle die back was more extensive and widespread than usual this year.
We saw 6 other people on our way back – 4 on the trail and 2 just leaving the parking lot when we got back. By far, this was the quietist trail we’ve traveled in 2020 (so far).
The trail to Bow Lake is entirely below treeline, which means it’s relatively lower risk for avalanche. It’s on the Park’s Canada list of winter snowshoe trails. Reading we’ve done indicates that once the lake is solidly frozen, it’s tempting to venture onto the ice – and into higher avalanche risk terrain, so that’s not something we would do. While this could be an easy summer season hike with kids, for us it’s more appealing as an easy winter hike.
Distance = 11.5 km
Elevation gain = 250 meters (205 net)
Hiking time = 3 hours plus 1 hour 45 minutes for photography/videography and rest stops (total 4 hrs 45 min)