Saturday, December 18, 2010

Helmet Falls Campground

If not for the overall distance, the journey to these wondrous falls would be reasonably effortless. As Kootenay National Park does not possess the notoriety of the neighbouring Banff and Yoho parks, it is often less travelled. So it is not too surprising to come across such a gem as this without any fanfare or very much human traffic. The place is remarkably unknown and amazingly easily accessed. Helmet Falls has a total height of 352 m that spills over two tiers. The single drop forms from two streams which join at mid-fall. The two streams originate from two separate glaciers in the massive Washmawapta Icefield.

Distance: 15 km

Elevation Gain: 319 m

GPS: N51 10 12.3 W116 08 50.1
Elevation: 1443 m

Helmet Falls Campground:
GPS: N51 11 46.6 W116 18 17.8

Elevation: 1762 m

Trailhead: From Castle Junction drive south on The Banff-Windermere Highway for 19.6 kilometers to the Paint Pots parking lot on the west side of the parkway. The trailhead is well marked, entering the forest on the west side of the parking lot.
The trail leaves the parking lot in a non-eventful fashion. A straight level path accommodates wheelchair access within the first minute, diverting to the left of the main trail. Both trails descend gently, joining shortly prior to crossing The Vermilion River by way of a short suspension bridge. On the other side of the river, the astounding 360° panoramas include peaks of the Vermilion Range dominating the west and north-west horizon, while the Ball Range tower over the span of the eastern sky. If you can stop yourself from this engrossing encounter, follow the trail along the stream, and into the forest to arrive at the lower paint pots. This should take no longer than ten minutes.
The Paint Pots are a rare find, and should be explored, at least for a few minutes. The trail through this mud lover’s paradise is distinct and well worn. Sections that are excessively dirty are laid down with wooden planks. The muddy path inclines slightly to gain the upper section of the Paint Pots, where the water in the lower flats originates. At the top of the ochre beds, the path becomes indiscernible, and you will be left standing at the top of the beds, wondering where to go. If you look straight over the small mud flat up here, you will see that the path picks up again at the far end of the outlet of the main bed. The trail is visible as it enters the forest beside an aged trail marker. Either walk across the mud (it is really quite firm and shallow), or follow a faint path to your right that circumnavigates the small mud flat and ochre pond.
The trail into the forest narrows where an old, rough looking sign guides you to Helmet/Ochre Creek, Tumbling Creek, and Helmet Falls Campgrounds. A stairway of railway ties assists the entrance into the woods. Within another five minutes, a sign steers you to stay straight on the path and a mild elevation gain is felt. A couple of small streams are crossed as the journey through forest of spruce and pine levels off. At about the three and a half kilometer mark on the trek, a magnificent avalanche slope of shrubs, wild berries, and flowers is crossed.
After crossing the slope, the trail pierces the forest for another 6-8 minutes, coming across signs in a small cleared intersection at 3.9 kilometers from the trailhead. The Helmet Creek Falls campground is another 11.1 kilometers straight up the main trail. As the trail departs the junction it begins a slight uphill climb, and the forest becomes sparser with thicker trees. Two kilometers from the intersection, the trail opens up, to a small field of Red paintbrushes, yellow and purple daisies, and a variety of grasses. Views of north and west laying peaks are accessible from the engaging little field.
The next ten minutes of the hike takes the trail down to the river basin where tributaries join Ochre Creek making for some minor rock hopping. The Helmet/ Ochre Creek Campground is situated on the far bank of the Ochre Creek. From here, 8.8 kilometers remain to the Helmet Creek Campground. Stroll through the campground as the trail continues along the eastern shoreline of Helmet Creek and crosses it over a sturdy bridge. The trail leaves the riverbank to climb a series of switchbacks for about 0.5 kilometers. For the next three kilometers, up here, the journey continues through avalanche slopes, and a rolling forest with views of Helmet Creek down far below. Eventually you drop down to the river, skirting it for about two kilometers, crossing it over another suspension bridge.
Leaving the river and entering the forest brings a welcome silence for a short time. Within the next 1.5 kilometers, the first glimpse of Helmet Falls will grab your attention. This site really caught us by surprise during our first hike into the campground. It is still far away from here, but is incredibly spectacular. The falls are 352 meters high, seem to fall forever, and are back dropped on a massive limestone wall. Amazing. The trek finishes on a fairly level circuit of trees and meadow, and finally descends over a bridge into the campground, after passing a Parks Canada Warden cabin.

1 comment:

  1. Sunday, October 23, 2016
    Followed Grizzer Bear tracks from km 2-6, tromped in snow for km 7-14. Saw the frozen falls from km 14, had lunch and went home...7 hours...time to say farewell to fall hiking season I'd say!