Saturday, June 9, 2012

Simpson River Trail/Surprise Creek Campground

This is a lengthy hike with very little elevation change, and compared to other hikes in the area, it has fewer natural landmarks. For the most part, it does as the title suggests: it is a trail that follows the Simpson River. The burnt forest from the Mount Shanks forest fire in 2001 allows scenic viewing not possible through the normally dense forest that would otherwise be here. Although the trail begins in Kootenay National Park, the destination at the Surprise Creek shelter and campground lies within the borders of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in British Columbia. So, make sure that you pay your camping fees for the appropriate park.
The shelter is first-come, first-served, and overflow camping is on non-designated pads in the meadow beside the shelter. Because of this system, it is advisable to bring a tent and not depend on the availability of the shelter. The metal bear boxes outside the shelter are to be used for tenters and not just the occupants of the shelter. More details are at
DISTANCE: 10.6 km
                                               GPS: N50 58.708 W115 56.895
                                               Elevation: 1235 m
Surprise Creek Shelter and Campground:
                                               GPS: N50 58.071 W115 49.298
                                               Elevation: 1410 m
Trailhead: The large highway sign marking the Simpson River Trail is 46.8 km down the Banff–Windermere Highway from Castle Junction and 6 km south of Vermilion Crossing. The gravel pullover is on the east (left) side of the parkway, with minimal parking. The pleasant setting of Vermilion Crossing contains the Kootenay Park Lodge, Kootenay Park Visitor Centre and a day-use picnic area.
Surprise Creek Cabin

From the trailhead, cross the steel bridge over the Vermilion River to access the backcountry trail and the forest of burnt spruce and pine. The long-lasting effects of the fire that ravaged this area are immediately evident and will continue throughout most of the hike. Once more, due to the minimal blockage by the burnt-out forest, you can see Hawk Ridge directly ahead of you, due east.
You’ll see a trail marker sign, the first of many to come, within the first couple of minutes. The straight line will take you down the Mount Shanks trail, with a marked distance of 6.9 km. This same sign will direct you to make a 90° right turn to the desired Simpson River Trail. The sign is a tad confusing, as it states that it is 8.6 km to the “Simpson River Trail” when 8.6 km is actually the distance to the boundary of Kootenay National Park and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. The Surprise Creek shelter and campground are in fact 10.6 km away.

Castle Mountain

The summit of Castle Mountain is an easy, yet lengthy journey. Be prepared
for an early morning start and a late afternoon return. There are only two
strenuous sections on the trail. The first one is from Tower Lake to Rockbound
Lake, and the other is the section from Rockbound Lake to the upper plateau.
Otherwise, it is a long meander up 12 km of a moderate incline. With an overall
elevation gain approaching 1400 m, more than half of this is accomplished in
the 7.7 km to Tower Lake.
The journey to this summit is a trek unlike any other. When you look at this
fortress wall from the highway, the summit appears to be almost impossible to
achieve beyond this impregnable rock fortification. But the key to this ascent is
that the access is actually around the back end of the limestone wall. The journey
is truly better than the destination.
Elevation gain: 1379 m
Trailhead: G PS: N51 16 08.0 W115 54 57.5
E levation: 1396 m
Rockbound Lake: G PS: N51 18 46.7 W115 55 40.8
E levation: 2221 m
Castle Summit: G PS: N51 18 04.5 W115 55 40.0
E levation: 2775 m
Trailhead: The trailhead is located at Castle Junction, 24 km east of Lake
Louise on the Trans-Canada Highway. After exiting at the interchange,
head north to Highway 1a and proceed east (right) for 200 m. The trail
is marked as the “Rockbound Lake” trail, not the “Castle Lookout” trail.
Like many Rocky Mountain scrambles, this route begins in a dense forest.
The trail is usually in good repair, with no trouble spots. Carry on up this
gentle hike until reaching Tower Lake at kilometre 7.7 Coming out of the
forest into the meadow before this lake is quite an incredible surprise.
Eisenhower Tower looms over the left, as the lake is just in front of you. From
here the trail breaks out of the forest into beautiful openness that lets the eyes
wander. Because of the design of this climb, you will travel 4.3 km in a wide
loop to eventually come back to this approximate point, but 650 m higher.

Follow the trail around the right (northeast) shoreline of Tower Lake
to continue up to Rockbound Lake. This is the first heart-thumping part
of the climb. There are continual switchbacks straight up through forest,
with an elevation gain of very nearly 100 m. It is somewhere up this dirty,
dusty section of the trail that you will curse my name. However, it is also
the point at which you will wish you had spent the extra time on the
treadmill during those long winter nights.

South Boundary Trail - Jacques Lake Campground

As an enjoyable day of backpacking, the South Boundary Trail provides impressive companions for most of the hike. The Queen Elizabeth and Colin ranges, on the right and left sides respectively, are in full view until the path darts into the forest about 1.25 hours into the hike. The Queen Elizabeth range is the most visible and picturesque of the two. With a wide-open trail for more than half of the walk, minimal elevation gain, lakeside exposure and spectacular mountain ranges framing the valley, this hike is one to appreciate and enjoy. Stop and take pictures, or stop and look in awe, but be sure you stop to enjoy. Of the entire 167 km of the entire South Boundary Trail, this first 12.2 km is possibly the most scenic and enjoyable.
Difficulty ***
Distance: 12.2 km
Elevation gain: 78 m
Trailhead G PS: N52 50 57.8 W117 43 19.9
E levation: 1445 m
Junction at First Summit Lake G PS: N52 53 01.7 W117 45 02.5
E levation: 1523 m
Jacques Lake Campground G PS: N52 56 00.8 W117 44 18.8
E levation: 1492 m

Trailhead: From the traffic lights at the junction of the Icefields Parkway
and Highway 16, drive east on Highway 16 for 6 km to the Maligne
Road. After crossing the Athabasca River, immediately turn left and
drive another 28 km. The pull-off is on the left side, marked as the “South
Boundary Trail.”

The path begins as a spacious trail. You pass a cabin and corral within
the first few minutes. Fifteen minutes later the south shore of Beaver Lake with its boats and boat launch are passed. The trail then sidesteps the lake for several scenic minutes. Beyond the lake the trail continues to offer incredible neck-craning panoramas of the Queen Elizabeth and Colin ranges. This lasts for 2 km of easy trekking until the path emerges from the forest onto a hillside of small brush and vegetation devoid of trees, thus permitting much grander views of the parallel mountain ranges.