Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Painters and Hikers at Lake O'Hara

Classic Lake O'Hara from Sargent's Point

Anyone who has ever been to Lake O'Hara will share my sentiment that, magically, one never tires of it. In the Canadian Rockies it's the biggest bang for your buck with numerous, satellite, alpine lakes, all equally gorgeous and close enough to easily hike to many of them in a single day. 

From September 5th to 8th, 2016, Bill and I joined another back country excursion arranged by Patti Dyment. Ten of us spent three nights in the Alpine Club of Canada's Elizabeth Parker Hut. Most of us bunked in the smaller cabin, the Wiwaxy Hut.

Elizabeth Parker Hut, left, Wiwaxy Hut is on the right (internet image)

Hut accommodations are self catering and rustic, although the kitchen is outfitted with all you need, including propane hotplates and a full sized stove with an oven. If you aren't into outdoor, pit toilets and sleeping on a continuous bunk, next to people you don't know, this is not for you.

Sharon, Patti, Grant, Gwen, Jan, Dave, Alice, Bill, Sharon and Meg in the common area of the Elizabeth Parker

For many, Lake O'Hara Lodge is cost prohibitive, plus securing reservations isn't easy. They have their own stylish bus to transport you to and from the lodge/lake whereas hut and campground guests travel via old school buses. The Alpine Club of Canada's Elizabeth Parker Hut holds a maximum of 24 people and booking a stay is done, months in advance, by lottery. The third accommodation option is a 30 site campground which is usually booked out by 10am every summer morning. You can, and many do, just travel into the area as day trippers. Parks Canada recognizes the fragility of the landscape and limits access to the region via buses which have to be booked in advance. Numbers are restricted by the capacity of two school buses going in four times a day. Anyone wishing to trek the 11km access road (no private vehicles are permitted) before hitting Lake O'Hara itself and the sublime scenery beyond, is welcome to walk in.

In our group, the keeners who arrived on the 8:30am bus, were already hard at work when we arrived on the 10:30am bus ...

Jan and Patti 

When I'm at Lake O'Hara hiking is every bit as important as painting. My left hip needs replacing. Just prior to this trip, I had a cortisone shot that enabled me do two hikes which I wouldn't have been able to negotiate otherwise. The weather forecast was not favourable so, that first afternoon, while there were some patches of blue sky, a few of us hit the trail to Lake McArthur ...

Meg, with the dramatic Wiwaxy Peaks beyond.  To the right you can just see the shore of Schaffer Lake  
Schaffer Lake
McArthur and Mount Biddle when we first arrived
Minutes later it turned to this (thanks to Meg for this image).  We barely had enough time to take a few photos before ...
... those threatening clouds spilled over the mountain with ominous threats 

While we had hoped to be able to stay longer, Mother Nature had her own idea letting us know, once again, how she rules and that weather in the mountains can change in a heartbeat.

Dave and Meg hustling away from Lake McArthur, which you can just barely see in the background 
Descending the tricky bit from Lake McArthur in a full on squall

Janet and Tom Novotny, of Chicago, are so in love with the Canadian Rockies they've been vacationing here every year since 1983. I'm sure stranger things have happened but even so what are the odds that they would be back at Lake O'Hara at precisely the same time as us, in both 2015 and 2016? More O'Hara magic. You can't help but embrace their enthusiasm, plus they robustly join in on our hootenannies!    

With Janet and Tom

As already mentioned the hut holds 24 people and we were only 10 this time. Still we hope the others will join in on our fun when we burst into song. Yes, we inflict our singing on whoever else is in residence and we aren't deterred if they're not inclined to sing along, but we are mindful of lights out/quiet time.  

Sharon, Dave, Patti, Grant, Janet and Meg

September 6th, I'm all smiles at the start of my painting at Sargent's Point

I'm grateful for the many times I've spent at O'Hara under glorious, sunny skies, but on this particular trip the weather was quite ghastly. As the sky got darker it became more and more difficult for me to see my painting and what I was doing under the umbrella, which is intended to block the sun. I was cold, wet and generally cranky with how my painting was going, so I wiped off what you see here ...   

Now you see it and then no you don't - it's gone!

Of course Grant just painted on and created another absolute jewel ...

Grant working on his Sargent's Point painting
Gwen Day also stuck it out painting in the raw elements

September 7th brought more unsettled weather. Hiking seemed preferable to standing still painting so, Meg, Bill and I chose the latter and wandered up onto the Opabin Plateau ...

Bill on the Lodge's boat dock before heading up the West Opabin Trail
On the West Opabin Trail looking down on Mary Lake with Lake O'Hara beyond
Bill and the pools of Opabin Plateau with the WiWaxy Peaks in the background 
Alice and Meg on Opabin Plateau where the larches had begun to turn  
This is the sheer, raw beauty of Opabin Lake and Opabin Pass where one feels awfully small
I was thrilled to have made it to Opabin Lake

Our last morning, September 8th, dawned dismal with no prospect of the weather improving. Most everyone was weary of being soggy and cold. Several of us opted to take the first bus out at 9:30am. This is the transportation up and down the access road to Lake O'Hara ...

Tom, Sharon, Janet, Patti, Alice, Meg and Bill

On the ride down, we laughed as we recounted another incredible time together despite the weather because even in bad weather it's a most wonderful place to be. At the parking lot we bid one another farewell and happy trails, until we meet again.


  1. Beautiful pictures, beautiful experience.

  2. It's such a fabulous place there's little wonder that your photos are outstanding. An amazing experience for you to be there and loving it! I'm impressed by how Bill managed to dress-to-match in the canoe photo! :D

    1. Thanks Win. Love the place with all my heart. Bill is awfully good at blending in ;-)