I had a restless night. Spending 11 hours lying down was needed in order for me to get enough sleep! We stirred around 7.45 am and slowly but surely got ourselves up, made breakfast, and had coffee. We took down the tent and repacked the rucksacks, making sure we had enough water to see us through the day. It was sunny, but there was a fair bit of cloud around too. By 10.15am we were ready to go and we set off up the hill that put us off going further yesterday.
The trail headed up steadily, through woods of subalpine fir (the most common tree up here). A few woodland flowers remained (columbine and Columbia lily) but they were few and far between. After 15-20 minutes we came into an area where there had been a forest fire about 50 years ago. This was more open (although the trees were growing back well) and there were more flowers here, particularly fireweed and paintbrush. The openness was nice, although the sun was hot! But as we climbed, we started to get our first views of the day: the ridges of Mt Frosty appeared first, and later the jagged teeth of Mt Hozameen.
We were getting into our stride as the trail levelled off in the meadows. Within 45 minutes of leaving the campground we had reached Bonnevier Ridge, and a different trail led off away down the slope. We stayed on the Heather Trail – not hard to do as it’s the only trail up there! I was so taken in by the views that I managed to drop the camera. Did I mention it was dry and dusty? Well all that fine dust stuck to the camera like glue. A wipe here, a quick blast of air there and most of it was clear. But there was still some in the lens mechanism which we could hear grinding away…
Despite reaching the subalpine meadows, there still weren’t many flowers. In fact where we were standing, there were virtually none! The plant life was very low to the ground, mostly mosses and lichens and small plants. Certainly no flowers. Still, the views more than made up for that. We continued on up towards Big Buck mountain, skirted its western side and came across our first really spectacular patches of flowers. Here and there were dry stream courses, where snowmelt obviously ran in spring. And here is where the flowers were blooming: lupine, arnica, paintbrush, white bog orchid, moptops, and other stuff we didn’t know. And this was only a taste of what was to come…
At about 12.15 pm we reached another trail intersection, this time with the trail going up to the peak of First Brother mountain. We took a well-deserved rest and water stop. It was too steep to take our packs, so Maria stowed hers behind some trees, while I kept mine for the first part of the ascent. The top of Maria’s pack detaches to become a waist pack: very handy. We put lunch in it and kept going. When we got to the start of the ridge, I dropped my pack and we carried on to the summit, another 10 minutes further. The peak of First Brother lies at the end of a spectacular narrow ridge, with steep drops on either side. A bit of scrambling later I truly satisfied goal number 1: we came across a marmot sat on a rock, lording it over his territory. He stayed in place long enough for us to get a photo :-) and happy, we continued to the summit. The views were amazing – the summit is at 2272 m (7500 ft) with 360-degree panoramic views. Wow! We planned to have lunch here, except for the fact that we’d left the water in my pack and needed it to mix with the dried hummus… Oops. We had a trail-mix and gatorade snack (while failing to photograph a cheeky chipmunk) before we headed back down to find my pack and have our real lunch.
By 2.10 pm we were back down to collect Maria’s pack and we set off for Kicking Horse camp. The sign said it was only 3.5 km away. Well if we thought we were in the meadows before, they were nothing compared with what we saw over the next couple of km. These were the real meadows! Hundreds and hundreds of flowers in all directions – we just couldn’t stop taking photos. Amazing views of the distant mountains too. The trail wound its way over the meadows, crossing trickles of streams, dropping into bigger gullies filled with orchids and monkeyflower. After a while the trail entered a pass and dropped into another valley. There was still a big patch of snow up on the slope above us. The landscape changed becoming more craggy (especially the north face of Third Brother). The meadows and flowers vanished and were replaced by mostly heather but with a sprinkling of others (partridge foot, cottongrass, and lupine). We continued down, crossed a couple of streams (with signs telling us how much further we had to go), and at 4.30 pm we reached Kicking Horse campground. That felt like a very long 3.5 km!
We dropped our packs and wandered through the campground to decide which pad we wanted. We met the couple with their dog we’d seen at Buckhorn – they had taken the prime spot with a nice sunny aspect and view of the meadows. We took a spot close to the entrance and set up the tent. We had the perfect wooden pad that allowed us to peg out the tent properly. Much better than the previous night. The next step was to find water. A wander down the hill took us to a tiny little stream (we’d seen bigger ones on the way in), which was mostly quite still. This didn’t look like much of a water source so we explored further and found a spot where it was running freely over some rocks and used that to fill up.
Since the campground was mostly empty we went over to the other sunny tent pad and cooked our dinner there (OK OK, I know that’s not great backcountry practice). Two more groups turned up while we were eating – that meant the campground was now half full. We were expecting it to get much more crowded the next day. As with the night before, once we had eaten and the sun started to sink, it got chilly. We were in bed by 9 pm (after sipping a little Glenmorangie) and settled down to sleep.