Day 4: Nub Peak (via Assiniboine Lodge): 14.5 km, 610 m, 6 h 45 m
- Magog Lake return: 3 km (1 hr 20 min; +60 m, -60 m)
- Campground to the Nublet: 3.5 km (1 hr 50 min; +335 m, -20 m)
- Nublet to Nub Peak: 1.3 km (50 min; +215 m, -0 m)
- Nub Peak to Assiniboine Lodge: 4.6 km (2 hr 15 min; +20 m, -460 m)
- Assiniboine Lodge to campground: 2.1 km (30 min; minimal elevation change)
With the sky clearing the previous evening, I entertained plans of getting up to photograph the sunrise. I came round about 6:30 am and looked outside the tent to see what looked like blue sky above us. For a few moments I considered just staying where I was, given that I was warm and comfortable, but in the end I thought it would be worth me taking advantage of this opportunity, partly so I wouldn’t have to do it again (assuming there was something to photograph…). I layered up, pulled on my boots, picked up the cameras (all three of them; four if you include my phone), and hauled myself out of the tent, the fly coated with a light frost and decorated with snow pellets.
As I passed the shelter, I could see the first flush of sunlight on the eastern face of Mount Assiniboine, albeit with some lingering cloud as the warm and cold air mixed. I continued into the frosty meadows and moved quickly back towards the lake as I already felt I was short on time, the light on the mountain already losing some of its early warm glow. (The lesson here: get up immediately and earlier than you think you need to!) I took the first side trail down to the lake and admired the view. It was a decent spot for a photo of the mountain but I knew from our previous visit that a better view was round at the eastern end of the lake.
A large group of photographers was already gathered near the east end of the lake and, as I got nearer, I realized how loud they were. Here we are, in the backcountry miles from anywhere and people are treating it like they were in a noisy bar. I really had to work hard not to ask them to be quiet, but I’ve dealt with such groups before and let’s just say that they’re very quick to put up a language barrier. I decided the better course of action was to ignore them and work my way to the spots I wanted.
It was a beautiful morning and the lake was still, a fine mist hanging low over the water. An occasional breeze riffled the surface far away from the edge but close to the shore the water remained calm and I was able to size up a number of reflection photos. I was pleased to get the opportunity to use the DSLR and its ultra-wide lens, justifying the extra three pounds of weight to carry it in my pack. After a while I was done with my photography and was content to sit and watch the scene for a bit. The light gradually faded and the mountain was now well enshrouded in cloud, which I took as my cue to head back to the campground.
Walking back through the meadows, I was tempted to stop for a few photos of irresistibly icy willowherb and strawberry leaves. Back at the tent by about 8:30 am, I found Maria just getting up, so I wandered down to the shelter to get a start on breakfast. Hot drinks were very welcome this frosty morning! We chatted with our fellow hikers over breakfast, discussing plans and objectives for the day. We decided that today was to be our return to Nub Peak, a wonderful hike we’d really enjoyed on our previous visit.
To Nub Peak
We set off around 10:40 am, retracing our steps to Sunburst Lake and taking advantage once again of a moment of stillness to admire and photograph some beautiful mountain reflections. Climbing towards the Niblet, we enjoyed the meadows and larches anew, and sighted a pika (perhaps the noisy one that startled us yesterday?) and a golden-mantled ground squirrel along the way. This time when we reached the junction, we turned left and climbed up through shattered rocks to the Nublet and the best view in the whole park. (Except maybe from the summit of Mount Assiniboine I suppose…)
We paused to take in the stunning vista, and watched three different hawks soar on the thermals. The clouds had moved in, blocking the sun and cloaking the mountain tops but we didn’t care. We could see Lake Magog, with Naiset Point, Terrapin Mountain, Mount Magog, and Mount Assiniboine to the south, Sunburst Peak and its namesake lake and Cerulean Lake slightly west, Wedgewood Peak in heavier cloud further west. To the south-east we could see Wonder Peak and Mount Cautley, Assiniboine Pass between Cascade Rock and Cave Mountain. To the north we could see our way ahead to Nub Peak itself. Like I said, stunning.
After a snack we moved on to begin the fun of walking the ridge. It started out easy, slightly downslope of the crest on the west side, before climbing up through more shattered and loose sedimentary layers. Surprisingly, I found I had to psych myself up to tackle a couple of sections, but maybe because I was already spooked by a wrong turn we had made. In any case, I was soon on my way and we finished the ridge, emerging on the tundra plateau below Nub Peak. We paused again to admire the views before picking up a faint trail along the edge of the cliff and beginning the final climb to the summit.
Our trail petered out while another appeared off to our left. We tiptoed across the rocks to pick up the second trail which led us up the slope. A lone hiker ahead of us had stopped, his attention caught by something on the ground. We assumed marmots, as we had seen plenty of them up here in 2009, but when we reached him we noticed 5 – no – 6, – no – 7, – wait – make that 10 ptarmigan among the rocks! I switched lenses and took as many photos as I could before they could wander off. The birds soon had enough of our gawking and politely edged away from us over the rocks, leaving us to finish off the climb to the summit.
We came over the rise and emerged on the deserted flat-topped summit of Nub Peak, walking over to the cairn and dropping our packs. Then it was time to take in our surroundings once more, seeing Og Lake for the first time along with the Valley of the Rocks and all the way up to Citadel Pass and beyond to Sunshine Meadows. To the east were vast open larch-dotted meadows between us and Assiniboine Pass that invited hours of wandering. I scanned for movement, always on the lookout for elk or bears but saw nothing. We took plenty of photos, even though the light wasn’t great, the sun playing with us and lighting up patches here and there. How could we not, being in such a wonderful place?
A group of hikers we’d chatted with at breakfast arrived at the summit, breaking us out of our quiet solitude. We exchanged exclamations of wonder at the views and helped them identify a few landmarks. A flash of movement caught my eye and I turned to see a weasel darting between rocks, pausing long enough to watch us, sizing us up, wondering what we were. Remarkably I managed to get a few in-focus photos at those points where it stopped dashing around. That was a real treat, and if I was a ptarmigan, I’d be keeping my eyes open…
Back to the lodge
It was time to begin our descent, reluctantly as ever. The hike down was easy and we were soon at the beginning of the ridge once again. We carefully picked our way over the loose shale, all the while admiring the stunning views around us: Mount Assiniboine ahead, Elizabeth Lake far down the slope to our right looking a deep blue once again and surrounded by a forest of golden larches. The ridge was fun and we enjoyed every step of the way, the big grins on our faces betraying just how much fun we were having. The pikas must’ve been enjoying it too as they squeaked their enthusiasm as we walked by.
The view from the ridge was utterly awe-inspiring. The snow-peaked mountain ahead of us, Elizabeth Lake to our right, and the vast burnished meadows leading towards Assiniboine and Wonder Passes aglow with golden larches that contrasted so starkly with the dark green fir and spruce. I took what came to be one of my favourite photos of the trip here, a grand landscape image that – to me, at least – captures some of the scale of the Rockies.
Our walk along the ridge was over all too soon and we set about finding a comfortable lunch spot with a view of Mount Assiniboine. Let’s face it. that shouldn’t be too difficult, really! As we ate and admired, another pika scampered over the rocks down the slope from us. A moment later a shape flashed past us that looked like a small falcon, and we wondered if that was why the pika was running for cover. Drifting clouds played peek-a-boo with the summit, and we decided it was time to move on as snow pellets began to bounce off our jackets. A shower to the west seemed to be heading our way too, spurring on our descent towards the Niblet and the spot we’d visited yesterday.
We couldn’t resist stopping again to take in the classic view and capturing a few more photos, especially as the sun occasionally pierced the clouds to light up some of the larches in pure gold. It’s a popular photo spot for a good reason, and to be honest it’s a place where I could easily spend hours just taking in the scenery. But time was passing and beer was calling and we made our way back down through the forest and willowy meadows towards the lodge, arriving at two minutes to four. Perfect timing for a well-earned beverage!
With beer and cider in hand, we opted to sit outside, grabbing the corner of a bench in the warm sunshine that was now bathing the area. This was the same spot we’d enjoyed a beer back in 2009, and a fellow hiker obligingly took a photo of us to compare with the original version from a decade earlier. As we left the lodge, we were delighted to see that the weather forecast had improved considerably, and we could look forward to mostly sunny skies for the next few days. That knowledge put a little extra spring in our step as we walked the couple of kilometres back to the tent. It’s not like we needed it as the day had been absolutely stunning, overwhelming in its beauty and experiences and was exactly what we came here to witness.
The willows were catching the evening sun as we head back, shining almost as golden as the larches. We retrieved our food bags and boiled some water for a hot drink to warm us up again now that we were in the shade of Sunburst Peak. A quick backcountry bath (i.e. wet wipes) refreshed us for dinner, followed by another hot drink and a nip of whisky before we retired to the tent as darkness fell.
We settled down in our warm sleeping bags, the silence descending once again as we stopped squirming. And then a sound from behind us: elk again, a few squeaky bugles from somewhere in the trees. A short time later another sound caught our ears: yipping and howling in the distance. My first over-excited reaction was that they were wolves but we soon realized the calls were too high-pitched, so we concluded they were, in fact, coyotes. With the sounds of the wildlife still ringing in our ears, we drifted off to sleep.
I stirred after a couple of hours and heard more animal calls – probably elk, but there was something else that sounded more gruff than the elk, perhaps a moose, or even a bear? (We later heard of a group that encountered a grizzly between the shelter and Sunburst Lake around dusk.) Either way it was distant and I drifted off again, pulling my sleeping bag tight around my head as the temperature dropped.
Sleep came readily although after I awoke around 3 am, I found it hard to drift off again. Not that I minded; it was so peaceful and didn’t wish to be anywhere else. I peered out of the tent to see a sky full of stars, quickly zipping myself back inside to preserve the warmth I’d accumulated.
Unsolicited advice for campers
Take heed for a more considerate camping experience for everyone!
- Find and cultivate your indoor voice.
- When you buy a new headlamp, find out how to use the low power/brightness mode!
- You don’t have to start talking the moment your eyes open. Honest!
- Your headlamp probably has a way to angle it downwards so you don’t blind your fellow campers when you look in their direction.
- How do you know if you’re wearing the right footwear? If you have to dance around the mud, you’re not.
On to Day 5…