History in the Mountains

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I've had the pleasure of introducing my parents to new and adventurous parts of the Rockies this week. They are are avid walkers, conquering many of the routes the length and breadth of the UK. So, it only followed that I would take them straight up a mountain pass!

Emerald Lake remained on their “to do” list from trips past, and I had never been up to Yoho Pass so that choice killed two birds with one stone, as it were. We meandered along the beautiful lakeshore, debating the whether the colour was in fact Emerald, or a different hue. The colour, like the majority of lakes in the Rockies, is caused by the particles of fine, powdery dust carried from the glaciers as they melt. It is so fine it remains suspended in the water instead of sinking to the bottom causing different amounts of light to refract.

Once at the far end of the lake we had a chance to pause and take in the prospect of the lodge at the far end of the lake which we had walked from. I typically prefer loop walks as opposed to the out and backs you find more often in the Rockies, but I have to say there is something satisfying about watching your end destination shrink into the distance, and something encouraging therefore about the return leg. As we ventured out into the dry flood plain, the raw power of nature was in evidence all around us as the man made boardwalks had been ripped from their heavy anchors and been scattered at the whim of the flooded river. The climb up to the mountain pass was punctuated by cascades of spectacular waterfalls, some close by which allowed us a pause to catch our breath, and some up high having melted out of the glaciers above.

The trees became more dense and the pitch increased until we hit the bench. I was optimistic that the travel would become easier on flatter terrain, but how wrong I was! Despite Emerald Lake being completely ice free (unseasonably early!) there was still a significant amount of snow high up on the pass! Thankfully it wasn't too much further to the lake and our lunch spot, so we persevered and were soon rewarded with the stunning icy blue water of Yoho Lake.

“The Alpine Club is a national trust for the defence of our mountain solitudes against the intrusion of steam and electricity and for keeping free from the grind of commerce the wooded passes and valleys and alplands of the wilderness”

Whilst enjoying our lunch and exploring the area around the lake and the campsite, I came across a plaque. I have been a member of the Alpine Club of Canada for close to 5 years now, so I loved reading about how they held their first camp at that spot 110 years ago! The last sentence in particular really resonated with me:

“The Alpine Club is a national trust for the defence of our mountain solitudes against the intrusion of steam and electricity and for keeping free from the grind of commerce the wooded passes and valleys and alplands of the wilderness”

It was written by Elizabeth Parker, a local heroine of mine, and one of the founders of the Alpine Club of Canada. Reading her words transported me back through the century and made me wonder about all the feet who had trodden these paths before me. The museums in Banff are filled with images of incredible men and women who ventured into the mountains in thick woolen clothes and leather shoes, not a shred of GoreTex to be found. Before they arrived and started documenting it all, the First Nations traveled through, living with and from the mountains we now use predominantly for pure recreation. Every time I am out in the mountains I am filled with the awe and beauty of nature, feeling a small part of a universal whole. This added historical tidbit enhanced that feeling, drawing a connection between myself and human kind.

Sated following our late lunch and satisfied at having reached our destination, we descended back down to the lake. A brief, snowy detour took us to another sign telling us about the rich fossil deposits (and subsequent prohibited area) which are found along Mount Burgess in the Burgess Shale. This topic needs a whole blog post in itself! The fossils that are found here are evidence of the earliest species that evolved in a marine ecosystem dating back 508 million years. The only way to access these parts are through guided hikes, and I want to learn more about what I am seeing before going on one. At the moment it serves to emphasise the connection between myself and the many creatures and people who have also shared the beauty of Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park.