Backpacking to Aster Lake

On the weekend, almost right after we got back from Saskatchewan, I headed out to do a backpacking trip with a few friends from an internet hiking group, RMB Peakbaggers.  Our group of four (Linda Breton, Sonny Bou, Dan Millar and I) were heading out to Aster Lake, located in the southwest corner of Peter Lougheed Park in Kananaskis.  Our plan was to hike into Aster Lake, then scramble a few mountains in the area using our campsite as a rest point.  ‘Rest’ was the (in)operative word here however.  It was a fairly strenuous trip with really little rest time, covering about 25 kms of backpacking and 25 kms of scrambling.  Although difficult, it was an awesome trip.

The trip started off with an early morning (2:30am) drive to the area from Airdrie.  I arrived at ‘a’ parking lot in the area around 4:15am, but after waiting for about 45 minutes, realized I was in the wrong spot.  Quickly, I headed over to the other upper lake parking lot and met up with the group.  After some short introductions, we headed out along the lakeside trail toward our turning point at Hidden Lake.  (You can follow the trip on this map.) As we walked along the lake, I was in awe of the early morning light and the ‘alpenglow‘ of the surrounding mountains.  Upper Kananaskis Lake looked incredible at this time of day.  After about 5 kms, we turned off to the south leading trail to Aster Lake. 

I knew the trail that heads around Hidden Lake would be a bad steeplechase (due to the dead-fall logs), but came to fully understand how annoying it is to climb over logs continuously (for anDsc04614
hour) with a heavy backpack on our way in.  The return trip was even more arduous and I couldn’t help but think that the Kananaskis Country park staff should REALLY do some trail maintenance on this section of the Aster Lake trip. Anyway, that aside, we continued toward Fossil Falls and started our ascent of the ‘headwall‘, which would bring us close to the elevation of our destination at Aster Lake.  Going up the headwall was pretty much hugging a scree slope andDsc04625
eventually crossing and climbing beyond three smaller waterfalls flowing from Mount Sarrail.  At one point while climbing around the last waterfall, my camera case came off my belt, crashing down about 15 feet.  Thankfully, the camera still worked and suffered a small crack to the case.  We continued through alpine forest and meadows below Mount Sarrail and reached Aster Lake at 11:15am.  From there, we began to set up our camp.  I couldn’t believe the sights
from the camp area, as our whole weekend was laid out before our eyes! My goal was to climb 3 mountains:  Warrior, Cordonnier and Sarrail.

By 1:30pm most everyone had a short nap and we began our trip to scrambleDsc04653 Warrior Mountain. We headed around the beautiful meadows around Aster Lake, crossed a couple of streams and continued up the long slope leading to
the ridge of Warrior mountain.  Warrior mountain sits at 2973m on the border between Alberta and BC, between Cordonnier and Northover Ridge. Our plan was to climb to the edge of the glacier, then climb the snow to the ridge, where we’d ascend the southwest slope to the top.  Climbing the scree and rubble slopes below Warrior was quite Dsc04657
challenging, as we had to climb continual bands of rock and rubble until the Dsc04662_1
glacier.  Along the way, Linda and Dan decided to turn around — and I continued up with Sonny.  We finally reached the glacier and donned our crampons for the steep trek up the slope.  It was my first time on a glacier and
the view was incredible.  I took a few photos of a large drainage in the middle of the glacier (resembling the sarlaac!).  We stayed clear and continued to the ridge.  A slog to the summit lead us to spectacular views of the Continental (Great) Divide, Dsc04666
British Columbia and the mountains beyond.  After quite a few photos, Sonny and I rested for a bit on the summit as it was 6 Dsc04673pm and our day was already quite long.  (It was probably the warmest summit
I’ve ever had, it felt like a summer day on a deck up there.) I decided not to continue on to Cordonnier as I had just enough energy left to head back to camp.  With the sun going down,Dsc04694
Sonny headed out to bag one more peak for the day.  (I was amazed at his drive.  I was certainly spent.)  After a two and a half hour decent back to the camp and going around the meadow on a mosquito infested lake side trail, I ate and quickly went to sleep.

Eleven hours sleep later, I awoke to another great day for weather.  We were pretty lucky for most of the trip, as the sun was out throughout, although it was a bit hot.  Sunday was  another hot day however, likely reaching 30C.  We packed up the tents and ate a quick breakfast, preparing for our return trip and second ascent (for me) on Mount Sarrail.  By
noon, Sonny and I started up Sarrail in intense heat.  I had four litres of water with me and I would empty that by the end of this scramble.  As we reached the main ridge we followed to the summit, I was getting nauseous from the heat Dsc04719
we took a couple of breaks.  Again, I couldn’t believe Sonny’s stamina, pretty much continuing unfazed.  We reached the snow slope, and I spooked myself on a short down climb.  I was reaching my limit on exposure (to drop offs), but continued along.  We also had to skirt the
edge of another glacier just before the final climb.  At the 3166m summit, we were treated with a view of Kananaskis Lakes, the Opal Ranges and several tall peaks around us including Mount King George, Mt. Sir Douglas and Mt. Rae. 

The trip down was certainly an adventure.  On the way up, Sonny assessed the snow slope andDsc04759
glacier that covers the side of the ridge.  Deciding it was safe (but incredibly steep), we decided to ‘glissade‘ down the snow slope, hoping to skip a large part of the ridge on our return trip.  I was
apprehensive at first, even after borrowing Sonny’s ski poles and donning my crampons.  We headed down, avoiding clear patches of ice that we had seen from our ascent.  The snow was soft enough for me to dig my heels in for parts of the trip down, although I felt as if I was climbing down a sDsc04764Dsc04724_1teep ladder.  I slipped and slid down the slope at one point, only to realize that I was glissading!  Using my crampons to slow, I couldn’t help but smile as it was the first time I had slid down a mountain side.  It was incredibly fun. We continued sliding similarly down the mountain for about half the ridge, then began the slog back to our packs.   Once back at our packs at 5:30, it was a LONG downhill hike to the parking lot, taking us until around 10pm to return.  Along the way, a thunderstorm dumped rain on us for a while as well.  Hearing thunder roll through the surrounding mountains was quite an experience.

Overall, I had several ‘firsts’ on this trip: my 1st time — backpacking in the Rockies, seeing a mountain sunrise, climbing a 3000m mountain, seeing glaciers up close after a hike, crossing glaciers/snowfields, scrambling two mountains in two days, ascending a mountain on the Continental Divide, glissading (sliding) down a mountain, and hearing a thunderstorm roll through mountains!  More photos posted on flickr.  Here are some summit panorama photos from Mount Sarrail
and Warrior Mountain

Sonny has a couple of trip reports with photos on his site, check them out here and here.

2 thoughts on “Backpacking to Aster Lake

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