Meeting in morning with your guide either in Canmore, Banff or Lake Louise. Trip briefing, distribution of rental equipment and food. Drive via Icefields Parkway to the trail head at Bow Lake (20 min from Lake Louise). We start out with a gentle stroll on the lake shore trail along the turquoise waters of Bow Lake. After 1 hr we depart from the main tourist trail, cross a deep canyon on a spectacular natural rock bridge and head into the moraine landscape below Bow Glacier. A last steeper climb takes us to the Bow Hut, located at 2350m = 7700 ft just off the head wall of Bow Glacier, overlooking Bow Lake and other glaciers surrounding the Wapta Icefields. (6km = 3.75 mi, 550m = 1800 ft climb, 4 hrs walking). Should there be time remaining In the afternoon, we familiarize ourselves with the glacier equipment, brief you on glacier travel and take a short hike to the tong of Bow Glacier.
Early start for a spectacular day on the glacier. Roped together with your guide, we will ascend the gentle glacier towards the continental divide with magnificent views of the surrounding high peaks like Mount Gordon, Mt. St. Nikolaus and Mount Collie in the distance. En route, there will be the opportunity to drop our packs and climb either Mt. Rhonda North or Mt. Thompson, peaks around 3000m = 10 000ft with great views all the way to the Columbia Ranges and the Bugaboos. If the group is interested, we will also have time to practice some ice climbing or do a crevasse rescue exercise en route. A first gentle, then steeper descent takes us to the newly renovated Peyto Hut (a.k.a. Whyte Hut) located just of the glacier at 2560m = 8400ft. (6 km = 3.75 mi distance, 550 m = 1800 ft climb, 450m = 1500ft descent). For peak ascent of Mt. Thompson add 400m climb and descent, total walking time with peak ascent 7 hrs.
For really keen & fit group members, there is the option of an early morning ascent of Mount Rhonda south (460m = 1500ft up and down over 4 km = 2.5 mi distance, 3.5 hrs for a fast group in good conditions). After that, it is mostly downhill from the Peyto Hut. The route takes us down the usually barren Peyto Glacier past countless glacier creeks and glacier mills – vivid documentation of the glacial retreat in this area. After walking down the glacier tongue, we traverse through the moraine landscape (optional side trip to Cauldron Lake (2 additional hours), descent some steep moraines, cross the glacial outflow on a bridge and reach finally Peyto Lake, one of the postcard features of Banff National Park. As so often, the toughest part of the day comes in the end: A 300m = 1000ft vertical climb takes us back again into the real world: Hordes of tourists will be waiting for us when we top out at the Peyto Lake overlook. We usually deposit the guide's car here in order to get back to the Bow Lake trail head. (370m = 1200 ft climb, 800m = 2600ft descent, 7km = 4.37mi)
Please Note: This itinerary can be nicely combined with other mountaineering activities that we offer (rock climbing, scrambling, classic peak ascents) or other mountain sports activities (rafting, caving, horseback riding, mountain biking etc.) to make for an excellent introduction to mountaineering, family or multi-sport week. Please inquire for a custom trip proposal.
Detail and Logistics
Depending on our client's preference, we can meet you on Day 1 of the trek either a) in Canmore or Banff at 7.30 or b) in Lake Louise at the Canadian Alpine Center (a.k.a. Youth Hostel) at 8.30 AM for a trip briefing, distribution of group food and rental gear. From Lake Louise, a 20 minute drive takes us to the trail head at Bow Lake.
How to get there / Closest airport:
Greyhound Bus Service from Downtown Calgary to Canmore, Banff or Lake Louise 4 times a day. Also, there are several private shuttle services providing hourly transport from the Calgary airport to the Bow Valley - Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise.
Driving times from the trail head at Bow Lake: To Calgary = 2.15 hrs, Canmore 1.15 hrs, Banff 1 hrs, Lake Louise 20min.
Rental cars are also available in Calgary, Banff or Canmore.
Climate, Weather, Temperatures:
Temperatures can vary greatly on this trip. You might be able to start the hike in shorts at Bow Lake in temps around 30 C ( 86 F) and face subfreezing temperatures down to -15C (5 F) the next morning when stepping on the glacier. Fresh snow is also a possibility on this trip.
Best season for this trip is July - September. For earlier or later departures, we might have to carry snowshoes along. If you wanted to do this trip as a ski traverse, have a look at our Wapta Ski Traverse
Services Included in the Total Price:
- Guiding by a certified (ACMG / IFMGA) and insured mountain guide, alpine guide or assistant guide under supervision
- All trip organization, reservations as well as assistance with all pre- and post trip preparations
- All food and food preparations for the 2 nights in backcountry huts
- Parks Canada wilderness overnight fee
- Rental of technical equipment: Ice axe, harness, carabineer, crampons and helmets for ice climbing practice
Not Included Are:
(but can be quoted separately): - Pre- and post trip lodging in Canmore, Banff or Lake Louise
- Airport pick up, drop off at Calgary International Airport
- Transport to and from the trailhead
Can I Do It?
Strenuous multi-day trek with a combination of hiking on trails (at times steep and gravel covered) and glaciers (at times snow covered). On the glaciers you will be roped with your fellow trekkers and your guide as a rope team. The terrain is not technical and relatively gentle, however the use of crampons will likely be required. We will go through an instructional session about glacier travel and crampon / ice axe use on Day 1 and 2. All in all, you need to be in good physical and mental condition, ready to be on your feet for about 7-8 hrs on some of the days. If in doubt, give us a call!
Additional days to extend the Wapta Icefields traverse are possible on a custom trip basis:
1) One additional night at the Bow Hut would give you more time to include more instruction, like crevasse rescue or self-arrest exercises as well as an ascent of either Mount Olive or Mount Gordon, both around 3200 meters high and reachable from the Bow hut in about 6 - 7 hrs round trip.
2) The entire Wapta Traverse takes 5 days and includes also the Scott Duncan and the Balfour Hut. The full traverse is more committing and adds more challenging terrain than our regular 3 day trip and we hence don't recommend it for families with children under the age of 16.
HIGH LEVEL GLACIER TREKS with OVERNIGHT IN HUTS
1. Technical Equipment
• Leather or plastic mountaineering boots*
(Sturdy with RIGID soles - usable with crampons)
• Backpack (minimum 40 liters) with rain cover if possible.
Some have built-in rain covers (Deuter backpacks).
Rain covers can also be bought separately.
Otherwise bring a big plastic (garbage) bag as an inside liner for your backpack.
• Climbing helmet**
• Ice axe for glacier travel (50-75cm, classic pick)**
• Crampons that fit your boots or can be easily adjusted**
• Anti-balling plates for your crampons (highly recommended)**
• Collapsible ski poles* (recommended, at least one pole)
• 1 harness**
• 1 locking carabiners**
• Crevasse rescue equipment, if you are familiar with it.
(Prusik slings, webbing, pulleys, auto-locking device).
Your guide will bring a full set.
All items marked ‘*’ can be rented from a rental shop locally.
All items marked ‘**’ can be provided by OnTop.
Please bring your own equipment if you have it.
We suggest using the ‘layer system’: Light technical clothing that doesn’t take much space in your backpack and dries quickly if sweaty or wet.
Layers can be put on and taken off fast if weather conditions change during the day.
• Wind and waterproof shell jacket with hood (Gore Tex or similar)
• Wind and waterproof over pants with side zippers (Gore Tex or similar)
• Mountaineering pants
• Fleece or heavy jacket
• Medium weight fleece sweater
• Long underwear or running tights (e.g. Capilene or polypro)
• Undershirt - preferably long sleeves (e.g. Capilene or polypro)
• Warm socks for mountaineering boots (wool/synthetic outers)
• Warm hat, covering your ears
• Lightweight gloves (fleece)
• Warm, waterproof pair of gloves
• Gaiters (unless pants lock tightly to your boots)
• Sun hat, with a wide brim if possible
• Bandana (optional)
3: Hut lodging
• Spare underwear, socks, light hut slippers
• Down vest or light insulated jacket (optional)
• Sleeping bag – temperatures in the huts vary, depending on number of fellow guests. Outside temps are rarely are below freezing in summer.
• Light stuff sacs or zip lock bags to keep your backpack organized (optional)
• Very light hut slippers or down booties (optional, socks or boot liner work too)
• Toiletries (keep to a bare minimum – washing is usually limited to a hand and face rinse, brushing teeth)
• Ear plugs (optional)