Forum Index > Trip Reports > Lake O'Hara/Yoho Natl. Park, 8/6/19-8/9/19
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Jonny V
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PostSun Apr 26, 2020 5:03 pm 
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Lake O’Hara is in a part of the Canadian Rockies known as Yoho National Park. Just east of Yoho lies Banff National Park and to the north, Jasper National Park is the third national park that collectively covers the northern terminus of the Rocky Mountain chain.

Lake O’Hara is so special that access is very limited. There are three ways you can stay there. One is to reserve a room at the small quaint lodge or cabins which costs an insane amount of money. Another is to reserve a bunk in one of two alpine huts in a meadow just above the lake. The third is to reserve a campsite and sleep in your tent. Each site has a tent pad big enough for one tent. There are only thirty tent sites and combined with the lodge and the hut they only allow a total of 300 people into the park at any given time, giving everyone plenty of space to enjoy all that Lake O’Hara has to offer. Getting a reservation is challenging to say the least. You can not even try to reserve until exactly three months to the day before you wish to arrive (this may have changed since). You have to call in to a live person to reserve your dates which can be up to three consecutive nights maximum. Three months prior, on May 6th at exactly 8AM MST, three of the four us us all called the reservation number. We all got a busy signal. We all hit redial. We all got a busy signal. An hour and ten minutes later on my two hundredth dial-in the phone rang and I actually got through. I had read that every single day typically sells out within an hour so I felt extremely lucky to have gotten through. We reserved two tent sites for Tuesday, August 6th for three nights, coming out on Friday, August 9th. The stage had been set. Bridgit and I drove up from Lake Stevens through Kamloops and Revelstoke and met our friends Mike and Sandy who had come up from Colorado. We stayed at the very popular Lake Louise Campground.

10,774' Mt. Sir Donald from Highway 1

11,626' Mt Temple from Lake Louise Camp

There is only one road leading into Lake O’Hara and it is closed to the public. Each reservation comes with a bus pass. Our reservation was to get the 10:30AM bus so we drove back up into Yoho, parked at the Lake O’Hara bus parking lot and brought our backpacks up to the staging area. We boarded the school bus for the nine mile drive up the valley on a bumpy dirt road under partially cloudy skies. A short twenty minutes later we arrived at the Lake O’Hara Campground. After our orientation we ran off into the woods and found two tent sites next to each other. Once our stuff was situated we still had hours before dinnertime so we decided to take a hike around the actual lake. I included a map of the Lake O’Hara area for anyone who cares to follow along.

Lake O'Hara map

The campground is a little less than a half mile from the lake. You can continue up the road to the lake where there is a warden’s cabin, the lodge, rental cabins and a day use shelter. We opted to drop down to a creek below our campground and follow the creek trail up to the lake. From camp to camp it is about a 2.3 mile loop hike with no elevation gain so it really was a pleasant stroll around the lake.

First view of Lake O'Hara from near the outlet

Some kind of Piper?

The sky was fairly dark and rain threatened a bit as we circled the lake. Along the way we came to Seven Veils Falls. There was a short, steep side trail up to the falls so we had to go check that out.

Seven Veils Falls

Mike at the falls

After circling the lake we came to the Le Relais Shelter. Other than the scenery and a large population of bears, Lake O’Hara is famous for the fresh carrot cake they offer for sale at 8:30AM and 3:30PM every day. We each got a piece and it lived up to the hype. It was some grubbin’ good cake my friends. The shelter also had hot coffee and t-shirts of which we bought both.
The campground was very bear conscious and had several things in place to keep bears and people separated. Instead of cooking all over the place there was a central area for cooking and eating as well as for food storage. Each site had been designated its own bearproof food locker big enough for all food and scented items such as toothpaste, sunscreen and Chanel #5. A bearproof storage shed had racks for people to store their backpacks, hiking poles and boots so they didn’t have to put them in their tents. Nothing was allowed to be stored outside your tent unless it was in a locker or the shed. The campground also had bathrooms, sinks with running water for doing dishes and brushing and potable water that was delicious straight out of the tap. So we weren’t really roughing it. It made camping for three nights super easy.
Tent pads in the campground

Central dining area.

We woke up for our first full day at Lake O’Hara to crystal clear sunny skies. This was to be a full day of hiking. We had an ambitious plan to hike the entirety of what is known as the Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit. In looking at the attached map. it involves taking the high trail up to Wiwaxy Gap, over the Huber Ledges to Lake Oesa, around Yukness Mountain via the Yukness Ledges, up through and around the Opabin Plateau, climbing to the All Souls Prospect and returning to the campsite on the Big Larches Trail.

Trail map

After the short hike up the road we began the same clockwise path around the lake as we had done the previous afternoon. The sun was now bathing part of the lake in light and the impressive Schaffer Ridge wall was just lit up rising above the lake.

Lake O'Hara and Schaffer Ridge

Not far from the lake outlet we came to a junction. The route I wanted to take involved the notorious Huber Ledges in which the trail crosses a very exposed, cliffy section on an extremely narrow trail. Bridgit wasn’t too keen on that idea so she and Sandy opted for a different route at this point. They would continue around the lake to another trail junction, taking the Lake Oesa trail up the middle of the cirque and meet us at Lake Oesa. Mike and I started up the trail towards Wiwaxy Gap and it wasted no time gaining altitude. Soon we were high above Lake O’Hara and the scenery got better with each step. The color of the water in O’Hara was remarkable and jagged peaks poked up in every direction.

Version 2
Version 2

Looking down to Lake O'Hara

Looking up to Wiwaxy Gap

We made it to Wiwaxy Gap in good time and took a short break there, soaking up the views. From here we could see almost our entire planned route. Looking at the photo below, we would leave Wiwaxy gap and head left over the Huber Ledges to the lake at the left of the photo called Lake Oesa where we would reconnect with our spouses. From there another ledge system called the Yukness Ledges would take us in front and around Yukness Mountain overlooking Lake O’Hara to the Opabin Plateau. After hiking up and around through the plateau we would ascend the right shoulder of Schaffer Ridge to the All Souls Prospect. Dropping off the back side of the prospect we would descend to Schaffer Lake before returning to our camp.

Lake Oesa to Wiwaxy Gap

Wiwaxy Gap

The Huber Ledges weren't bad at all. As we approached this high alpine lake the route slowly descended into a rocky scree field before coming right down to Lake Oesa.

Lake Oesa

[b]Baby ptarmigan


Lake Oesa was a real gem. It had a beautiful deep blue/green color and was surrounded by towering peaks. On the end of the lake where we sat for lunch the gentle hillside was covered in slabby rock and little grassy patches filled with alpine wildflowers. We could see a trail that headed way way up above the lake to a high pass called Abbot Pass and a climbers hut but that was not in the plan for this day.

Lake Oesa with 11,230' Mt. Lefroy and 10,771' Glacier Peak (hey, don't we have one of those?)

Lake Oesa

From the lake we climbed up over a little hill and then dropped onto a long ledge system called the Yukness Ledges. This ledge system wound around the front of Yukness Mountain and along the way put us high over Lake O’Hara.
The Huber Ledges run from the low point in Wiwaxy Gap straight across these cliff bands roughly halfway through the upper cloud shadow.

The Yukness Ledges weren’t as exposed as the Huber Ledges and we all thoroughly enjoyed this section of the journey. In many places you could see the amazing amount of work that went into creating this trail. There were no cairns to guide the way through these rocky ledges. Instead there were painted blue squares with two yellow vertical stripes to help keep people on route. As we came around the corner from Lake Oesa we were able to see down the valley. Beyond the campground at the far end of the lake we had tremendous views of Cathedral Peak, Mount Stephen, Odaray Mountain and Wiwaxy Peaks. We could also begin to see some of the other lakes tucked away in the valley.

Bridgit on the Yukness Ledges

Looking across at Wiwaxy Gap. The zig-zag trail rising from Lake O’Hara is the one Bridgit and Sandy took to Lake Oesa. It climbed past several tarns and waterfalls along the way.

As the route worked its way around Yukness Mountain we began to see our next destination called the Opabin Plateau. This is a high basin filled with lakes, creeks, meadows and groves of larch trees. It is absolutely gorgeous and I could only imagine how beautiful the Opabin Plateau must be in the fall when the larches turn a brilliant gold color. The route became less of a trail at this point and more of a descent through a huge rock field as it dropped down to the shore of Hungabee Lake.

Hungabee Lake

Off the ledges now, we headed up a gentle hillside to the head of the plateau and the highest lake appropriately called Opabin Lake. The lake is nestled into the head of a cirque surrounded by 10,889’ Mt Biddle, 11,460’ Mt. Hungabee and 9,354’ Yukness Mountain. On the opposite end of the lake, Opabin Pass was above the remnants of the namesake glacier.

Trail leading to upper Opabin Plateau

11,460’ Mt. Hungabee above Opabin Lake

I'm in charge here!

One big mountain goat

Pristine Opabin Lake

As we left the upper lake the trail slowly dropped down to the main plateau and the scenery through this section was just breathtaking. The lushness of the greenery carpeting the plateau and surrounding the numerous lakes contrasted starkly with the granite giants bathed in sunlight at the end of the valley. This was a really beautiful area.

Dropping into the main Opabin Plateau

Prime larch spot!

Guardian marmot

Soon we got to where the plateau leveled off and that led to what is called the Opabin Prospect. In Canada a prospect is what we call a viewpoint and what a viewpoint this was! The Opabin Plateau ends abruptly at the edge of a huge cliff. At this point, or prospect, we were directly over the top of Lake O’Hara looking down to the lakes that fill the valley. We were completely surrounded by the peaks we had become more familiar with and many more peaks off in the distance. This was an epic vista and the exact spot where the photo had been taken that started my interest in wanting to come to see Lake O’Hara in the first place. It is these kinds of views that enrich my very being.

Opabin Prospect

Opabin Prospect

After dropping off the side of the Opabin Prospect, Bridgit and Sandy opted to follow the West Opabin Trail back down to Lake O’Hara and the campground. Mike and I wanted to complete the full Lake O’Hara Alpine Circuit. It was only around six o’clock and we had plenty of light left so we parted ways once again. Mike and I took a signed side trail that led to the All Souls Prospect.

Trail to All Souls Prospect

Our route first climbed up onto a really cool shelf of lichen covered rock called the Hanging Gardens. From there we ascended at a fairly moderate angle up a scree slope, through a short patch of snow to a high shoulder on the side of 8,832’ Mt. Schaffer. As we approached the top we spotted a different mountain goat grazing below us.

Mike at All Souls Prospect

Mountain goat

All Souls Prospect offered the most expansive views of the entire trip. It really helped that it was around 6:30PM and the late afternoon light was fantastic on the area we had traversed all day. We could see from the end of Lake O’Hara the routes each of us took to get to Lake Oesa. The entire Yukness Ledge Route was visible as was the entire Opabin Plateau and Opabin Prospect. The grandeur was mind altering.

Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit

Opabin Plateau from All Souls Prospect

Zoom on our route up to Wiwaxy Gap. The trail didn't waste much time!


The whole day was perfect. I will send a separate report for the second half of the trip.
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RichP
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PostSun Apr 26, 2020 5:58 pm 
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Spectacular scenery. Thanks for posting.
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fourteen410
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PostSun Apr 26, 2020 7:32 pm 
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Such a special place - I have so many great memories there. Thanks for sharing yours.
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puzzlr
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PostSun Apr 26, 2020 7:40 pm 
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Great to see this area in photos. I've wanted to visit ever since reading about the Burgess Shale fossil beds in Stephen Gould's books.

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Mid Fork Rocksflickr
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Songs2
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PostMon Apr 27, 2020 4:33 am 
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Puzzler,
A quick response so as not to divert from this magnificent 2-part trip report:
The Burgess Shale (Walcott Quarry) hike is conducted by geologists from the
Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation.
This is a better option than the Parks-sponsored hike.
The Geoscience Foundation hike was the highlight of my first trip to the area.
You can camp at Takkakaw Falls walk-in site or stay at Whiskey Jack hostel. The trailhead is by the hostel.
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Sculpin
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PostMon Apr 27, 2020 7:35 am 
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Wow!  That is some spectacular scenery.

My only trip to Yoho was a total wash-out in the first week of September.  Mentioned to a store clerk that we were hoping it would still be summer weather, and he said "summer was last week."

I recognize a couple names from this area that became genus names for fossils found in the Burgess Shale.  Wiwaxy became "Wiwaxia"  and Opabin became "Opabinia."  These are a couple of the genus' from the Burgess that look like space aliens:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiwaxia#/media/File:Wiwaxia_corrugata_(mature).png

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opabinia#/media/File:Opabinia_regalis_life_restoration.jpg

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Between every two pines is a doorway to the new world. - John Muir
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Eric Hansen
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PostMon Apr 27, 2020 10:51 am 
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+1 on the Wow! This is bringing back some vivid memories for me. I was there with a group in the late 1980's, staying in the Alpine Club hut. The hut was full, a very social experience. The weather, somewhat damp, made the hut stay seem luxurious.

Lake O'Hara truly is a fabulous place, and well worth the trouble to get a slot.

We loved the alpine routes there, and I did a solo trip up to Abbott Pass.
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HermitThrush
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PostWed May 06, 2020 4:40 pm 
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Holy moly! Thanks for sharing. This is amazing. I need to go there!
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Jonny V
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PostWed May 06, 2020 5:01 pm 
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It’s a really special spot!
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Cyclopath
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PostWed May 06, 2020 5:30 pm 
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Beautiful photos, unbelievable scenery.  The striated rock walls are so different from the local mountains, it's like another world.
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seattlenativemike
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PostMon May 11, 2020 7:57 pm 
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I've been there 4/4 last Septembers...that area makes me forget about the Enchantments

Great report
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