Wednesday, May 17, 2017

CR2016: Chester Lake, Three Lakes Valley ... and a Grizzly

On Monday, our penultimate day of hiking, Joan and I decided to visit the ever-popular Chester Lake and extend that journey up the Three Lakes Valley. This was our first visit since the floods of June 2013 damaged the parking area and lower reaches of the trail. Perhaps because it was Monday, the re-groomed parking area for Chester was empty when we arrived shortly before 10.
The day trippers from Calgary haven't arrived yet.
The lower reaches of the trail had been re-routed; there was a different starting point, and the first section was now a one-way loop.
It took a while for our well-used muscles and lungs to warm up after yesterday's climb of Windtower, but we settled into the hike. The route at first is a small road,
but eventually becomes a path after passing through a zone of old logging roads and cross-country ski trails. Mostly it climbs but sometimes it's level. In this photo Joan and I are approaching the last bump or two before reaching the lake.
Almost there. Most of the glacier lilies near the lake had been dug up, being a favorite treat for grizzly bears.
Chester Lake is popular for a reason. It's not too difficult to reach, and it's gorgeous. OK, that's two reasons.

There is also a formal "rest facility" here, the tubular toilet.
Joan and I did not linger but went around the left-hand shore until we reached the side trail leading to the Three Lakes Valley. After rising from the lakeside the trail passes by rock formations known as "Elephant Rocks."
The trail swung to the right and continued to climb after it entered the Three Lakes Valley. After fifteen minutes we encountered a lookout, a hoary marmot.
Here we are about to reach the first lake.
The first lake could be a destination in itself. This photo was taken from the up-valley side.
 The trail goes up a steep gully after the first lake, OK if dry but treacherous if wet or if snow lingers. Joan and I were glad for our poles. From the top, the lake looked like this.
From this point the route was a mix of visible trail segments and cairns. It wasn't possible to become lost, however, because the valley was narrow and it was obvious which way was up. But the horizon was close, as this photo shows, looking back.
The geology in the valley was full of striations, folds, and fossil corals.
We found this body of water, which is either a seasonal pond or the second lake.
Or a seasonal lake?
Joan and I decided to climb over one more rock band and discovered the third lake. Here we stopped and ate half our lunch.
Some algae here!
On our way back, still in the rocky zone but passing by a low, wet area with vegetation, we encountered pikas chasing each other away from choice spots. We counted at least three; it was difficult to photograph running pikas, but when they were on lookout (for a few seconds) or browsing, I had a chance.
I caught this one in mid eeep, the pika alarm call. (Click on the image to enlarge, and check out the lips!) 
A wind-ruffled fur photo. 
Further down, the guard marmot was still on duty.
As Joan and I descended to lake #1 we encountered our first other hikers, a party of three with a guide. The wife of one, not present, had lived in Columbus and so he was familiar with locations such as Broad St. and Bexley.

Down at the Elephant Rocks we circumambulated the impressive rocks on the other side of the trail and polished off what was left of our lunches.

We soon met a solo guy who inquired whether he was on the way to the Three Lakes Valley trail; Joan told him he was on it! He'd intended to go to Headwall Lakes, whose trail also leaves from the Chester Lake parking, but became turned around.

More people were at Chester Lake, with even more arriving. The cow parnsip was in full bloom and covered by buzzing flies.
Shortly after leaving the lake we met a man who was standing guard as his wife and daughter were taking an off-trail pit stop. He was skeptical of the bear warnings (we saw one covering the whole of Kananaskis the next day), having seen no scat, which he said he often saw while cycling Back East.

Fifteen minutes later I came around a bend in the trail and saw a grizzly at the next bend, headed our way. This was the first in-person in-the-wild meeting we'd had in fourteen years of hiking. I halted abruptly and said, "bear;" Joan was expecting "grouse" or something more prosaic. She started chatting at the bear, to let it know we were humans, and she reminded me to pull out the bear spray on my belt. I belatedly started talking too. The bear, of a size that made us think it was his first year away from Mom, swung his head back and forth. He took a hesitant step or two in our direction, wanting to stay on the trail rather than beat cross-country, but then he turned and trotted uphill through the woods. We were a bit rattled, of course, but the rest of the walk down to the car was uneventful. We reported the encounter back at Mt. Engadine Lodge.

Our last night at the lodge was a fine one. Joan and I certainly had a story to tell!
The moon was high in the sky when the sun set.
Time to go pack ...