I Don’t Need to do That Again

October 21, 2015

In September this year I went on two hikes to familiar destinations.  My previous visits were a long time ago.

The first hike was up to the Ink Pots, which are located at the north end of Johnson Canyon.  It is a hike of about 6 kilometres.  The last time I was up there was in 1978 with my wife and our first child.  I carried the boy on my back for some of the hike, but he did his best to hike up to the second falls under his own power.  There were a few other groups of people on the trail up to the first and second falls, but when we got the Ink Pots we had them to ourselves.  I remember it being a most pleasant hike — quiet and peaceful.


A peaceful moment at the Ink Pots, before the throngs of people arrived (2015).

This year, in 2015, was very different.  First, people who are hiking up the trail these days are not allowed to park in the motel/restaurant parking lot as they were in 1978.  There is a newer, very large parking lot that has been scraped out of the forest.  When I arrived, at about 10 am, I got one of the last spaces.  By the time I got back from the Ink Pots the lot was overflowing and cars were parked for about 500 metres along the highway.

The trail to the first falls that used to wind its way up through the forest and then down to the falls, now has long sections of cat-walk cantilevered out from the sides of the canyon.  I think this is an improvement as it permits people to walk down in the canyon and closer to the creek for a better experience.  The trail from the first falls on up the valley is about the same as it was back in 1978.

What I found off-putting, was the number of people on the trail and at each of the scenic spots.  On the way between the parking lot and the second falls I was never out of sight of people — a lot of other people.  From the second falls up to the Ink Pots the crowds dwindled, but not a lot.

I couldn’t help noticing that many of the hikers were not used to walking on mountain trails.  The outfits on the trail that day, including the more difficult part above the second falls, varied from proper hiking footwear and clothes to flip-flops and clothing that you see people wearing in the city whilst shopping.  I found the abuse of nature around the Ink Pots discouraging.  People did not stick to the well-made trails and view points, but walked at random over the fragile landscape.  With all those people around there wasn’t a moment of silence and peace in what I remember from 1977 as a pristine and quiet environment.

I soon became disenchanted with the crowds, made a few photographs, and then headed down the trail, meeting many more groups coming up.

The second hike was up to Larch Valley above Moraine Lake, in the Valley of the Ten Peaks.  I did this recent hike with our local, Cochrane hiking group.

The last time I hiked this trail was in 1979 with our young family.  At that time, the small parking lot at the end of Moraine Lake wasn’t full.  Most people who drove there did so to see the valley from the lakeshore, take a photograph and leave, so there were very few on the trail up to Larch Valley.


Larch Valley-1979 (Me and our boys - one in the carrier on my chest)

On this recent hike, I couldn’t believe the crowds in Larch Valley.  There was a constant stream of people in both directions on the trail.  Again, I could tell from the clothes that many wore that they weren’t used to hiking.  Many dressed like they were out for a walk in a local city park.  Some were straying off the path and walking over the fragile flora of the upper valley, completely unaware of what they might be doing to damage that environment.


Beautiful Larch Valley with Eiffel Peak and Pinacle Mountain in the backgroundin 2015.  This was taken in the morning, on the way up the valley.  By the time we got back to this point the rocks in the foreground were covered with several groups of people sitting on them eating and talking.  I wanted to take a photo of them to contrast this scene, but thought that might annoy some of them, so I didn’t.

This is the view at the top part of Larch Valley in 2015 with the switchbacks up to Sentinel Pass visible in the distance.  The stream of people hiking up to the pass that day remined me of this scene at the Chilkoot Pass during the gold rush days.  Looking through my binoculars, I could see people standing along the ridge of the pass.  Every metre of that ridge had someone standing on it.

The Chilkoot Pass (1898)

The large parking lot at the end of Moraine Lake had space when we arrived at 10 am, but at the end of our hike we found it was full and cars were illegally parked about a kilometre along the road, making it impossible for two vehicles to travel in either direction.  What a zoo!

I’ve decided that I don’t need to do either of those hikes again.  I prefer to remember what it was like in those earlier years, where one could find peace and quiet in a pristine environment.


After my wife edited this essay for me, she pointed out that it was another one of my ‘old curmudgeon’ pieces.  I agreed and said that was the intent.  However, after another hike that I did yesterday, I can add a closing about a positive experience.

I walked the trail up Tunnel Mountain in Banff.  It is a walk that I’ve always liked and I do it at least twice every year.  This time there were only other five cars in the parking lot and very few people on the trail.  I suppose most tourists have left the park by now.  Once at the top, I had at least 20 minutes on my own, accompanied only by a couple of playful young ravens that I watched as they chased each other overhead, dipping and diving, then soaring up on the winds around the peak.  It was a good day out, one that reminded me of other days I’ve had on that mountain in the years gone by.

One more thing:

I know the recent images of Larch Valley are without the crowds I’ve talked about, but I was trying to keep the scenes somewhat artistic.  Also, I decided on writing this essay after the hike was over.  If I’d have thought about it before, I could have taken a few documentary shots.