• Chase Davidson

Mt. Assiniboine - 5 Days | CAN

PROLOGUE:

What can I possibly say about Mt. Assiniboine that hasn't already been said by others? The elegant beauty that is Canada's equal to Switzerland's Matterhorn rises a massive 3,618m (11,870ft) into the sky. My personal favourite backpacking trip of my life thus far and I couldn't have done it with a better group of people. The new bonds that were created, the stories to share and the desire to push for more afterwards is exactly what you can anticipate when undertaking the 72km trek to and from Mt. Assiniboine.

Sunrise from The Nub looking out towards Mt. Assiniboine

Day 1 (July 11th)

Sunshine to Porcupine

Waking up this morning, I was pumped to get going on a 72km/5 day backpacking trip to Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park. This has been a hike I've been wanting to do for a few years now and to know it's finally taking place is unbelievable. Running into Vince, Emma and Claire atop Cascade Mountain two days prior just seemed to work out perfect!

Standing atop Cascade Mountain

I headed on over to the shuttle terminal and caught the 8:40 shuttle to Sunshine. The bus was a bit late getting there but still made great time and arrived by 9am. I noticed Vince and Emma's white jeep in the parking lot and headed over. They were so inviting for this trip, it was awesome! We were all together and anxious to get going as we waited for Sunshine security to give us a lift to the trailhead. Unknowingly, there was a CO2 leak in one of the buildings that had to be attended to before grabbing us. Either way we made it to the trailhead by 11am with the days trek of 13km ahead of us.

Looking out over Sunshine Village towards Mt. Assiniboine

We headed out through the Sunshine meadows with amazing views every which way we looked. I felt as though I was walking through a fairytale at this point and you could see Mt. Assiniboine way off in the distance standing proud among the many other peaks.

Beautiful meadows and serene wilderness everywhere

*Mt. Assiniboine is the highest peak in the southern continental Canadian Rockies, standing tall at over 3,600m.

Eventually we found ourselves making our way up hill and into another set of meadows before entering the brush of trees. We seemed to be making great time throughout. By 2pm (14:00) we had already cleared 10km.

Still a ways to go but the journey is the real treat.

It wasn't long after however when the elevation really began to differ. Up and down through the trees we went before hitting one of the gnarliest switchback descents I've ever encountered. While descending, the rain storms that Vince had warned me about slowly came into view and before long we were switching into our rain gear and preparing for the worst.

We came upon a sign that pointed us in the direction of Porcupine Camp which was our destination for the day. The sign said 1km but let me tell you/warn you that this kilometre felt more like two... I'd blame it on the fact we had just walked 12km but every other hiker we met afterwards said the same thing. I'll let you decide for yourself one day!

While descending this everlasting kilometre the rain began to hit hard. The thunderstorm came rolling in and our speed gradually increased as we did our best to beat it to camp. Lightning began striking in the distance and thunder was rumbling directly overhead. We hurried as fast as possible. Eventually we made it to Porcupine Camp and took cover under some trees but knew we had to set up camp at some point. There was a small break in the rain, and without hesitation we set up as fast as possible.

My tent situation for the night at Porcupine Camp

Believe it or not, as soon as we got everything set up, the rain quit and the storm had passed us by. Vince and I took this time to scavenge some wood for the fire. Soon after, other groups were making their way down into camp and introductions were made. An American couple from Michigan, Mike and Beth were currently celebrating their honeymoon. Another group of three had come from Washington State, USA and I noticed one of them had the same camera stabilizer that I had so of course I had to strike up a conversation.

Vince, Emma and Claire's tent setup for the night at Porcupine Camp

We got the fire going and had a communal dinner as everyone began to cook their first nights supply of food. If one thunderstorm wasn't enough, another one came blowing in and everyone ran back to their campsites to take cover. I wish I could say the same but it decided to blow in while I was cooking my hot apple cobbler over the fire and couldn't leave it. I was drenched within a few minutes but did managed to get my rain gear on before it really came down. There I was taking cover under another tree eating my dinner by my lonesome while everyone was staying dry in their tents.

This storm was much less forgiving then the previous and the thunder left an echo throughout the whole valley. Just like the last though, it passed over eventually and everyone gathered around the fire once again. This time instead of cooking though, everyone seemed to be drying off some kind of clothing from the rain.

Once all my stuff was dry, I headed into the tent and called it a night knowing there was a 16km trek ahead the next day.

Day 2 (July 12th)

Porcupine to Lake Magog

The night before we had set a plan to get up around 6am and head out no later than 8am knowing that Lake Magog was on a first come, first serve basis and we'd be competing against everyone who showed up at Porcupine for a spot.

By the time we had breakfast, a morning coffee, and finished packing up our wet tents it was nearing 8am. Just before we got going a deer came strolling through which gave us our first glimpse of wildlife on our trip. Now, it was time to begin our next trek towards Mt. Assiniboine.

Only 16km's to go until Lake Magog

The descent down to Porcupine was difficult but now we knew we had to ascend partially what we just came down in order to meet back up with the main trail. We did our best to set a solid pace throughout the day. Taking mini breaks at each uphill was needed in order to push our way through the Valley of Rocks and into OG Lake. We managed to reach OG Lake by noon where we'd take our extended break for lunch. By this point, we had pushed through 10km in just four hours of some of the hardest elevation changes of the hike.

Once we were all feeling a bit nourished, it was time to push through the final 6km towards Lake Magog (Mt. Assiniboine). This part of our journey was like heaven on earth compared to the initial 21km. Flat as far as the eye could see. This was certainly a confidence booster since my feet were beginning to feel the strain of the hike by now.

Our first view of OG Lake and it was magical

We arrived at Assiniboine Lodge by 2pm (14:00) and Emma took to herself to buy us all a celebratory beer. Thank you for that! We still had another 2km to go in order to reach our camping spot, but no way we could pass up a rest in front of Lake Magog while taking in the marvellous Mt. Assiniboine.

Celebratory drinks with the fam!

We heard there was "Tea Time" at 4pm (16:00) at the lodge but decided to postpone our visit until tomorrow that way we could set up and get some rest. Continuing our hike towards the Lake Magog campsite, clouds began to roll in yet again. Luckily enough we were able to set up our sites comfortably and then take cover in the cooking shelter nearby. After all that, I was ready to cook up one of the two big dinners I had purchased. Santa Fye style Chicken!

The final bridge to Lake Magog Campsite

My main objective for this whole expedition was to capture a photo of the Milky Way above Mt. Assiniboine from the location known as Nub Peak. Checking out the sign at the beginning of the campground showed me that Nub Peak was a 9km roundtrip... but there was also two other locations along the route called The Niblet and The Nublet, the latter being the middle point between all three.

Although not quite as clear as planned, the hike up with Vince was entirely worth it

I mentioned to Vince that I was planning on going up to The Niblet to shoot some photos of the sunset if he was interested. He told me to wake him before I went and depending on how he felt then, he'd decide. I set my alarm for 7:45pm (19:45) that way I could get a couple hours sleep before hand. I woke up and checked the sky from my tent to see if it was still cloudy but it looked as though it was all cleared up so I gathered my gear, went over and got Vince and we speed walked our way to the Niblet.

We ended up making it there within 45 minutes, however the haze from the British Columbia wildfires that had made their way over. We were able to get a few shots along the route before the haze completely clouded out Assiniboine. We headed back down a bit disappointed thinking this haze could possibly be sticking around for the whole time we'd be there. Either way the view was fantastic and made for a great way to end the night!

*We learned later that the Verdant Creek fire of 2017 had took off during the beginning thunderstorms of our trip.

Day 3 (July 13th)

Mt. Assiniboine

Today is our "rest" day. I put that into quotations because our rest day still consisted of hiking nearly 14km. The night prior while cooking dinner in the shelter, we overheard some people talking about a waterfall off Wonder Pass not too far from the lodge. We thought that'd make a great little day hike for the group.

We headed out to the lodge after breakfast and got some information off one of the lads working inside who informed us that it was only a 20-minute walk. I was enlightened!

The view of Assiniboine was beautiful today and the weather looked to finally be on our side. We headed out down Wonder Pass carefully keeping our eyes peeled for the turnoff we were told that leads to the waterfall. During this time, we caught a glimpse of a giant sized Porcupine running through the meadow!

Not long after that we came across the cutoff and found ourselves at the base of an amazing waterfall. This is when I'd like to say our rest day took action. We got to play around the falls, soak ourselves with both the water & the sun and also get a ton of photos.

Once we were all satisfied we headed back towards the lodge and then down to the lakeside. Vince tested the water first and compared it with being warmer than Lake Superior or the Georgian Bay back in Ontario. Soon after, Emma had gotten in and then I mustered the courage to do the same which led to Claire shortly after.

Not a bad swimming location

It was getting close to 4pm (16:00) by this time so Claire and I decided to head back up to the lodge for tea time and cake with the rest of the people who made their way out to Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park.

Claire and I enjoying our glamping style cake

While we were getting cake, I realized there was a lot more people here than we had met along the trail. It didn't really feel secluded in the sense that we just hiked 30km to get here...

*It is possible to fly into Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park by helicopter for only $170 from Canmore.

That fact alone really takes away from the shear wilderness of the hike even though you must pass through prime grizzly territory to get there. I personally feel as though one should have to endure this beautiful hike in order to truly appreciate what Mother Nature has blessed us with, not just pay for a quick eight minute flight.

A helicopter flying a group out of Assiniboine Provincial Park

Enough about that. Let's get back to the point. The cake and tea were delicious and we even had the choice for lemonade. Yes, please!

Claire and I headed back to the camp and this is where things got really interesting. We only had one night to go and due to the haze that covered the area before, we had not seen a sunset, Milky Way or sunrise... Can you guess what that means? We'll be going for all three tonight before the three of us begin our 20km hike back towards Sunshine Village the next day.

I chose to opt out of dinner in order to sneak in as much sleep time as possible. An hour and a half later and I was up, heading down towards the lake in order to catch the sunset. Check!

Sunset at Mt. Assiniboine

While walking along the lake once the sun was fully down, I heard my name get called out. There was Vince and Emma! We got together and headed back to camp. This is where we ran into the group of three again that was from Washington State, USA. We told them our idea of hiking up to the Nublet for 1am to catch the Milky Way and then stick around up there until sunrise. They were keen and we were stoked to have some extra bodies along the night hike!

I headed back to the tent for a couple more hours of sleep before my alarm went off at 11:45pm (23:45). I opened my tent zipper and could see all the stars lighting up the sky. There was zero haze this night and the chance of getting the Milky Way was there! We all rendezvoused at the cooking shelter at midnight with headlamps ready to go.

The night hike had commenced and the seven of us were off into the wilderness. The pace was strong and a constant noise was going on between all of us. By 1am we had reached the Nublet and began setting up camp for the night. Everyone brought a sleeping bag with them except me... How could I forget!? Rookie mistake. At the moment, I didn't care. I was too busy running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to get a shot of the Milky Way over Mt. Assiniboine.

Our campsite for our final night at Assiniboine

By 2:30am, the moon had rose high enough into the sky that it became near impossible to get any shots of the Milky Way so I turned to the Little Dipper before trying to get some sleep. While shooting, I introduced myself to the older boy who was also vlogging his trip. His name was Cameron. Cameron was nice enough to lend me his sleeping bag for the night and curled up with his friend Jordan in her sleeping bag, while the younger Milo slept cozy right beside. This night was tough and equally comparable to the coldest night of my life that was spent upon the Yellow Mountains (Huangshan) in China.

Day 4 (July 14th)

Lake Magog to Lake Marvel

Thinking of hyperthermia but desperate to see the sunrise, I made myself into the fetal position to stay warm and packed my hand warmers into my boots to avoid frostbite on my toes. I tucked my hiking pack behind my back to block the incoming wind but even with all that, it was freezing!

I remember dreaming about the sunrise coming, jumping up to let everyone know and then actually waking up and realizing it was still dark and cold.

Panorama of our Morning Sunrise

We all fought to get through this night but the end result was unbelievable. Finally, around 5am the sun began to rise and the colours began to light up the sky. I let everyone know what was happening and even though I was like an icicle, I jumped up and ran over to where I had set up my tripod before trying to get some sleep.

Vince, Cameron and I were running around nonstop by this point, warming ourselves up and getting as much content as humanly possible. It was during this time that I realized we weren't at the highest point of the Nub. The three of us contemplated going the extra distance and concluded it wouldn't be worth it knowing the distance we still had to hike later that morning.

Claire was beginning to come out of her sleeping bag and begun snapping photos now but the other three were still motionless, staying warm inside their cocoon. After a few more sunrise photos, I decided I needed to do Nub Peak. I knew I'd regret it being halfway there already in a place so distant to begin with.

Making it up to Nub Peak was totally worth it!

Vince decided to come with but Cam would be staying back. We got up to the highest point of the Ridge and Vince was content. I wasn't however... I needed to go to the highest peak in order to be satisfied. Call it stubborn or call it determined. Either way, I made it to the summit of Nub Peak (2,755m) by 7am.

A couple Marmots play in the morning light

Once I descended back down, everyone was out of their sleeping bags aside from Milo. I should mention that Milo is only 15 years old and I couldn't even imagine doing what we've done already at that age. A real trooper! We wanted to get a group photo together so Vince and I carried Milo in his sleeping bag to the point we'd be taking it and he gratefully popped his head out for the shot.

Sunshine Crew and Mt. Shark Crew

While we were descending from the Nublet, Cameron mentioned the idea of hiking out with him, Jordan and Milo to the Mt. Shark trailhead instead of going back to the Sunshine Village trailhead. You could arrange a shuttle to pick you up at the Mt. Shark trailhead but it costs $75/person. That's a stiff kick to the wallet! He went on to mention that we could split the bill and he'll go back to Sunshine, pick up the vehicle and then come back to get us. That sounded great!

Once back down at the Lake Magog campground, we all split back to our tents for a couple hours sleep before beginning the long hike ahead of us. Around 11am, we all met back up at the Assiniboine Lodge to discuss the days plan. It looked as though Vince, Emma and Claire would be heading back the way we came to Sunshine Village and I'd now be tagging along with Cameron, Jordan and Milo towards Mt. Shark. We said our goodbyes and then headed off in different directions to each other's respective destinations.

By continuing through the Wonder Pass with Team Shark we would only have to hike 13km instead of the 20km originally planned. That was a huge relief in itself let alone knowing I'd be seeing all kinds of new landscapes along the way. We stopped at the waterfall just off Wonder Pass for a quick break before beginning and then the real journey began. Passing through a forest and than eventually onto Wonder Pass which brought us into true grizzly bear territory.

After just a couple hours, we came over a ridge that left us in awe staring at Marvel Lake down in the distance. The vibrant blue of the lake was nothing like we had witnessed yet during this adventure. Knowing that the campground we'd be staying at was on the lake, we all felt that we were getting close but that was certainly not the case.

Jojo admiring Marvel Lake

We descended toward the lake at a high rate of speed by going down the switchbacks but once we reached closer to the lake, the trek became long and somewhat boring. Anxious to get to camp and still drained from the night before this stretch felt like it would never end. Eventually we made it to the campground known as BR-13, ran into Mike and Beth again who had directed us to a good spot to setup next to them, had one last big meal then called it a night.

Marvel Lake as we traversed around it

Day 5 (July 15th)

Marvel Lake to Mt. Shark

Waking up on the final morning, I knew the last 10 kilometres of our trek was going to be tough. The good news was that we pretty much descended most of what we had to the day before. The bad news is that my feet were absolutely killing me by this point.

*I would end this trip with some of the worst blisters I've ever seen. Having proper backpacking boots will make all the difference.

It was a cold morning and like any morning, coffee was needed! I headed out to get my bear bag that I had done up the night before than headed back to the campsite where Jordan, Cam and Milo were still sleeping. Stuffing my face with the last of my oatmeal and warming up the mocha coffee, I was becoming anxious to get going.

The last breakfast

While I was enjoying my breakfast, Mike and Beth were packing up their gear and getting ready to make the final push towards the Mt. Shark trailhead. Once the rest of the gang awoke and had their breakfast, it was our turn to make the journey.

Upon reaching our first marker sign however and already running a little bit behind schedule; We were surprised to find out that instead of the 10 kilometres ahead we anticipated, it was in fact 13 kilometres to go. Jordan and Cam decided to make a heavier push to the end in order to ensure we didn't miss the shuttle. Milo and I stuck back and took our time a bit more. Best decision I could have made!

The creek Milo and I decided to fill up our water at

Milo and I kept up a great pace even though we were behind and eventually we got out of the trees to some epic views and also started running into day hikers who were making their way through the trails or out to Marvel Lake. We came across a river that was accessible so we filled up our water for the remaining hike unsure if we'd get another opportunity again, took a bit of a break knowing we were around the halfway point, than carried on.

The final stretch of the hike was in sight and it was a long and I mean LONG straight push to the trailhead. Directly in the sunlight, there was no more shade from here on out.

The final push

Finally! The end was in sight and boy were we happy! 105 kilometres later, we completed the hike from Sunshine Village to Mt. Shark trailhead with high fives going all around.

EPILOGUE:

Once we were all at Mt. Shark trailhead, the waiting game began. The horse flies were really doing a number on us so I ended up setting up my tent and relaxing in there while we waited about three - four hours for Cam to get back with the truck. Reminiscing about the last five days seemed so surreal. It was all over and all worthwhile.

If you find yourself in the Canadian Rockies during the summer months in the northern hemisphere than I highly recommend doing this back country adventure. Through rain and sunshine, this experience will never be forgotten!