image:  Canoes on Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies.
Canoes on Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies.

Photograph © Ron Watts/CORBIS

Canadian Rockies
By Sid Marty

The Yoho River comes brawling down from the mountains of the Waputik Icefield to a highway junction near Field, British Columbia. From there, a side road goes switchbacking up along the river, through a wild defile between two peaks to Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park, one of the four national parks that embrace a 250-mile-long stretch of the Canadian Rockies. Takakkaw is a Cree word for "It is wonderful." Most wonderfully, the warden's cabin there marks the end of the road—all roads.

I was the warden, and I had the passkey to sublimity.

From my door that year, I could step into 400 square miles of glaciers, mountains, river valleys, and all the summer trails that circled out through old-growth forests and into hanging valleys carved by ancient ice and later surrendered to the kiss of wildflowers. The warden station had critters in residence when I arrived—pack rats, which will leave you a bone or a bottle cap for anything shinier, such as your watch or glasses. I woke up one morning to find a black bear peering in the window. I soon learned to lock the outhouse door after nearly sitting on a porcupine with a taste for plywood glue.

Every day I would shoulder my pack. Sometimes I'd patrol the valley trail, which follows the river through canyons looking like Chinese watercolors, past moose-haunted Lake Duchesnay, and past the exuberant Laughing Falls. Much steeper would be the trail that switchbacks up to the High Line below the President Range. It traverses into open alplands above timberline, to where the Emerald Glacier of the Vice President Range towers 2,000 feet above the green world. Goats might watch my progress like judges on a high bench. The little pika, or rock rabbit, would note my passage from a boulder, squeaking like a child's toy, its jaws full of cut flower stems for a winter cache. Hoary marmots, though, whistle at your approach like a cop on an alpine beat. Once I saw a grizzly—uncommon here—hunting marmots. The bear flipped over a rock the size of a refrigerator seeking one of these "whistle-pigs" for lunch.

In the alpine meadow of the Little Yoho at day's end, I would sit making entries in my warden's diary by the stream, entertained by a noisy Steller's jay. Woodsmoke curled from my cabin chimney, and the teakettle was always on for passersby to share.

It's worth being one of those passersby, walking these trails. Step off the road and vanish behind a curtain of fir: In that instant you will have traveled back a century, when all you needed to survive was what you carried on your back. The weight of all that madding urban ambition and enterprise falls away like armor, and your heart leaps up to meet the mountains. Walking, your life slows down, and all your senses flower and open.

Here are eternal mountains to climb on every hand, and passes that lead where travelers are even fewer, and the wilderness profound.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published, but we suggest you confirm all details before making travel plans.



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