Rural before rural (day 4): Lake O’Hara

The most difficult part of the week-long trip to plan was the overnight camping at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. To preserve the secluded environment, visitors are not allowed to drive up the mountain (11km, 2,035m). Limited number of shuttles take a fixed number of visitors up to the Lake every day. There is no limit on the number of people who hike up the long and viewless road, which is what my family and I ended up doing first time we came. On a good day, all of the seats will be booked well in advance, and people can only show up at the scheduled bus departure times and hope there are no-shows.

As a result of this, and our failure to plan things until late June, we only managed to book one night for one site. And then we had to plan everything else around this. That also means only Johnny and I are heading up this wonderful little secret. (Johnny asked: I’ve never heard of this place, how did you guys know about it? Me: I think my dad was chatting with some random guys at a hot spring in one of the national parks, and they told him this was their favorite places.)

Enough introduction. I will let pictures speak for themselves.

When we first arrived, the weather was very miserable. We quickly set up our tent, and at around 10am set out towards Lake McArthur in the rain, as per a park attendant’s suggestion. The rain got worse, but there were still a lot of hikers in full rain gear. By the time we got to Lake McArthur (2,251m elevation) 2 hours of rain later, our waterproof jackets were soaked through, and our fingers were so cold and numb, we couldn’t feel our cameras. The mountains behind the lake was only partially visible, so we felt pretty defeated.


On our way down, we saw a marmot who followed us for a good 200 meters. Johnny chased it with his camera, and met someone else with a 200x zoom capturing the same rodent. Every time the marmot looked up, the two photographers would simultaneously hit the shutter. “It really likes the cameras”, I said after the marmot changed its pose again. “Yup, it’s definitely a poser marmot!” the guys said.

The rain stopped and the sky cleared somewhat by then, so we were tempted to go back to Lake McArthur. We finally decided against it and continued to head back to our campground.


We ran into a few hikers from the Alpine Club of Canada, who had exclusive access to some nice cabins in the woods with bunk beds and kitchen supplies. They have hangouts like this all over Canada.

We finally got back to our camp around 2:30pm (4 hours of hiking) and cooked a nice hot lunch.

After that, we headed out to Lake Oesa (2270m), which took us from 4pm to 9pm (5hrs). The sun was out by then, so the entire hike up was full of joyous exclamations and irresponsible photo taking.

This is the famous Lake O’Hara. It has the beauty of Lake Louis without the noisy crowds.


米熊was mesmerized.


And then she remembered to pose.


We met lots of hikers on our way to Lake Oesa, including three topless guys who ran down the trail, jumping from boulder to boulder. I thought about what their patellar ligaments must look like under the microscope. Later, a lady on her way up told us that they were competitive cross country skiers, so the steep, ragged slopes were nothing for them. She also asked us how far away the lake was, and I told her it shouldn’t be far. Little did I know that there were three little teaser lakes below Lake Oesa. She almost turned around 10 minutes before she got to the real Lake Oesa because she thought one of the little ones was it.


Johnny kept looking for the perfect water-flowing-in-front-of-distant-mountain scene.

We got to Lake Oesa after some amazing scenery along the way, and there was no one else at the lake. We sat down next to the lake and dipped our tired feet in the icy lake. Instant gratification for 2 seconds followed by regret. We then had the sandwiches we made for dinner.


Million dollar view for the two of us. Tasty dinner after a hard workout. “This would be a perforce moment if Alison and Tina were here,” I said. Johnny agreed.

After dinner around 7pm, the clouds started to come in but we still wanted to explore the area a little more. So we hiked up the alpine ledges a little, and we agreed to turn back if there was any sign of danger.

Our adventurousness was rewarded.


We then took some pretty dangerous looking but actually not that bad pictures on a cliff. Johnny has the pics.

We finally got back to camp, concluding a wonderful 4 + 5 = 9 hour hike day which started with pouring rain, then blinding sunshine, and finished off with another shower.


After we got to camp, then sun set at 10pm. It would be very beautiful to see this sunset on the mountain, but it would also be too dangerous. Maybe next time when we go alpine camping.


The campers and hikers at Lake O’Hara were the most friendly ones I’ve met. We had some good chats with random people throughout the stay. I think it’s because this was such a small group, giving people a feeling that we share an exclusive, unique experience.

Oh, another thing that was a new experience was that I took a dump on a pit toilet (read: hole in the ground). Very strange feeling when the splash come with one second delay. Throws off your cerebellum, which is responsible to predict the outcome of your actions.

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