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Heli-hiking the Berg Lake Trail

I decided to cross a couple things off the bucket list this summer, and a visit to Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia, and the Berg Lake Trail, was at the top of that list.  If you ever find yourself in Jasper, less than an hour drive west is Mount Robson, a sight that has captivated me since I arrived in Western Canada, and set eyes on it two years ago.  Mount Robson boasts the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 12 972 feet, with a heavily glaciated north side.  The Berg Glacier extends all the way down from the summit and touches Berg Lake.  Sometimes large chunks of the glacier will break off into the turquoise waters, hence the name and why my feet quickly go numb after dipping them in.

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The initial plan was to backpack to Berg Lake and back over the course of 3-4 days, but I came to find out that camp sites are limited along the world famous trail, and though I tried to book months before my hike, there was still no vacancies for the entirety of the summer.  It looks as though you would need to jump online in the Fall, as soon as they open for bookings, and take care of it then, if you plan to camp.  This led me to look at a second option, a heli-hike with Robson Helimagic, based out of Valemount, BC.  The heli-hike, at a rate of about $260 per seat, takes you to Robson Pass, just beyond Berg Lake, via helicopter.  Some say this is one of the most beautiful helicopter rides in the world, and takes about ten minutes, after liftoff.  It was my first helicopter ride, and the staff of Robson Helimagic made you feel extremely comfortable, and the ride was nothing but smooth.  Being the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, the area is susceptible to sudden weather changes, and I’ve heard you can only actually see the peak of Mount Robson a dozen times a year or so, due to cloud cover.  Lucky for me, I was blessed with the nicest possible summer day imaginable, and clear skies for my second time in a row visiting the mountain; my last visit being in December.

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Once you are on the ground at Robson Pass, you have about a 25km hike to the trailhead, able to be done in one day enjoyably, mostly downhill, and through some of the most spectacular nature scenes I’ve ever come across.  As a photographer, I was in paradise.  The hike probably takes about 6-7 hours for the average person, although I stopped lots to snap photographs and dragged it out to about 8 hours.  As soon as I reached the shores of Berg Lake, I believe I stood there in awe for about 45 minutes, before I continued on my way.

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Berg Lake itself isn’t the only jaw-dropping scene you will come across on this hike though.  After moving beyond Berg Lake and beginning the descent into the Valley of a Thousand Falls, you quickly come across the most famous waterfall on the Robson River, Emperor Falls.  It is a must on a warm day to walk over to the ledge near the falls and withstand the full force of its spray for a moment or two.  You will be drenched in seconds, and the cold glacier water takes your breath away, but it was 30 degrees Celsius on my hike, and I didn’t mind being soaking wet for part of it, plus I was wearing quick-dry materials.

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Travelling from Robson Pass to the Berg Lake Trailhead, means the steepest part of the trail is just beyond Emperor Falls, and going down, into the valley.  The calf muscles might be feeling this section the following day, but it is worth it as the descent is filled with many beautiful waterfalls and scenic views.  It is also the longest stretch without easy access to water, about 4 kms.  (Though it is mountain glacier water, and is crystal clear in many locations, it is still not recommended by park officials to drink unfiltered.)

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For this hike, I invested in the ‘Lifestraw’ water bottle kit.  This technology is amazing to me, as it means I do not have to weigh my bag down with litres of water when hiking anymore, and can feel safe about scooping a drink out of any of the rivers or lakes I passed, on the go.  You can pick it up at Cabela’s for about $50 and it leaves more room in my backpack for camera equipment!  (Another tip; in this part of the country, bear spray is a must-have as well.  Be prepared.)

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After a quick jaunt on flatter terrain, and passing Whitehorn Campground, on the shores of the Robson River, the descent continues down towards Kinney Lake.  This is an absolutely amazing natural area with some of the bluest turquoise waters imaginable, and Mount Robson towering above.  There is a campground and rest area right on Kinney Lake, another great spot to cool off and grab a snack.  Don’t be fooled by the distance to the lake, after your initial glimpse of it though.  Everything is so large out here in the heart of the Rockies, that things are further than they appear.

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Beyond the campground on Kinney Lake, the remainder of the journey to the trailhead is relatively easy.  The heli-hike was a great introduction to the area, but I do very much plan on returning to camp at Berg Lake next summer, and explore the area some more, including some day hikes from Berg Lake to places like Snowbird Pass.  One day in this pristine beauty is only an appetizer, and not quite enough.

Check out some of the highlights from my heli-hike in the gallery below.

-Chris

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