Akamina Parkway & Crandell Lake in Winter

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During the summer months, there are a couple of scenic roads that provide side trips from the town of Waterton.  In winter, the park’s generous snowfall limits your options.  The Red Rock Parkway shuts down completely — it provides access to Red Rock Canyon, and longer trails that access the northwest corner of the park.  There’s also Akamina Parkway, which remains partially open during the winter.

During the snowy months, this is the end of the Akamina Parkway.  About 2.5 kilometers before the end of the road, the road crews stop plowing it.  The result…

… is a nice, flat route for cross-country skiing — which is great, if you have cross-country skis. I did not.  Which means I’d have a pretty difficult walk to get from here to the end of the road, at Cameron Lake.  It’s a shame there’s not some kind of compromise that would allow drivers and skiers to access the lake during winter, since it’s supposed to be one of the park’s most beautiful areas.  Oh well, that’s one of the sacrifices you make when you travel in Canada in winter.

As for the part of the road you can drive: it’s a nice, scenic route that heads northwest, then southwest out of Waterton.  This might be Mt. Rowe, which stands next to the Alberta/BC provincial line…

… and this might be part of Mt. Crandell, which towers over Waterton (on the other side).

Snowy Hike to Crandell Lake

Even without cross-country skis or snowshoes, I was determined to find something I could do.  So, I stopped at the trail to Crandell Lake, which is located near the point where the Akamina Parkway makes its turn from northwest to southwest.  The lake is about .8 kilometers (1/2 mile) north of the highway — which sounds like a short walk.  And in the summer, it would be.  But this time of year…

… this is what the trail looks like.  Fortunately, enough people had skied and showshoed the trail, prior to my arrival, that the entire path was nicely compacted.  I’d estimate that 9 out of 10 of my steps did not sink down into the snow.  Of course, every 10th one did, which meant I had to put a lot of effort into the hike.

First, the trail goes uphill…

… then down — so there’s no easy direction.  Both are equally challenging.

Just before you arrive at the lake, there’s a split in the trail, with one route heading down to the edge of the lake, and the other leading to a camping area.  Before you make the final drop down to the lake, you’ll get a nice view of 2,377 meter (7,799 foot) Mt. Galwey.

Take the side trail down the hill, and you’ll end up here.  Find a path through the trees and down the final slope…

… and you’ll be at the edge of the lake, with an even more excellent view of Mt. Galwey in the distance.

Those tracks will take you directly across the surface of the lake, to some sort of a picnic shelter or pavilion on the opposite side of Crandell Lake.  As I stood at the frozen shoreline, another hiker (one who was wearing snow shoes) finished crossing the lake.  I was encouraged to see that she hadn’t fallen through a crack in the ice, so I decided to try it myself.

And here’s what I discovered.  When a lake freezes, its surface turns to ice.  And in Crandell Lake’s case, I’d imagine it stays frozen well into late spring.  But, once a lake like Crandell freezes over, it starts collecting snow.  That nice, solid layer of ice could be a foot or two below the snow’s surface.  And the snow on top could be nice and frozen.  Down below — at the point where the snow meets the ice — there’s a good chance that the snow is melting, forming a layer of slush.  If you’re wearing snow shoes, it’s no problem — you won’t sink down that far.  But as I walked out (perhaps 50 feet from land), wearing only hiking boots, I did sink, down to that slushy layer.  I quickly pulled my foot out, before the icy water could thoroughly soak my socks.   And that was all I needed, to decide to turn around.

Back on land, I found a tree to lean against (there’s no place to sit in winter, without soaking your jeans with snow).   After enjoying the scenery for a while…

… I trudged back uphill.

If you’re hiking along a cross-country ski path, do not hike on the ski ruts.  In the case of the Crandell Lake hike, the trail was mostly made by snowshoes, so I don’t think I was breaking any rules by hiking here.

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