local residents (mule deer), WatertonWe've established the habit of escaping to somewhere exotic in Feb-May, but we're content to mix "big" trips (Nepal, Africa) with smaller ones (Baja,Arizona) in some years. This year we were content with a smaller one. We'd heard a lot about Waterton Lakes in Alberta but you know how it is: what exactly does "great! spectacular! wonderful time!" actually look like? Even the website didn't tell us much. Most people go in the summer but the Kilmorey Lodge took our reservations for March and we looked forward to a few days of snowshoing and back-country skiing (or, if the weather was really awful, drinking beer and reading books).

Prairies, Pincher Creek with the Rockies behind This turned out to be a wierd weather year in this part of the world, with the daffodils out in February; sure enough, when we phoned Alberta the week before we were due to leave there wasn't much snow. It saved the awkward business of taking skis and snowshoes on the plane but the bad news was that we might not be able to hike either. You have to understand Alberta: two years ago we landed in Calgary in late March and there wasn't much snow then either...but the temperature was -25°C! You can cross-country ski in that cold because you're working hard but it is too cold to hike in. Were we going to be skunked on skiing and hiking? We got lucky again and had three great days in a superb location!

Caught the 7am flight to Calgary on Sunday, arriving in bright sunshine and about -2°C weather. So far so good. Rented the car and headed south out of Calgary by about 10am for the 266km drive south. Hwy 2 is great: four lanes all the way—although there are two towns along the route where the modern highway mysteriously morphs into plain old main street for a kilometer or so and then converts back into 4-laner: one minute the traffic is doing 140kph then everyone throttles violently down to 50kph, we crawl through town, and then everyone hits the gas again on the other side!

The countryside is brown, flat, grassland/ranchland, with the white peaks of the Rocky Mountains forming the western skyline at points. Just short of Fort MacLeod we turn West for 50km to Pincher Creek then south again for the last 50K. The Rockies are now looming in on our right...and as we enter Waterton Park we find ourselves in among the peaks.

Kilmorey Lodge, Waterton Town This place is spectacular! Alberta's brown grassland—where a million buffalo used to graze—rolls right up to the base of the Rockies behind us. But the peaks, in all their solemn shapes and varied colors, flecked with white, just lean in around us. The last 6km into Waterton takes us in beside the upper lake, and as we roll into town we can look right down the ice-covered surface of the big lake into Montana.

We're staying at the Kilmorey Lodge, a nice old place at the north end of the of the big lake and the only place in town that's open by the look of it. A quick walk around town that evening was chilly but not too bad; then we're ready for bed.

Monday:

Cameron Lake (8km/100ft)

Bighorn sheep in the parking lot Ever present whiskyjacks

Wake up to...dang, there's a couple of bighorn sheep in the parking lot below our window licking the salt off the cars and out of the ruts in the parking lot.

Chat with the hotel people and then check with the town Administration staff; nobody is sure of the conditions back on the trails but we begin to sort through the suggestions. Some cautions: there's avalanche danger in conditions like these. So we rent the snowshoes as they suggest and head out on the road to Cameron Lake.

That peak at the end of Cameron Lake is 3km away in Montana! This being winter, we have to park 3km short of the lake and hike it in. Only one other car. Brr! It's sunny but about -5C and at this time of day the sun hasn't made it into the valley. The packed snow is hard enough to hike on so we opt to walk in—easier than snowshoeing.

The hike in takes about 45 minutes. The lake is spectacular. It is of course completely iced over and we could probably ski down the lake to the end if we had our skis with us, but with the thaw the way it is I wouldn't risk it. There's a wall of a peak at the end that it is actually in Montana, US.

We make our way through the woods to our left on a trail that, according to our map, goes up and over the ridge on our left and eventually leads back into Waterton. There's a few tracks in front of us but not enough to pack the snow down so it's slow going and we turn back after a kilometer or so. We meet one older couple as we march back along the road but those are the only people we are going to see today on the trails!

Rowe Lakes (10km/1400ft)

3/4 of the way into Rowe Lakes. Don't know where all our other pictures went We drove back along the Cameron Lake road for a couple of kilometers and found a trail leading to Rowe Lakes. A couple of vehicles—including a ranger's truck—are also parked there so we feel we'll have company on the hike. Neither of us have looked closely at the map and we're both thinking we'll see the lakes in short order. We checked the maps more closely from then on! After two hours of slogging our way up into a curving valley (past one obvious avalanche area but thankfully without much snow left on it), with the snow getting increasingly softer, we finally give up and have lunch sitting on the snowshoes that I've had to carry most of the way. Not that we're too bothered. The scenery is spectacular; the sun is out and we saunter back down in 10°C sunshine.

We've hiked 18km today and are feeling pleased with ourselves. We certainly deserve to buy a six pack of Keith's Pale Ale and have a beer while we read in our hotel room.

Tuesday

Red Rock Canyon (12km/200ft)

We've been told that Red Rock Canyon is a worthwhile hike although it sounds fairly flat. After our long day yesterday we consider it would be sensible to ease up today and make sure we're still up for more tomorrow. We drive out of town about a kilometer. There's normally a road in but they gate it off in winter to allow the animals to wander back in. We park and find a trail that wanders (apparently) alongside the road for most of the way and start our hike.

This is very different. The first couple of k appear to be over the grasslands, walking directly at the distant peaks.

After a very pleasant walk, sometimes in snow, sometimes on muddy trail, we come to a fork. The right hand branch seems to head back towards the road so we take the left to go down into a dip, into some woodland and alongside the river.

This is a lovely walk but has some drawbacks. We're often in foot-deep snow, making the task of finding the trail and following it considerably more tricky. We're also the only people who have been along here...but not the only warm bodies: there are tracks all over—deer, some hare (we're told later), and some small cat tracks that we later conclude are lynx. Then there are the larger tracks that I don't mention to Lynda...!!

We must have covered about 4km along this trail and with some relief we finally look up and see signs that the road has rejoined us at the top of a short but steep incline. We head up and hike a couple of km further along the road, but by this time the cold wind is taking its toll; we turn back, hoofing most of it along the road, and have lunch.

Crandell Lake (2.2km/500ft)

We must have done about 12km this morning but are still interested in more so find what seems to be another lake hike that isn't too (we check the map!) much distance. We take the road in towards Cameron Lake again, and find the trailhead. Supposedly there's a short hike in to Crandell Lake that continues out to Red Rock canyon—not that we want to do that today but....

We'd imagined a flat hike through the woods, but instead we immediately begin a steady climb of about 500ft in 0.8km up to a saddle between two peaks. This is a good thing! We'd wanted to make saddle to get some views and we have plenty of them on the way up. Once at the ridge we have only a short walk and small drop before we come out right above Crandell Lake. It's been a long enough day so far, and so we don't feel a great need to take the trail all the way (about 600 ft and 2km down to the Lake) just to say we've done it, in part because we'll just have to turn around and come back up!

So we follow some sheep tracks in the snow out to a great lookout and take these shots of the lake. To our surprise we suddenly recognize the peaks in the distance: it is where we walked to this morning! If we had continued on only another kilometer or so this morning, we would have come to the trailhead leading up to where we're now standing, from the opposite direction.

Wednesday

We're having breakfast and chatting to the waitress, who tells us an interesting story. A few years back, a different waitress friend was driving out of the hotel parking lot one night after work. It was dark and she had to stop her vehicle to allow some bighorn sheep to cross the road. A cougar suddenly ran out from between the houses, brought down one of the sheep, and dragged it back off the road under one of the cottages. This, (our waitress explained) was why they don't walk home at night!

Bertha Falls(2.8km/500ft)

Our shot was so lousy that I had to steal someone else's summer shot Today we're going to hike down the western edge of Waterton Lake for 1.5km then take a right fork up a valley to Bertha Falls.

The first part of the hike is a pleasant walk through the trees on the west of the lake, which in winter (no leaves on the trees) gives us continuous views over the lake. We climb about 400 feet in that 1.5km, a steady gain, and find the signed turnoff. The hike into the Falls is supposed to 1.3km, but it only takes about 15 minutes, even on snow so we're making good time

The falls are iced over and quite beautiful (although here again, the photo we took didn't show it, and a second shot disappeared). We can continue to Lake Bertha but we it would mean about a 600m elevation gain and 2.7km so after a convoluted conversation between Lyn and I, we finally agree to head for Montana; we trek quickly back to the turn we made 1.3km back.

Montana, here we come (5km/400ft)

Looking across Bertha BayTricky overhand, with 100ft drop if you slip on the snow! It's just a continuation of the trail we were on heading down the lake, so we turn right at the intersection and continue south. However, we find we have to drop 400feet in the next kilometer to get down to the Bertha Bay campground (always a bit of a disappointment to lose elevation because you know you're going to go up again the other side, and then repeat the up and down coming back!). But it is a very pleasant hike across the wooded flood plain of Bertha creek, and we're in no hurry.

There were plenty of "people" tracks on the way in, but on the trail leading on, on the other side of the campground, there are only animal tracks heading up--which helps because there's plenty of snow--but it is slow going. We hike for about a kilometer and cross a small gulley; the deer tracks disappear leaving only LARGE PAW PRINTS! And they're fresh--this morning's probably.

So rather than chase bruno down and surprise him, we start back. On the way back up out of the campsite, we notice now something we hadn't spotted on the way here: that several rocks on the edge of the trail have been turfed aside: a common sign that a bear has been looking for grubs or roots underneath the loose rocks. We stop for lunch at the lookout at the intersection of the two trails, with good views back over Waterton, and then do the short hike back to our car. <>

Bear Hump (800ft/2.4km)

The truncated day leaves us with both time and energy to spare, so we decide to climb to the small lookout above the town known as the Bear's Hump. We'd asked the waitress about it this morning: "The Bear Hump? Oh yes, you're good hikers, you should be able to make it up there in 20 minutes!".

When we got to the bottom I was a bit skeptical, but decided to see how fast I could make it up. Took me 18 minutes really hoofing it; Lyn was only 6 minutes behind me. But it was a great place to look out and down the lake. See the photo at the top.

Thursday: Heading Home

Windmills are a source of power round here. Yes, those are cars and a maintenance truck parked at the bottom of the nearest one! We packed up and headed out (reluctantly) by about 10am. At breakfast, we'd heard that a herd of elk were back in the area, and spotted them on the way out of town.

We headed back via Head-smashed-in Buffalo Jump (very interesting!check the website)