There’s really not much that makes me feel more bad-ass than when I strap 55 lbs of gear on my back and go for a long walk. Or a slippery slog. Uphill. And downhill. And more uphill. And down. And up. And down. And up and up, dammit why is there so much up.
But the pain is quickly forgotten. This 56km trail, with approximately 2400 meters of elevation gain throughout, boasts pure endless beauty from start to finish. When I was invited by Martina Gebarovska (known as @dreamingandwandering on Instagram) to join her for this 4 day/3 night autumn adventure in the Canadian Rockies, my immediate thought was “I will finally see the autumn Larch trees!!”… and so I found myself embarking on this late September hike. :)
Day One: Paint Pots Trailhead to Helmet Falls Campground. Approximately 15km.
With my pre-hike excitement always comes a little pre-hike anxiety, especially when Mother Nature decided winter would come before autumn this year. Record-breaking early snowfall arrived in Alberta a few days before we were to start hiking… But when the day came to start, the snow was melting in the lower elevations and the sun was shining again, so we went for it, now also joined by Martina’s friend Jayne. As our trio started the trek up through the beautiful woodlands from Paint Pots Trailhead, I realized I had no idea what to expect for views, trail length or elevation gain. I had never looked it up… Maybe unwise in some cases, but I appreciated the unknown and pleasant surprises that came around each corner. This kept me continually present and focused on the current beautiful surroundings, not stressing about what might lie ahead (…which, by the second day, turned out to be a lot more snow than we anticipated). Having started the hike in the afternoon, we reached our first campsite at Helmet Falls by nightfall.
Day 2: Helmet Falls Campground to Numa Creek Campground. Approximately 21 km.
What started as a frosty -3 degree morning, soon turned into a sweat-fest as the trail immediately started climbing 500m up through the forest (which gradually turned from green to brilliant gold with all the Larch trees). It was a slow climb as we reached the snow-line, but the trail eventually spat us out at the beginning of Rockwall Pass, where the forest opened up and we got our first view of the towering wall of mountains we’d be walking beside for the next 20km. My breath was taken away with this first view. And then it was taken away again many times throughout the day, with the constant up and down over Rockwall Pass and Tumbling Pass as we made our way to Numa Creek Campground. This 20+ km day took us nearly 13 hours, one foot in front of the other through the snow, the last couple hours by head-lamp as we made our way down the final pass to Numa Creek.
Goodness, there is truly nothing like the feeling when you finally see the campground at the end of a long day…. There is also truly nothing like the feeling of taking off the backpacks, to discover one of our 2-person tents strapped to the outside is… not there. I don’t think we’ve ever gone from relief to disbelief so fast, ha! Feeling slightly more alive than the others, I opted to run a couple km back up the last pass in the middle of the night to see if I could find the missing tent… to no avail. By the time I reached the campground again, Marty and Jayne had late dinner ready and had set up my own tent, which from that point on would become our tent. How grateful I am to have brought my 2-person tent for this trip, instead of bringing my regular 1-person… The three of us were just able to squeeze in, like cozy sardines. :)
Day 3: Numa Creek Campground to Floe Lake. 10km.
After the exhausting previous day, we were grateful to realize we only had 10km to get to Floe Lake - meaning this would the the first day we would reach our campsite before nightfall. The trail started relatively flat for the first few km, weaving through beautiful forest and views of waterfalls and surrounding mountains. We enjoyed the ease while it lasted. Soon the 800m+ climb up Numa Pass had us breathless once again with exhaustion and stunning views everywhere we turned. The wind was strong and cold above the treeline, and I felt like we were the only people in the world, seeing nothing but mountains and snow as far as the eye could see. It was beautiful, and worth every moment to get there.
From the top of the pass, we could just see Floe Lake approximately 300m below us on the other side. Knowing we were standing on the highest point of the journey, it was a delightful thought to know the trail would now be descending for the rest of the trip.
We descended back into the Larch trees and soon came upon a cold, windy, and absolutely stunning Floe Lake. As we set up our tent behind some trees for shelter from the wind, rain began to fall. We all crammed into the tent early to stay dry, warm and cozy - I believe we were in there for about 13 hours overnight, talking and sleeping and listening to Christmas music as the rain and snow pattered on the tent roof above us.
Day 4: Floe Lake Campground to Floe Lake Trailhead. 10km.
The next morning, though still somewhat windy, brought us some welcome bursts of sunlight through the clouds. We enjoyed a leisure breakfast (with lots of warm tea!) while photographing the views and listening to the distant snow cracking and tumbling down the mountains across the lake.
(Thanks Good To-Go for the best camping meals I’ve ever had - all real ingredients, and the best vegan choices!)
After a last few photos of some magical light across the lake, we began the final descent down to the Floe Lake trailhead as the next waves of snow and rain came in. It took us about 3 hours to finish the trail, through woodlands burnt by a forest fire several years previously - it was both devastating and beautiful, though I didn’t take any photos on this section as it was raining quite heavily. By the time we reached my car at the end of the trail, we were happily exhausted, grateful for the experience, and grateful to now “upgrade” from crammed tent camping to car camping for our next round of adventure.
All in all, I can happily say The Rockwall Trail was one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever done - and I would gladly do it again. I’m very curious to see what it’s like without all the snow… but at the same time, I think the first snowfall of the season just added to the magic (and intensity) of it, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else. There’s not much more special to me than collecting memories while taking on a challenge in a beautiful place, shared with beautiful like-minded people. I’m looking forward to the next time! :)