I kind of want to do this hike every day. Can I do that?
Adventure: Alderson-Carthew Hike
Length: 20.1 km / 12.5 mi
Elevation: 650 m / 2,132 ft
Location: Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta, Canada
Date: August 12
With: 4 Adults: Erin, Brian, Lindsay, Kyle
Alderson-Carthew is my new favourite hike of all time!
We’re pretty lucky in that our good friend Kyle is a super awesome photographer and Videographer. So I’ll start with a video from him (check out his other stuff at Everyday Videos) of our hike:
Alderson-Carthew is one way, which is wonderful. It always feels like more of an accomplishment when you don’t have to double back on your path.
We woke up at an ungodly hour and made the hour and a half drive out to Waterton. Although the grogginess was tempered by the pink rainbow we were able to see with the sunrise! I’ve never seen anything like it.
Parks Canada is redoing the parking lot up at Cameron Lake so this summer they cut off access to the road up to the lake and instead offered complimentary shuttle service. We booked online to ensure we had a spot, which was good because there were several people waiting that didn’t book ahead and there wasn’t space for them on the bus. Usually you can book the shuttle through Tamarack Outdoor Outfitters.
Funny (terrifying) story actually: We dropped off an older couple at a lower hike on the way up to Cameron. We let them out, waved goodbye and drove on our merry little way. Literally RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER from them was a giant brown bear. We’re pretty sure it wasn’t a grizzly but OH HECK was it big. And headed right towards the unsuspecting couple. We never heard from them again. (dun dun DUNNN) (And yes in retrospect we probably should have done something about it, but at the time we were just so surprised it didn’t even occur to us!)
Outside the shuttle we got our packs all adjusted and our shoes on correctly and started off on the trail. Because of the construction we had to start from about 500m off the actual trail head. We walked along a side trail to Akamina Lake.
My DARLING husband decided that he wanted to carry a big pack so that I didn’t have to carry one. It was very kind. And very dumb. Brian was dying because it was so outrageously heavy, which may have had something to do with the fact that it had 5 of my books for Bookstagram in it… Love you honey!
We decided to move some things around in our packs before we really got going, and am I ever glad that we did. The lake was ethereal.
As we sat quietly in the early morning light we watched as a doe and her fawn peered out from the trees across from us. They looked around, decided we weren’t a threat, and started drinking from the misty water. After a few minutes of this they started crossing the shallow part of the lake. The fawn was splashing and frolicking in the water, and at one point even tried to jump on its mother! It was a beautiful moment.
Cameron Lake was the most still I have ever seen it. Being in the Rockies here usually means that Waterton is outrageously windy, but this day the air was calm and cool.
Then we started up the trail. The first couple kilometers are mostly uphill, with a lovely break at Summit Lake for a snack and scenery.
After Summit Lake is when the intensity really increases. We were now hiking straight up the side of the mountain, watching the lake grow smaller and smaller as we ascended.
This was the main part of the hike where I thought I was going to die. It wasn’t even so much that my legs were like jell-o (which they were) but I was also extremely winded. It wasn’t impossible but it was definitely difficult!
The last section of the ascent is a tiny narrow trail on shale.
When we finally reached the top of Carthew we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. I was in the middle of congratulating myself for the fourth time when I noticed a little child about two years old running along the ridge towards me.
“Pfft…” I thought to myself, “Well they were carried up here so of course they’re running.” (While also being impressed that someone carried them up the whole way!)
And then I saw their eight year old sibling hiking behind them. Aaaand then I didn’t feel so spiffy about “making it” to the top. But oh well! It was still an accomplishment.
As they got closer and we could see who it was, the mother turned out to be one of my husband’s second cousins! Small world. Small mountain.
So we walked along the ridge of the mountain and marveled at the view below, around, and above us.
On one side of the mountain we looked back at where we had come from. We could now see two brightly shimmering lakes below us, beautiful mountain peaks, lush forest and an idyllic meadow.
On the other side of the mountain we looked forward to where we were going. But we couldn’t see far. A cloud had moved in behind us and completely obscured our view with its twisting swirls of mist. We watched for ages as the cloud moved against the red mountain side, curling up into itself along the ridge, but never crossing it. It was magical.
We sat at the top out of the wind and ate our lunch while drinking in the view.
After we’d eaten we started our long descent. People have described the Alderson Carthew hike as an upside down checkmark: quite steep for a short while but then with a long easy descent. And they nailed it! It’s exactly what it’s like.
Walking into the cloud was like walking into a dream. If that sounds cliché then that’s because it was totally cliché as it was happening. I’ve never been in a fog or cloud so thick that I could actually see the mist swirling in front of me. It was amazing. Lindsay and I were walking in front with Kyle and Brian a couple dozen meters behind us. They weren’t far but we could barely even see them!
It was incredible hiking down the mountain because we couldn’t see what was in front of us until we were upon it. We’d turn a corner – hey there’s a lake! We’d slide down a little ledge – hey there’s a waterfall! We’d crest a ridge – hey there’s a marmot!
There was a copious amount of cute little critters on the trail. Chipmunks, mountain goats, deer, rabbits, quail, and a dozen different other birds. It was a freakin’ Disney movie!
We were lucky that we hiked on such a mild day, but this would also be a great hike in hot weather because there were so many lakes that we could have cooled down in.
The piece de resistance was Alderson Lake. It was a gem. A jewel. A freakin’ masterpiece. However amazing it looks in pictures, it simply does not do the unbelievably blue colours justice.
The last few hours of the hike are all through the woods. It sprinkled a bit throughout the hike but once we were in the trees it really started coming down, which I guess was the best time for it to happen all day. This section was pretty uneventful, and is also when we really started losing steam. We’d been hiking for about 7 hours and were pooooped.
When we finally saw the townsite below us we nearly burst into tears with joy. We survived! We staggered down the last hill and collapsed in front of Cameron Falls. There may have been some kissing of the ground. Okay, a lot of kissing.
I wholeheartedly recommend this hike to anyone in the Waterton area. I’m totally planning on making this a yearly tradition, so if you want then give me a shout! Maybe we can adventure together.