Glacier Lake: In the Footsteps of the Explorers

David Thompson and a party of North West Company fur traders passed through the Glacier Lake area in 1807. Thompson commented, on seeing the lake, that “all the Mountains in sight from the end of the Lake are seemingly of Ice.” While the Lyell Glacier is still visible on Division Mountain at the far end of the Lake, I’m sure it’s much reduced in the 200 years that have passed. Glacier Lake was named in 1858 by Dr. James Hector, geologist for the Palliser Expedition, when he camped in the area.

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Looking across Howse River, pencil sketch

Most of the trail runs through forest, but whenever you reach any open area, the views are stunning. Our first stop was by the bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. I’m certain the explorers crossed at some other point, as the river here was running hard and fast and milky through rock walls on either side. In spite of it being a cloudy day with light showers, we still had good views looking north and south.

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Dappled Light along the trail, colored pencil

Our next stop was a benchland viewpoint above the Howse River (named for Joseph Howse, who travelled through the area in 1810, aiming to establish a fur trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company). Parks Canada has placed a pair of their iconic red adirondack chairs here, overlooking the braided river on the flats below and the mountain peaks beyond. (If you’re hoping to tour Red Parks Chairs, these ones are 2.3km away from the trailhead, on fairly easy trail.)

After descending from the bluff, we skirted the river, where we also saw lots of wildflowers, mainly paintbrush, dwarf dogwood, shrubby cinquefoil, columbines. Whenever there was a break in the trees, we also enjoyed views of the mountains across the river from us.

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Dwarf Dogwood, colored pencil

The trail then turned away from the river to climb a ridge, criss crossing a pretty little creek along the way, mainly on simple log bridges. The sky cleared and the sun came out, giving us lovely dappled light along the forested trail. The descent from the ridge was long and gradual, but when you reach the shore of the lake, oh, my… gorgeous blue glacial lake, mountains everywhere, you don’t know where to look first.

As it was Canada Day (July 1), we had brought a feast and firewood to share at the backcountry campground on the shore of the lake. Just for fun, I also brought along a Canadian flag, to take photos on the shore of this historic location.

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Canada Day, Glacier Lake, soft pastel on paper
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Sunset on the way home, Inktense on paper

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