Berg Lake – The Rest of the Story


Not that it’s much of a story… But this is the hut and dishwashing area up at the Berg Lake campground.  It’s actually the back of the hut, and I was usually hesitant to walk in through this door due to the rain and mud, but it turned out to be no big deal.  The inside of the shelter stays pretty dry because everyone is taking care not to get it all wet and muddy. That and you walk in right by the wood burning stove, which dries things out pretty fast.

And it is THE place to hang all of your wet clothes to dry out.  The assorted batch in this view is from the previous night.  At this point many hikers were still heading back in the rain, cold and mist.  And soon this area was completely filled with drying clothes as a warm fire was built in the wood burning stove (which is just outside of the range of this picture!)


And here’s Fr. Jimmy holding up tonight’s dinner!  It was a freeze dried extravaganza, and every meal was delicious.  While that’s partly due to the fact that almost any meal tastes good on the trail (with some notable exceptions….), it also has to do with the fact that freeze dried meals have come a long way in the last decade.  A lot of them just taste fantastic. And this coconut Cuban rice thing hit the spot after the freezing cold rain fest over at the glacier earlier in the day.


Fr. Jimmy is convinced he is an introvert.  I’m not quite convinced of that, as he is so out going and popular on the trail. But he does read a lot, and needs his alone time.

The woman in the background is measuring water for dinner.  In this Shangri-La of a campsite, you can literally just walk to the edge of the lawn and dip your container into the clear, briskly flowing stream for water.  It was beautiful. Many campers especially the Canadians, do that alone.  But we southerners, jaded by the muddy Mississippi and the Gulf Oil Spill no doubt, used Steripens if we weren’t cooking with it.


The glacier makes huge groaning noises throughout the day and night, which are often mistaken for thunder.  While we were looking at it the evening prior to this, a chunk fell off into the lake while we oohed and aah’d in complete wonder.  It looked like a puff of snow falling gently into the lake.

A few seconds later there was a huge boom, which was the delayed sound reaching us … truly amazing!

But later that night, as the soft rain fell, the glacier groaned for what seemed several minutes, with a terrific rumbling sound as well.  Some campers saw large chunks of ice fall into the water, and the ranger who passed by the next morning called it a “significant event”.

That led me to use the term “significant event” throughout the day, to anyone and everyone who commented upon the amount of ice in the lake.

It was a significant event.

A significant event I tell you.  The Ranger said so.


And the lake was filled with a significant amount of ice.  But these small ice bergs are what give the lake it’s name, after all.


Which for whatever reason led me to try artistic shots with my little Nikon Coolpix. And at the base of the mountain and the glacier, you can make out a significant line of ice.


Despite the ongoing rain and mist and fog and the damp and the cold, (I kept trying to explain to the Canadians that  this was like winter in New Orleans…) the shelter remained a haven of warmth and dryness.  The wood burning stove inside was kept well tended, and people were hanging clothes out to dry until there was barely any room left, and one had to search high and low for an extra inch of hang space.

And speaking of dry, the Marmot Limelight 3p tent kept us high, dry and warm throughout this wet and rainy first week of backpacking and hiking.  I was initially concerned about it’s weight, but between two relatively large men, (one of which there is nothing relative in the least about largeness… I am just a big guy,) the weight was entirely manageable, and the tent roomy enough so that you almost don’t even remember there’s another person in the tent at times.


The Steripen Ultra, in action.


Low lying clouds scudding by in the evening light.


A Canadian Stand Around.  Bob and his family were celebrating some major birthdays by taking some trail time together then hitting Jasper over the weekend. The amount of families on the trail was both amazing and inspiring.


Cloudy Mist, with a glint of twilight, begging to be photographed.


We fixed breakfast inside the shelter the next morning as we prepared to leave.  Despite the heights of complexity and deliciousness that freeze dried meals have obtained,  we stuck to a fairly penitential breakfast regimen of gruel … granola with hot water added, and coffee.

And actually we  just brought all of our gear up to the shelter to pack it up since we were leaving fairly early and it was starting to rain. Again.


But then the sun came out and everyone shouted Hallelujah!  Bradley showed up and fetched some water during this brief appearance of the sun.  And from the looks of this picture, my little Nikon didn’t know how to respond to the sudden appearance of sunlight. Especially with random raindrops falling…


The walk out was as beautiful as the walk in… shrouded in glory.


Between the last picture and this one, a huge rain squall erupted, with cold winds blowing at what must have been at least Tropical Storm force.  We had to lean into the wind, and the rain hit us in the face, feeling like sleet or, at times, hail.  I felt like I was in a National Geographic special.   Fr. Jimmy noted, over the wind, that this was the back country at it’s roughest.

At the height of this storm, a man and woman walked around a bend with packs on, holding an umbrella impossibly against the wind and the rain.  It was absurd and yet somehow delightful.  It reminded me what I had come to love about the Berg Lake Trail in these few short days… that everything and everyone on it was so unique and so strange and so beautiful.

After a few moments, we descended off of the plain and began the intense 4K descent back to Whitehorn and the rest of the trail out.   The weather cleared, and we stopped and prayed morning prayer, giving thanks for such a beautiful and wonderful stay at Berg Lake.





At Berg Lake


Hiking along Berg Lake affords incredible, soul-stirring views.  This glacier coming off of Mount Robson feeds into a small damned lake which is viewable via Google Earth, but which I had zero energy to attempt once I had arrived on site.  Aside from the fact that it’s not the most attractive hike on the planet,  let alone at Lake Berg, one would also have to ford the raging river…  or just hike in from the other side.  And that certainly wasn’t going to be happening anytime soon.


Lots of little bridges like this one to help ford the streams.  Usually when they’re there, they are quite necessary and helpful. (Admittedly, there are a few superfluous bridges, though this is not one of them.)


Ah.  Que magnifico!


One hikes along Berg Lake for what seems a small eternity.  Having just flown in and not having my trail legs yet (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it,)  I was ready to set up camp and fix dinner, then settle into reading the book I had brought with me.    But with views like this, who doesn’t mind walking another mile or two to get to camp?  Certainly not me!  (That’s my story and again I’m sticking to it.)


At last we arrived at the Berg Lake campground, where the view more or less looks like this, at least when it’s cloudy. It reminded me of the Old Testament stories of the clouds around the mountains, around the temple…

To make a long story short, we set up camp, met a lot of great people, ate dinner, visited, read books, and had a peaceful night’s sleep at the well made camp grounds.

The next day we had decided to hike up to the traditional 12 mile day hike from Lake Berg, which is to Snowbird Pass.  But the weather was windy, rainy, and ultra misty and cloudy.   We opted to visit the glacier (which was only 6 miles…) and everyone who attempted Snowbird that day, except for a hardy few, turned back due to the weather.  So, I didn’t feel like a total failure;  I’m usually vindicated in these low mileage decisions.


For some reason in photos I am always clutching my hiking poles for dear life.  I will have to get to the bottom of this issue.


The trail to Snowbird Pass, passes along this glacier.  It was rainy, windy and cold and I was convinced I was going to die from hypothermia before the day was out despite my many layers of polar-tec.

Still, this glacier beckoned us forward.


The trail leads safely around this boulder field (you can see Fr. Jimmy who is now a tiny red speck to the left…) and we safely bypassed it to the glacier.  But, coming away from the glacier we trod right through it and I just have to add here that it’s a completely tedious task to pick one’s way through a boulder field.  They slip, they roll over, the fall downhill after you… entirely doable, but so is hiking back up to the trail and simply walking down.


The bottom of the glacier is fascinating, with these amazing caves underneath it.  The river flows out from under it with an amazing force.

Er… that’s a warning sign to the right, warning about the dangers of going off trail, most likely. I’m pretty sure it just says “Be Careful!”


Another glacial view, with caves on the bottom right.


And yet another view….  there are rain drops on the camera lens at this point because it was raining pretty steadily.  And the closer we got to this huge chunk of ice, the colder it got.  I had my hat, gloves, wool sweater, rain jacket, polar-tec shirts…  it was freezing cold and I loved it.


At the base of the glacier with the river flowing from underneath…


There’s a beach of sorts composed entirely of mud so that it reminded me of Grand Isle except a thousand degrees cooler.

The mud gets all over everything, and the stones can be slippery.  Still, we opted to have lunch in this odd environment.  As we did, the rain poured down even harder.    We dined on packaged chicken, cheese crackers, and, my personal trail favorite, M&M’s.   This was also the 8th anniversary of Katrina, so somehow the rain did not bother me, nor the cool temperatures.  I was so thankful to be out of the heat, taking good exercise and seeing amazing new sites….

That lasted for a good twenty minutes before I decided that if I did not get out of there I would freeze to death within the hour and what good would that do anyone? Fr. Jimmy agreed and we packed up and left.


You can kind of see the rain in this pic of one of the berg caves.


Fr. Jimmy felt compelled to drink some of this ‘pure glacial water’, which I found odd.  It looks incredibly muddy to me, and the water in the streams flowing from it didn’t carry all of the sediment, so was much purer.  Still, he’ll probably outlive me so who am I to question drinking glacial runoff?  It’s evidently quite popular at Lake Berg.


Cold, freezing, rained out…   Life belongs to the rugged!


Heading back, after successfully traversing the boulder field, there’s a placid lake, which runs deep;  it feeds into the streams running to Lake Berg.


These tiny baby Christmas Trees dot the landscape all over the place.  I love them!


Looking back towards the glacier, thinking about drying out in the shelter at Lake Berg campground…


The glacial runoff is pretty impressive…


And, the glacier in 1911 reached up to this point.  But I still don’t believe in anthropogenic global warming.  Can’t we focus on curbing pollution and the use of plastics instead of creating a hysterical movement which is questioned, credibly, by science itself?


And this is why I was completely fine with the weather up at Lake Berg… Who needs sunshine every day when life can be so beautiful without it? It’s the way the clouds roll in, the way the mist clings to things, the way the light transfuses into everything… it can be altogether lovely.


After the hike, and admiring the misty vistas, we headed into the Shelter, where someone built a roaring fire in the wood stove, clothes and gear were dried out, and everyone who had attempted Snowbird Pass eventually returned to proclaim in dismay why they had turned back due to the wind, the clouds and mist and the rain.

I read my book in peace that night, and had a wonderful night’s sleep amidst the chill, the damp and the rain. It was a wonderful day.

The Berg Lake Trail

The other day I hiked the Berg Lake Trail with my buddy Fr. Jimmy. Here are a few photos from the trail…

I had not relished the thought of doing this trail for quite a few reasons. Mainly, it’s a 12 mile hike with a serious altitude gain in the last half, and we were doing it after a brutally long day of travel.

That being said… I loved it. And I would do it again in a flash!

It starts innocuously enough, crossing placid lakes, walking along verdant, pleasantly inclined paths.

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It’s a cool weather rain forest, and after steeping in Louisiana heat all summer long, I felt like it was winter in a strange new land. A beautiful new land, too. Lower temperatures do that to us southerners.

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We passed a lot of truly beautiful photo-worthy scenery, however photo taking was not my priority on this once in a lifetime opportunity for amazing photography. I just wanted to get away and be in the outdoors and walk around and take it all in, and be amazed with the grandeur of God’s creation.

That’s also a really nice way of saying that I didn’t take many photos because I had my smaller camera with me, and things happened like the strap in the middle of the picture, or the dampness caused the lens cover to falter… a lot of pictures just did not come out.

But this one did! It’s a bridge I had seen on the internet and I wanted my very own picture of it. At this point you’ve walked about 6 miles, fairly standard ups and downs, and are now at the Whitehorn camp site, which is where we ended up spending the night.

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The glacial river runs by, providing a great water source and a relaxing sound to fall asleep to. There’s an open air shelter which has a wood burning stove in it, so that if it’s cold, damp weather no one will get hypothermic. Very thoughtful! Of course I don’t have photos of any of that… but that’s just me.

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It’s a beautiful place. We had rain, mist, clouds, and it was exquisitely beautiful.

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In the morning we walked around the bend and crossed the river, ready to make the huge ascent up to Lake Berg. The thought of hiking up the steep ascent had me running in extra cautious mode… but the scenery was beautiful and well worth the effort. And whats a hike in the mountains without some steep ascents?

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Here’s Fr. Jimmy, as we leave the level of the river and head steeply (steeply, steeply) uphill for the next several hours.

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After what seems like only a short forever, you’re on a ledge overlooking the river valley you crossed what seems like only that morning.

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The ledge is built to provide glimpses of the Falls of the Pool, (or Pool of the Falls? I’ve forgotten!) But the point is, the falls spill into a pool, then run out and head down over to the river to join in the rapids flowing past the campground and down out to the beginning of the trail. It’s all about the pool, here.

We met several people here. On the way down we chatted with a Spanish woman who was hiking up to Berg Lake with her elderly parents, in from Spain. They were evidently doing a 12 mile day hike, with a base camp set up at Whitehorn, which is a popular way to do the upper trail. Also on the way down a few days later, a marathon runner passed us up. He was running the entire trail in a day, up and down, in anticipation of a yearly marathon which is held on the trail.

All of these things gave me courage to just keep walking, man.

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A short eternity later, you and your backpack are up near the beautiful, famed Emporer Falls. Although this is well worth walking up to and taking a good look-see, it will also manage to get you soaked with spray if the wind is blowing in your direction. Hiker discretion is advised.

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And then you hike up a bit more, just long enough to get exasperated, and the entire path levels out. The Emporer Falls campsite looks beautiful to camp in. You walk on and on and eventually, catch your first sight of Berg Lake and it’s famed glacier, which groans and calves before your very eyes.

But more on that later.