The Rockwall – Backcountry Kootenay

The Rockwall Trail is a classic in the Canadian Rockies. At 55km long  with the option of four backcountry campgrounds and some shorter loop/ route options it is usually tackled over 3 nights/ 4 days.

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Being a little short on time only having 3 days off work (pretty lucky still!) I opted to do a short after work 6km hike into the first campground, then smash out the trail in two nights 3 days.

The Rockwall Trail was one that had been on my list since I was researching trails in the beginning of my Canadian adventure nearly two years ago now, but it very nearly didn’t happen.

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To start, like other campgrounds in the National Parks, it needs to be booked in advance, and it is a pretty popular hike – Kootenay National Park’s premier backcountry experience. Secondly, unfortunately last year, and this year, the area was surrounded by big forest fires which resulted in the trail being evacuated and then closed for a large portion of the hiking season for safety reasons. I had booked early on in the season to do the trail but then I had a work schedule change, and luckily I managed to nab a cancellation for September long weekend – a very busy time in the Parks. Of course, a week after me making my resevation, the Rockwall was closed, the skies were smokey and people were getting heli-evacuated off the trail in a safety precaution. But luckily a big rainstorm and a cold weather front came through late August, resulting in half the trail reopening a week before my reservation, and the remainder of the trail opening two days before I walked the trail. Luck was on my side!

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The Rockwall is named for- you guessed it- the wall of rock that you are alongside for the majority of the trail. Looming mountains give way to spectacular views, you are in a mixture of forest, sub alpine and you wander over 3 spectacular alpine passes over the course of the trail.

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I chose to walk the trail north-south as that is the way that the campsite reservations worked for me. My days were broken down as follows:

Paint Pots Trailhead – Helmet/ Ochre Campground – 6km

Helmet/Ochre Campground- Tumbling Creek Campground- 16km (via Rockwall Pass)

Tumbling Creek Campground- Floe Lake Campground 18km (via Tumbling Pass and Numa Pass)

Floe Lake Campground – Floe Lake Trailhead 10 km

 

DAY 1: Paint Pots Trailhead – Helmet/ Ochre Campground – 6km

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After being dropped off at the trailhead around 5pm I headed into the forest. Made lots of noise as I knew it was unlikely other humans would be on trail and it was berry season still. Trail was very cruisy through the forest with some nice views opening up every now and then. Some nice flowers and growth passing through some avalanche areas. Helmet/Ochre Campground is nicely situated by a rushing river, and great open views.

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Day 2 : Helmet/Ochre Campground- Tumbling Creek Campground- 16km (via Rockwall Pass)

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I woke up after pretty decent sleep in my new tent – yay MSR Hubba- after having rain all night, was nice and dry. Today’s travel was in the forest again, and for the first 7 km nice easy trail with a few small ups and downs. There was a nice swing bridge across a creek that was pretty slick after last nights rain. I met several trail runners who were attempting the whole Rockwall Trail in a day.

 

Being September Long Weekend lots of people were out and about but the trail was not crowded, and being a solo trip it was nice to meet some fellow hikers. I soon passed Helmet Falls Campground where I had some snacks before continuing on to the climb up to Rockwall Pass. This area would be even more beautiful in a few more weeks as there wwere many larch trees, and larch season in late September has the needles of the trees all turning golden.

The climb up to the Rockwall pass was – of course- nicely graded and I was rewarded with my first views of the Rockwall itself – at first you go up Limestone summit and then down to a small lake – the perfect lunch spot before motoring up the pass itself.

The Rockwall pass was rolling and gave wide views of the lush green landscape, and of course the huge Rockwall to my right as I hiked along. I darted 500m off the main trail to check out the view of Wolverine pass which gave a few views to the west.

The rest of the afternoon was spent heading down towards Tumbling Creek campsite for the night. Through the trees but with a few nice views of the Tumbling Glacier which I would get to know well tommorrow. Losing quite a lot of elevation I was glad to reach the campground and stretch the knees out. Dinner was spent looking at the glacier which you can see from the beautiful campground. Being a popular trail, the 15 site campground was full but the sites were nicely spread out with a few different cooking areas so I never felt crowded.

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DAY 3 – Tumbling Creek Campground- Floe Lake Campground 18km (via Tumbling Pass and Numa Pass)

Today was epic! I knew it was going to a big day going up and down two big passes so I powered up at breakfast and hit the trail early, being one of the first out of the campground. I veered off the main trail for a km to check out Tumbling Falls, well worth it, but adding some extra elevation!

The trail then skirted around the river and began the switch- backed climb towards Tumbling pass, with epic glacier views to distract you from the ever-climbing trail. Being about a 500m elevation gain straight after breakfast, it definitely got the blood pumping!

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Tumbling Pass was short and sweet with nice views back along to the Rockwall Pass where I had been the previous day. It was green and with a field of my favourite flowers, the Western Anemone, I was in a pretty good mood.

The descent from Tumbling Pass to Numa Creek was continuous, through the forest and then down across a very rocky avalanche pass which zig-zagged forever down the steep slope until it entered a dense forest.

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This is an area I have described to people as a Bear Candy Shop because it is pretty dense brush with a trail winding through and you are surrounded by loads of berries and lots of blind corners. Needless to say I was constantly greeting the bears with a loud HEY BEAAAARRRS every couple of minutes and practised whipping out my bear spray a few times.

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After an uneventful walk through the Bear Candy Shop I arrived at Numa Creek Campground where I had lunch and then proceeded to drop my water bottle in the river when I was trying to do a ninja water refill. BYEEEEEEE. I had a hearty lunch as I was faced with a 700m climb, not what you really want to be doing with several salami wraps in your belly. The trail up to Numa Pass went through a lot of forest and I concentrated on just getting some elevation under my belt.

The further I got on, the more the views opened up but it was getting a little chilly so I pressed on. Finally I broke into the sub-alpine and beautiful larch forest winded its way to where I headed up above treeline for the final push to the barren pass. Let’s just say it was not t-shirt weather!

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My phone also decided to be full of memory right at the wind swept pass, which I was pretty annoyed about but luckily a wonderful lady took my photo and then emailed me the pictures a couple of days later- Thanks Laura you’re a legend!

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The pass was really spectacular, you get a view of Floe lake, the jewel of the Rockwall, and my destination for the night. It was not the weather for hanging out at the pass so I kept going for another 2km descent down to the beautiful Floe Lake.

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This was a stunning campground with a lot of hikers already milling around, as it is a good overnight option for those not tackling the full Rockwall.I had lots of time to hang out and explore the lakeshore, and spent some time down by the Parks Canada Warden Cabin, imagine living here!

Day 4: Floe Lake Campground – Floe Lake Trailhead 10 km

I woke up to rain several times early in the morning and was treating myself to a sleep in when I heard some fellow neighbours exclaim ” We better get going before there is 6 inches on the ground”. I noticed the patter of the rain had stopped and sure enough when I opened my tent there was fluffy white stuff on the ground.

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I kept cosy for a little while and then started to bundle up my stuff and get a warm cuppa going – it had definitely chilled out temperature wise! Luckily I was more than prepared for cold temps and a bit of snow, and it was truly magical to see a fresh layer on the ground.

The walk out was pretty nice through a prescribed burn area, which had a lot of regenerated forest and fireweed which made the vegetation pretty and interesting. I was glad to be going down steadily – I had done more than my fair share of uphill on this trail. It rained a little but all in all I was very lucky with the weather on this trip, the sun was out most days, and I had really trialed my new tent with wind, snow and rain overnight! It passed with flying colours.

The Rockwall is a fantastic multi-day backcountry trip which encompasses all the major features found in the Canadian Rockies, vast views, drastic mountain scenery and rolling mountain passes. Not to mention the stunning alpine lakes, big glaciers and fabulously graded trail ( featuring the Great Canadian Switchback). It was one of my favourite trips this season which had a little bit of everything.

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One comment

  1. Can see that this was a premier back country multi day diverse hike that was high on your to do list. And what a treat. Has everything in it as you summarise and very rewarding for you. Can see plenty of bear precautions ongoing and plenty of preparation for the various leg splits What a special journey.

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