Clearwater River Expedition

Eddie Carle

August 2006

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Clearwater River Expedition by Eddie Carle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
A one-hundred and twenty kilometer trek Eddie and Scott did by foot along the Clearwater River with an additional one-hundred kilometers of hitch hiking. The journey started in Rocky Mountain House and finished in Lake Louise. For a revisit of this path see Trial by Canoe.

Day One

It is five o'clock in the evening on August nineteenth and the Greyhound bus has arrived in Rocky Mountain House exactly when it was scheduled to arrive. There seem to be quite a few more people on the streets than the last time we were here. I am seeing fairly blue skies overhead, but I don't like those black clouds on the horizon. We are going to hit the road right away so we can get as much distance as we can in today. Leighton said it will be difficult to hitch a ride. I am hoping it will be as easy as it was last time we were here. We are planning to be at the hike start location by day three.
Camped on Prairie Creek
The hitchhiking sure went well today, three vehicles picked us up and we are camped somewhere on Prairie Creek about twenty kilometers from our start point. Further to our luck there seems to be a camp site set up here already with flat ground for Scotts' tent and a fire pit ready to go. The creek is difficult to get to because the bank is about a meter off the water, but we are managing without too many fall ins. The first people to pick us up were a couple of interesting guys with a real foul smelling dog who were here looking for work. They offered to bring us the whole way in exchange for some drugs or alcohol, but we unfortunately neglected to bring some. The second car was a couple of what seemed to be respectable high school kids going to a party. The third, interestingly enough, was a couple of good looking young girls that were apparently working in the area. We were going to ask if we could take a picture with all of us together, but we reckoned it would be the last thing a girl would want asked of her after she gave a ride to two strange guys into the middle of nowhere. We're cooking up some sausage, soup and tea for supper right now and it looks to be quite a formidable meal.

Day Two

A Friendly Guy from Seattle
Well, after a good breakfast of three instant oatmeal packs, we hit the road hoping to make good time. It looks like after one day here we already lost our spoons. I guess we'll be eating soup with forks for the next days. After about forty-five minutes of thumbs up and no stops, a geologist from Seattle pulled over to give us a lift. Seems he is in the area contracted to do surveying for coal deposits. As per his request we shan't mention his name or the company he was working for. It seems there is an insurance issue with picking up hitch hikers while working. He is by far the most interesting person we have met on this journey so far; very like minded to us in that he wished he was born a hundred years ago. His wife is in Peru right now and seems to be quite the adventurer herself. He gave us his name and e-mail address so we will make sure to contact him when we get back. He went out of his way and gave us a ride all the way to our start location at the camp site along Elk Creek at N52 03' 15" W115 38' 50".
Peppers Creek
It seems we have already gotten ourselves lost. The lesson learned is that one should not so blindly trust the maps on ones' GPS unit. Paper maps, which we luckily brought as well, are much more reliable. It appears that we underestimated the distance from the camp site to the Clearwater River. We came upon Peppers Creek and mistook it for the River. Just last year I was on the Clearwater so how I mistook that trickle of water Peppers Creek for a river is beyond me. Hopefully the distance we walked in the wrong direction doesn't mess things up too much.
Clearwater River in the Foothills
We have gotten ourselves back on track and are quite on our way now. Our position is about eight kilometers down the Clearwater and we have just passed onto an interesting obstacle. With a turn of ill favored luck, the bank transformed into a fairly steep cliff about four stories high. We decided the easiest thing would be to pass over top of the ridge so here we now sit on top with quite a nice view. There is a group of horseback travelers below us on the opposite side of the river.
Riders of Clearwater
I am assuming they just set out from the equestrian staging ground a few kilometers east of here. Judging by the gear they have on their pack horses it looks like they are in for quite a journey themselves. One man is trying to say something to us but his voice is too muffled over the distance. Good luck to you fellows. I am pretty worn out up here, I reckon we shall set up camp once we get to the other side of this ridge.
Relaxing on the Clearwater
We broke camp at about three in the afternoon along the river on a nice open spot at N52 00' 55" W115 42' 10". The sun is still beaming down hot so we opted to taking a quick swim in the river and it sure was cold. Since the day was still young I took a quick nap in the hammock only to be awakened by the sound of a white tailed deer rustling in the bushes upwind from us. I tried to sneak up on her with the camera but I guess my feet aren't as stealth as I'd hoped. She leaped away into the sunset before I had a clear view. Time for supper now so well have a quick munch of bannock, sausage and soup and maybe stay up to see the stars and have some tea.

Day Three

Clearwater River
It looks like the nice weather is sticking with us for now. We're lunched on some flood plains wishing we had some shade. These dried apricots are starting to grow on me. I'll have to thank my lady for getting me to bring these. Our location is N51 59' 10" W115 43' 45" and I can see some rocky peaks starting to show themselves. We should be into the mountains in just a few days. Looks like we will make a good distance today.
Trappers Cabin
We have come about twelve kilometers and stumbled across an old trappers cabin at N51 57' 42" W115 42' 28" and are going to set up camp here. Although it looks like it hasn't been used for trapping in quite some time, someone has adopted it as a rest spot for equestrian travelers along the river. We've also noticed a well used trail covered with horse tracks and what we are guessing is modern horse caravan tracks along this part of the river. Looks like this place sees more traffic than we originally guessed. The trail unfortunately isn't of that great a value to us because it constantly crosses the river to stay on the inner banks of the bends. A cross might be easy for a horse, but it's quite difficult for a guy carrying a seventy pound pack who doesn't want his boots wet.
The Kill
While cutting off on the trail earlier on while it was on our side of the river, we ran into a flock of grouse and managed to snag one for supper. Even though we hadn't planned to do any hunting this trip, we had a hankering for some extra protein and the opportunity was just too much to pass up. I got him with a throw from my bowie knife. While butchering the bird using the the step on wings and pull the feet technique it didn't come apart very well and we had to do a little dirty work.
The Great White Hunter
After a quick swim in the river Scott made himself an impressive spear out of a deers' leg bone and his walking stick. He hopes to get some supper tomorrow with it.
Wrath of the Clearwater
The river has brought about quite the destruction to this area. It looks as though the river flooded quite violently this spring and destroyed a large area of the west bank. Trees are scattered all around and the needles on them are still green. The soil was carried away and all that remains is a rocky wasteland. The trappers cabin here is itself hanging over the river a foot or so. In a year or two it will probably be swallowed by the rivers wrath as well. I reckon my plans to build a small vacation cabin on this river are going to need some restructuring.
Finding the Way
Camp here is pretty comfortable. There is a lot of flat open space and an already made fire pit for us. The grouse is cooking in with a pot of onion soup. My one concern is the lack of adequately spaced trees for me to sleep in. Looks like I will be sleeping with no shelter beneath the open stars tonight. Should be a nice view but I hope there isn't any rain or a heavy dew tonight.

Day Four

Vintage Hike
Well, there was no rain overnight, but the dew fell quite heavily. My bag is wet and the sun is hidden behind a thick layer of overcast clouds. I will have to try to dry my bag as best as possible without the sun. Looks like we might see some rain today.
Lunch has come at N51 54' 52" W115 42' 17" as we have finally reached the river after a long haul through the woods on the trail. We have passed through the Gate of Mountains into the Ram Range and it sure looks dreary outside. A smog has blown in from the mountains to the west that reeks of smoke. When the wind blows you can feel a heat that doesn't fit the day and it tells me a fire must be nearby. I am starting to hope for a heavy rain.
Tribute to the Clearwater
Camp is set up and with scattered showers the smoke has subsided. We are buried in the trees along the river at N51 53' 38" W115 42' 57" and have come about nine kilometers from morning. I think we may have frightened some riders earlier today with a rather awkward situation. We spotted a flock of grouse just off the path so we dropped the packs to go get some diner. Having heard voices coming from down the path we went to check it out only to come out of the woods in front of a man and his daughter with large blades drawn. He gave us the usual speech about how we must not have enough food to complete our plans and we don't know what we are getting into. Scott has just come back from a quick spear hunt in the bush with a nice grouse for tonight. We'll cook it up tonight with some beef noodle soup. We've made a tribute to the River Gods out of a coyote skull as thanks for all the grouse.

Day Five

Cloudy Day
So far the weather is has been awful today. My wish for a good rain has been granted. We are taking a lunch break at in the rocky flood plains just after Forbidden Creek at N51 53' 14" W115 44' 21". We've only come about two kilometers since morning for we made the foolish mistake of crossing the river. I unfortunately forgot to bring my sandals (one of the most important things to have) so I had to try and cross the river with bare feet. I would have say that crossing a rocky river bare foot with a heavy load is one of the worst things I have ever done in my life. I've now got a gash on my left foot from a sharp rock and I sure hope I don't get a worm of some sort through it. We have aquired a liking for a few berries along the trail: Rose Hips, Bear Berries and Red Cherries. The Red Cherries are a bit tart for my liking, but Scott has taken to them.
Cloudy on the Clearwater
We have crossed back over to the west side of the river. Crossing to the east side was a mistake to begin with. The lesson learned is pick a side of the river and stick with it. You only notice the other side of the river when the side your on becomes difficult. We didn't bother to take our boots off this time. Right now we are by the fire trying to dry our boots and socks off. It is still raining but the sleeping hammock is doing quite well in the wet weather. If you set the hammock up high enough, you get a good little shelter to work underneath. It's light and compact and the only problem I have with it is that on a very humid night moisture does start beading on the inside of it. Were camped on a campsite at N51 52' 36" W115 47' 26" that looks like it has been used for more equestrian stopovers. There is an old tent here but there isn't anybody around using it. All in all we only moved about five kilometers today.

Day Six

The clouds have vanished and the sun is shining. I'll have to get some quick dry time under the sun for my gear before we pack up and go. It looks as though today will be a good day. I am hoping we travel well today.
Sitting in the Flats
We have hit the Harrison Flats at N51 51' 48" W115 51' 47" and decided to stop here for lunch. It is an interesting area. I am not entirely sure why this large area remains treeless. Perhaps flooding occurs here in
Stormy Mountain
the spring time, or maybe the topsoil layer is too thin. A mountain with a fascinating summit is in the distance. According to the map it is yet to have received a name. The top has the look of an evil fortress of sorts so I thereby dub it Alcazar Mountain.
Eddie on the Alcazar
This entry comes from the top of the newly named Alcazar Mountain. It seems that our path led us to the base of the Mountain. We figured the Mountain had led us there, we might as well climb it.
Scott Scaling the Alcazar
The ascent had it's rough spots but we pulled ourselves to the top to find quite a view waiting for us. The valley of the Clearwater has a majestic look as it's multiple braids wind and contort into each other; blazing new paths to carry themselves downstream.
Monument to the Gods
On the Mountain side sits an eye catching stone monument. It is a monolith with a pointed tip that stands upon a slight incline. I feel hail on my hat, and I hear it on the rock. Perhaps we weren't meant to climb this mountain.
Harrison Flats
The road down looks more treacherous than it seemed on the way up. I hope I get to make another entry.
Despite the climb we've come just under ten kilometers from this morning and camped in a spot with some rather dense foliage at N51 51' 27" W115 54' 50". The place needed a little grounds keeping before we could get anything set up, but it is pretty cozy right now.
Crowded Camp
It seems the sky has decided to start dumping the rest of its' moisture on us tonight as a very strong rain storm has picked up. We were luckily able to get our gear set up before the onslaught. The rain is so thick that I can no longer see the mountains. Scott can't stand this weather as he needs to sleep in his clothes, but I don't mind it. My sleeping bag is warm enough that I can sleep with just some briefs in the hammock. We've managed to keep a decent fire going despite the rain and our supper shan't be short changed because of some dampness. I however sure don't look forward to seeing the state of things tomorrow.

Day Seven

Condor Peak
It is quite late in the morning right now as it took quite a long time to get a fire going. It looks like the clouds completely emptied themselves last night. Everything was absolutely drenched this morning and some peaks were capped with snow. The sun shone through but getting a fire going was very frustrating. Scott gave up earlier, but I just couldn't live without having my hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. After much cursing and throwing of wood into the forest, fire burst forward and water was eventually boiling. We hope to pass into Banff National Park and make Trident Lake today. It will be quite a trek but today seems to promise just the weather we need for it.
Clean Water
We are lunching on a unnamed tributary of the Clearwater just a kilometer or so shy from the Banff border. The water was so refreshing looking that we have decided to forgo use of the water filter and just drink straight out of the creek. It sure is satisfying after a long walk on a hot day. I hope we don't get sick. I am of the opinion that fresh water above the altitude lines of civilization on the Clearwater is safe to drink.
Clean Water
We've found an interesting cabin way out in the middle of nowhere. It looks to be an old ranger cabin beefed up with solar panels and modern heating. There is nobody here except a couple of horses with bells who seem quite healthy and content. It is right off Indianhead Creek in Banff National Park so I'm guessing it is Indianhead Cabin. I am curious how often this cabin actually sees a park ranger these days. With the restructuring and cutbacks in the parks I bet there aren't any rangers in this area anymore.
High Altitude Plains
We have entered into the transition area that goes from forest to alpine plains. The Clearwater seems to have calmed down and isn't the mess of braids that it once was. It is very quiet here without the chirping of birds, creaking of trees and rustling of leaves.
Trident Lake
Trident Lake is quite a sight for sore eyes. We've waited for quite some time to see this lake. The lake is basically when the Clearwater matures into a river. It was dubbed Trident Lake because it is fed in a cross formation by three creeks: the Clearwater, Martin Creek and Roaring Creek. This is the last time we will see the Clearwater as a canoe navigable river. We'll walk a bit longer until we find a good camp spot.
Martin Falls
We have come across a powerful waterfall along Martin Creek. This section of the Creek connects Trident Lake with Martin Lake over a significant elevation change.
Martin Falls
The lakes are only about one hundred meters apart, but Martin Lake is about fifty meters higher in elevation.
Camp is set up along side the waterfall at N51 47' 50" W116 07' 40". All in all we traveled about eighteen kilometers today. We are going to aim for the Devon Lakes on Clearwater Pass tomorrow. This area has not been scrounged for firewood in a very long time. There are dead branches attached to trees that have been there so long that wood has grown over top of them.
Camp at Martin Falls
There is a little spot along the waterfall that we can collect water from but it sure would be awful to fall in. Some of the trees around here are sure twisted and deformed.

Day Eight

Martin Lake
We are taking a lunch right now at N51 45' 29" W116 10' 02" with the majestic Mount Harris to our right and a baby Clearwater River to the left. We saw Martin Lake first thing today and unfortunately had to cross Martin Creek bare foot. We weren't sick this morning and have taken to drinking all of our water unfiltered and unboiled.
Clearwater Lake
We passed by Clearwater Lake mid-morning and ran into some riders who set out a few days ago as well. I think they may have been the same group we spotted on day two. One interesting character was a retired fellow named Allan who is native to Sherwood Park like myself. Seems he had been working in a Christian mission hospital in Pakistan until recent years. It is always interesting people you meet out here.
Mule Deer
I am sitting on a rock in front of the big Devon Lake right now. Our camp is set up at N51 43' 46" W116 14' 52" about twenty-three hundred meters above sea level, fourteen kilometers away from our position this morning.
Little Devon Lake
The ascent into the pass carried a vicious incline with it but we still made good time. The view up here on Clearwater Pass is really amazing. Scott spotted a mule deer doe up here and she was pleased to pose in front of the camera for me. I chased her around for a half hour or so trying to stay between her and the sun. She eventually got bored and bounced away. The Devon Lakes almost look like some sort of fantasy world.
Little Devon Lake
It is a rolling green pasture with scattered rocks protruding from the ground. The trees look normal from a distance but up close you realize they are basically bonsais. They only come up to our shoulders but everything on them is of a proportionally normal size. Since I can't use my hammock tonight it looks like I will be sleeping beneath the open stars.
Swimming in the Big Devon Lake
We tried out the waters for a swim. Well, I swam but Scott just did a knee high walk through. The sun was very hot while it was out but once it set the temperature dropped like a rock. I hope it doesn't get too cold tonight. The wind has really picked up so I've propped the tarp of my hammock over my sleeping bag to keep the wind from penetrating it. This fire is sure burning fast with this breeze. It is like a blast furnace.

Day Nine

Morning on Clearwater Pass
I was awoken by the sun early today. The air has a nip to it but the sun is hot. It looks like it dipped below freezing last night as there is ice on my sleeping bag and the ground is frozen. I guess that explains the mini trees. I had trouble sleeping last night as the stars were brighter than I have ever seen in my life. I assume it is a symptom of a clear night at a high altitude. Every time I opened my eyes to roll over I was captivated by the heavens above me for what seemed like hours. While packing up our gear this morning Scott realized that his wallet which had the e-mail address of the geologist from Seattle has gone astray. Maybe when I put this on the net he will somehow stumble across it.
The Start of the Clearwater River
We will try to burn off as much distance today as possible since this expedition was meant to explore the Clearwater River. We are now at the very beginning of it and this trickle coming from the Big Devon sure doesn't carry the power and wrath it does downstream. The sun is good right now for a picture of the big Devon Lake so I'll do that and I guess we'll say goodbye to the River.
Fortress on Willingden
There is an interesting rock formation at the top of Clearwater Mountain that looks like it would make a good middle age watch tower.
We are having lunch at the highest altitude point we will hit. It is over twenty-four hundred meters and from here on we go downhill. Our coordinates are N51 '42 "06 W116 '15 "22. We were surprised as to the lack of information signs or properly kept trails here in the park so far. We shall see how they are further up.
It is eight in the evening and we have walked for nine hours in total now. We've covered twenty-seven kilometers today and are completely destroyed. Our location is N51 34' 22" W116 08' 43" at some apparent "historic site". It is an old ranger cabin that must be historic because rangers don't actually come out here anymore. We had to cross Pipestone Creek and got our boots wet again; I don't really care anymore since we are almost at Lake Louise. We passed a big fat grouse while walking today, it sure looked tasty but we couldn't take it. I wish we weren't in a park. What trails there are here seem to have fallen into disuse. I guess why would somebody pay exorbitant fees to hike here when they could just go outside the park for lands that are just as remote. It seems that now all the money and resources of the park department go towards up keeping areas frequented by international tourists on tour buses. Not a cent for the back country. We should be in Lake Louise tomorrow evening.

Day Ten

We are laying on the floor of the staircase to a bar in Lake Louise. We made it to town at about five in the afternoon; just missing the four-thirty bus. We now have to wait here until three in the morning for the next bus. We had some good burgers from the bar earlier but now I am just dying of boredom. We did about seventeen kilometers today.
I'm home now and going to take a shower and go to bed... adios.