In January, when I started booking our summer plans for the Canadian Rockies, this journey to Mount Assiniboine was a dream. We had intended to spend the better part of two and a half days exploring the heart of Mount Assiniboine and hiking many of the side trails. This would have included The Nub, Windy Ridge, Wonder Peak, and the Sunburst & Elizabeth Lake Loop. However, having arrived in overcast and frigid weather conditions complete with rain, hail, snow, and lightning we instead passed the days watching the thick clouds rollover from the area around Magog Lake. This wasn’t the trip we had hoped for but we still had a few days left and we kept praying that the weather would change.
Exploring Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
This post is all about our experience exploring the heart of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park on a few of the Assiniboine Day Hikes. If you missed our eventful first day or second day’s journey getting here via Sunshine Village check that out before continuing. You can also check out our Mount Assiniboine Guide for more information on all the Assiniboine Day Hikes available in the area.
Day 3 – Rain, Rain, Rain, Shine!
On our 3rd morning, we emerged from our tent at the Magog Lake Campground to find another dreary-looking day. We spent the better part of the morning in the cooking shelter as the cold rain continued to pour down. We passed the hours talking to our fellow backpackers. Two college women were crossing the vaunted Great Divide Trail and heading north to Mount Robson Provincial Park. They had already ventured across 250 miles of rugged terrain from Glacier National Park in Montana and still had over 400 miles left to go. They had apparently traveled over 20 miles in the previous day’s less than ideal conditions and were elated to arrive just in time for the 4:00 tea. Suddenly, our journey from Sunshine Village didn’t seem like such a hardship.
Sunburst & Elizabeth Lake Loop
Around 11:00 AM I decided it was time to venture back out into the rain. With rain gear on we did the 5.25-mile loop up to Elizabeth Lake passing Sunburst Lake and Cerulean Lake along the way. While it rained the entire time we were able to get out of the rain and rest at the Lizzie Sunburst Lake Cabin. The cabin has a tiny covered porch which was a great refuge during one of the stronger downpours. Further along the trail we also found some refuge on a log under a large tree along the Elizabeth Lakeshore.
In better weather, this would be a great circuit. The turquoise-colored lakes are beautiful and the trail is very easy by Rocky Mountain standards. Even in these adverse conditions, we found the path enjoyable with the rolling clouds snagging on the jagged peaks above the water. This is a trail that should not be missed when exploring Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park.
An Hour of Warmth
We journeyed slowly around the lakes. Upon arriving back at camp we immediately left for the 1.25-mile hike back to the Assiniboine Lodge. Warmth awaited us at the daily 4:00 tea time. We arrived just at 4:00 PM and immediately headed inside. No shivering on the porch this time around. Unfortunately, the word of this warm oasis must have gotten out as it was wall-to-wall people and standing room only. While the hot tea and scrumptious cakes were excellent there just wasn’t enough room for comfort.
Mount Assiniboine at Last
Back at the campground, we made dinner, and then a miracle happened. The clouds started to part. The sun finally showed up. The 11,870′ Assiniboine Peak revealed itself about an hour before sunset. Everyone in the Magog Camp was elated and talking about how good the sun felt and how amazing the views were. Jennifer and I quickly headed for the water’s edge. We spent the rest of the evening sitting on the lakeshore enjoying the dry weather with the couple we had first met back at Og Lake. It is amazing how quickly the bad weather faded from our memory. All that was left was this beautiful oasis at the base of the Matterhorn of Canada.
A Night with the Matterhorn of Canada
The sun faded and the mercury plummeted as there were no clouds left to hold in the little remaining heat. We climbed into the tent. Because this was my only chance to catch Mount Assiniboine bathed in the light of the Milky Way Galaxy, I was quickly back out roaming around in the bear-infested woods as the sky turned pitch black. While I never spotted a bear while I shivered in the cold night air taking my long exposures, I did get to see how many mice scavenge the cooking area after the humans have left the premises. About two hours later the moon started to emerge from behind the mountain range and I headed back to the relative warmth of my sleeping bag.
A Frigid Sleep
The night only got colder at it passed into the dark early morning hours. By the time the pre-dawn light started to illuminate our tent I found myself shivering and twitching in my bag just to stay warm. I decided that I needed a new sleeping bag (which I purchased as soon as we got back to Banff). I had also had enough frigid sleep and crawled back out of the tent.
Day 4 – Exploring Mount Assiniboine
I emerged from my tent and immediately started to snap photos. The scene laid out before me was breathtaking. Mount Assiniboine was standing clear along with Mount Magog and the other high peaks above a blanket of thick low clouds. As the sun rose and heated the dense fog, it began to rise, revealing trees and the water of Magog Lake. Every moment I found myself thinking that the scene couldn’t get any more perfect and then it would change and I would find myself standing in awe of this magical landscape.
Sunrise at Magog Lake
I spent the early morning exploring Mount Assiniboine Park, roaming the path along Magog Lake back towards the Assiniboine Lodge. One of the truly magical moments that my camera struggled to capture was that of a Fog Bow. If you have never heard of such a thing, think a rainbow but made of fog with shades of grey instead of color. Jennifer and I have only seen this phenomenon on the other side of the world when we were hiking the Northern Circuit in New Zealand. It is a cool phenomenon.
Hiking The Nub
Once the sun was completely up, I decided to attempt a climb of the 9,039′ Nub Peak. It’s a mountain that rises to the north of Magog Lake. The path from the campground up The Nub follows the path up to Cerulean Lake which we had traipsed through in the rain on the previous day. The weather couldn’t have been more different. Not a single cloud in the sky and I found beautiful reflections of Mount Assiniboine, Magog, and Sunburst Peak in Sunburst Lake and Cerulean Lake. After three frigid days in the mountains, this day’s journey was perfect.
The Niblet (7,820′)
The views of the snow-capped peaks and the many turquoise lakes that dot the Rocky Mountain landscape makes the journey up The Niblet well worth the effort. It is a 2-mile and 600’ climb from the campground. But over 500’ of that is gained in the final three-quarters of a mile. Once past the two lakes, the path meanders through the woods before emerging from the tree-line right at the top of The Niblet. There is another path up from Assiniboine Lodge that is marginally more moderate and I eventually made the journey into a loop heading back down the mountain in that direction.
The Nublet (8,338′)
Before heading back I climbed up The Nublet. The slog up from The Niblet to The Nublet is another 500’ but this time I got there in less than half a mile. It is as the pikas say, “steeeep.” The path is much rockier and steeper with no tree cover and a bit of cliff exposure. However, the beauty found at the top is once again well worth the effort. At the top, there is more spectacular views of the many lakes and peaks looking back towards Mount Assiniboine but hikers are also rewarded with views to the north-east. I found a marmot city on the large, mostly flat mountain top. I even got one of the locals to pose for me in front of Mount Assiniboine.
Out of Time
I lingered at the two lakes longer than I should have and only had time to summit The Niblet and The Nublet before turning back. We had a long journey ahead of us today and I didn’t want to venture out from the Magog Campground too late in the day. Unfortunately, I turned back for the tent without making it to the top of The Nub.
Exploring Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park
The whole adventure up The Nublet was one of the most memorable experiences while exploring Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. I headed back to the campground for lunch and to pack up our campsite. There was still a lot of exploring to do in Mount Assiniboine as we continued our backpacking journey over Wonder Pass.