Mount Assiniboine on Portra 400

This July, a dear friend and I finally got out into the furthest corner of British Columbia to explore the stunning Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. It had been on our ‘list’ for a long time but requires a fair bit of planning, time off and logistical planning to get there from Whistler. The trip started with a ten hour drive to Canmore where we spent a night before heading up the to the Mount Shark Trailhead and waiting for our chariot (helicopter) to take us into the lodge.

Having never been in a helicopter before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was really, really bumpy and I wasn’t a huge fan of the constant lurching! It was nothing like being in a plane, even a float plane. Perhaps it was an especially windy day, but I was clutching the side of the heli the entire time – and I don’t usually consider myself a wimp.

After 8 highly eventful and somewhat terrifying minutes – we landed just behind the Assiniboine Lodge. The park ranger that greeted us (who I believe is also the lodge host) informed us that there had been a grizzly on the trail to the campground that morning and that we should be extra cautious. We were also informed that there had been some rabid marmots around – and that we should store EVERYTHING in bear caches or our tents – even our shoes – since they loved the chew on sweaty things. An interesting start, and off we went along the beautiful path to the campground. The 2km to the campground felt like forever since we had taken in quite a few luxury items (read: red wine), and we definitely went the long way round. Note: when you get to the campground sign, take the right hand fork, not the lefts, to get to the camp sites quicker! Most camp sites are nestled in the trees, and each cluster of sites have their own cooking/bear cache area. One of the funniest moments of our trip was having to explain to a lady that the bear cache was not garbage, and that there was no garbage facilities out in the backcountry. There are only a couple of sites that have a cracking view of Mount Assiniboine, so maybe hang your packs up and do a quick lap of the area if that’s important to you!

Over our 4 days in Assiniboine we never saw a grizzly bear, although we camped in a heightened state of alert, for sure. I’m not sure I slept more than 30 minutes the first night! We saw elk running, grazing in the meadow and swimming in the lake (utterly surreal) and also got attacked by a mother grouse on the trail to Og Lake (hilarious). I got up for every sunrise, and each one was slightly different. I enjoyed my coffee on the beach and watched as the rays hit Mount Assiniboine and lit it up in all its glory. The beach at the furthest end of the lake, I think, has the best views. You can walk all the way around the lake which as an awesome way to get a feel for the place, and you get amazing views of the glaciers above. We enjoyed Cerulean and Sunburst Lakes most days – they were so close to Lake Magog campground that you could take a stroll there in 15 minutes or so. At sunrise, the reflections are unbelievable! We found it got windier as the day went on (we visited late July), so if you’re hunting for reflections, sunrise is your game.

The hike up to the Niblet and the Nublet is a nice, gradual incline with some of the most stunning views I have ever witnessed. This one is definitely a spot to enjoy sunset! Even with forest fire smoke, the vistas were unbeatable and we could’ve stayed up there all night. We also hiked out to Og Lake and back, which is a super mellow hike, mostly flat and with some pretty neat views of the surrounding mountain range. The only thing that put a damper on our trip was the bugs. They were apocalyptic. I wore a Coghlan’s bug suit for pretty much the entirety of our trip, I’m not sure what was going on this year but these bugs were supercharged. We took a couple hours a day to just read in our tent to get some respite. At the end of our hike, I counted over 40 bites on my right leg alone. Bug spray just seemed to wear off after 30 minutes or so – you almost wanted a deet bath to dip in!

We hiked out as opposed to the helicopter, knowing that we had to do some suffering to enjoy a place as spectacular as Mount Assiniboine. And boy, did we suffer. We hiked out through Wonder Pass which was absolutely stunning, until it wasn’t. The first 13km are a lot more scenic than the last 17km – which is literally a never ending road. It’s amazing how much your body can suffer when it has to walk at the exact same gradient downhill for hours on end – and there’s still a few kms of insulting uphill to be found on the hike out. I’m buying hiking poles for next time! I’m a pretty solid hiker but there was something about this trail that was truly gruelling. The first half of the hike had incredible views of Marvel Lake and you do travel through critical grizzly bear habitat – so we were sure to call out every minute or so, so that we didn’t take any bears by surprise. It’s incredibly scenic and peaceful. However, once you pass Marvel Lake, you essentially walk on a disused logging road for 3-4 hours, which is still in very dense grizzly habitat. Some of it is quite overgrown and eery – we were excited to see other hikers! It took us 7.5 hours from Lake Magog to Mount Shark Trailhead – I logged 30.3km, 454m of elevation gain and 6:15 of moving time. If you have poles, bring them, and make sure you’ve worn in your hiking boots beforehand!

I would love to go back to Mount Assiniboine in the fall to see the colours light up with the changing of seasons. Until then, I’ve attached some film photos below to enjoy. They were all shot with Portra 400 film. Follow along for more adventures here 🙂

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