Hiking Frosty Mountain

Disclaimer: I wrote this blog a year ago and hiked the trail on September 27, 2020. I delayed posting out of respect for hiker Jordan Naterer, who went missing on this trail on October 10, 2020 and whose remains were not found until July 2021. Manning Park can get snow early in the Fall, which can make the trail difficult to follow and be exacerbated by freezing temperatures and limited daylight hours. It can be a beautiful trail, but it is also a strenuous hike and an unforgiving environment, so please don’t underestimate it in your zeal to photograph the larches. Don’t go unprepared; take the essentials and leave a trip plan. Check out my blog post on Personal Safety for more info.


The Heather Trail is the most trafficked trail in Manning Park in the summer, but by fall, everyone flocks to Frosty Mountain. It’s hard to see Mount Frosty in most of the park as it’s hidden behind other mountains and can’t be seen from the highway. But if you drive up Blackwell Road and stop at the first viewpoint, you can get a great view of it. I’d heard some talk about Frosty Mountain when I first started hiking and though I was intrigued by it, decided Frosty was probably a little too challenging for me.

In 2018, I decided I was finally ready to give it a try and I hiked the longer route up past Windy Joe Mountain, day hiking up to Frosty Peak from the PCT campsite. Even in summer, this is a challenging and strenuous trail, but boy is it rewarding. So earlier this Fall, Brandon and I decided to hike up the other (more trafficked) half of the trail from Lightning Lakes to try and catch a glimpse of the larches turning yellow.

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There’s so many different ways to explore Frosty Mountain. It’s located near the midpoint of a loop trail with campsites located on either side. One side of the loop trail is shorter than the other, so you can either hike 21.5km up and back from Lightning Lakes (what we did this year), or hike 27km as a loop (exiting on the Windy Joe trail). Alternatively, you can camp at one or both of the campsites, either day hiking up to the top (what I did on my first visit) or if you’re determined, hiking your big pack up over the top.

Like I said, our key interest in hiking Frosty on this occasion was to explore the larch meadow below the peak and snap some pictures of the needles turning from green to yellow. We were a little too early in the season to get the really gold hues, but we still got some truly beautiful views of the trees changing colour and had great weather for it. Plus with the fresh dusting of snow the yellow larches really popped! There were a lot of people around, but we were still a bit early in the season, so it never felt that crowded. If you’re a novice but want to see the larches, consider just hiking to the meadow and skipping the peak.

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It rained the day before and was still foggy when we set out early on Sunday morning to drive the 2 hours out to Manning Park. With the shorter daylight hours, it’s essential to give yourself lots of time for this hike in the Fall. Me and Brandon left my house around 6:45am and were on the trail by 9am. We had the privilege of watching the sun rise from the highway and watched as it started to burn off the fog. There were still lots of low clouds hanging around when we got to Manning, but the sun was shining through and we were optimistic they would lift off by the time we reached the top.

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Our plan had been to do the entire loop trail starting from Lightning Lakes. It’s a big climb, 1150m from the bottom to the top, but it’s spread over 11km, so I didn’t find it too bad. It’s steeper for the first 6km, but it levels off before you reach Frosty Creek Campsite. When I visited before, I camped at the PCT campsite on the other side. Both are located in the trees and have really small creeks as water sources, so I’d recommend bringing a water filter with you for both, but overall I’d give the edge to the Frosty Creek Campsite. It’s a bit more spacious. There’s two viewpoints before you hit the campsite; the first looks down towards lightning lakes and out to Hozameen Mountain, while the other is the first glimpse of Frosty through the trees. At the time we passed it, it was super cloudy at the top and there was a fresh layer of snow sitting on the peak. It looked super foreboding, as if it was the middle of a storm, but fortunately it cleared up in no time.

We continued along the trail until we finally hit the larch trees! Like I said, they weren’t quite at their peak, some were full yellow, others lighter green changing to yellow, but still very gorgeous. The trail exits the woods into the meadow and has the most beautiful view of snowy Mount Frosty peaking out behind the yellow needles of the larch trees. I’d been getting targeted adds on facebook for a few weeks before with this gorgeous picture of the larch meadows, with the mountain covered in snow behind them. It’s a beautiful picture and a rare time when what I saw before me looked exactly like what had been advertised in the photo! Except of course more unreal because I was there to experience it with my own eyes.

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The trail winds through the meadows and then you pop out on the ridge, with a steep climb ahead to the trail junction for the loop trail, and then a final ascent along the ridge to the summit of Frosty Mountain. It’s very steep, but not that long to the junction. The problem in this instance was the snow. There was only a couple of centimetres of snow on the trail, but it had become very packed down and icy. It was perfect conditions for microspikes and I was kicking myself for not having them. I carry my microspikes all winter and spring and rarely get the opportunity to use them, but of course, the one time I really would have benefitted from them, I didn’t have them with me. It was still September and I hadn’t really thought there would be snow yet. So we slowly trudged our way up the slope, taking care with each step, arriving without incident.

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The first milestone is reaching the junction sign. It’s really not obvious with the snow, but there is a trail going down the other side. There seemed to be a few people using it that were coming from the camp on the other side, but overall, most people seemed to be going up and back from Lightning Lakes. The second and final milestone is reached only by continuing across the ridge and climbing up to the final peak. It’s only about a kilometre (maybe a bit less), but both times I’ve found it annoying being so close to the top and still having to push to the end. The final ascent isn’t as steep as the climb up to the junction though, so it was easier in the snow.

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The parking lot was packed when we arrived, but given the length of the trail it felt pretty empty as we were hiking. We passed one or two groups right at the beginning and got passed by a group of trail runners about halfway up. So by the time we got to the top, the peak was looking a little crowded. Fortunately, the trail runners didn’t stay too long and after a few minutes it was just us and 2 other guys at the top. It was REALLY cold and windy up there, so I don’t think people were sticking around for too long. The cold is definitely another thing to be prepared for; Manning is always chilly – it was about 3 degrees when we started hiking and was only supposed to go up to 11 degrees (at the bottom).

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We layered up and had only intended to stay at the very top for a short while, planning to eat our lunch a little further down where it was more sheltered, but the view is just so damn spectacular I couldn’t bring myself to leave! It was pretty overcast when we arrived, but the sun came out and cleared away a lot of the clouds while we were up there, resulting in me having to take all my pictures twice with the changing weather conditions. I ended up eating my lunch standing up and walking around because I didn’t want to climb down yet and it was too cold to sit still. We stayed up there for about a half an hour or more and when we’d had our fill, started to trek back down. It’s definitely worse going down without spikes, but it was manageable along the ridge.

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I had to rethink our plan to do the whole loop trail though. I thought the whole thing was 22km, but we’d already done 11km and looking at the map in retrospect, it was clearly going to be longer going the other way down, 6km longer to be precise. I have bad knees and at 22km, this hike was already much longer than any other day hikes I’d done all year, so we decided to just head back the way we’d come. Fortunately I’d already done the other side, so I didn’t really feel like I was missing much.

Going down the steep section was definitely a lot harder than going up. I had brought gloves with me for the cold and they were invaluable climbing back down. I did a lot of the trail in a kind of crouching position so that I could reach down and grab the rocks to steady myself. But no question, microspikes would have made it a whole lot easier. Looking back now, I’m a little embarrassed to admit I did it without spikes; it’s really important to know your limits and turn back if you’re unprepared. It was probably a bad judgement call for me to keep going without spikes and I’m working on getting better at making these tough choices. In the past year I have passed on summiting several scrambles (Needle Peak and all the summits on the HSCT) out of abundance of caution, so I am getting better at it.

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There were still a good number of people coming up when we were going down and the summit was starting to look pretty crowded again. The meadows were more or less empty as we made our way back through them and I had to take all my photos again, this time with blue sky in the background! Otherwise it was a pretty uneventful hike back. My knee was bothering me, so I wrapped it up about halfway down and we stopped at the campsite for a snack break. When we sat down at the campsite, 6 hours into our hike, I realized that was the first time I’d sat down all day. We hadn’t taken any breaks on the way up, other than to snap a few photos, and while we’d taken a hiking break at the top, it’d been too cold to sit down. So it felt good to take a little rest before knocking out the last 6km of the hike.

Overall the whole thing took us 8 hours, which I think is pretty impressive for a 22km hike with 1150m of elevation gain! It was cold, but I loved all the varying weather conditions we experienced on the trail and really think we couldn’t have picked a better day!

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Mount Assiniboine Backpacking Trip: Part III

One of the great things about this trip was that after our strenuous 2 day hike to arrive at the campsite (Part I and Part II), we had 3 nights there it which to enjoy it. After the incident on Day 2, it was a relief to know we didn’t have to get up early and carry our big packs anywhere.

We had big plans to sleep in, but it was still the middle of a heat wave and the sun had big plans to cook us. The previous 2 days had been around 32 degrees, but on Days 3 and 4 it went up to a whopping 36 degrees! I can only imagine how hot it must have been in town when it was so hot up in the mountains. I’ve rarely experienced 36 degree temperatures anywhere, and definitely never at elevation.

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So the sun woke us up at 7:30am and there was really no avoiding it. As soon as it hits your tent it totally bakes you. Brandon tried to block it out by putting his sleeping bag over the tent, but we eventually had to admit defeat and got up. We had a lazy breakfast at the cooking shelter and made friends with the other campers. Because of grizzly bears you’re not allowed to do any cooking by your tent at Magog Lake. There’s a large cooking area with lots of picnic tables and a covered shelter, so we did all our cooking in the shade of the shelter and stored our smellies at the bear cache.

The result of this setup is that it forces all the campers into proximity with one another. Not really the best scenario for COVID, but it made for a really great vibe at the campsite. Everyone was super friendly and I loved swapping stories with the other campers and getting advice on the trails everyone had already done. Everyone was suffering from the heat, though people were still doing some pretty big hikes during the day. Brandon and I took it easy all morning and I mostly wrote in my journal and ate snacks. Shortly before noon we finally packed ourselves a day pack and went to do a bit of exploring.

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While other campers were suffering through the heat hiking up to Wonder Pass and the Nub, we decided to have a lake day. There are 4 lakes close to the campsite and I made it my mission to swim in all of them. We started with Sunburst Lake, which we heard was the best swimming lake. Since everyone else was out exploring, we had it to ourselves for a full 2 hours. It has a gorgeous view looking back at Mount Assiniboine and Sunburst Mountain and we went for a swim and then took our thermarests out into the lake to relax. I was a little bit nervous to take my expensive thermarest in the water, but I figured YOLO and it ended up being totally fine!

We wanted to take a nap, but unfortunately it was a bit too buggy for sleeping, so eventually we packed up and continued on. Cerulean Lake was next on the list. It’s bigger than Sunburst and a bit more scenic, but also colder, so we just did a quick dip in and out of that one. Brandon convinced me to go 1km further to Elizabeth Lake – I wasn’t really digging it because it was uphill, but we did it anyways. Elizabeth Lake was also very scenic and sits right at the base of the Nub (the peak everyone hikes up to get the killer view of Assiniboine and Sunburst Mountains). The water at Elizabeth wasn’t the nicest (it looked a little stagnant), but I was on a mission to swim in all the lakes at this point, so I swam in it anyways. It was the warmest of all the lakes, but had a lot of algae, so it was a quick dip. (although it looks awesome in the photo below!)

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After that we went back to the campground to have an early dinner. Brandon was feeling really tired and wanted a power nap, so he went back to the tent for a little while, which got a bit more shady in late afternoon. I did some journaling and chatted with the other campers. I spoke to a group of women that had done a sunset hike up to the Nublet the evening before and decided that would be a good option for us. We really didn’t want to hike up the Nub in the hot weather, so a sunset hike when it was cooler was a good alternative. The Nub has 3 lookouts. The first is called the Niblet, 2nd is the Nublet, and final is the Nub. The women told me the Nub was a lot of work for the same view and that they were just as happy with the scene from the Nublet, so it was an easy decision for us to just skip the Nub given the conditions.

We had dinner and then started our hike around 7pm. It was such a good decision! It was still a bit hot hiking up to the Niblet, but after that it cooled off a lot and there was a really nice breeze going up to the Nublet. It is still a pretty big hike up to the Nublet, there is some scree and scrambling, but it was the first time on the trip I’d felt truly energized! The wind gave me life and it got rid of the mosquitoes, it was the best feeling! Plus a few clouds had moved in and they really set the scene and provided us with hope of cooler weather, or at least some sun shade.

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We got to the Nublet about a half hour before sunset and only had to share the peak with one other group. In general, the lack of people was one of my favourite parts about Assiniboine. The campground was half empty because of the heat and because it’s so hard to get into the park, we had most attractions completely to ourselves. We ran around the Nublet taking photos from every angle before settling in to watch Assiniboine and Sunburst light up red. The sun actually sets on the opposite horizon from these mountains, but the orange glow from the sunset completely illuminates the Sunburst and Assiniboine, it’s magical!

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It was close to solstice, so we had long sunsets and long daylight hours. We stuck around almost until 10pm before deciding to head back down. We had lots of light in which to do the scramble and even the forested section was still pretty illuminated. I don’t love hiking at this time of day though because it makes me nervous of bears, so I sang most of the way down. Fortunately we only needed to use our headlamps for the last 10 minutes of the hike and got back to our tent just before 11pm.

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The next day the clouds had entirely disappeared and we had another slow, hot day. We got started a bit earlier in the morning and went for a walk up to the lodge. This proved very hot, so we took a break at a little waterfall that had a small breeze coming off it. Unfortunately, the hotter it got, the worse the mosquitoes got. I’m decent at just ignoring them, but they were driving Brandon absolutely nuts. We continued down to Magog Lake hoping there would be a good breeze since it’s the largest lake and has all the glaciers feeding it.

There was a really nice breeze down there, so blessedly no bugs, but also absolutely no shade. Fortunately I still had the tarp, so we set it up along the shore and enjoyed a few hours resting away from the bugs and sun. I thought Magog Lake would be really cold, but it actually wasn’t that bad and even Brandon went for a swim in the lake. One of the other campers had told us there was a small sandy part of beach at the opposite end of the lake, so eventually we packed up and headed that way.

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A lot of the campers that had been at Magog when we arrived were starting to move out and new campers were arriving, so we got some word of the outside world. Apparently the lodge had noted our heat stroke incident in its trail report, so hopefully other people learned from our mistakes. We found the sandy part of the beach. It’s not a fine sand, more a coarse rocky grain, but definitely more comfortable than the large jagged rocks in other areas. The only downside was there wasn’t as much of a breeze. We set the tarp up again, but the bugs had returned, so we made several forays in and out of the water to try and avoid them.

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We planned for an early night since we had to start backpacking again the next day, but it was too early for bed when we finished our dinner, so we scoured the GPS for a good after-dinner walk. We found one that hikes out around the far edge of Magog Lake. It’s the start of the wilderness route to Hinde Hut and has a ton of signs warning about the difficulty of the route, but if you just follow the first kilometre, it’s really nice. It takes you right to the back of Assiniboine Lake and gives you a close-up view of the mountain and glaciers. We couldn’t figure out how anyone could possibly continue up to the hut from that angle though and we figured it must be a rock climbing route because it looked very intense!

We went to bed before the sun had even set because we planned to get up at 5am the next day to avoid the heat. Reports from the outside were that it was supposed to start cooling down, but it would still be low 30’s the following day. We crossed our fingers for some rain or clouds and went to sleep. Here’s a few other photo highlights! Click for Part IV.

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Mount Assiniboine Backpacking Trip: Part I

At the tail end of June I went on a 6 day backpacking trip to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. It’s a trip I planned last year that ended up getting cancelled because of the pandemic. We made a second attempt at it this year and were partially successful in making it happen. I got permits for 3 nights at Magog Lake and we decided to extend the trip by a night on either end to hike in and out of the park.

There are lots of options for how to get to Mount Assiniboine and where to stay. There’s a swanky lodge with several hotel style rooms, about a dozen reservable huts, and a pretty standard backcountry campground with 40 sites. We opted to go the rustic route and stay at the campground, but me and Brandon had a running joke throughout the trip that the next time we return we will stay at the lodge!

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Likewise, there are a few options for getting into the park. You can take a helicopter ride from Canmore or the Mount Shark trailhead on Kananaskis Highway for $200 each way, or you can hike in through one of the many trailheads that run through the park. I thought a lot of people would be helicoptering in either one way or both ways to the park, but a surprising amount of people we met had actually decided to thru-hike in and out of the park. The park was only open to BC residents this year, so that might have had something to do with it.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that we decided to hike. There are 3 main trailheads, but the option in Kooteney National Park is not commonly followed. I only encountered one group who had come that way and they said it involved several long sections of bushwacking, so I wouldn’t recommend it. The other ways into the park are through the Sunshine Village Ski Resort (located between Lake Louise and Banff) and through Mount Shark (in Spray Lakes Provincial Park). Most people we met started at Sunshine Village and continued out through to Mount Shark. In retrospect, this is the itinerary I would recommend, but I made an error in judgement when planning the trip and booked the campsite on the Mount Shark side first, meaning we had the reverse itinerary of most other thru-hikers.

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The reason it’s preferred to go the other direction is because it’s a net downhill from Sunshine Village, although in past years everyone would take the gondola up to the top to avoid most of the elevation gain. The gondola is closed this year, so now there is a fair bit of climbing on either side. I realized my error before the trip and tried to reverse the itinerary, but the Mount Shark section requires booking a backcountry reservation in one of 3 Parks Canada backcountry sites and there were no reservations left when I tried to reverse my plans, so we committed to starting from Mount Shark.

We started the hike on June 27, which you may remember was the start of a brutal heat wave across the province. Temperatures reached over 40 degrees in Metro Vancouver throughout the week – it wasn’t that hot in the Rockies, with a high of 32 on our first two days, but still not ideal temperatures for hiking. We had a full day of driving across the province to reach our starting point, so we stayed in Golden overnight and arrived at the Mount Shark trailhead around noon the following day. Mount Shark is located off the Kananaskis Highway, which is a gravel road that runs from Canmore.

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We started the trek as a party of 4. We ate lunch in the shade at the trailhead before starting our first day, during which we’d hike 13km along flat terrain to the Marvel Lake Campsite. I was quite nervous about the heat going into the hike, though I was reassured that Mountain Forecast showed lower temperatures near Assiniboine. We focused on hydrating for several days leading up to the trip and drank 2-3L of water a day prior to the trip. We packed a ton of electrolyte powder with us and did the best we could to keep our pack weight down.

The first day was hot, but we made good time (about 3km an hour) and kept our spirits up. It was tough starting at noon because the sun is directly overhead, which means that even though a lot of the hike was in the trees, there was still no shade to be found. It’s not the most scenic first day, but I still really enjoyed hiking through the forest and liked that we had a flat day to ease into the trip rather than having to start with the 6km climb up the gondola road on the Sunshine Village side.

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The Mount Shark trailhead is located in Spray Lake Provincial Park, but the trail quickly transitions into Banff National Park. From the trailhead, it’s 26km to Magog Lake, so it was a no brainer for us to split the hike over 2 days. There are 3 backcountry campsites that can be booked on the Parks Canada website: Big Springs at 9km, Marvel Lake at 13km, and Bryant Creek at 14km. I never visited Bryant Creek, but I thought Big Springs was quite open and nice and Marvel Lake, though not much to write home about, had lots of a shade and a nice rushing river.

Marvel Lake Camp is located just off the trail junction. There are 2 options for how you get to Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. You can either take the trail along the edge of Marvel Lake and up over Wonder Pass, which was our plan, or you can take the Assiniboine Pass, which exits behind the lodge. Wonder Pass is recognized as the more scenic route, but is much more challenging than Assiniboine Pass due to the elevation gain. We opted for the more scenic route, though in retrospect, with the heat we should have revised our itinerary to do Assiniboine Pass instead. That said, the pass was incredibly scenic and there is much less elevation gain coming from the other direction, so if you start at Sunshine Village, I would still recommend the Wonder Pass route. I only met one group doing the Assiniboine Pass trail and it was because they did the whole 26km in one day and opted for the easier route.

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We were looking forward to ending Day 1 with a swim in Marvel Lake, but we discovered water activities are not permitted in the lake because there is a parasite in it and they want to avoid people accidentally transporting it to other lakes or locations. Also, the entrance to the lake ended up being kind of gross with a lot of mosquitoes, so in the end we weren’t that tore up about it. Instead, we enjoyed Brandon’s infamous Thai curry chicken for dinner and went to bed early to get a head start the following day to try and beat the heat. Check out Part II to continue the saga.

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