Alpine hike - Helen and Katherine Lakes, Banff; August 13, 2013

Submitted by Lori S. on Fri, 08/16/2013 - 20:57

A justifiably popular hike... easy (+6 km and ~550 m elevation gain on good trail) and extremely scenic...

Nice views on the way up of Crowfoot Glacier, and gaining more height, of Bow Lake:


And rounding the bend after the climb into the Helen Creek valley, the magnificent slopes of the Dolomites:

The sub-alpine firs seem to be having a huge cone year in this area (not sure if the high density of purple, upright cones at the tops of the spire-like trees comes across on this photo):

Sub-alpine meadows still full of bloom (Senecio triangularis, Valeriana sitchensis, Parnassia, etc.) even this late in the summer:


Crowberry in a shaded spot along the trail:

Out in the alpine tundra area, a very attractive fellow (Columbian ground squirrel):

And climbing up from Helen Lake (which I've shown in previous threads of this area) towards Katherine Lake, Saxifraga azoides:   

As much as I enjoy the rich alpine meadows, I also love these alpine moonscapes!  Every plant seem special, and is offset against the colourful rock.  Climbing past Helen Lake, and down toward Katherine Lake, with Cirque Peak in the background (first photo) and the Dolomites (2nd photo):

In the desert-like high alpine scree, Erigeron compositus; Tonestus lyallii; Senecio sp.:


Katherine Lake:

Phacelia sericea, very compact and colourful examples:


Beautifully coloured and varied rocks as a radiant background for the alpine plants...  Senecio sp.;  Agoseris lackschewitzii; Epilobium latifolium:






Submitted by Lori S. on Fri, 08/16/2013 - 22:21

Following a drainage... Saxifraga lyallii (x2); mossy patches; Silene acaulis:


Crepis nana; more Epilobium latifolium; Arnica sp.:


Joints in the rock:

Erigeron humilis:


Helen Lake and trail from above; Dasiphora fruticosa, a plant with a most impressive natural range: 



Submitted by IMYoung on Sat, 08/17/2013 - 04:57

Lori wrote : " Phacelia sericea, very compact and colourful examples"

They certainly are - a darker and richer colour that the forms we seem to grow here - must be all that fine native mountain air!

Superb scenery and plants. I agree with Maggi, the dark color Phacelia sericea plants are stunning.  Love the little Erigeron species, and the rivulet of Saxifraga lyalii.  Looks like you had spectacular weather for your hike.

Lori, I have been thinking of visiting your part of the world for some time now and this thread doesn't lessen that thought!

(I haven't time this year I am afraid ;-)

Submitted by RickR on Sat, 08/17/2013 - 17:11

Wow, and really presented, Lori.  It seems kinda weird to see talus slopes on top of a mountain, but I s'pose not.


Those individual cones on the Sub-alpine firs look huge, too.  How long would you guess they are?

Now would not be the time to visit, if seeing alpine flora at its best was part of the intent... much better to visit in July, Trond.

Rick, I'm sure everything was in the places it's supposed to be.... :-)    According to Native Trees of Canada (Hosie), the cones on sub-alpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) are 2.5" to 4".


Submitted by Vaxvick on Tue, 09/03/2013 - 21:22

Lovely photos, Lori!   Good thing you did that hike in early August.  Parks Canada has now closed the trail due to an "aggresive bear"!

On the day of this hike, we were told by another hiker once we were on the way back that there was a sow grizzly with 2 cubs in the burn area eating bilberries (of which there is an excellent crop this year - we were wondering when they ever produced berries, but now we've finally seen a good crop), but we didn't see them when we went through in either direction.

The closure (below) is due to a sow and 2 cubs, so maybe the same ones.  Guess she got tired of the crowds in there... (maybe someone shoved a camera in her face, who knows?)

Beautiful as always. I also have a special fondness for the barren  and rocky places. My love of rock gardening is not only a love of rock plants, but the rocks themselves too!

Pink Agoseris! I must have missed seeing that in any books-- that is now at the top of my

Agoseris lacksewitschii is pretty sparse-blooming in nature here.  Wonder how it would do in captivity?  I suspect it would be rather taller than one might wish for. 

I've only grown Agoseris glauca,  which bloomed nicely and was quite tall. Also, contrary to Flora of Alberta which describes it as tap-rooted, it sent up rhizomatous shoots about a foot and 18 inches or so away, so I actually turfed it in its second (I think, offhand) year.

I'd probably be inclined to keep either away from the rock garden proper (by my limited definition, meaning a place for small plants) and put them in outlying meadow/berm etc areas, with other things I expect not to be small/tidy I know it's different on a city property, where you have to be more choosey re: space. I got some seed a while back of what I presume is one of the Agoseris, near Nordegg.