[simage=3449,200,n,left,] The Rockwall is dubbed as one of the finest multi-day backpack trips in North America – a 55 km one way trek along the base of the famous limestone cliffs. The route includes several alpine passes, which combine with steep plunges into lush forested valleys where great backcountry campsites are located.
Weather-wise, it seems that the first week in September can go one of two ways in the Rockies. Summer can feel like it will never end, or winter can arrive with a jolt. We received the latter treatment, finding out after the hike in the hail, sleet, snow, and rain that some parts of Alberta had record low temperatures during our hike. The weekend after we finished, Calgary suffered a big dump of snow – in September!
We completed the hiked from Floe Lake / Hawk Creek trailhead to Paint Pots trailhead. Both parking lots are right on highway 93 – the Banff – Windermere Parkway. Unfortunately, the National Park website and staff told us the bridge over the Vermillion River at Paint Pots parking lot was down, so we dropped our car at Marble Canyon, a further 3 km away, before hitching along to our starting trailhead. There is in fact a huge new bridge a Paint Pots associated with construction and trail improvements – no need for those extra 3 km. Thanks Parks Canada.
Day 1 – Floe Lake Trailhead to Floe Lake Campground
Distance: 10.5 km; elevation gain 700 m
We hitched our ride with a nice Dutch couple and hit the trail, which for most of the distance is through the area heavily affected by the 2003 fires that devastated the valley. Even 10 years later dead, burned trees are standing, while new trees become established. Lots of rosebay willow herb (fireweed). Eventually the trail switchbacks up to Floe Lake, where there are fantastic views of the southern end of The Rockwall. Flow Lake is a great campsite with picnic tables to cook at right on the lake shore. That afternoon and evening we had hail, sun, and rain. At least we had some leftover wine to raise the spirits.
Day 2 – Floe Lake Campground to Tumbling Creek Campground, via Numa Pass and Tumbling Pass
Distance: 17.5 km; elevation gain 1000 m; elevation loss 1000 m
We woke up to to beautiful sunshine on the Rockwall at Floe Lake. It’s didn’t last long, but the climb up to Numa Pass was great with views of the Rockwall and the surrounding mountains. From Numa Pass, it’s a sometimes steep and long descent to Numa Creek campsite, with great views of the dry and barren summit of Numa Mountain. We arrived to a quiet Numa Creek Campsite for lunch, since this was roughly two-thirds of our hike for the day. This is the least attractive campground along the whole route. We continued with the climb up to Tumbling Pass with the odd light rain shower coming. The cloud was hanging on the top of the Rockwall. We dropped in Tumbling Creek campground and enjoyed pleasant evening sunshine (!). The campground is in a lovely setting.
Day 3 – Tumbling Creek Campground to Helmut Falls Campground, via Wolverine Pass and Rockwall Pass
Distance: 12.5 km; elevation gain 300 m; elevation loss 450 m
It was raining lightly as we left Tumbling Creek for the relatively simple climb up to Wolverine Pass and into the alpine near Wolverine Pass – the only notable gap in the Rockwall along its entire length. The light rain turned to heavy snow, but the views into Wolverine Pass were great and it looks to be an interesting route through to the west side of the range. We pressed on, and wished we had brought some waterproof gloves – we stashed our trekking poles away because our hands were getting too cold to use them. We could easily navigate the trail to Rockwall Pass and were happy to drop down head north around the base of Limestone Peak, before finally switch-backing down to Helmut Falls. It felt like a long descent and we were happy to arrive and get set up at Helmut Falls. It’s a spectacular campsite, and we had several moments (false hope) when blue sky appeared.
Day 3 – Helmut Falls Campground to Paint Pots Trailhead
Distance: 15 km; elevation loss 350 m
It rained heavily in the night, and we decided that the planned side trip from Helmut Falls up to Goodsir Pass was not worthwhile – lots of snow in the alpine! We took the fairly long trail out to Paint Pots in the overcast but pleasantly dry weather. There are some greats views back to Helmut Falls, and sections of the Helmut Creek valley are are steep sided and pretty interesting. Overall, it was a bit of grind as we were looking forward to finding a good wholesome lunch and an espresso in Invermere. The Paint Pots were worth a pause, which are ochre beds formed by an area of unusual physical and chemical activity. Our bedraggled state and determined pace seemed to make us as much of a tourist curiosity to the visitors as the Paint Pots. It took about 15 minutes to get a hitch for the short distance to Marble Canyon.
Rockwall Trail completed!