Tip: When running a lonely mountain trail, google it first! Check out the trail conditions before committing.
I didn’t Google Hamilton Lake trail before I ran it last weekend. If I had, I would have found out that it was at least 2 weeks too early in the season to try to get up there. I was post-holing up to my knees for the last 500m (i.e. very tough slogging). At the top I discovered that the lake was still frozen over and not much to look at, let alone soak your feet in. This was May 30th. But the backdrop was amazing, making up for the tough conditions.
Hamilton Lake is a tiny mountain lake located near Emerald Lake which is a popular tourist stop in Yoho National Park, adjacent to Banff National Park. Emerald Lake is a must see, and Hamilton Lake is a tough hike from there.
I should have taken one of several obvious hints to do this trail later in the season:
1) The hand-made sign at the bottom recommended snow-shoes and bringing a buddy for the steep avalanche area. The sign looked legit for winter conditions, but it sure didn’t look like winter conditions at the bottom (900m lower). When I saw it, I felt the sign should have been taken down long ago.
2) I was trying to figure out if that many spiders would build webs across the trail in the middle of the day after the on-rush of morning hikers. As it turned out, there was no rush of hikers that morning, or who knows how many days before that. I was the first in a long time.
3) The snow peaks had fresh snow on them, but I thought it unlikely this trail went that high. Wrong!
The touristy trails at the bottom were packed on this amazing Saturday afternoon, but my trail was VERY quiet (i.e. absolutely no one for 2 hours).
Just as I turned around at the top, I suddenly sunk to my waist and nearly lost my shoe at the bottom. Crawled out, with blood streaming down my legs from the ice slicing my knee.
Then I saw fresh bear tracks on the snow-covered trail.
Then I left in a hurry making sure my bear bell was loud and clear.
1.5 hours up, 0.75 hours down. 11km round trip, 900m vertical