Lake Day, as it was dubbed, was the best way possible to start the trip. We wasted no time getting into it as we were set to hike Rockbound Lake (16.8km, 760m elevation gain) and Boom Lake (10km, 175m) for a combined 27km of hiking with 935m of elevation gain! Each hike was to take us to some beautiful destinations, and both places will forever be ingrained in my mind.
Having awoken from a surprisingly comfortable sleep, I remembered just how chilly mornings in the mountains can be. See, I went from the heat and humidity of Ottawa to the cold of the Rockies’ mornings and nights. Despite the initial shock, the morning was beautiful. The sun shone on the high peaks of the mountains surrounding our site, as we prepared for the day ahead.
I made the mistake of dressing in hiking pants AND a long sleeve shirt, which I would later regret.
With our gear packed and legs feeling fresh, we were eager to get going. From Rockbound Lake’s trailhead we set out, following the well worn trail up relentless elevation.
Within the first kilometre our large group broke off into smaller groups. The lead pack, as we would see throughout the week, blazed through the hike, arriving at our destination well before the rest. I decided to stick with my boys Logan and Hamza, getting to know one another and taking the hike relatively easy.
After what seemed like endless switchbacks up to Rockbound, we eventually hit a plateau that carried us straight through the woods towards Tower Lake. This portion of the trail took us through stunning alpine meadows, while standing in the shadows of iconic Castle Mountain and the Eisenhower Tower.
The aforementioned hiking pants and long sleeve were ditched long ago, on the switchbacks, in favour of lighter clothes. Others followed suit, which was for the better as the day grew to be a hot one.
Many kilometres of this hike were spent trekking alongside Logan and his company made a huge difference. With hours worth of hiking ahead, we took the time to get to know each other, while sharing stories and aspirations. Having a similar sense of humour and understanding each others jokes certainly helped as well! (Logan, if you happen to read this thanks for everything, man).
Our group, which hung at the back of the pack eventually reached Tower Lake, a ridiculously scenic lake located behind the north side of Castle Mountain.
I remember seeing the lake and its colours for the first time and instantly being drawn towards it. A small group consisting of myself, Logan, Chander and Natalie went off trail to explore its shoreline. In this instant it hit me – I was back in the mountains, looking up at these towering monoliths and constantly having to remind myself that these sights were real. I had pined for places like these and I was so ecstatic to be back.
On we went, approaching a short but steep series of switchbacks marking the final ascent to Rockbound Lake, above Tower Lake.
The final stretch was quite the climb, ascending steeply to the amphitheatre that held Rockbound Lake. Once this short series of switchbacks were conquered, the trail plateau’d and gently led to our destination. Having taken our time, we could see the majority of our group had already settled in nicely to enjoy the views.
We took a well deserved break, stopping to eat and hydrate, having just hiked 8.4km with hefty elevation. The views at this spot were expansive – we could actually spot hikers and trail runners making their way up onto the ridge and onwards to scramble up Castle, a feat I’d love to accomplish someday.
A few of us considered swimming in the lake, but decided against it – a decision that ended up paying off later in the day at Boom Lake.
After the first of many group photos taken by Chander we finally began to descend. As with the approach, I stuck behind with a group consisting of Logan, Hamza, Celeste, Elizabeth and myself, with Jess and Alex at the rear.
The descent was largely uneventful. Having had an early start, we ran into a multitude of hikers making their way up. Sticking with Logan for the most part, we had some real talks and right away I knew that this was one of the chillest guys I’d ever met.
With about 200 metres to go before hitting the trailhead, our group ran into three people resembling tourists more than hikers. They asked us the distance left to reach Rockbound Lake (a good 8km), carrying little to no water, and wearing inadequate apparel and gear. We emphasized how tough a hike it was in hopes that they would turn back for their own safety, but they carried on. A few minutes later, however, we saw them coming right back behind us – a good call to say the least.
Having reached the trailhead with nearly 17km under our belts, we set out to Boom Lake for the second hike of the day.
Boom Lake is a gem of a place, possessing similar qualities to those of the renowned alpine lakes in the Rockies, without the crowds. The hike itself is an easy 10km round trip out and back, through a wide trail that weaves through the woods with minimal elevation gain. The trailhead was located quite high up, near the continental divide, minimizing the steepness of the trail and the overall elevation gain, much to our delight.
As beautiful a destination as it was, the hike itself was nothing out of the ordinary. The trail winds through old forest, with occasional views opening up through the trees looking out onto distant ranges. I stuck with Hamza for this whole hike and we had an enjoyable time. Feeling a bit tired from a combination of travel, lack of sleep and the earlier 17km long hike, we took it slow and put some tunes on, with minimal conversation.
Eventually, the trail wound around an avalanche pass and continued on straight until we could see the brilliantly coloured turquoise water through the trees. I distinctly remember hearing laughter and people yelling excitedly, as the sounds of water splashing echoed off the walls of the surrounding mountains.
I felt immediately compelled to jump in the water, regardless of how cold it was. During my first trip to the Rockies I was unable to take a dip in any lakes, as they were all frozen. This time, however, I had no excuse. It was scorching hot, we had just hiked 22km up to this point and jumping into and swimming in an alpine lake has always been on my bucket list.
And there I was about to scratch it off, when deliberation and the slightest feeling of reluctance began to seep in as I crept towards the water. The second I touched it I knew it’d make things worse. So there I sat, for a decent while, looking out into the distance as the primary group of swimmers made their way across the lake! Eventually, after the chirps had died down, I decided to just go for it and I was finally in.
For a split second all was perfect, until my body registered what was going and then it hit me. I immediately resurfaced, woo’d and began to breathe rather quickly as I swam around. I quickly caught my breath and got some strokes in and after a bit of time had passed I had gotten used to it.
I’ll never forget this one instance in particular. I had just jumped in and began back crawling away from the shore. At one point I stopped, floated on my back and turned my gaze to the left. Out in the distance, up on the faces of the surrounding mountains lay massive glaciers. It’s as if everything slowed down for me in that moment. I became very aware of what I was feeling and it was amazing. It’s almost as if I could picture myself swimming in this lake, but merely a pool relative to the scale of this place. It was a very humbling feeling and I knew instantly that this place and experience were things that I’d remember for the rest of my life.
After a few minutes of swimming around, I felt my triceps begin to seize up a bit and that’s when I decided to head back to shore. The main group of swimmers had returned as well. The emergency blankets made a few appearances as those swimmers had been in for a while. The rest of our time here was spent drying up, taking in the views and eating a late lunch before hiking back. For others, it meant more photos.
Once all was said and done we left the lake and headed back into the woods. I did not want to leave – a feeling I know all too well from many of the hikes I’ve done in the Rockies. A group of us hiked back together, and passed the time with good conversation. The hiking was done and day 1 was in the books 27km later.
It is a day that I’ll always remember with Boom Lake having a special place in my heart. I wondered when the next time I’d see it again would be. It turns out I wouldn’t have to wait long, but more on that another time.
Up next: Day 2 – Cascade Amphitheatre and Stone Squaw
Thanks for reading!