We woke up to an ominous black line of storm clouds closing in on the campsite. But we didn’t care because we’d be traveling the 61 miles into Canada to hike the Bertha Lake Trail in Canada.
The drive there was scenic, but everything is around here. There’s a beautiful mountain that looks like someone took an axe to the top, but with a dull one so that it’s jagged and somehow straight. We passed so many cows standing in the middle of the road, unfazed by car horns or cattle guards. I don’t know what’s up with these cows.
We were greeted at the Canadian border with a list of questions about what we were bringing in — no, no bear spray, yes we do have some beer. Oh probably 12 cans? But they let us go with Canadian change and an “eh?”
The historic Prince of Wales hotel sits beautifully upon its throne overlooking the tragically gorgeous Waterton Lake and the quaint little townsite of Waterton. It looks like a Swedish Chalet. It was built in the early railroad days and stands as sturdy now as it did then. They even serve Starbucks inside.
Big Bertha is a doozy. 3.8 miles, but a gain in 1800 miles in elevation. It was switchback after switchback but I will say the was up and back were gorgeous. About a mile into our hike we met a man and the standard hiker to hiker conversation was sparked. We asked how Bertha Lake was and he said he didn’t come that way. No, he’s spent the last 5 months hiking the Continental Divide from Mexico. We met him on his last mile. He told us he was going to eat as much ice cream as his stomach could handle. I liked that man.
Once we passed the Lower Bertha Falls, the trail got serious. We felt like the switchbacks never would end. I don’t think I’ve said “there can’t be that much farther” more in my life.
After about 20 switchbacks I could catch the top of the falls. Just as I did it began to sprinkle. This was no ordinary sprinkle. The sun was shining through the canopy of the spruces and conifers, leaving a crochet blanket of light. It looked like Christmas in August. The tiny drops seemed iridescent, blowing in the wind like snow. It was absolutely breathtaking. One of those things you keep for a cloudy day.
Onward and upward. Finally I could peek the lake between the trees and my god, was it amazing. A horseshoe of mountains surrounded the hidden lake of smoky indigo in the cloudy light. As soon as we got there, the wind picked up and the clouds turned mean and we vacated pretty quickly. Sometimes all you need is a good long look.
On the way down we met one of those special hikers. The kind whose older eyes twinkle and his hands and face show years of adventure, laughter and love. He told us just last week he’d climbed to the top of a peak from the lake. I don’t know how he did it, but he’s the type of man you trust without reason. He’s one of those people you’d like to buy a beer or three and listen to his stories all night.
Oh, Canada, you did not disappoint.