i remember when i first moved to calgary and overheard one of my friends suggest a drive through the mountains to “look at the larches.” the what? what a strange thing to suggest. all i knew was that i already missed the gorgeous red foliage of maples turning in the fall. crummy alberta only had yellow, and that seemed monotone and boring. why should i be impressed?
those were my thoughts for about three years, until i saw my first larch.
if you’re still confused: it’s a tree. a conifer that is native to the boreal forests of siberia and (home sweet home) canada. in the fall, the green needles turn bright yellow and then promptly fall off.
the main issue with larch season – besides the fact that it’s so short (only a few weeks) – is that it’s a major tourist draw with only one location in mind: larch valley. while i can assume the hike would be incredible, heck it’s named after the tree for goodness sakes, i’ve never attempted it because i could only imagine how packed it would be on a late-september weekend. i’d rather not be stuck in the herd of cattle.
the great news is there are many other places outside of the lake louise/moraine lake parking lot where you can see the beautiful trees turn blazing yellow and shine like gold in the sun. if you’re in canmore or kananaskis, their website suggests trails like: hwy 40 to highwood pass, pocaterra ridge and chester lake. if you’re in banff, parks canada suggests you check out taylor lake, saddleback, lake agnes, and healy pass.
on sunday, i headed out for a larch hike with amanda, erin and erin’s mom. we decided to do none of the suggested hikes, but return to one of erin and mom’s favourite finds of the season: sunshine meadows.
the approximately 10km loops takes you passed three stunning lakes and over varied terrain: inclines, decline, stairs, wooden bridges. almost immediately you cross into british columbia and complete most of your day hiking in another province. the meadows straddle the continental divide and the boundary between alberta and bc.
amanda taught me another neat fact about larches: they grow only at approx. 2000 m elevation or above. they are a true alpine tree, which means you have to put in a little effort to find them. thankfully, the sunshine village gondola/bus takes you up part of the way. the rest of the climb was done by foot and much audible breathing.
we decided to cap off our hike with one last lookout that took us vertical on a bum-burning climb. while the views with each leg of the switchbacks got increasingly more beautiful, it may have been a smarter path for us to take at the beginning and not after we had already conquered 10km. on tired legs – and my tired lungs – we ascended to the standish lookout, which felt like the top of the world.
surrounded by some of the rockies’ highest peaks, the unobstructed views are beyond compare. we were literally the only four people up there and had a private bird’s eye view of the journey we just took. with the three lakes below us, and the mountain range on our sightline, it was almost possible to forget how angry my lungs were.
i don’t do too much mountaining in the winter time, so this may be one of my last hiking adventures for the season, if not the last. i’d be okay to leave on this high.
do you know larches? what’s your favourite larch hike?