Last August, my partner Stephen and I hiked the Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Provincial Park – which happens to now be one of my favourite places on earth. With it being a less than 6-hour drive from Calgary, it’s easy to do over a long weekend or a few days off. This blog post will tell you a bit about our experience and share some advice about what to pack and how to do it! If you haven’t been backcountry camping before, this would be an easy one to start with! Last August was actually Stephen’s first-time backcountry camping, and he survived, err loved it!
Day 1: We had our bags packed the night before to be ready to go in the morning. I had been eagerly awaiting the trip, so my pack was ready to go a few days before. Stephen’s work had been busy that week, so we finished packing his bag around 11pm. When we couldn’t find room in his bag to fit a 3L bag of wine, I made sure I found room in mine. We got a good night of sleep, and set off in the morning. I’ve included my packing list at the end.
When you get to the trail-head, there is a big lodge that has a small museum and some information about the area. You have to go in to get your trail pass, which you affix to the outside of your backpack and/or tent. We had booked our passes a few months in advance, here: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/reserve/berg-lake-trail/ . The reservations open on October 1st for the next year. If you miss October 1st, there’s usually some last-minute openings throughout the summer. When you go in to get your pass, you have to watch a really great film that was made in the 90s about preserving the trail and wildlife. Trust me – you’ll love it – especially when they show a man carrying a massive boombox to remind you to be mindful of noise on the trail.
We locked up the car and set off on our hike. When we left the car, the sun was still out. Unfortunately, within ten minutes it was raining quite hard – but we kept going. We only had to make it 7km in to Kinney Lake the first night. Most people hike in this first 7km (including day-hikers), but you can also bike it. There’s a spot at the end of Kinney Lake to lock up your bike. I would definitely suggest a mountain bike because of the ++ hills and mud.
When we arrived at the Lake, the rain had slowed and it was very serene. We found the site that we called home the next two nights, and set up camp. Luckily, I had encouraged Stephen to go on a local camping trip with me before this trip so that we could practice putting together the tent. If you want to test a relationship, try setting up a new tent for the first time – trust me. After we had the tent set up, we explored the area and brought our food and cooking supplies to the open-air shelter. There were a bunch of other couples and groups making dinner, and we met a couple from France who were traveling Canada for the first time. It’s always neat to see people traveling Canada, reminding us that we have so much to do in our own backyard that others travel across the world for. The first night we were early to bed, eager to explore the next morning.
Day 2: We woke up to the most amazing view of Kinney Lake. If you’re 100% against backcountry camping, I would encourage you to still day-hike to the lake if you can. Kinney Lake campground often has a lot of families because it’s the easiest one to get to if you’re packing and carrying supplies for not only yourselves, but kids as well.
We made breakfast and decided to go for a small hike to explore the area. We hiked approximately 7 or 8km up the trail until we got to the Falls of the Pool. Along the way, there was so much to see! You are continuously gaining elevation for the most part, which gives you incredible views! Rather than tell you what we saw, I’ll post some pictures…
We had decided that Day 3 was going to be the day we hiked all the way up to Berg Lake, so we didn’t want to completely exhaust ourselves on Day 2. We hiked back down to Kinney Lake, made dinner and relaxed for the night. At this point, we were extremely grateful that we had packed the bag of wine. It’s important to note that you can’t keep any food at your tent. One of the big concerns on the trail is grizzly bears, and to prevent them from coming into your tent, they have food lockers to store your food. You, and everyone else staying in the area, store your food in one or two lockers, getting what you need out, and putting everything (including your garbage) back in the locker before bed. Something else that’s important: there’s no garbage bins! Whatever you pack in, you pack out. When meal prepping for the trip, we removed the packaging before whenever we could.
Day 3: The morning of the third day, we woke up, had breakfast, and packed everything up. We had planned to stay in a different campground (Whitehorn) the last night, so we had to pack everything back into the bags, hike 4 km, and then set up again. We were more efficient than we thought we would be, and we debated throughout the day as to whether or not we would book different campsites again, or if it’s better to just stay at one. I really liked staying at two different ones to get to see different areas.
Once we had set up again, we ate a quick breakfast and set off for the day. We hiked the same route up the trail, and had our first stop at Emperor Falls. To get to the falls, you take a side trail off to the right, and walk for about two minutes. It’s definitely worth the stop – the falls are HUGE, and the mist can cool you off a bit.
The Emperor Falls campground would be another nice place to stay the night. We stopped to have a few bites of food and fill up our water (note: the water purification tabs in the packing list). The campsites are close to the water, which would make for a nice soundtrack to fall asleep to.
After Emperor Falls, you continue to hike up and up and up until you get to a very flat area. You have to cross this flat area to get to the next site: Marmot. Marmot had some nice campsites as well. When you get to Marmot, you’re at the base of Berg Lake. You can start to see the Berg Glacier and the base of Rearguard Mountain – but it’s worth hiking on to see the full view. We were on a mission to make it to the Berg Lake shelter, so we kept trekking the 3 more km to get there.
When we arrived at the Berg Lake shelter, we were both feeling a bit hypoglycemic and tired from the 14km hike up. We acknowledged that we hadn’t really eaten enough food yet – so cozied up at a table inside the shelter and took in a bunch of snacks. After regaining some energy, we explored the area a bit more to see the views. It truly was magical up there.
We then knew what we had to do: hike the 10km back down to our campsite. The hike down was definitely easier than the hike up – and it was nice knowing we had a bag of wine and some “charcuterie” waiting for us.
We were so happy to arrive back at Whitehorn to be able to set up for dinner. We found a spot by the river, and made a mix of snacks (meats, cheeses, nuts, dried fruit) and wine, and then had a more substantial dinner after. The wine felt well deserved that night after the long day of hiking. We watched the sun set on our last night on the trail, and enjoyed our last quiet evening disconnected from the rest of the world.
Day 4: We woke up, made some breakfast, and started packing everything up. We both had to head back to work the next day, so wanted to get back to Calgary at a decent time. We ran into a ton of day hikers on the hike out – all in their clean clothes, running shoes and day-packs – and us in our worn clothes, muddy trail shoes and 60L packs. After a few days camping in the backcountry, you wear it all like a badge of honour – knowing that you were able to survive on just the things you carried in.
When we got to the car, it was nice to take the packs off and change. Always leave a change of clean clothes in the car for when you’re finished – trust me.
Here are a few FAQs I’ve had friends ask …
Is there cell service?
NO – enjoy the time away being disconnected. It’s a great way to connect with the person you’re traveling with, away from the rest of the world.
Where do you get water?
There’s a rushing river that you can access from all sites. There are warnings to fill your bottle when you’re going to be hiking away from the river for a while. We used water purification tabs that we bought at MEC. We had also brought a life-straw, but ended up not using it. The water was extremely clear without any visible particles, and we were completely fine.
What are the washrooms like?
There are outhouses at each campsite. They’re fine. Bring your own toilet paper though!!!
Did you have to eat dehydrated meals the whole time?
No! We actually ate some pretty great meals. I’ll describe some of them below.
Was it worth it?
YES! I would do this again in a heartbeat – and I think we will try to make it an annual trip.
- Tent (as light as possible) – we have the 2-person Hubba Hubba MSR tent
- Sleeping pad x2 – we have the thermarest neo air ones
- Sleeping bag x2 – warm enough, as it may drop to 0 degrees overnight
- Inflatable pillow x2 – we didn’t actually bring things; we used our clothing cubes
- Headlamp x2 – very important!
- Fuel x2 + camp stove – we have the MSR pocket rocket, others use the JetBoil which is also great
- Cooking pot – necessary to make food!
- Bowls + cups + sporks
- Scrubby – easier to clean the pot and bowls
- Camp soap – biodegradable!
- Water purifier tabs and/or a LifeStraw
- Nalgene x2
- Waterbottle x2
- Aeropress – perfect way to make coffee in the back country!
- Puffy Jacket
- Pants/ tights
- Socks x3
- Tshirt/tank x2
- Bathing suit
- Flip flops
- Underwear x3
- SportsBra x1
- Coffee (Aeropress)
- Peanut butter/ Almond butter packets (or make your own)
- Bananas – we ate these the second morning
- Turkey sausages
- Babybel cheese – lasts well for a few days!
- Quinoa + Spice mix + Veggies (Veggies are ok for a few days)
- Pasta + Pesto + Veggies
- White KD
- Ramen + Veggies
- Larabars/ Kindbars/ Onebars
- Trail mix
- Clif Blocks/ Endurance Tap
- Beef or other meat jerky
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