Sunday, August 4, 2013

Cruising to Cirque Peak

On the summit of Cirque Peak
Cirque Peak summit: the view looking west
July 29, 2013 : Another day in Rocky Mountain paradise! This time we decided to venture a bit further afield up the Icefields Parkway (see the map below for location). The destination was Cirque Peak above Helen Lake in Banff National Park. And what a worthy destination it was! The day, which was forecast to include thundershowers and rain, was sunny and easy-walking-warm. The bugs, after the correct application of bug-juice, were completely tolerable. The views were superlative. And, the 515 million year old fossils were purely the icing on the cake.
Huge stromatolite reef below Cirque Peak
Huge stromatolite reef below Cirque Peak

 Mike and I joined up with Pat, Doug, and Arianne for this excursion. It was Arianne, a geologist, who put us wise to the fossils in the area. It seems that to the south of Cirque Peak, on the plateau above the Helen Lake pass, is a reef of fossilized stromatolites. Stromatolites are layered structures formed in shallow water by the trapping, binding and firming of sediment by blue-green algae. Stromatolites are probably the earliest lifeforms on earth, dating back to 3.5 billion years ago. The stromatolites at the base of Cirque Peak are not that old - they probably date back to about 515 million years ago in the Cambrian period. More info on the Cirque Peak stromatolites can be found in this interpretive guide to the area.

The hike was a long one - 17 km round trip and a total elevation gain of 1100 metres. The peak itself is just shy of 3000 metres (2993 m). But, it is one of the easiest accessed high peaks in the Rockies. If you can put one foot in front of the other (and repeat for 17 km) this mountain is in the bag. There is a spot of scrambling at the very top, but honestly, the views from the tippy top were no grander than those from a few metres lower down.
Mike and Mary on Cirque Peak
Mike and Mary on Cirque Peak - Bow Glacier and Bow Lake in the background
The views from this peak let us look down on the start of the mighty Bow River. In the last few weeks the Bow has been our guide looking down from the heights at landscapes that are new to us. It is always there to give a point of reference.We've ridden bikes beside it, photographed it, and drunk from it drinking water; after the floods of early July, it is a source of endless fascination and discussion for everyone who lives along its banks.

It was such a treat to see the two glaciers that are its source: the Crowfoot and the Bow. On the top image of this post the Crowfoot is on the left, and the Bow on the right. We'll be seeing more of the Bow over the next few weeks - now I know exactly where it comes from.

More pictures from this hike at Flickr

View Cirque Peak, Banff-Jasper Highway in a larger map