Lake O'Hara is a breathtakingly beautiful high alpine wilderness area in Yoho National Park. The lake itself is at an elevation of almost 7,000 feet, and can be accessed only by taking a special shuttle bus (or a very long uphill hike) from the Trans-Canada highway. The bus requires advance reservations, and I was really hoping for a nice day on the one we had set aside to hike the region, but alas, it was not to be.
Despite the gloomy conditions, the lake and environs were still really a sight to behold. Most of this sceneset is comprised of images taken on a hike around Lake O'Hara and up towards Lake Oesa, a frigid glacial lake still mostly iced over even in early July!
1Lake O'Hara This image was taken from the northwest shore of Lake O'Hara, looking back over a small bay in the western part of the lake, towards Lake O'Hara Lodge. This lodge provides rustic but comfortable accomodations despite being entirely off-grid. It's also expensive, at several hundred dollars a night, and despite this, usually sells out a year in advance!
2Lake O'Hara Panoramic A panoramic view of Lake O'Hara from the north shore. The large mountain on the left is Wiwaxy Peak; in the center is Yukness Mountain; and on the right, part of Mount Schaeffer.
3Alpine Vegetation The shores of Lake O'Hara are covered with spongy lichens and moss, which sprout small blooms of various colors during the short summer growing season.
4Mount Schaeffer Mt. Schaeffer is a long, ridge-like mountain that runs from northwest to southeast just south of Lake O'Hara. I captured this image from high above Lake O'Hara's pretty blue-green waters.
5Gray, Green and White A particularly pretty sample of the small white flowers we saw on our hike, put forth by tiny alpine plants growing right on the hard granite.
6The Sucker Hole I was told by a Rockies native that it is common for the clouds to partially subside during the late morning or early afternoon on murky days, creating a "sucker hole" that tricks people into thinking that the weather will clear. I fell for it, and sure enough, this was the only blue we saw in the sky all day; by mid-afternoon it was raining again.
7Far Above Lake O'Hara A north-looking view of Lake O'Hara from about 800 feet up, on the Oesa Lake Trail. To the left, Mount Schaeffer; to the right, Odaray Mountain; in the foreground, lots of loose rock. On the right edge of the lake you may also be able to make out one of the cabins of Lake O'Hara Lodge, a plume of smoke rising from its chimney.
8Yukness Lake Yukness Lake is one of many small glacial tarns -- lakes fed by meltwater -- located in the greater Lake O'Hara basin. As always, the brilliant blue-green color is caused by light interacting with suspended rock particles. In this image you can see clearly how eroded rock debris from the mountainside behind the lake cascades down over time, forming a natural dam holding the water in place.
9Layers This image shows several layers of interest encountered during our hike: colorful rock in the foreground; pretty Yukness Lake; the rest of the rockslide from the previous image; and behind, Mounts Schaeffer (left) and Odaray (right). Lake O'Hara is between the foreground and mountains, but too far down to be visible from this angle.
10Hoary Marmot The hoary marmot is a very large species of ground squirrel that lives in the higher elevations of the Rockies. We were fortunate to see this one during our hike to Lake Oesa.
The term "hoary" refers to the whitish color of most of its fur. These animals are often called "whistlers" because of the high-pitched screech they emit when scared, to warn their neighbors of danger. In fact, this is the origin of the name of the famous Whistler Mountain skiing area in British Columbia, as well as the similarly-named region in nearby Jasper National Park.
11Yukness Reflections Another, full view of small Yukness Lake, with part of the mountain of the same name that created it on the left, and Mt. Schaeffer in the background.
12Victoria Falls This pretty waterfall carries overflow from tiny Victoria Lake down to Yukness Lake, and then Lake O'Hara.
13Flowers, Rocks and Falls Elements combine in this shot taken on the Lake Oesa trail. Victoria Falls in the background.
14Pika! I spotted this adorable fellow in the distance and captured a couple of quick shots before he scurried off. The quality of this image isn't the best because it was taken from a distance and cropped to show more detail -- he was quite far away.
Pikas are often mistaken for rodents but are actually lagomorphs, much more closely related to rabbits than rats. Amazingly, despite their living conditions, they do not hibernate in the winter.
15Hold Still This is one of the lower cascades of Victoria Falls, below Victoria Lake. The lacy waters falling over the rocks begged for a long exposure, but I didn't bring my tripod on this long hike! What to do? Improvise! I braced the camera on a rock and did my best to hold it steady for this half-second exposure. Not bad!
16Victoria Lake Tiny but beautiful Victoria Lake, located about half-way between the shores of the much larger lakes O'Hara and Oesa.
17Oesa Basin Splendor This is actually a panorama -- tricky to do with a waterfall -- showing a long view back towards Lake O'Hara from the edge of Victoria Lake. In front, Victoria Falls; left-middle, part of Yukness Mountain; center, Yukness Lake; background left, Mount Schaeffer; background center, Lake O'Hara; background right-center, Odaray Mountain; far right, the slope of the Wiwaxy Peaks.
18Lefroy Lake Lefroy Lake is another tiny, pretty glacial lake on the trail to Lake Oesa. It shares its name with Mount Lefroy, famous as one of the tall mountains seen as the backdrop of iconic images of Lake Louise in Banff National Park. Even though it seems far away, and is associated with a different Canadian national park, the pinnacle of Mount Lefroy is less than a mile from this spot as the (brave) crow flies.
19Lake Oesa Lake Oesa is another sparkling gem of the Rockies, and the destination of the aptly-named Lake Oesa Trail. At an elevation of roughly 7,400 feet, and nearly entirely surrounded by much higher mountains, it remains ice-covered well into mid-summer. In fact, "Oesa" comes from the Stoney Indian (now called the Nakoda First Nation) word for "ice".
This image was taken on Canada Day, July 1, 2004. No fireworks here, that's for certain. :)
20Icy Oesa Another image of Lake Oesa, along with one of the few trees able to brave the extreme conditions here. The high elevation and cloudy weather caused the mountain peaks to unfortunately be socked in at the lake, but this helped lend a moody atmosphere to this chilly landscape.
I believe the mountain visible here is called Glacier Peak. To the left of this image is Mount Lefroy, and not far from that is Abbott Pass. Very experienced mountaineers can climb the loose scree to the pass from Lake Oesa, and then descend the other side of the Continental Divide to Lake Louise.
21Snow Patterns Sheltered from the sun and at an elevation exceeding 7,000 feet, remnants of the previous year's snows remain into July, reflecting in the pastel-colored waters of Lefroy Lake. The small size of the lake, and the gradient of colors from its shore to its center, make it resemble a Yellowstone hot spring pool, though I assure you that there was nothing hot anywhere in the vicinity...
22Odaray Mountain A view across Victoria Lake to Odaray Mountain, beyond Lake O'Hara, before the clouds closed in.
23Rocky Path If you ever have any doubt as to why they call the range the "Rocky Mountains", any of the hikes in the Lake O'Hara District will fill you in pretty quickly. We were grateful for the relatively smooth path of the Lake Oesa Trail itself, seen on the right here.
24Lichen Patterns Life tries to take hold wherever it can in the Rockies. This yellow lichen contrasted nicely with the pinkish rock of the area.
25Input Meltwater from glaciers and snow collects into streams in late spring and early summer, forming rushing torrents like this one that feed into the far (east) end of Lake O'Hara.
26Looks Like Fall Orange-brown moss and fallen pine needles make this image of a small waterfall feeding Lake O'Hara look like it was taken in September, not July.
27Crystal Rain Raindrops pelt the crystalline blue-green waters near the edge of Lake O'Hara. We were lucky that the rain held off long enough for us to complete most of our hike to Lake Oesa, but the last hour trudging back to the bus was not the most enjoyable one we spent in the Rockies. :)