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The Path Ahead

It was our first time together in Waterton, and I promised her that the hike up Bear’s Hump would be worth it. “If you’re not happy by the end of the hike, I’ll buy you dinner,” I promised. We trudged upwards, partially hungover and dehydrated from the evening before, her repeating the words “this suuuuuuuuucks” every 30 seconds or so. With each step I felt the tension growing, not just from her complaints, but with my intention to propose once we reached the summit.

Thankfully, we made it in short time and the great views quickly erased her misery about the climb. After I awkwardly babbled some semi-comprehensible words, she deduced what I was attempting to achieve and said yes. Being fairly like-minded and easy-going folks, we even managed to plan the whole wedding later that evening over dinner, choosing to get hitched in the middle of the lake the next summer, aboard the historic Miss Waterton cruise boat.

So here we are, once again aboard the Miss Waterton, crossing towards the Crypt Lake trail for an 18km hike through the scorching July 2018 sun. We hadn’t been aboard this vessel since we said our vows five years ago, floating in the sunshine with our closest friends and family, champagne in hand. So why not come back to where it all began to test our mettle on another hike, this time with a much more challenging route.

Once the boat lands on the east side of Watertown Lake, we zip off towards the front of the pack to avoid being caught too far back in the line of hikers marching uphill. Even with the boat guide’s warnings of bears on the trail, most of our fellow hikers walk along in silence, so we take up the mantle of yodelling absurd noises to announce our presence. Thankfully, we yelp out just in time to scare a smaller black bear off the path and into the bushes along the first section of switchbacks.
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"If you're not happy by the end of the hike,

I'll buy you dinner"

- Tyler stewart

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On a day where the mercury is expected to rise upwards of 30 degrees celsius, having a gradual incline through the trees is a nice way to start off the trail. The second chunk of the hike provides rolling bends and dry creek crossings under shady pines before the trail opens up and provides a stunning long vista beyond Burnt Rock Falls towards our ultimate destination. From here, the trail becomes more exposed and climbs into a section of rockier switchbacks, reaching the old Crypt Lake campground and the crux of the trip. A narrow ledge leads to the 10-foot steel ladder where we climb up into a four-foot wide tunnel of rock. Peering to the other side though darkness, a window of light beckons us to the final challenge - scrambling along a brief section of cliff edge with the help of a conveniently placed steel cable for support.

After overcoming this hurdle, we’re left with an easy stroll through the upper alpine to reach Crypt Lake and a refreshing swim in the glacial waters. Other hikers circle around the far side of the lake, but we opt to relax in the sunshine with a picnic before preparing to return to the boat launch.

On the way back down, we encounter a woman crossing the hardest part of the trail, clinging tightly to the steel cable, knees knocking as she inches across the ledge. Even after making it to safer ground, she holds onto each one of us in a white-knuckle grip as she goes by, hyperventilating but relieved. “I can’t believe I did that,” she puffs. The terror in her voice is clear, but her perseverance is inspiring.

After five years together, this hike is further in distance but seems easier than that arduous climb up Bear’s Hump now so long ago. Much like a marriage, this route requires determination to navigate the obstacles and achieve success. But with preparation, focus and support, reaching the top doesn’t seem that hard anymore.

TRIP TIPS SIDEBAR 

  • With a return distance of approx. 17.4km and 700m of elevation gain, Crypt Lake trail is hard, but relatively manageable for the average person. 
  • Take the side route to Hell Roaring Falls on the way down rather than up to avoid extra climbing, but bring a group, as this section is overgrown and prime bear territory. 
  • Arrive early to book your ferry ticket through Waterton Shoreline Cruise Co, as the boat can fill up during busy summer season 
  • Bring bear spray (and know how to use it), along with 2-3 litres of water, plenty of sunscreen and extra layers in case of high winds
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