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March 2023

Exploring Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park

Guest Authors: Shannon & Tyson Head (@restlesscrusade)

With time off arranged and no destination located we were in a bit of a situation. But as the universe would have it, we lucked out and found a cancellation for the Rockwall Hike in Kootenay National Park. This was only for the middle two nights of the four night trek. We figured this would be a long enough trek with our two 4-year-old girls in tow and give us a tease if we choose to do the full circuit down the road.

At 8:00 a.m. we had our packs on and were ready to get hiking starting at the Paint Pots parking lot. The only thing was, just the two of us were feeling like hiking. The girls were putting up quite the fuss wanting to be carried in the Trail Magik. We knew it would be a long 11 kms trying to coax them into hiking so decided to give in and let them relax while we put another 26 lbs on our bodies. The first part of the trail was amazing. Walking through the paint pots was beautiful, even though it seemed quite out of place. The paint pots are iron enriched mineral springs that have stained the soil orangish-brown with clear fresh water flowing throughout.

Next, we pushed into the forest, crossing a creek on a bit of a sloppy suspension bridge before the trail climbed up and up some more.

The girls mostly slept till this point. Lidija woke up and decided to hike for a bit, which was a relief to me. But that was short-lived and she was back in the Trail Magik as we pushed on through the grown in trail. Just after another creek crossing, around the 7 kilometre mark, I fell quite hard onto my hip while rolling my ankle. Let me tell you, that extra 65 lbs really takes a toll on your body when falling. I was quite nervous that I might have broken my ankle, but after resting there for a few minutes and trying to move it a bit I felt I would be able to continue on. After all, it was only another 4 kms to the campground. We slowly made our way there taking in the beautiful scenery full of flourishing flowers, towering trees, and crashing cascades.

About half a kilometre before the Tumbling Creek campground, both girls decided they would hike. They ran into camp excited to first see the bear caches next to all the picnic tables. This 11 kms took us five hours to complete with an elevation gain of nearly 500m. We were the first party to arrive so got our pick of the tent sites. We chose one right along the slow flowing creek. Quickly we set up our MSR Elixir 4 tent then proceeded to take our backpacks and food over to the tables to eat a late lunch and safely store them in the bear cache. A few others had started to arrive at this point.

We were just about to get our lunch organized when a golden grizzly bear strolled into the meadow and through the middle of the campground. All of us that saw this beautiful animal shouted “bear” to alert the others, while it gracefully walked by us. There was a brief moment where the bear turned to come down the trail in our direction but with us sternly saying “hey bear” it again turned back and continued on its way across the creek near our tent and into the forest.

After lunch we put both our packs into the 2’x2’x2’ bear cache to securely store them away from our tent. We then headed back to enjoy the creek while Bexley ducked into the tent for another nap. The campground was filling up quickly now with hikers coming from both directions to make an almost full camp. The more people around helped make us feel more at ease that the grizzly would probably not make its presence again while we were staying there.

Dinner came early as did bedtime. We enjoyed our Mountain House dehydrated meal and Backpackers Pantry chocolate mousse before retiring for the evening. Tyson and I were tired from the hike in with the extra weight, my ankle was needing to be elevated and rested so we zipped the tent door closed before dark. The girls still seemed exhausted and fell right asleep within seconds of closing their eyes.

The night was a bit of a struggle with Bexley. She had multiple night terrors waking up terrified of something, which we could only assume was thoughts of the bear. Needless to say, only Lidija slept well that night.

In the morning I took the girls over to the tables and started making breakfast while Tyson took down the tent and got us packed up to head out. This system worked great and seemed to save some time with having the girls out of the picture while packing up. My ankle was swollen and definitely needed to be wrapped up prior to trying to hike a further eight kilometres to the next campground of Numa Creek. This day we hoped would be an easier day, shorter distance as well as the elevation was all at the start for the first 2.5 kms to the pass then all downhill.

I had convinced Lidija to start hiking alongside instead of being carried to help out my ankle. She was keen to hike and did so for nearly 20 minutes before needed the Trail Magik. This day was already seeming easier for me partially because I knew the hardest section was almost over and soon we would be smooth sailing downhill.

Just then the looming clouds opened up and it started to rain. We quickly unclipped the girls and dug through our packs to get their rain pants on as well as all of our rain jackets. Once we were suited up the rain had already stopped but we continued as we were just in case it started again. When we got to the pass the views were amazing, so spectacular actually that we stopped regularly to take it all in. The rocky mountain peaks in all directions, the glaciers blue ice glowing in the sun's rays, wildflowers of red, purple, blue, yellow and white, all so incredible. We were sitting at 2230 meters above sea level, the trees were stunted and we could see for miles. Now for the easy part, or so I thought. My ankle wasn’t in the best shape to have the added weight of a backpack and child so the steep descent was hindered to a slower than desired pace.

The converging of multiple alpine streams made for a perfect place to stop for some lunch and a visit with fellow hikers. After refueling and rehydrating we pushed on down through the meadow then onto a rocky steep descending trail. The path was very narrow now, where one wrong step would send you down the embankment with dramatic consequences. Switchbacking our way down we eventually came upon two large creek crossings where wet feet was our next challenge.

We pushed on through multiple severely overgrown avalanche paths before finally returning into the trees and a more user-friendly route that had flattened out just minutes before entering into Numa Creek campground at 1537m. This section took us 4 hours, but we weren’t really in a hurry as the views were so spectacular and we didn’t want to risk any further injuries. Reaching camp, we first walked by the bear caches, picnic tables and outhouse before we crossed a bridge over the creek to where all the tent pads awaited. Already lots of hikers had claimed their spot but still left many tent pads available. We did however get there just in time as the remaining hikers arrived, filling up the campground for the evening.

We set up the tent and the girls again seemed exhausted as they did for most of the hike, they both fell asleep as soon as they crawled into their sleeping bags. About 20 mins later Lidija was crying, insisting she needed to get out of the tent. We quickly got her out and then she threw up on the path. She then was very hot to the touch and lethargic. I gave her some Motrin then comforted her while she fell back asleep. It was nearing dinner time now so we made our way back over to the picnic tables where I carried her and laid her down. She didn’t eat anything and continued to sleep.

We had nice visits with many other hikers while eating dinner then retired to our tent for the evening. We brought back our cooking pot just in case Lidija might be sick in the night. Tyson and I both were woken in the darkness of night by Lidija calling for mom stating that she was going to be sick. Everyone fell back asleep shortly after. We had an alarm set for 7:30 am to get an early start on the trail but the weather had other ideas. It was now raining - hard. We decided to wait it out a bit but with the rain still falling at 9:00 a.m. we decided it was time to pack up and push on. We ate some quick snacks and bagels, packed up and headed out with full rain gear.

The girls hiked around half a kilometre before wanting back in the Trail Magik carriers and we pushed on. The trail was quite overgrown making it very wet to hike through. It rained and hailed off and on for the full 7.7 km hike out to the Numa Creek parking lot. To make things more challenging, this portion of the trail fell victim to a forest fire years ago. Some burnt trees had come down and we were forced to navigate our way both over and under these blackened obstacles.

The thin vegetation and steep banks on the riverside created trail washouts and new trails were made with not-so hiker friendly ups and downs. Once we crossed the creek and rounded the bend the remainder of the trail was pretty smooth sailing. We were back in the forest on a nice slight decline for the final 3 kilometers to the parking lot at 1402m.

The girls started getting pretty excited when we could hear traffic and see casual day hikers, knowing we were almost done. They saw the bridge and were given the option to hike the rest of the way or be carried. Bexley chose to hike. She got out and crossed the bridge holding my hand while Lidija enjoyed the free ride right to the truck. It was dramatically raining again so we quickly pulled all the wet clothes off the girls, dumping rain out of their hikers, rung out any water we could and got them loaded into the truck. Soon we were all dry, warm and recalling the challenges of the last 3 days.