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Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Comfort In The Backcountry


Get a roof over your head and inspiring locations for photos by exploring the possibilities of remote lodges

Lake O'Hara Lodge consists of a main building and a handful of small cabins at the edge of brilliantly hued Lake O'Hara. This beautiful turquoise lake sits in a glacial basin surrounded by some of the most dramatic scenery in the Canadian Rockies. Fifty miles of meticulously groomed hiking trails lead to a number of alpine lakes and ridgelines, making this a hiker's and photographer's paradise. Mountainsides of larch trees change to golden yellow during the last half of September. For the best photographic vantage points, I'd recommend the Yukness Ledges, Wiwaxy Gap and All Souls' trails. Come prepared for gourmet meals, afternoon tea, hot showers and a restive atmosphere. Summer access is provided by shuttle bus, while winter visitors must ski seven easy miles along the fire road. While you may need to increase the limit on your credit card before leaving home, you won't regret it.

In general, the Canadian Rockies is world-renowned for its wide variety of backcountry accommodations, from primitive shelters to luxurious lodges. The vast majority are only accessed via ski/hiking trails or helicopter. They range from basic sturdy shelters perched on high ridges for climbers, which can be had for about $15 per night, or warm and well-equipped cabins, such as Lake O'Hara Lodge, which go for up to $300 per couple per night.

Mount Assiniboine Lodge falls into the category of rustic and comfortable, with its dramatic setting below the 11,844-foot, Matterhorn-like Mount Assiniboine. Heated private rooms, electricity and full meal service are provided. The surrounding area offers great day hiking and the photography possibilities are superb. The lodge can be reached via a 17-mile trail or helicopter flight, or you can hike or ski in while your gear is flown in. Capture first light on Mount Assiniboine reflected in Lake Magog as you keep an eye out for grizzlies. An easy trail up Nublet Peak leads to a panoramic view of the peaks and lakes around Mount Assiniboine. A short hike to Wonder Pass, especially during autumn with the yellow larch trees, rewards you with beautiful views of Lake Gloria in its deep glacial valley at the base of the mountain.

Built in 1914 by the Great Northern Railroad, Granite Park Chalet in Glacier National Park, Montana, serves as a hiker's shelter at the end of the Garden Wall Trail. Along with basic, dorm-like, unheated rooms without showers, a rustic kitchen has stoves, pots, plates, cutlery and boiling water for meals. While limited freeze-dried dinners are available for purchase, most hikers bring their own food. Sweeping panoramas of the McDonald Creek Valley and surrounding peaks make up the setting.

The chalet is accessed by hiking seven miles along the moderate flower-lined Highline/Garden Wall Trail. Surely one of the most beautiful walks in North America, the trail winds along above treeline, just beneath the jagged ridgeline of the Continental Divide. Once you reach the chalet and drop off your gear, a moderate trail leads to the top of 8,435-foot Swiftcurrent Peak. Perched on the Continental Divide, the peak lends a wide-angle view from Mount Cleveland in the north to Mount Reynolds in the south. Another short climb to the Divide allows for views of Grinnell Glacier and three turquoise lakes in the basin far below. Wildflowers fill the meadows surrounding the chalet in late July and early August, and the setting sun illuminates the towering flanks of Mount Gould every night.



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