Dehydrated Thanksgiving Dinners and Innacurate Weather Forecasts at Aylmer Pass

By: Evan Wishloff 

The weather forecast didn’t look great. I had booked a say goodbye to autumn backpacking trip with a few friends near Lake Minnewanka a month ago, but now that the weekend was upon us, the weather looked less than ideal. 

Snow, cold, rain and sleet was not the most enticing forecast… but it’s Alberta, and if you cancelled a planned outing everytime snow, cold or rain was possible, you’d spend your entire life inside! 

The trip must go on! So into my pack went the puffy coat, the heavy rain jacket, toque, mitts, long johns, sweaters and more, and we hit the road for Banff on Friday evening after work. 

Things to Know when Backcountry Camping Around Lake Minnewanka

Due to the limited elevation gain and the relatively short distance to the first backcountry campground along Lake Minnewanka, it makes a great beginner or even first-time backpacking trip. 

It also makes a great early or late-season trek because you don’t need to venture into the snowline if you’re camping along the lake shore. 

There are a few things you should know before making your trip though:

  • There are 3 campgrounds along the shoreline of Lake Minnewanka: Alymer Pass Junction (Lm8), Alymer Canyon (Lm9) and Mt. Inglismaldie (Lm11).
  • This is prime grizzly bear territory - be prepared with bear spray, travel in groups, make lots of noise, and be especially vigilant about storing any attractants like food and toiletries in the bear lockers at the campsites. Failure to follow any of these is punishable by Parks Canada with a hefty fine, but you shouldn’t need the risk of a ticket to practice bear safety! 
  • It’s also worth noting the seasonal restrictions along the trail from July 10-September 15. At this time, no dogs are allowed on the trail, group size must be 4 or more, and the Alymer Pass Junction Campground is closed. 

After the relatively pedestrian 8 km hike in, we took the chance to enjoy some sunny skies and warmer-than-expected temperatures along the lake before settling in for the evening around the campfire. We’d need our rest, as the next day we hoped to hike to Alymer Lookout, and then onwards to Alymer Ridge, where we expected to contend with deep snow. 

Thankful for Great Scenery

For our Thanksgiving Sunday, we loaded up our daypacks with snacks, layers, and ice-cleats for our boots, and started the climb to Alymer Lookout. A mixture of mud, slush, snow and ice greeted us as the trail turned skywards, but we made decent time, stopping to shed more than a few layers as we escaped the bone-chilling winds coming off the lake. 

Other than a pair of trail runners, we had the path all to ourselves, and as a few stray snowflakes fell, a sense of peaceful calm seemed to fall onto the forest around us. 

As we crested the climb to the lookout, we were greeted with breathtaking views of Lake Minnewanka in its entirety, the dark blue waters stretching to either side of us at the base of snow-covered mountains. 

Alymer Lookout

It made for the perfect place for a lunch break, but the rest stop was short lived, as we continued on to Alymer Ridge in search of more scenery. At this point, the snow was deep enough that it was impossible to see a trail, so we set out through the deep snow with some flagging tape to mark our way back in case we were to get lost. 

It was slow-going, and after about an hour, we made the decision to turn back. We were rewarded with some stellar views from a vantage point even higher than Alymer Lookout, so our efforts weren’t for nothing. 

Kahtoola Microspikes

The trek down was treacherously icy, so on went our Kathoola Micro Spikes, One of my friends had bought a pair right before the trip, and mentioned more than once that they were the best purchase he had made! 

We made quick work of the slippery descent, and capped the day off by gathering around the fire for a Thanksgiving Feast of dehydrated meals and jiffy pop. Oh, and roasting... er, I mean drying out socks around the fire. (Currently making a mental note to not forget to pack gaiters next time...)

Drying out socks at Alymer Pass Junction

After our morning coffee on Monday, we packed up our tents and made the trek back to the car on the sunniest, warmest day of the trip yet - the perfect way to wrap things up. 

Oh, and about that long weekend forecast that called for mostly rain/snow/sleet: the only precipitation we got was over Sunday night. Weatherman be damned - get out there and enjoy the outdoors, because you never know when the weather may do a 180!