Lake O'Hara

Published: September 21st 2013
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When:12th - 14th July 2013

Where: Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park, Canadian Rockies

Highlights: back country camping, hikes to beautiful glacial-fed lakes, showerless 2 days, lived with 30 other families that are allowed every day in the area.

Lake O'Hara! How does one come up with a name like that? It does sound mmm... exotic!

I looked up and here's what I found.

The area is named after Colonel Robert O'Hara, an Irishman from Derryhoyle, Galway who heard about the area from J.J. McArthur, a government surveyor.


Useful Info:

Information on getting there

You need not be filthy rich to stay here, but it might create a hole in your wallet.


It takes 3 months advance reservation to get into this bus. Camping is optional. The tough truth is that the phone line remains busy always and every spot is taken within 3 hours of opening.

Assuming we will never get such an opportunity, we secured 2 nights of camping. I was pretty surprised to find that such a precious opportunity costs < $100. That includes the bus to and from Lake O'hara and camping for 2 nights.

The 12 km road is not open to vehicular traffic. But if you wish to(read did not get reservations) you can walk in the distance and take the bus out.

Friday, 12th July

We had an early start at 7.00 am. It was an uneventful drive where we took turns to catch up on sleep. As expected, S did not.😊 Without much traffic, we reached the Lake O'Hara bus parking lot at 9.30 am. After stretching and relaxing ourselves from the drive, we took our 2 backpacks to the bus stop. The bus had arrived. We loaded our backpacks on the bus and sat down eagerly waiting for the scenery to unfold. We have heard too much about the beauty of the Lake O'hara region. A friend even mentioned that

visiting the area is the highlight of your ultimate Canadian Rockies trip.

There were no cancellations. But there were people who showed up to check their chances in case there was a no show. I think 1 couple managed to squeeze in. By the way the conversation went, I could clearly tell that it would be a jackpot to get something on the spot.

We were excited to be on the bus and were looking out hoping to spot a bear or a moose. Little did I notice that S fell asleep leaning on me! Now she was tired!!! Thankfully, we got dropped off at the campground. WE chose a spot and S was carried in royalty. G set up the tent by himself. But the minute we dropped her into her sleeping bag for a comfortable sleep, she woke up. 😊

We wanted to hike while everyone still had enough energy. Without much planning, we set out. And at one junction, we saw the trail lead to Lake Oesa. G mentioned that this was one of the most popular hikes in the area. So, we set out along the shores of Lake O'hara. With her last week's miracle stamina, we crossed our fingers about S. After a point, the trail started climbing right up. And it didn't quite stop. The trail was rocky. We hoped to see some Picas and Squirrels. We knew they were there, but did not see any. The emerald blue color of Lake O'Hara was vivid from the top. Surrounded by high mountains, the view was, for lack of words, surreal.

We came across 4 lakes and different points but none of them were it.

The conversation:

S: Is this Lake Oesa?

Me: No S.

S: oh! Then what lake is this?

Me: Lake I-do-not-know.

After 4 such Lake I-do-not-knows, she was expecting a 5th one. Just when we were about to complain, someone who was coming down mentioned that it was just round the corner. Thanking him, we set out with a brisk pace. He was right. Just around the corner, the mountains stood like giants right in front of our eyes. Lake Oesa, gorgeous, turquoise and fresh welcomed us. It was quite a site. Literally speaking, this is heaven on Earth. I haven't quite seen any place like this. This is so worth the 3 months planning, the packing, the early wake ups.

People were going further up and I had no clue where they were heading to. I knew that we were just behind Lake Louise but did not know which direction. I hoped to go down and have a look at the map of the area to orient myself better.

We stopped for a snack and enjoyed the views. With the sun fully out, we witnessed the emerald blue color of this glacial lake.

Thunder clouds were looming in the distance. We made our way down and soon enough, we were at the shores of Lake O'hara again. I looked back to get some perspective and Lake Oesa seemed so close yet so far away.😊

The Trail: 3.5 km one way.

Elevation: 310 m

Our legs were sore, but we got back to the camp and fire and settled down to have dinner and socialize. S made some new friends who shared their marshmallows with her and the rest of the evening was filled with roasting marshmallows. The sunset brought the temperature down. WE attended the Bird Talk by Ellen who has been doing this for the past 10 yrs. It was very interesting and I acquainted myself with a few of them. S recognized a bird(American Robin) in one of the slides and everyone noticed her after that. She became famous. 😊

Interesting people we met around the common campfire:

- an older couple(60+) from Kelowna, BC & Palm Springs, CA. 😊

- a doctor couple from Golden, BC with a 2 yr old.

- 2 women friends. These people did marathonic hikes both days. Something like 20 km.

- a native Canadian family from Saskatchewan.

We may forget their faces, but their stories will remain with me.

The night forecast was around -1C. So, we all settled into our sleeping bags to catch up as much sleep as possible.

The night was cold. We all woke up around dawn(when it was the coldest). I had to tuck S in really well.

Saturday, 13th July

It wasn't a great night in terms of sleep, but we woke up to the calls of chickadees and other birds that we knew very little of. It was still cold and greatly appreciated the presence of a heated shelter. And somebody had turned the fire on already. We finished our breakfast and packed a sandwich for our hike. We were heading to Mcarthur Lake.

The Trail: 3.7km one way

Elevation gain: 350 m

Unlike Lake Oesa, this trail climbed up almost immediately. S was complaining initially, but we were waiting patiently to the point where she would break even. Shauffer Lake seemed relatively close. Two trails separated from there. We took the high level circuit. As the name suggests, it climbed up some more. On the way, we saw a bunch of people. They immediately recognized S from the bird talk. She enjoyed the importance.😊

The trail climbed some more and became a little treacherous at times. We looked at Oduray plateau that separated from McArthur pass and hoped..."Some day!"

The lake seemed farther than it really is. Finally, we saw the lake. Unfortunately, there were no snow bergs that the Ranger mentioned.

The weather unfortunately was not co-operative. It was cold and windy with snow flurries that eyes could spot. We hid behind a rock for warmth and had our sandwich. The absence of the sun denied us the possibility of witnessing the turquoise color of the lake waters.

We spotted a pica and a marmot busy eating. Life is harsh in these places and it was visible. Bidel glacier seemed like it would not last very long. The mountain views were spectacular in all directions.

Our hike back was warmer as we found lower grounds. It was quicker and uneventful. S held up pretty well though her legs hurt and she was tired.

Once back at the campground, S was looking for her friends who wouldn't mind sharing marshmallows. She couldn't find them. 😞 Foreseeing a cold night, we hit our sacks soon.

Sunday, 14th July

Ironically, it was a warm night. But we I was woken up by about the same time by a wailing. A small baby was crying. For a long time!!

We may have wanted one more day of hiking, but we were grateful for what we had. We packed, had a quick breakfast to catch our bus on time. The sun was hiding behind clouds and it was a cold morning. By 10.00 am, we were down. It amazes me how much time you save when you don't have to shower!

It was hot when we got down! Mighty 15 C and sunny. What a difference! I had a small idea of how high we were the last 2 days.

It felt like a huge mission accomplished. To have been in a place where very few end up and to witness those mountains and lakes and clouds up so close. Having made the trip, I can say this is one of the gems in the Rockies that very few can match.

We stopped at Lake Louise to grab a quick brunch and headed straight to our nest.

After a much needed shower, we started packing again. Off we go to the Other land. A land far away from here. Where people rule! Quite a contrast. I don't know yet what to expect. Time will tell. 😊 More blogs to follow!



Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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