Cataract Pass and Valley of the Lakes
Ever since I day hiked to Cataract Pass in 2010, I've been itching to return and visit points beyond -- specifically the evocatively named Valley of the Lakes in the White Goat Wilderness. Fortunately, Clayton also had the weekend free and agreed to join me on short notice. Even the forecast was looking great, with temperatures in the low 20's under mostly sunny skies.
We both arrived late Thursday night at the Nigel Creek trailhead and slept in our trucks. It was an enjoyable morning of catching up on life events as we meandered up to Nigel Pass. We stopped for a snack before heading up the upper Brazeau valley. It was as remarkable as I recalled, and we made very slow progress while taking lots of photos and marveling at the colorful and erratic scenery.
The horseflies escorted me up to the base of Cataract Pass, despite my insisting otherwise, where we stopped for lunch. The trail was better worn than what a recall from a few years ago. It stays to the left of the valley and our feet stayed dry the entire time. The pass itself was a relatively short climb from the head of the valley, while the descent into Cataract Meadows was much longer, though not any more steep. At the bottom of the pass, we found some bright patches of wildflowers. We also took some time here to scope out a route up the ridge across the valley.
Here we encountered another couple of hikers who were quite familiar with the area, so we stopped to chat for a bit. While the best camp spots turned out to be within a few hundred meters downstream of the base of the pass, we continued across the hummocky meadows to make camp closer to Saturday's intended destination. It turned out to be a nice spot at the edge of treeline next to a creek. Sunset was unremarkable under clear skies, so while I took a lot of photos, none made the cut. However, I've resolved to take a few more self-portraits, so here I am in my glory:
The next morning, I took a few photos by a little reflecting pool near our camp:
After a quick breakfast, we headed towards a small valley to our east, before reaching Cline Pass. The "conventional" route into the rarely-visited Valley of the Lakes takes you over a steep ridge just beyond Cline Pass, but we liked the looks of a higher, flat ridge further to the southeast. Initially we had planned to cross the moraine and ascend a natural ramp to the lowest point on the ridge. However, from below and after traversing a dark grey boulder field, we saw a decent route heading straight up a tan-colored fall line. We aimed for some rocky outcroppings, switching up towards a prominent "stack," and occasionally using our hands on the loose medium-sized scree. From this point, it was just a short ascent beyond some larger rocks until the grade eased. The rest of the way was easy walking, and we took advantage of a long snow field to aid our ascent. We aimed for the peak at the end of the ridge and took in a terrific view from the summit. We carried along the ridge, walking slightly downhill, just feet away from the steep edge. There wasn't even a hint of a trail along the crest, which is unusual for a ridge-walk. Clayton's keen eye spotted a goat with a kid at the far end of the ridge. I wasn't carrying a telephoto lens so I didn't get any shots. Each of the multiple small lakes in the valley glistened a different color, and the mountains on the far side took on a really purple hue, particularly through a polarizing filter. I was surprised when I processed my photos, as it looked almost unrealistic. One of my favorite aspects of this trip is looking at the layers and veins of different colored rock: grey, tan, salmon, red, and apparently even purple.
We descended the slope at the end of the valley, went straight down the moraine, and were about to return to camp when we decided to detour to Cline Pass. Here I found a really neat natural cobblestone pattern just south of the tarns.
We iced our feet in the stream and napped on the rocks until suppertime, then turning in quite early as the skies clouded up. At one point in the night, the wind became quite strong, but we received only a little rain overnight and woke to dry tents.
Sunrise was better on Sunday morning, tinted a bit by the smoke from nearby forest fires. We packed up and crossed the meadows in the morning light, noting how the west side of the meadows received the sun at least an hour before our campsite on the east side, pictured above. We hiked up the prominent hill in the center of the meadows to get a perspective on a small green tarn Clayton had spotted from atop the ridge the day before. This is a panorama from that promontory:
After that, it was a bit of a long, tedious hike up Cataract Pass, and then a relatively uneventful exit, other than me blowing out the sole on one of my boots. The section from Nigel Pass to the trailhead seemed so much longer this direction but, with thunderstorms brewing behind us, we made it back to the trucks in good weather.
Here's a little video retrospective:
In conclusion, don't do this trip. It will be thoroughly miserable and not worth your time or effort. In fact, when you finish this sentence, you will forget you ever read this trip report.
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