Wapta Falls Snowshoe
Yoho National Park
February 17, 2013
Our original objective was going to be a trip somewhere along the Icefields Parkway. However, our plans changed due to a significant dump of snow, a forecast of more snow, low visibility, and increasing avalanche risk. We wanted something with little/no avalanche risk that was in the trees but would provide us with something to see even with the low clouds. Wapta Falls fit that bill.
We have been to Wapta Falls once before in the summer a few years back, but had not seen the area in the winter. Being in Yoho, west of the Continental Divide, we expected much more snow than there was. Wapta Falls is fairly low (about 1100m), but even other areas of Yoho seemed like there was less snow than usual. However, the snow depth of about one metre still provided us with an excellent and fairly easy snowshoe.
The trailhead for Wapta Falls is about 25 kilometres west of Field along the Trans-Canada Highway. In the summer, there's an access road that you can drive along about two kilometres south. However, in the winter they clear the smallest little turnout just off the highway. Therefore, you have to ski or snowshoe the extra two kilometres each way. It's easy because it's along the undulating road, but it does add an extra four kilometres to the round trip. Beyond the summer parking area, the trail follows an old cutline for another kilometre before gradually gaining elevation up to the lookout above Wapta Falls. There was a surprising number of trees across the trail, and many of them looked like they were freshly fallen. There must be a lot of wind in the valley because there is almost no chance the deadfall was a result of an avalanche or slide.
After the lookout above Wapta Falls, the trail drops quickly to the riverbed beneath Wapta Falls. In the winter it's a quick walk along the frozen bank to a little island just downstream of the falls. We were surprised to find that there was only a few small parts that were frozen. I suppose since it's been so warm this winter, its not that much of a surprise. Just below the falls there is a large mound of silt and rock sediment. Summer or winter, you can walk up the mound to get a great up-close view of the falls.
We took some photos, had a snack, and then Shawn wrote a Valentine's message in the snow for Jenn (see the photos!).
Just before we left, a large group of people, about half adults and half kids (even a baby) made their way beneath the falls. They had brought sleds along and were tobogganing down the mound of sediment just below the falls. It certainly looked like fun! Soon after we began the ascent to the upper viewpoint and then retraced our tracks back to the car.
Trip Length: 9.2 km
Cumulative Ascent/Descent: ~440m