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Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Walls of Stone Part 10 – Vermillion River

“It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe.”
Muhammad Ali

Two nights and one full day at the Kootenay Park Lodge were a much needed break after two weeks of hiking. I needed a rest and some food, though the menu at the Lodge was limited. I had lost ten pounds since I left home. Most of my time was spent eating and sleeping and tending to my feet, which brings me to the problem I was having.
I had done my best to prepare for any potential problems. The two things I worried about the most were my chronic back problems and my knees. My back was fine for the whole trip. Ultralight backpacking was a concept that seemed to be working so far, and I was very happy about that. My knees sometimes fail me when I do a lot of downhill hiking, but on this trip I had no problems at all. All of the walking that I did before the trip was paying off. The problem that I did have was with my feet.
Quite early on, I began to get blemishes – reddish marks on my feet. Blisters tend to occur in one spot, but these occurred all over my feet. A new one formed almost every day. I tried Band-Aids and some of Don’s moleskin, but neither seemed to help. My boots were over a year old and well broken in. I made a point of wearing them whilst walking every day that spring, with no ill effects. Don said that carrying a backpack was a different story and that certainly was true. The last time I had foot problems was while wearing old-style leather boots. That was back when I was a teenager. Now it threatened our traverse of the Rockies and it was a bit of a mystery. I soaked my feet in saltwater at the lodge. I had taken to treating any blemishes with Polysporin, which did help. I also took to consuming Ibuprophen about mid-afternoon. There were blisters too and Don was rightfully concerned, but I had nursed my feet this far and I didn’t see a reason to stop now. Upon reflection, I believe the combination of poor quality boots and eczema were the cause of my unexpected problems.

Don had taken a cache of food and clothes to the lodge the week before we set out, so we replenished our backpacks. We washed our wool socks and hung them at the fireplace to dry. I recharged a multitude of camera batteries, cleaned lenses, filters etc. and went over my camera gear. There was plenty to do between food and naps. I also perused the maps at the visitor centre and tried to figure out a route across Harrogate Pass. This seldom used pass seemed to be the only way to cross the Beaverfoot Range and was a major concern.

It poured rain most of the time we were at the lodge. There was a group of hikers taking advantage of a break in the weather to dry out their gear in the parking lot that afternoon. They had been to Floe Lake that day. It had rained so hard that they decided to bail and head back down the mountain. They were off to Canmore to hot-tub and stay at a friend’s condo, which seemed sensible. We wouldn’t have any such options when we headed out to Floe Lake the next day. We were playing for “keeps”.

On July 26, we departed Vermillion Crossing in better weather and made the walk up the highway to the Floe Lake parking lot. The hike up to the lake is the usual beginning of “The Rockwall” traverse, which is billed as one of the great hikes of the Rockies. Consequently, it is very popular and I had made sure to book our campsites early that spring. We stopped to eat in the parking lot and Don mugged for the camera, doing his “old man” routine with a crooked stick which he used as his cane. The next day was to be his 70th birthday!

Vermilion River on Floe Lake trail
I had heard from somebody that Don Wales was like “a little mountain goat” and I had seen nothing to dispel that perception. I knew Don from my involvement with the Red Deer River Naturalists. He seemed easy to get along with, but we really were complete strangers in many ways. I suppose that was a bit of a gamble, but we got along well together. Of course there were a few disagreements, which are only natural on a major adventure like the one we were on. I was lucky to have him there. His experience, his knowledge of plant and insect life, his dry wit, quirky sense of humor and (not least of all) his food all made the daily challenges seem easier. He had prepared and dehydrated most of the meals we had with us. Not having to consume freeze-dried “factory” meals everyday was a major factor in the success and enjoyment of our trip. Don had 15 years on me and yet he outdid me on the trails every day. I think that says a lot about the type of person he is.
The Rockwall

The trail to Floe Lake is a demanding one, with a steep climb up switchbacks on the final stretch to the lake. With 8 kilometres of road walking before we even began the hike, it made for a long day, but we both did well. My legs were feeling strong that day.
Floe Lake courtesy Don Wales
It was foggy and rainy when we set up camp. After supper, I shot some video of the clouds and fog drifting up the Rockwall, which gives the trail its name. It is an impressive cliff of Ottertail Formation limestone that provides a backdrop for the lake and indeed much of the trail. Gulls flew to and fro, perching on high ledges. The scene reminded me somewhat of nesting cliffs that overlook the ocean in Atlantic Canada. We were drawing nearer to the end of our journey, but there was plenty of beautiful high country and many challenges ahead. So began the third and final leg of our tour of the Rocky Mountains.


  1. Breaks at an Inn are really appreciated on a long trip like this. I could have told what kind of shape Wales was in. Could you go way ahead in a hike and then walk back? I'd be on the ground crying.

  2. Keith, I would have just sat down and eat. Phil would have to hurry or nothing left. But then again, eating the way I do, I wouldn't have been there in the first place. I am wondering if those "mole socks" a person can wear under the wool socks would have helped save his feet from the friction of wet foot wear.