July 13, 2022
This is now my third year in a row visiting Waterton National Park, and I have to say – it just keeps getting better and better. I’m not sure why I stayed away for 20 years, but I’m glad I got over it.
My friend “Skipper” Deb wanted to hike Crypt Lake and asked if I’d take her. As I don’t love repeating routes, I said I’d go if we stayed overnight so I could hike something new. Being a good sport, Deb readily agreed. I learned about the Carthew-Alderson traverse from fellow Adventurer Katherine Mary and I was looking forward to the amazing colours and new terrain.
The thing I don’t love about traverses is the car shuttling. Not a problem here! We booked a shuttle from Tamarack Outdoor Outfitters that dropped us off at Cameron Lake. The hike ends at Cameron Falls, and from there it is a quick walk to just about anywhere in town.
We met so many nice people on this trail. The atmosphere is quite different from the hustle-bustle of Kananaskis or Banff. A lot more relaxed. We actually ran into a family three times – once this trail, that night at dinner, and then again the next day on the Crypt Lake trail.
Hiking boots, poles and regular day pack kit.
From Cameron Lake, hike up and around Buchanan Ridge on the Great Divide Trail. Hike through forests with various degrees of wild fire burn. Go up and over the red shale ridge. On the other side, pass the two big Carthew Lakes, and then descend to Alderson Lake. After this, it’s one long descent through the trees to Cameron Falls.
Check out the video.
Totals – Downloadable Tracks on Gaia, Displayed on Strava
Date: July 13, 2022
Group: Two (Alisen and Deb)
Distance: 19.5 km
Elevation: 748 m (2,468′)
Time: 6 hours 45 minutes (includes lunch and breaks)
Parking and Trail Head
We took the 9:00 am Tamarack Shuttle from the Town of Waterton, and enjoyed a lovely guided tour up the Akamina Parkway. I learned all about the Bear Grass Flower, which was new for me. Our shuttle driver also had great intel on the route conditions from their hiking guides. There were still some patches of snow, and she gave advice on how to avoid or traverse them, which was handy. She also provided info on an additional outcrop that I took advantage of to get some amazing views. All in, I’d highly recommend the shuttle service.
We were dropped off at the newly renovated Cameron Lake visitor centre, where there are a LOT of bathrooms. After checking out Cameron Lake, we stayed close to the shoreline trail to start our trek.
The trail starts just behind the visitor centre, to the left of the boat rentals. There is a big sign to get you started, as well as a smaller distance sign.
The trail starts out as a boardwalk, but turns into a regular trail as we gained elevation. The trail ascends the side of Buchanan Ridge in a series of wide sweeping switchbacks like only the national parks can make them. No straight up Kananaskis slog here.
Once we gained some elevation, the trail circled around the base of Buchanan Ridge, and led to Summit Lake. Here we got a more accurate distance sign, a view into Montana, and our first peak at the famous red rock shale on the Carthew-Alderson ridge.
From Summit Lake, we turned uphill and started gaining elevation. This is when we got our first look at our high point – the red rock ridge above. Despite it being mid-July, the snowpack was still lingering. For the most part it was no big deal, but there was one section of an old cornice on a rather steep descent that I had to maneuver around.
As I was hunting for a good way down, it started to rain. There was a thunderstorm to the east, and while I don’t advocate being anywhere near an electrical storm, I was keeping an eye on this storm. It would build, then dissipate, and never seemed to get past Cameron Lake. After discussing it with Deb, she came to the same conclusion that we were travelling away from the storm, and decided to keep going.
It was here that I met two types of hikers. Hiker A was a group that was coming back down from the ridge. They did not like the rain, and were heading back to Cameron Lake. The leader of their group felt that everyone on the mountain should share their decision and promptly turn around. Now! Instead of engaging in conversation as to why I was still going up, Hiker A dove straight into badgering me to turn around. I patiently stood there, watched, and waited for some kind of conversation other than “you’ll be damned if you keep going” to erupt. Nope. When they got tired of me not responding, they then accosted the two groups coming up after us.
Shortly after that delightful group, I met Hiker B, which was a grandparent and child under 10. They also decided to turn around. Instead of insisting everyone do what they were doing, they simply said “I’m not comfortable with this rain.” Fair enough. Hiking with someone else’s kid means taking things down a notch. I wished them well.
Shortly after, the rain stopped, and the electrical storm to the east died out completely – long before we got anywhere near the ridge. I got lucky. However if it was still raining and the electrical storm was indeed heading our way, I would have gladly turned around. Moral? If you’re worried about another hiker’s safety, engage in a conversation. Don’t badger or threaten.
But I digress… The hike to the ridge was a long sweeping walk across red shale. There was then a series of switchbacks to gain the actual ridge.
Distance to the ridge top was about 8 km, with an elevation gain of 754 m. Hiking time to ridge was about three hours at a relaxed pace.
After I hiked up to the outcrop, I picked up Deb and the family of six, and together we made our way off the ridge and down to the lakes below.
Once we left the ridge, we followed the switchbacks down to the first Carthew Lake. As there was a massive snow slope, I decided to slide down it. Once at the first lake, we hiked over to the left shore, and continued around to the end. There was a short drop and a cute waterfall that led to the second Carthew Lake.
We had been hiking for about 10 km, and about 4 hours. Time to take a break. We all stopped on the shores of the second Carthew Lake and enjoyed a long lunch break. I took the opportunity to soak my feet in the cold water, which does wonders to relieve the swelling. We still had another 9 km to go, plus another 20 km tomorrow, so keeping my feet healthy was a priority.
After lunch, we hiked around the second Carthew Lake, and hiked up and over a rib coming off Mount Carthew. I felt this was the most challenging part of the trail. It was quite a steep descent, and the trail was narrow and rocky. We had epic views of Mount Carthew and Buchanon Peak. We could look down onto Alderson Lake, but decided to skip the lakeshore trek.
Deb and I felt like we’d already had a good shoreline lake visit, so decided to push on and not visit Alderson Lake. From here, it was a long 6 km back to the town of Waterton in a thick forest with not much in the way of views. I was buoyed up a bit when I finally saw the Akamina Parkway below, but we were still a good km away from Cameron Falls.
The Carthew – Alderson Traverse is a fun exploration of Waterton National Park. It has everything from sweeping red shale vistas, to crystal clear lakes, to towering limestone mountains, this hike has it all.
I was super proud of Deb for conquering her fear of heights. It wasn’t easy, but she didn’t give up! Way to go Skipper!
Deb and I spent the night in “Steve” at the Waterton Town Campsite. They have hot showers, flush toilets and lots of green space. As Waterton is so small, we could park the van and walk everywhere we needed to go. The next morning we were up early to catch a different kind of shuttle – the water shuttle across Waterton Lake to Crypt Lake.