As a quiet and introspective kind of fellow, the thought of staying in a hut with 23 other people was scary. But I was won over on this Canadian Rockies trip by two hut experiences; in this story I’ll describe the experience of staying in Yoho’s Elizabeth Parker Hut, where we stayed for four nights.
Four of us shared the hut with an adventure tour group of ten Japanese people, mostly middle-aged, and their two young Japanese-Canadian guides. The Japanese spoke few words of English, and only one of us was adept at learning any words of Japanese, so we depended upon the Japanese-Canadian guides to be translators. They were both friendly guys with a good sense of humor, and had long ago learned to span different cultures with a smile. One highlight was the last night both our groups were together, when one of the guides played 1960s and 1970s American folk songs, so some of us, ahem, older people, knew a lot of the words. The hut was pulsing to the tune of John Denver’s Country Roads, with the Americans singing along, and the Japanese, who didn’t understand any of the words, clapping along. It was great fun!
Elizabeth Parker Hut sits in perhaps the most stunning setting in North America, a small subalpine meadow surrounded by towering and shapely peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Originally built in 1919 (with its associated Wiwaxy Cabin in 1912) by the Canadian Pacific Railway to promote tourism to this most beautiful part of Canada, the hut was later transferred to the Alpine Club of Canada.
The ACC was created in 1906, with Elizabeth Parker among several founders. Ms. Parker, a feminist of the time and a fiery journalist who loved the mountains, was adamant that she wanted to see a Canadian alpine club, rather than just a section of the comparable American club. Her patriotism won the day, and the ACC has had a vital presence ever since. In fact, while researching this brief article, I found that the ACC has even expanded into New York’s Adirondack Mountains, where it maintains a beautiful log cabin for members to use as a hut, located on about 100 acres in the Keene area (an old stomping ground of ours).
For people who stay at the hut, there is a beautiful kitchen, with a full complement of pots and pans of all sizes. We hauled water in buckets from a nearby creek, and one of the morning jobs each day was to boil water in big pots, so the kitchen was always steamy in the early hours. There are propane lights, but before dawn and after dark, headlamps are a must if you want to know what’s cooking. And what’s cooking for Karen and I was our normal backpacking meals. The Japanese ate healthier fare prepared by the guides, including boiled rice, lots of fresh vegetables, seaweed, and fish. It looked and smelled great!
Sleeping arrangements are cozy. A giant bunk bed, made for 16 people, stretches across the whole room. Eight people on the top and eight people on the bottom snore in unison after the 10:00 p.m. lights out. The changing room consists of the interior of one’s sleeping bag, which takes a bit of getting used to but is not bad. Heat is provided by an efficient wood stove, so the interior is comfortable, except when the stove is over-stoked and the temperature soars. The climb to the upper bunks is fun, and takes me back to my Boy Scout days of staying in remote cabins. Which reminds me, staying in a hut is a lot like those old Boy Scout outings, except that there are girls in the cabins at Yoho.
After days of hiking in the rain and snow, gear gets pretty wet. In the hut there is an ingenious pully system that raises and lowers two big drying racks, so stuff can quickly dry in the heat at the peak of the cabin. Boots are discouraged in the cabin; we left those at the door and ran around in our stocking feet.
Midnight rambles to the outhouse are a necessary part of hut living; fortunately that gave us a chance to check on the weather. One night it was snowing, another night it was clear and moonlit–a magical experience.
We really enjoyed the company of the Japanese; one of the men called me a “picture master,” and he was certainly the flute master. We loved hearing him play his bamboo flute outdoors, with the notes floating over the frosty landscape …
The flute master on a frosty morning; the flute master writes his own blog at http://keiichiwaseda.blogspot.com/
As I mentioned, Elizabeth Parker Hut was built early in the previous century. Lake O’Hara became a favorite destination of the Canadian Group of Seven painters, who created some of the best landscape paintings of the 20th Century. One of the group, J.E.H. MacDonald, painted an interior of Elizabeth Parker Hut circa 1925; it is interesting to view the painting in comparison to the hut interior now: Lodge Interior, Lake O’Hara (you will need to scroll through a group of beautiful paintings to get to this one).
Le Relais Day Shelter is the place where hut dwellers catch the bus back to civilization. In addition to the warmth inside, the shelter sells coffee, hot chocolate, and best of all, huge slabs of carrot cake (I had one most days after hiking). This shelter is half a mile from the Elizabeth Parker Hut.
Visits to the Lake O’Hara region of Yoho National Park are severely restricted by Parks Canada; even day hikers have to take a bus in for the day and their numbers are regulated (42 per day maximum). To make a hut reservation, a good first step is to read the Alpine Club of Canada’s Elizabeth Parker Hut Information. Then review the policies of Yoho National Park regarding Lake O’Hara. This should get you started; remember that demand is high and supply is low, so be prepared to jump on the phone to make reservations at the first moment possible. It will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life.
This Seattle Mountaineers photography trip into the Canadian Rockies was ably led by Linda Moore. Yoho National Park is, in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the Canadian Rockies and perhaps in all of North America. For more information about Yoho National Park, go to the Parks Canada web site.
To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.
To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website.