Intrepid hikers will be well rewarded with this hike. Designed for experienced hikers, it’s not for the light hearted with approximately 950 m of elevation gain and 12 km of hiking. Your morning begins with a hearty breakfast at Heather Mountain Lodge where you and your guide will discuss the final details of the day. This includes a final gear check and placing your freshly made mountain lunch in your pack. At the time determined by your guide, you will leave Heather Mountain Lodge by car with full instructions on how to get to the Illecillewaet Campground/Wheeler Hut parking area – an approximately 20 minute drive. Once at the parking area, before departing for your hike, don’t forget to place a beverage of your choice in the creek to keep cool for the end of the day.
Your hike begins on the Great Glacier trail. Your guide will take you by the remains of Glacier House complete with stories of the railway and mountain guiding history that exists here. Then you will meander through a cedar-hemlock rainforest and eventually climb up through avalanche slide paths and polished rock towards the glacier. The “Great Glacier,” now called the Illecillewaet Glacier, has been a well-known landmark to visitors in this region since the 1880s. At that time, a hike to the icy snout of the glacier was only a short stroll from the railway and the comforts of Glacier House. Over the past century, the ice has receded about 1.5 km upslope making it possible to hike along where the glacier once lived.
The trail stops well short of the Illecillewaet Glacier and the view of the glacier is blocked from the trail’s end by the sloping bedrock below it. However, it gives an excellent panorama of Mount Sir Donald and the Vaux Glacier to the East.
From here, we leave the trail and climb up the sloping bedrock to reach the toe of the glacier, an opportunity to touch and experience ice that’s hundreds of years old. It’s a great place to stop for a bite of lunch and bask in the incredible views all the while staying cool with the wonderful downflow off the glacier. After lunch, a final push takes us to the high ridge of Glacier Crest which divides the valleys of the Illecillewaet and the Asulkan. The ridge itself is an arête carved by the glaciers that once flowed down both these valleys on either side. The view from this alpine spine is an unparalleled 360 degree panoramic view of Columbia Mountain rock and glacial ice.
The ridge is another great place to rest and refuel the body. Depending on weather conditions and time of day, you can spend much more time here with opportunities to photograph, sketch, write, or even take an alpine nap.
When you begin your descent back to the valley, you will be glad you brought your trekking poles, as the descent is steep and relentless. But as you descend, the views continue to change and your nose is filled once again with the overpowering smells of the deep rainforest and the sounds of running water and afternoon birdsongs.
Once back at your vehicle, you will be glad of that cold beverage in the creek as you relive your day with your guide on the tailgate. But don’t spend too much time there. A short drive back to Heather Mountain Lodge rewards you with a well-deserved Apres, hot tub, and massage.