by Lyle Grisedale
As a CMH Summer Adventures guide in the Bugaboos, I have a long list of favourite hikes in the area. But it is always a special day when we go to Thunderwater Lakes. Thunderwater is as far south as we can go from the lodge and as we have to fly over two high passes to get there. The weather has to be very good and stable for this full day hike.
Thunderwater & Whirlpool Lakes are the headwaters of Forester Creek. Years ago when the first explorers headed up Forester Creek they could hear a roaring sound as they climbed the headwall to the first lake. Apparently the upper lake known as Whirlpool Lake had a large whirlpool near the present day outlet and the water roared down the whirlpool before being injected into the lower lake emitting a huge roar, hence the names Thunderwater and Whirlpool. A rockslide or cave-in has since stopped up the whirlpool and the valley is now very peaceful and quiet but the names have stuck.
We fly by helicopter from the lodge to a small green meadow just below Taurus Mountain. From here we walk out onto a huge granite slab where we can look down Forester Creek. The geology is very interesting as we are on the edge of the contact where the granitic intrusions of the Bugaboos emerged from the centre of the earth. The rocks are cooked and burnt and highly metamorphosed.
From the lookout we walk up a couple hundred meters to the west using a snow ramp in the early summer and later walking the granitic slabs that the snow was covering. Once over the rim we get our first look at Thunderwater Lake, glistening emerald green. The ‘Oh’s and ‘Ah’s are as loud as I am sure the roar of the water was in days gone by!
Continuing our hike, we make our way down to the lakeshore through small green gullies between the granite. The ground-up granite and other metamorphic soils are ideal for the wildflowers and we are treated to gardens of intense red indian paintbrush, pink monkey flowers, and brilliant yellow ragworts. More ‘Oh’ and ‘Ah and many megapixel moments! The lakeshore is an ideal place for a snack and maybe a skinny dip for the more adventureous willing to brave the very cold water.
Our next destination is the upper (Whirlpool) lake so we head out on the sandy beach of Thunderwater towards the western end of the lake where we then continue through the braided creeks and waterfalls coming out of the the upper lake. More incredible flowers line the route. The upper lake will be partially ice covered well into the summer (so it limits our skinny dipping opportunities!). Emerging through an amazing boulder field, we traverse the contact and the rocks display every imaginable color and a multitude of textures.
Once we have passed the end of Whirlpool Lake it is time to make a decision as there are several options open to us. Depending on the energy level, ability and interest of the heli-hiking group, we either head for Forester Pass and end the hike there or we can ascend the north flank of Forester Peak to another fantastic lake and incredible setting.
The hike up Forester Pass is a convoluted route through large boulders up rocky ramps finally reaching a large granite plateau. This is a perfect landing for the helicopter should we choose to end the hike here. For those with lots of gas left in their tanks we can head south towards the small glaciated lake. From the shores of this lake we can ascend a series of ramps leading us to the north side of Forester peak where a natural slot in the cliffs affords us a route to the summit. The summit also has a huge flat spot as if it was designed as a landing pad for our Bell 212 helicopter.
This is the end of an incredible hike and a great day of walking though an amazing variety of terrains, spectacular wildflower gardens and stupendous scenery.
Thunderwater as a favorite hike for all the guides and is always a great hit with the guests. It is one of those special places that will last in the memory forever.
Is a day like this on your bucket list? Then contact CMH Summer Adventures and start planning!