Bertha Lake, Waterton National Park, Alberta
July 17th, 2021
Two days after getting our "feet wet" with the Burns Ridge hike, it was time for Fynn and I to head down to Waterton Park and meet up with my old friend Chris, whom I rarely get an opportunity to see (3 times in 31 years, to be precise). We've managed to remain friends since age 10, even though I moved away from him a short 2 years after we met. This is a rare thing in my experience. All my other friends from that era have long disappeared from my life. So when Chris and I were discussing my upcoming trip to Alberta in the months preceding, we decided we'd find a way to spend at least one day together, despite his busy work schedule in a southern Alberta hospital.
With about a 2 hour drive down to Waterton Park from the small village of Black Diamond, we arrived at the rendezvous point of Driftwood Beach at around 11:30am. There hadn't been much thought about how we would spend the day together and I had assumed it would simply be a leisurely day at the beach with hours of reminiscing and discussions of a potential move to Alberta. But after the welcoming hugs, introductions, and short lived rock hunting on the beach... Chris started making suggestions of where we could spend the day climbing. Looking around at the absolute beauty of the surrounding mountains and lakes, how could I possibly say no, despite the fact I really hadn't come prepared for a hike? So it was more whether Fynn was up for it, which he seemed ok with, even though we had no idea what we were agreeing to.
Chris suggested Bertha Lake trail, and with zero details on distances, elevation gain, timing, etc... we simply agreed! Everything was just so stunning in this park we knew it would not be disappointing in any way. And of course, it wasn't!
Despite the US border still being closed, the small village nestled between the lake and mountains was packed with tourists. It was challenging to find a parking spot near the trailhead, but eventually we did and were on our way by noon.
Like the village, the trail was busy as well, but nothing problematic. I was too distracted by the views and conversations to really care. I was more concerned about Fynn getting bored of hearing two old buddies discussing the past, present and future non-stop. We had a lot to catchup on and much ground to cover both figuratively and physically. What better setting could there be? And Fynn just kept charging forward despite any potential boredom.
My only regret during this hike was my significant distraction. We were keeping up a quick pace and didn't get as many chances to stop and photograph the surrounding features (ex; the incredible Upper Bertha Falls and Bertha Peak cliffs). So I apologize for the lack of photographs of some of the most beautiful scenery on that hike, just trust me when I say there is plenty to see not included in this report.
Soon we reached the last uphill section of the hike that leads to a series of switchbacks. How many..? I don't remember. Again, just too distracted to count. It didn't feel like anything excessive, but I guess it would depend on ones physical abilities as we were asked on multiple occasions on the way back down "how much further" was the top. The thing to keep in mind is that it's probably close to 4 or 5 KM of uphill travel and maybe a couple of KM's of flatter sections. It's not the easiest of hikes for a casual visitor to the park, but most people should be fine with it. Don't go unprepared the way I did though... we would have been much better off if we had brought more water. As it was, by the time we were done, thirst was really starting to kick in for both Fynn and I!
By 1:30pm we had reached the top of the trail and stopped for a short lunch break at a beautiful lookout point. The absolutely stunning view of Bertha Lake surrounded by the cliffs of Mount Alderson and Richardson was a sight to behold. Getting a chance to see and feel these divine landscapes are what keep bringing me back to the mountains. If I may digress a moment... maybe it is hard to understand what I mean when I say I "feel" the landscape. I'm not sure if others have a similar sense, but for me there is something about standing amongst the mountain giants that fills my soul with something ineffable. Part calling, part homecoming... a pure joy I rarely experience anywhere else. I want to remain in the moment. I want it to last like a want a beautiful dream to last. I can only be eternally grateful that I even have had the opportunities to witness such beauty. I would wish it for everyone.
Our little lunch break was cut short with the arrival of the horse flies... the one "fly in our ointment"! I suppose this is part of how life is. As beautiful, comforting, exciting and pleasurable as things can be, the challenges will always come to remind you that life has it demands. So with Chris leaving a sacrificial donation of a few skin chunks to the fly gods, off we went down towards Bertha Lake.
Initially we considered following the trail along the entire perimeter of the lake, which I imagine would have been especially awesome, but Chris soon realized he was running out of time and would have to head back shortly. Probably a good decision considering our lack of water as well. Instead we followed the west side trail a few hundred meters until we reached an obvious view point next to the water. Fynn climbed a boulder by the water as we observed a large collection of butterflies soaking up the sun on the shoreline. Such a peaceful, beautiful and grand place. Too bad we had to rush off so quickly.
By 2pm we were on our way back down. The time flew by as Chris and I recounted old childhood stories and memories. What is always fascinating to me with such reminiscing is the often divergent details of a shared memory. How flexible and malleable it all is. How subjective a moment can be. I have to wonder how Chris, Fynn and I will remember this hike 30 years from now?
I'm sure details will be slightly off, but the overall shared experience will be positively remembered. For my part, I will cherish having had the opportunity to finally come out to Alberta and do another hike with a friend I had been waiting to do another one with for over 30 years. It was him and his father who first introduced me to hiking in the Rockies when I was 15 years old, and it was that first mountain experience that planted the seed, the dreams and the calling to return over and over again.
Lets hope the periods between meet-ups will be shorter. I do see a future filled with many more adventures with my old friend though. Until the next one.
Round trip distance from parking spot to Bertha Lake: Approximately 7.7 miles (12.4 km)
Bertha Lake: 5,820 feet (1774 m)
Elevation gain from parking area to Bertha Lake: 2,034 feet (620 m)
GPS Coordinates of highpoint of Bertha Lake trail: 49.025862 N; -113.939150 W (DD - Decimal Degrees system)
For detailed directions and trail route, the AllTrails website has it all.