July 21, 2017. A solo trip, with a challenging hike/easy scramble to the 2nd highest mountain peak in Waterton Lakes National Park, and a visit to a family of mountain lakes on the return trip.
- Region: Waterton Lakes National Park. Traditional Territory of the Blackfoot, Ktunaxa, and Tsuu T’ina First Nations
- Distance: 24 km round-trip
- Total Ascent: 1433 m (there was some loss and regain of elevation)
- Elevation of Objective: 2728 m (summit of Mount Lineham)
- Total Time: 7h 11m
I have a goal of someday doing the Hawkins Horseshoe in Waterton – a route that involves a scramble up Mount Blakiston, followed by a long ridge walk, tagging Mount Hawkins and finishing with Lineham Ridge and Mount Lineham. It’s a long day out, though, and probably not one to do solo (not by the likes of me, anyway). So instead I decided to do a “horseshoe” route in the adjacent valley. Instead of hitting a series of high-points along a ridge, I decided to hit all the points of interest accessible from the Rowe Lakes valley via the Rowe Tamarack trailhead. The primary objective would be to summit Mount Lineham, then tag Upper Rowe Lake, “middle” Rowe Lake (the upper lake’s sometimes-dry companion) and Lower Rowe Lake on the way down.
Mount Lineham is accessible from the Rowe Tamarack trailhead, either via a faint path that extends beyond the popular Lineham Ridge trail, or via an off-trail route up an avalanche pathway, described by Kane in Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. I figured I’d go by whichever route seemed most feasible when I got there. After reaching the summit, I’d descend via the Lineham Ridge trail and take the unmaintained shortcut path that allows you to cross over to the Upper Rowe Lakes trail without having to descend all the way back to the valley bottom. From Upper Rowe Lake, I’d visit the middle lake and then tag Lower Rowe Lake after I’d descended back to the valley floor and was on my way back to the trailhead.
Access to the Rowe Tamarack trailhead is via the Akamina Parkway. 10.9km from the start of the parkway there’s a parking area and a trailhead sign and map off to the right. There are no toilet facilities at the trailhead or anywhere along the route. If you don’t want to stop for the facilities in town, there’s a decent pit toilet at McNealy’s picnic site, which you’ll pass by on Akamina Parkway before reaching the trailhead. (2021 Update: The facilities at McNealy’s were destroyed by the 2017 fires and are still being rebuilt)
The weather was partly cloudy, and reasonably warm at the trailhead. It was windy, though, and the gusts up on the ridge were strong enough to push me off stride. The wind was cold, too. I’m glad I was carrying extra layers.
Off the start the trail is not particularly interesting. A gently graded path takes you into the valley, following alongside Rowe Creek. Here and there you’ll pass through a break in the trees, and the first peak you’ll see ahead in the distance is Mount Lineham. At 4km there is an avalanche pathway which intersects the trail. This is apparently the place to leave the trail and head up the mountain to do the more direct scrambling route. I decided not to go that way – there was no apparent trail, or even clear path through the debris and underbrush, and I wasn’t in the mood for bushwhacking. Immediately after this area, there’s a sign post, directing you left for Lower Rowe Lake, or straight ahead for Lineham Ridge. My plan was to visit Lower Rowe Lake at the end of my day, so I continued on.
Beyond the sign, the trail becomes more interesting. There are a couple of stream crossings on small log bridges, and a short time later the trail enters Rowe Meadow. The meadow is a pleasant treeless area with a stream running through it and a massive cliff-face looming above. This is the first place on the route where you get a sense of the massive scale of the valley. When I arrived there, I was the only one in the valley – it felt like I’d entered somewhere sacred.
The trail continues over a small log bridge and re-enters some sparse woods. Soon after, the trail reaches an intersection, with the path leading up to Upper Rowe Lake branching off to the left. Continuing onward, there’s some reasonably steep climbing on a narrow and somewhat crumbly trail. After some short, sharp elevation gain the trail begins a grand 180 degree sweep starting at the south, traversing and climbing the western end of the valley and finishing at Lineham Ridge on the northern wall of the valley. At this point the trail has climbed 950 meters from the trailhead over 7.6km. I reached here in 2h 15m.
From Lineham Ridge, new views open up northward, down into the hanging valley which is home to Lineham Lakes. Looming above are Mount Hawkins and Blakiston. The view is amazing, particularly because over the north lip of the ridge is an abyss – a nearly sheer cliff dropping hundreds of meters to the valley floor. The last time I’d sat up there was 2 years ago when thick smoke from distant forest fires marred the view. On this occasion, the views were crystal clear. Photos really don’t do this place justice. You have to experience it first-hand.
At this point the wind was picking up, and it was cold. I added a layer and began to pick out a path toward the summit of Mount Lineham along the ridge to the east. A faint path is visible, which is presumably the one followed by those completing the last part of Hawkins Horseshoe. The route eventually enters an area of black talus, and I lost the trail there. Beyond the talus are red and yellow scree slopes, and here I picked up the trail again. There are intermittent cairns along the way to help with navigation. I wanted to stay back from the lip of the ridge due to the strong winds, and for the most part the trail stayed below the ridge on the western side. It wasn’t too hard to stick to the route, but I added to a couple of the cairns and made a few of my own, just in case it wasn’t as easy to see the route on the way back. It’s not that you could get lost there, but the scree was steep, and I knew from the view from the valley below that there were cliff bands hidden below me.
As the ridge ascends, views up and over Mount Rowe on the southern aspect of the valley continue to open up. All the Rowe Lakes come into view and Cameron Lake, beyond the ridge of Mount Rowe, becomes visible. Behind them, the big peaks in Montana’s Glacier National Park are visible.
I reached the 2,728 meter summit of Mount Lineham at about 3h 15m. It was a 1130 meter climb over a distance of 9.2km. The 360 degree view from the top is well worth the climb. Mount Blakiston dominates the view to the North, with Mount Galwey and Dungarvan visible over its shoulder. Anderson Peak and others that are along the Red Rock Parkway are also visible. Peaks of the Castle Wilderness can be seen fading into the distance beyond, Castle Peak/Windsor Mountain were visible in the far distance.To the south, Cameron and Rowe Lakes are visible. You can’t see Forum or Wall lake, but you can see their headwalls, and Akamina Ridge is clearly visible. With Cameron Lake as a point of reference you can pick out Mount Carthew and Mount Alderson, the namesakes of the famous Carthew-Alderson trail. Beyond, you can see Kinnerly Peak, Mount Custer, Chapman Peak and Mount Cleveland in Glacier National Park. The narrow profile of Chief Mountain’s north-western face is visible in the far distance.
It would have been nice to relax on the summit for a while. It was still very windy and cold, though. After a few pictures I made my way back down toward the Lineham Ridge Trail. I descended until I reached the unofficial cut-off trail that traversed the valley wall to meet up with the Upper Rowe Lakes trail. The trail was easy enough to follow, and I quickly made my way across and up to the Lake.
Upper Rowe Lake is far larger than its lower companion. The summit of Mount Rowe is directly across the lake to the south when you arrive on the trail. To get to the “middle” lake, I went clockwise along the shore until I encountered an outlet stream and followed that as it descended to the next lake. I wanted to see the cliff where there is a waterfall down to Lower Rowe Lake in the spring. The outlet stream leading to the waterfall is opposite the arrival point at the middle lake. I decided to go around counter-clockwise. It turned out to be possible, but involved some bushwhacking. It would have been better to go clockwise. The outlet stream dried up a short distance beyond the lake, so I was able to walk on the stream bed and peer over the dry waterfall, over 200 meters down to Lower Rowe Lake.
Returning to the “middle” lake, and proceeding counterclockwise from the outlet stream, an unofficial trail leads back to the main Upper Rowe Lakes trail. The day was getting on at this point, so I proceeded down to Rowe Meadow and back toward Akamina Parkway. I tagged Lower Rowe Lake on the way out, but didn’t linger for long.
The route was 24km total length. Including all of the ups and downs, it involved 1433 meters total ascent. I made it back to my car 7h 11m after setting out.
Click on the pictures in the gallery below to access full-resolution images.