The hike starts off as a flat walk through a forest of charred pine and spruce. The open, flat path soon descends slightly to the Vermilion River, and within 500 m the trail crosses the river over a newly constructed bridge. The path levels off after a brief climb out of the river valley only to descend again 15 minutes later to cross Floe Creek. From this crossing, the balance of the trip follows the right side of the Floe Creek drainage channel up to Floe Lake, though most of the route runs several hundred metres above the creek.
One of my favourite features of Kootenay Park, setting it aside from other regions of the Rockies, is the wide, steep avalanche slopes that seem to appear without notice. Allowing spectacular scenery even in dense forest, these slopes suddenly open to present stunning unexpected views across valleys and mountainsides. Such slopes are numerous throughout this spectacular trek.
Five minutes after exiting the Floe Creek crossing, the familiar feeling of a gradual climb transforming into switchbacks becomes evident and eventually develops into the dominant theme. Twenty minutes later the trail levels off and Floe Creek is so distant below to your left that you barely hear it anymore.
The hike continues through the severely fire-damaged forest of spruce and lodgepole pine. It is astonishing to witness this natural devastation, but even more astonishing to observe the forest regenerating itself. Saplings are beginning to grow, and much of the undergrowth and grasses have returned in an unstoppable resolve to flourish. This is a marvellous, unique experience. Do not hesitate to stop and look; this all a part of your journey.
Over the next hour and a quarter, the trek is rather uneventful as it rambles through the forest, interrupted by great slopes, stream crossings and some minor rises until reaching the 8-km mark. It is at this spot that the trail takes a steep uphill turn, zigzagging precipitously upward to gain 300 to 400 m within 2.5 km. As these gruelling switchbacks begin, mature forest resumes and the viewing becomes limited, though there are a few spots along the way that allow you to look back across the valley. But you are going to be too tired and sore anyway to even turn around and look. So, head to the ground and keep trudging. At times like this, I find that solving math problems in my head distracts me from the obvious toil. I suggest you too try something to occupy your mind.
Just as you reach the summit of this climb, thoroughly exhausted, the magnificent Rockwall comes into full view. Stop for a moment to catch your breath and focus on the goal. The campground is only another 500 m farther, and the hike graciously levels off ten minutes before you reach the lake.
Indeed, Floe Lake is another treasure offered to us by the Rocky Mountains, being surrounded by meadow, mountain, forest and ice. The far shore of the lake is enclosed by cliffs and glaciers, while the sides are lined with subalpine fir and small alpine meadows. The lake’s name comes from small icebergs that calve into the lake from the glacier that feeds it at the far end. Just the sight of such dazzling beauty renders the steep climb of moments past nothing less than petty.