Gavin Fitch, daughter Ellie, and companions Marco and Greg backpacked into what we consider one of the most spectacular areas of Banff National Park—the Dolomite Valley. The trip is a great way to sample the North Molar-Pipestone-Dolomite Circuit without arranging transportation between trailheads or booking a campsite.
When we packed into the valley many years ago, we were nearly blown off Dolomite Pass, and we were soaked to the skin before our first ford of Dolomite Creek. It was some of the worst weather I’ve ever encountered in the Canadian Rockies.
But Gavin and his crew experienced just the opposite this August—some of the most beautiful weather of summer. They even had the opportunity of observing a helicopter extraction of an injured hiker—something that is all-too common these days.
His report below provides a current look at trail conditions in far more detail than what is presented in our Canadian Rockies Trail Guide.
All photos courtesy of Gavin Fitch
Aug 18-22, 2022
by Gavin Fitch
When I was in university a group of us hiked to the alpine slopes overlooking Katherine Lake and random camped for a night. It was the early 1980s and things were pretty relaxed in terms of access to the backcountry. More recently, my daughter and I day-hiked to Helen Lake on the September long weekend with hordes of fellow-travelers; the long line of people working their way up Cirque Peak put me in mind of the infamous photograph of the traffic jam on Mount Everest.
Beyond Katherine Lake is the Dolomite valley. Close yet so far. It remains lightly trafficked, even though you can get deep into the valley in one day. It’s probably because you have to random camp. Nor is there a lot of good intelligence on the valley. Notwithstanding that I’ve been into almost every trail-accessible valley in the Banff Front Ranges, it’s always seemed something of a mystery to me, so this year we made it our destination.
What a destination! It is a long, remote-feeling and utterly glorious valley. The upper part of the valley is a sweeping expanse of alpine. Then, Dolomite Creek flows between two rock gates and plunges hundreds of metres through a deep gorge, while on the left (west) waterfalls pour down from the Cirque Glacier over a cliff face. Finally, in the lower part of the valley is the exquisite Isabella Lake, with a lovely old horse camp next to the warden cabin. It’s got it all.