While it is the highest peaks in any given area that capture most people’s imagination, sometimes it is a mountain nestled amongst the giants which can provide some of the most beautiful views from its summit. Yukness Mountain is one of those mountains. Surrounded by Mount Huber, Mount Lefroy, Glacier Peak, Ringrose Peak, and Mount Biddle (to name a few), the scramble up Yukness Mountain makes for a very rewarding day out. It is also accessed by going to one of the most beautiful places one can visit – Lake O’Hara. The beauty of the area has created the need for Parks Canada to put limits on the number of people who visit the area. For those who have seen the overrun state of affairs at Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, this can be greatly appreciated.
Yukness Mountain is in the Rocky Mountains and is located in the eastern part of Yoho National Park of British Columbia. It is a short hike southeast of Lake O’Hara at the headwaters of Cataract Brook, between the Opabin Valley and Lake Oesa.
The name “Yukness” comes from the Nakoda (Stoney) first nation language meaning “sharpened with a knife.” The name was first given to the mountain by Samuel E.S. Allen. As seen from Lake O’Hara, the mountain does have a “sharpened” appearance to it. While most maps label the mountain correctly by its official name, Yukness Mountain, many books and websites refer to it as Mount Yukness. The confusion arose when the mountain was “incorrectly identified in the 10th and subsequent Reports as Mount Yukness” (Yukness Mountain. (n.d.). Bivouac website. Retrieved from http://www.bivouac.com/MtnPg.asp?MtnId=1605) by the Geographic Board of Canada. The mountain was later “Confirmed as Yukness Mountain 3 April 1952 on 82N/SE” (Yukness Mountain. (n.d.). Bivouac website. Retrieved from http://www.bivouac.com/MtnPg.asp?MtnId=1605 ) by the Geographic Board of Canada.
The first ascent of Yukness Mountain was by a 1918 survey party (I am currently researching who was in that party).
Scenes from Lake O'Hara: Cathedral Mountain, Wiwaxy Peaks, and Odaray Mountain
Getting There & Red Tape
The beauty of the Lake O’Hara area would make this destination completely overrun with tourists if Parks Canada didn’t place a quota on the number of people who go up to this fragile environment. Because of these limits, getting to the lake can sometimes be the crux of the Yukness Mountain scramble! For this reason, I have combined the “Getting There” and “Red Tape” sections into one.
Lake O’Hara is accessed from a turnoff on the #1 (Trans-Canada) Highway 12 km (7.5 miles) west of Lake Louise and 1.5 km (0.9 miles) east of the West Louise Lodge. The turnoff is well signed and is hard to miss. After turning off the highway, you soon reach a parking lot. From here, Lake O’Hara lies 11.2 km (7 miles) up the Lake O’Hara Fire Road. The road is closed off by gate and the only vehicles permitted up it are the buses taking people to and from the lake. Bicycles are also not permitted on the road. This leaves you two options for getting up to the lake in the summer – hiking and the bus.
The quotas placed on visitors to the Lake O’Hara area does not restrict people from hiking in. If you’re willing to pay the dues of the straightforward hike up the road, then the quota system does not apply to you. Hiking up the road and doing the Yukness Mountain scramble in a day is certainly a feasible goal, especially considering that anyone can take the buses down the hill (provided you pay the cash fee required for doing so). Keep in mind that the last bus going down the road leaves at 6:30 (4:00 in October). Missing that bus will mean walking that same 11.2 km (7 miles) down the road at the end of the day. Although still manageable on long summer days, it certainly would become a very long day out.
The bus service up the road runs from mid-June to early October. Getting on the bus is possible by:
- Having a reservation at the Lake O’Hara Campground.
- Having a reservation at one of the two Alpine Club of Canada huts in the area – the Elizabeth Parker Hut or the Abbot Pass Hut.
- Having a reservation at the very pricey Lake O’Hara Lodge.
- There used to be a first come, first serve system for a limited number of people to get on the bus in the mornings. There would be a number of seats left empty just for this reason. This system has been abandoned and any information given from Parks Canada will tell you that you need a reservation to get up to the lake by bus. However, even though there are no longer seats intentionally left open, if the quotas for the day (and seats on the bus) are not filled, there is still a possibility of getting on the bus on a first come, first serve basis for the regular fee. This is especially true in the non-peak season for tourists. The first buses leave at 8:30 in the morning and it would be well advised to be early to be one of the first people waiting. As of the 2009 season this was still one possibility of getting up to the lake. Perhaps it will no longer apply in the future.
Again, missing the last bus of the day means walking down the road back to the parking lot.
All details regarding reservations, bus schedules, fees, cancellations, and much more information about the area can be found on this page: http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/bc/yoho/activ/activ15a_e.asp
Further information on getting to Lake O’Hara can be obtained by phoning 250-343-6433.
There are two peaks to be summited on Yukness Mountain – the easier NW peak with its view of Lake O'Hara; and the true summit of the mountain, the SE peak which is reached via a scramble of moderate difficulty. There is 810m (2650 feet) of elevation gain to the summit from Lake O'Hara.
Starting from Lake O'Hara, hike along the right hand (south) shore of the lake until you get to the Opabin Plateau East Circuit Trail (ignoring the turnoff for the West Circuit Trail along the way). Take the East Circuit Trail to Opabin Lake. Upon reaching the lake, the trail begins faintly up the mountain from its left hand (NE) shoreline. (A sign used to mark the beginning of this trail, but it no longer exists.) Several cairns mark the way. Eventually, you will come across a series of gullies leading uphill to your right. The correct gully is the 4th one you encounter, or the leftmost one you see. Topping out of this gully, you can go left to summit the lower NW peak. Although it is very straightforward to get there, the last few steps as you skirt around the left side of the peak do require a bit of concentration due to some mild exposure. As always, ensure you take note of the gully you came up upon reaching the top of it so you can retrace your steps properly on the way down.
If your goal is the SE summit, go right after topping out of the gully to the col of the mountain. (Again, make note of the gully you came up for your return down the mountain.) From here, do not try to follow the ridge to the summit. Traverse below and to the right of the ridge, keeping roughly at the same height as the col. Nearing the summit, you will pass a couple of gullies before scrambling up to make the final, short push to the summit. Return the same way to descend.
The rockfall possibilities of this route make a helmet a must.
Standard day hike gear
Proper hiking footwear
When to Climb
The best season for climbing Yukness Mountain is mid-July through September.
Camping and Lodging
As mentioned above in the Getting There and Red Tape section, there are essentially three places to stay up at Lake O’Hara:
1) Lake O’Hara Campground
http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/bc/yoho/activ/activ15/a.aspx#a1 - Details all information regarding camping at Lake O’Hara.
2) Elizabeth Parker Hut
The popularity of this Alpine Club of Canada hut has necessitated a lottery system for bookings desired during the period of late June to early October. You must apply for a lottery entry the year previous to which you want to visit. All information regarding the lottery can be found at the bottom of the page for the hut:
Elizabeth Parker Hut (includes information on lottery system)
Alpine Club of Canada: 403-678-3200
3) Lake O’Hara Lodge
Lastly, there is the option of this very expensive lodge. Few people with mountaineering objectives will be staying here, but here is the lodge’s website nonetheless.
Lake O’Hara Lodge
For those doing a daytrip up to the lake or to Yukness Mountain, there are countless places to camp or lodge in Yoho National Park, Banff, Lake Louise, Canmore, etc.
Yoho National Park Campsite Information
For proximity, the West Louise Lodge is very close by. Also very close by, and most likely more suiting to those reading this, is the Canadian Alpine Centre and Hostel in Lake Louise which is run jointly by the Alpine Club of Canada and Hostelling International Canada. Although a little further away, the Whiskey Jack Hostel in Yoho Valley is an amazing place to visit. There are also some options in the nearby town of Field.
Environment Canada Weather Forecast
Yoho National Park Contact Information
Maps and Books
Topo Map: 82N/08 Lake Louise
Topo Map of Lake O'Hara Area
Alan Kane, 2003, Scrambles of the Canadian Rockies - New Edition, Calgary: Rocky Mountain Books
A great resource on Yukness and many other amazing scrambles in the Canadian Rockies. Practically a "must own" book for anyone visiting or living in the area.
Don Beers, 1994, The Wonder of Yoho, Calgary: Rocky Mountain Books
There is only one page description in this book (and only for up to the Yukness col), but it is an excellent book on all aspects of Yoho National Park including its history, flora, fauna, geology, etc. The cover photo is from the Yukness Ledges – a hike on the lower north slopes of Yukness Mountain (not the route to the col and summit).
Yoho National Park
Parks Canada Lake O'Hara Information Page
Alpine Club of Canada Elizabeth Parker Hut Page