Gibbon Pass {Kootenay National Park}

Gibbon Pass {Kootenay National Park}

Gibbon Pass {Kootenay National Park}

  • Distance – 10.8 km one way, 21.6 km round trip
  • Elevation – approx. 1,300 meters
  • Difficulty – Hard
  • Trailhead Location – Vista Lakes Parking Lot

Hiking up to Gibbon Pass was a last minute plan change the other weekend when the valley that Kindersely-Sinclair resides in was still snowbound.

That’s the thing with mountains, there is no guarantee when they will be snow free, even if it is July.

For years, we have wanted to hike the Kindersley – Sinclair loop in Kootenay. Every single time we have attempted it we have been foiled by foul weather, Grizzlies, or snow.

It has officially become my hiking nemesis.

Over the Canada Day long weekend, a group of us were scheduled to hike the Kindersely -Sinclair loop – nine in total, so there was no worries around the requirement of 4 people in a group to scare away the grizzlies as we hiked and we could even have two speeds.

It was perfect.

Except the trail report that kept reading ‘avalanche conditions’.

Pesky weather.

So in a mad rush of reorganization, I mapped out a route that was twice the distance and twice the elevation gain.

  • Everyone was game, so I swallowed my fear and put on my big girl hiking boots and hit the trail.

The plan was to hike from Vista Lake to Hawk Creek, a 31.2 km shuttle hike with an estimated 1,800 to 2,000 meters of elevation gain. Five lakes, two passes, and one backcountry lodge lined the trail; it promised to be both technical and beautiful.

Due to some distraction and miscommunication on the hike, my group ended up being off trail for nearly 3 km and we were due to meet a runner at an upcoming junction. We split into two groups, one group to go back in case she came back for us and kept going back, thinking that we were extremely slow, and another to run ahead and find her on the trail.

Needless to say, my invented shuttle hike quickly became an out and back.

Ensuring everyone from your crew gets off the trail safely is more important than seeing the whole trail.

We made it up to Gibbon Pass before we turned around in search of our missing runner while Speedy ran ahead to see if she was further along on the trail.

Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day and it turns out that Gibbon Pass is worth doing, not for the pass but for the trek up to the pass.

How to hike to Gibbon Pass

To start the hike, park in the Vista Lakes parking lot, just 1 km west of the Boom Lake parking lot on Highway 95.

Within about 20 minutes of flat and downhill, you are at Vista Lake, which is an incredible colour of blue-green and surrounded by mountains.

Vista Lake, Kootenay
Such an incredible green! As you summit the shoulder to Arnica Lake, you can still see it, glowing like an emerald.

Then begins the relentless ascent that is lined by Arnica Lake and Twin Lakes – all of which are stunning.

After 3.7 km of going up, you are rewarded by Arnica Lake. The clear water, Rockwall-esque mountains that are ubiquitous in Kootenay, and wild flowers make it impossible to not stop.

Kootenay mountains
The mountains in Kootenay have a very distinct look about them and I LOVE them!

Twin Lakes greet you after 3.2 km of downhill.

Make sure not to get distracted by the lakeshore trail around Lower Twin Lake after the bridge, simply keep going straight up towards Gibbon Pass, so as not to get lost. Signage is clear, but when you’re looking at your feet so as not to fall over, it is easy to miss the sign 8 feet ahead of you. (This may or may not have been where we got lost and some uphill bushwhacking and scrambling over a massive rockfall happened.)

Lower Twin Lake Kootenay
How can you resist the opportunity to clamber up and over a massive rock fall and play with the marmots?!

From Lower Twin Lake, there is another 3.1 km of ascent to gain Gibbon Pass. The trail never stops going up, but it is built in such away that the climb isn’t punishing.

Gibbon pass is the perfect stopping place for lunch.

A large cairn marks the pass and the wildflowers and 360 degrees of mountain views demand that you linger, at least for a little while.

Gibbon Pass

It was threatening to rain when were found ourselves enjoying lunch on the meadow, so I had to keep walking to stay warm. Despite my additional layer, the drop in temperature and wind made it impossible to linger without shivering.

Always, ALWAYS, take layers and a lot of snacks and water!

What goes up, must come down.

After a long morning of climbing, it is time to burn out your quads with some unrelenting downhill and two more uphills. To get back to the car, you will have to climb twice more – from Upper Twin Lake to Arnica Lake and to the car from Vista Lake.

  • If you want a great day of hiking, Gibbon Pass is worth doing.

The best part of this hike is that there are lovely lakes and vistas along the way, so at any time you can turn back because you’ve already seen stunning things. There is no end point, simply a whole lot of enjoyment and many beautiful mountain lakes.

wildflowers on gibbon pass kootenay
And don’t forget the beautiful wildflowers that were all over the place!

It is a lovely way to spend a summer day in the Rockies and comes highly recommended by your’s truly.

7 out of 10 stars.

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