On the evening of August 31, 2013, eight mostly-strangers met at a dimly-lit hostel in the heart of Yoho National Park. Introductions were exchanged, lunches were packed, and preparations were made for the adventure to begin early the next morning. The following day, the travelers were treated to an amazing sunrise over Takakaw Falls as they drove to the visitor’s center in Field, B.C. Here a few other adventurers gathered with an enthusiastic tour guide from Parks Canada. She regaled the group with stories of how one of the best-kept secrets in the Canadian Rockies was discovered. The group was preparing to hike up to one of the protected sites of the Burgess Shale, a fossil site home to some of the best-preserved organisms that lived over 500 million years ago.
The hike began through the town of Field, and continued up Mount Stephen to a location hikers can only enter with a tour guide. The total elevation gain was 780 meters, making for a steep hike. Thank goodness Parks Canada supplied hiking poles for anyone who didn’t have some! The group paused a little over half way up for lunch, and to hear details on the history of the Burgess Shale, and meet a few of the popular specimens that could be found along the way. As the trail continued, trilobites began to appear in the rocks, and eventually every rock could be seen to contain some fragment of life from Earth’s deep past. When the Mount Stephen fossil beds were reached, hikers had a chance to snoop around and marvel at all they could find. The hike was finished in record time, according to the tour guide, so the group had plenty of time to take photos, make sketches of the fossils, and share their interesting finds with each other. The hike down was also very quick and the sun was still high in the sky when the group returned to the visitor’s center, where they were offered postcards from Park’s Canada as momentums of their trip.
The following day another enthusiastic Park’s Canada guide would take the group to Walcott Quarry; a longer hike, 20 km to be exact, with similar elevation gain (760m). The trip offered an amazing view of Takakkaw Falls, a stop at Yoho Lake for lunch, and spectacular walk above Emerald Lake, with the President and Vice President peaks looming in the background. At Walcott Quarry, the visitors donned helmets and spent time crawling over the rocks looking for any tiny Marrella that would catch their eye. Another sunny, warm day made for an incredible journey back in time, imagining when the Burgess Shale was first discovered.
After the long hike, the group enjoyed a lovely meal in Field, sharing what they enjoyed most about the trip, and getting to know each other. The once-strangers parted ways as friends, having shared a once-in-a-lifetime journey to one of Canada’s wonderlands.