Located at the southern end of the Waputik Icefield just west of the Great Divide, Mount Niles offers an awesome view of Daly Glacier as well as some of Yoho National Park’s most notable peaks. Clocking in at just over 14 miles (23 km), it’s a fairly long approach from the Trans-Canada Highway, but the scenery in this area is just stunning.
The route to Niles begins at the trailhead for Sherbrooke Lake. We’d hiked this first section of trail twice last year – once in an early season outing to the lake and once when we scrambled nearby Paget Peak. The trail to Sherbrooke Lake is quick and easy with just 700 feet (200 m) of elevation gain over two miles (3 km).
If you hike up here, whether stopping at the lake or continuing on to another objective, make sure you carry bear spray. While you should be carrying it everywhere here in the Rockies, this area is particularly well-known for grizzly activity. Back in 1939, the area was the site of a gruesome grizzly attack. It was here where Nicholas Morant, a well-known staff photographer for the Canadian Pacific Railway, and his Swiss hiking guide were mauled by a female with cubs. While Morant made a full recovery following a months-long hospital stay, his partner eventually succumbed to his injuries.
After reaching Sherbrooke Lake, the trail skirts the eastern shore for about a kilometer. The path then reenters the woods for another 3 miles (5 km) before eventually opening onto Niles Meadows. The high meadows here are particularly beautiful, with Mount Niles’ saddle-shaped summit soaring directly overhead. From here, you can also spot the distinct rock pinnacle to the right of the col that marks the Kane route to Niles’ summit. This is the landmark we eventually headed towards.
After traversing the short section of meadows, we scrambled up the drainage directly in front of us. Once we reached the top of the drainage, we had to navigate a boulder field that slowed our pace considerably. Some of the rocks seemed quite sharp, so we kept checking Sanchez’s feet. However, it seemed to be a non-issue for our hardy little scrambler. These large rocks eventually gave way to scree as we headed for the col between ‘Profile Peak’ (left, proposed name) and Mount Niles (right).
At the col, we made our way hiker’s right around the large rock pinnacle. From here, it was less than a kilometer to the summit with moderate scrambling over loose scree and blocky talus. As with any good scramble in the area, it’s fairly steep to the top, gaining around 1,400 vertical feet in just over half a mile. The route fades in and out, but largely follows the contour of the ridgeline. As you near the summit, be aware of the precipitous drop-off to your left on the north side of the mountain. It’s a long way down.
The views from Niles’ 9,734-foot (2967 m) summit definitely exceeded our expectations. To the north, we got a sweeping panorama of Daly Glacier, part of the larger Waputik Icefield. Across the sea of ice, we got a great look at Mount Balfour. One of the area’s most prominent peaks, the 10,735-foot (3272 m) giant is the highest summit on the Waputik Icefield.
In the alpine basin below, we looked down at the milky, aquamarine waters of Takakkaw Lake. The glacially-fed tarn is the headwaters for Takakkaw Falls, one of Yoho’s most iconic landmarks. The 1,224-foot (373 m) waterfall is one of the tallest in Canada. Looking further west were the peaks of the President and Vice-President. We had fun trying to make out the approximate path of the Iceline Trail in the moraine beneath Emerald Glacier. Once we whipped out the telephoto lens, we could spot one faint section of trail cutting between two of the glacial tarns.
If the views to the north and northwest weren’t inspiring enough, we also got a great look at Mount Ogden’s razor-sharp ridgeline. Just beyond, we could make out Mount Field (one of last year’s scrambles) and adjoining Wapta Mountain. Beyond Yoho Pass (between Wapta and the Presidents), we could got a distant glimpse of the turquoise waters of Emerald Lake. Looking south, we enjoyed the views back to Sherbrooke Lake, neighboring Paget Peak, and the distant summits of Cathedral Mountain, Mount Stephen, Mount Temple and the peaks of the Lake Louise group.
We felt so lucky to have such a stellar day for this one, and it was hard to finally pull ourselves away from the views. With a 7-mile (11.5 km) return still ahead of us, though, we had to hoof it back before it got too late. While we may have countless new peaks left to scramble in the Rockies, this will be a hard one not to revisit. For us, this was one of those summits that you just never wanted to leave.
Total distance: 14.2 miles (23 km)
Elevation gain: 4,794 feet (1460 meters)
Scramble rating: Moderate (Kane)