Spirited away

I gave myself a little homework to do this week, researching our destination from last week, Lake Minnewanka. A quick visit to ParksCanada uncovered a few interesting facts about this beautiful lake.

The Stoney Nakoda called it “Minn-Waki” which translates as “lake of the spirits” and our brief time there convinced me this is a pretty apt name. Early Europeans named it “Devil’s Lake” and again, if you can imagine arriving the hard way, or catching a tough spring season, perhaps also a reasonable name. Place names are often given for good reasons…Easy to forget you are in wild territory when the modern conveniences of Banff are mere minutes away by car.

Wild, challenging, chilly

Archaeological evidence uncovered at Minnewanka suggests human activity here as far back as 10 000 years. It is easy to see why. Mountain environments are challenging, but at Minnewanka, in milder seasons, there would be the everyday means to survive. Timber, fish, animals to hunt, and berries and roots to gather would have enabled earlier, knowledgeable, and hardy people to maintain their existence.


Lake of the spirits. I love that! I’m somewhat ignorant when it comes to beliefs held by First Nations peoples, but have some understanding and no end of respect for the spiritual connection many have with the natural world. Given the unpredictable nature of mountain weather, and the size of the lake – it is over 25km long and 2km wide – sudden changes in the weather, particularly if you’re on the water, would have you considering spirits. Is it really so hard to believe that the natural world is teaching us something, whether in fury or on more benign days? We treat the planet as we do, and perhaps the planet responds in kind. Is that simply my imagination?

The last of the blue skies that day

The day we visited was a cold one, the wind rushing across the ice and freeze-burning exposed faces. The morning had started fine, with blue skies and sunshine, but soon enough clouds were scudding over and amassing, and it was clear a change was coming. Undeterred (but well wrapped up), we opted to follow the shoreline trail at least as far as Stewart Canyon, where the Cascade River feeds the lake. We set off in high spirits that only soared further as the trailside trees afforded some protection from the wind, and the views delighted with each turn in the trail.


The path itself was extremely icy, and we slipped and slid along, hugging trees because we like to, and because they helped us prevent a fall over the edge. Even with ice cleats, the going was interesting.

An interesting trail…(this section above the lake was quite forgiving!)

Blinking away tears – must have been the keen wind – it was wonderful to see witch’s hair (or beard?) hanging in abundance from branches. A positive indicator of clean air,  and I can only hope nature’s witches continue to display spirited green defiance and resilience.


I’m planning a return to Lake Minnewanka when the weather warms up and the ice has melted. There are a number of backcountry campgrounds reachable by canoe, and I would love to paddle up the lake and share a night or two with the spirits. Parts of the trail and campground locations are closed in high summer because this is the prime time for mama grizzlies and cubs to feed on buffalo berries. (Even though I’ve been living out this way for close to a decade, I can’t describe how much of a kick I get from writing phrases along the lines of mama grizzlies and cubs feeding on buffalo berries – isn’t the world great?!) I don’t need to see the bears, and certainly wouldn’t want to disturb their habitat – knowing they are out and about is enough – but a camping and canoe trip before they move into the area is high on my hope list…

Downstream Cascade, Stewart Canyon

We only hiked a few minutes more past Stewart Canyon, enough to get partial views of the lake below. By then the day really had shifted from benign to more malign, with the increasingly gusty wind throwing sharp crystals in our chapped but happy faces. We listened, took the hint, retraced our steps and were warmed on the inside by our delightful introduction to this spirited lake.

Upstream Cascade, Stewart Canyon

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to share a story or leave a comment – it is always appreciated. Have a great weekend! I’m having one of these:


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I am a would be outdoorsman - that is if I had more time, skills and knowledge. When I can, I love being outdoors, just camping, hiking, snowboarding, xc skiing, snowshoeing, paddling a canoe or trying something new. What I lack in ability, I make up for in enthusiasm and having a go. I'd never really survive for long out there in the wild, but I enjoy pretending I could if I had to...

15 thoughts on “Spirited away”

  1. This is great journey/or homework 🙂 I loved reading the whole story and also to see the photographs. Mama grizzlies made me smile but also worried. On the other hand, the name of the lake is amazing, I am sure there are many stories about this lake… Thank you for sharing with us, I was there again 🙂 Have a nice, enjoyable and safety travels and weekend, Love, nia


  2. “Lake of Spirits,” I love that too. It is a beautiful lake and it is always fun to imagine the history that goes with places like this. Wonderful pictures as always. Have a great weekend.


    1. Thank you! It is an interesting place to experience, and next time we do, hopefully it’ll be a little warmer and we spend more time there.
      I hope your weekend is going well!


  3. Wow, pc, you and Mrs. pc sure are hardy hikers! It sounds like a wonderful place to explore, and you’re right–the name and history are magical. The vistas, your photos, are breathtaking. Icy and frigid in the winter, and graced with grizzlies in the warm weather — sounds delightfully adventurous!


  4. That day we were more like hardly hikers, haha – barely three hours on the trail! Must have been the conditions…
    This coming week, we are searching for the perfect cappuccino – a different, yet still delightful adventure!
    Thanks, Jet, and I hope your weekend is going well!


  5. Will have to check that out!
    Minn-Waki is a great place to find an adventure, that’s for sure. Wish I’d taken the time to explore it sooner…
    Thanks, Wayne, and enjoy the rest of your day!


  6. Gorgeous landscapes and photos. I know what you mean by wondering about spirits when you’re out there. I still believe in it and is part of what draws me out there. Thanks for sharing, be well and travel safe.


    1. Hi John, I hope all is well with you!
      I agree with you; there’s a sense that the wilderness is communicating something, and we just need to be sensitive, or aware, or tuned in, to listen. If we ignore it, we’re worse off. I think the recent Ray Mears/Grey Owl video you shared touches on this.
      Thanks, and have a great week!


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