Carthew - Alderson Traverse
ElevationAscent: 2,247' 685 m
Descent: -3,392' -1,034 m
High: 7,671' 2,338 m
Low: 4,319' 1,316 m
GradeAvg Grade: 9% (5°)
Max Grade: 40% (22°)
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“One of most beautiful runs ever; fir forests, alpine meadows, wildflowers, peaks, turquoise lakes, snow, roaring creek.”— Joan Pendleton
As a day run, the Carthew - Alderson Traverse takes about 8 hours. It can be done faster, but then one risks missing all the beauty. It can take longer also, depending on the frequency and length of scenic rest breaks. It is strenuous - best to pack two lunches, and plenty of water and trail snacks, so the last part is not a drag.
There is a primitive campground at Alderson Lake with an outhouse.
Cameron Lake to Summit Lake
The Carthew - Alderson Traverse starts in a thick fir forest, along the north end of Cameron Lake. Beautiful views of Cameron Lake with Mt Custer at its other (south) end, can be seen through the trees. Leaving Cameron Lake behind, the trail climbs a series of switchbacks. The trees thin as altitude is gained, and the vegetation becomes a mix of meadows with wildflowers, and shorter trees. Summit Lake is reached shortly after the switchbacks end.
Summit Lake to Shoulder of Mt Carthew
Summit Lake is a small, sub-alpine lake. Looking across Summit Lake, one can see Chapman Peak and Mt Custer. Summit Lake is NOT the summit of the Carthew - Alderson Traverse. At Summit Lake, the Carthew - Alderson Traverse trail turns left, away from the trail that continues south to become the North Boundary Trail. After turning left, the trail continues through meadows and thinly forested sections. It begins to climb gradually to a ridge in the distance, the shoulder of Mt Carthew. As it climbs, the trees give way to low bushes, and a sea of peaks to the south comes into view, including Chapman Peak and Mt Custer. Soon, the trail begins to climb switchbacks on the bare slope of the shoulder of Mt Carthew. The views get better and better! A few dark turquoise lakes come into view at the base of the peaks. These are the inaccessible North Lakes in Glacier National Park. The switchbacks end on the shoulder of Mt. Carthew.
Shoulder of Mt Carthew to Carthew Lakes
The shoulder of Mt Carthew is the high point of the Carthew - Alderson Traverse. With magnificent views in all directions, this is a great place for a lunch break. From the shoulder of Mt Carthew, in the direction ahead, one can now see the three Carthew Lakes below. Beyond them in the distance are the prairies of Alberta. The descent from here towards the Carthew Lakes, is on a talus slope. The talus is made of small rocks and large gravel. The descent is gradual enough so that there is low risk of losing one's footing. Just above the first Carthew Lake, there is a snow patch to cross, even in late summer.
The Carthew Lakes are three beautiful turquoise blue alpine lakes. They are nestled in the valley between Mt Carthew and the shoulder of Mt Alderson. They are surrounded by talus slopes and alpine meadows. Well shaded by the shoulder of Mt Alderson, patches of snow remain around them through the summer. The trail follows the shoreline of the two larger Carthew Lakes and is flat here.
Carthew Lakes to Alderson Lake
Veering away from the middle Carthew Lake, the trail begins a steep descent, as it heads to Alderson Lake. The descent begins over rocky and then bush covered terrain. As altitude is lost, the bushes become larger and short trees begin to dominate. The trees get taller, and one is in a thin fir forest when they reach Alderson Lake. Alderson Lake is a sub-alpine lake, surrounded by walls of Mt Alderson on the sides opposite the trail.
Alderson Lake to Waterton Townsite
Leaving Alderson Lake, one quickly finds themself in a thick fir forest, with many small streams to cross. These streams empty into Carthew Creek, that is at the bottom of the steep hillside to the left of the trail. The trail continues to gradually descend, as it runs along Carthew Creek, for about 3.1 miles. The trail then veers right, as it approaches the place where Carthew Creek empties into Cameron Creek. The trail then, without crossing Cameron Creek, begins to follow Cameron Creek, and Waterton Townsite comes into view. The trail continues to descend along its last .7 miles as it follows Cameron Creek into Waterton Townsite.
This is a segment of the GDT (Great Divide Trail): greatdividetrail.com
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Dogs Allowed, Runner Notes, History & Background
Land Manager: Parks Canada - Waterton Lakes National Park