We did some research and found that there are some very well-regarded hikes in the park: specifically a hike by the name of Crypt Lake. To do the hike, you just show up early at the Waterton marina, buy a ticket for the boat, board the boat that takes you to the trailhead in the morning, do the hike, and get picked back up by boat in the afternoon. It's a great setup!
The town of Waterton itself is gorgeous. From what we gathered up to that point, it's a lot like a tiny version of Banff (which we can confirm, now that we've been to Banff). But it's much less busy, much smaller, and just as cute. We loved it. Go there.
I'd read online that the first boat out for the hike left at 7:30am, so Sandra and I got up at the crack of dawn to be the first ones at the marina. You see, I'd read that you had to "reserve" a boat ticket for the hike so I wanted to make sure we didn't miss out. We woke up at an ungodly hour, packed up our entire tent and all of our belongings (since the hike would end after our park permit expired), and walked to the marina. At which point I discovered that the first boat was at 8:30am. Oops. Sandra took it like a champ, and we just wandered around town a bit and took some early morning pictures.
Once the appropriate time rolled around we were able to purchase our boat tickets. A short time after, we hopped on the boat for the fifteen minute ride across the lake to the trailhead. We met an English guy now living in Leduc (just south of Edmonton) named Chris, and he opted to hike along with us to keep us company. It worked out very well! Hikes go by very quickly when the conversation is flowing!
Sandra and I were both nervous that she would have trouble with the walk. Since her knee surgeries she hasn't really done much hiking whatsoever, let alone a 19km slog on reasonably intense terrain like Crypt Lake. Sandra was looking very strong on the ascent, and after passing some friendly chipmunks and a beautiful waterfall we were nearing the summit of the hike.
Things get really entertaining towards the top. It started with the path getting thinner and thinner, with the falloff beside the path getting steeper and steeper. It was mildly nerve-wracking. Then you reach a ladder portion in which you climb up to a tiny tunnel bored through solid rock. After passing through the tunnel (which necessitates a tight crouch!), you emerge out the other side to greet a section of the hike requiring gripping and following a steel cable mounted into the rocks. Needless to say the path falls off abruptly beside you while you're holding on for dear life. Once you make it through that, though, you reach the peaceful Crypt Lake itself! If you decide to walk the circumference of the lake you technically pass over the border and into Montana! Neato!
We took a short break at the lake to scarf some of our pre-packed nutrition. At this point, though, we were realizing that we were woefully short on water. We'd each only brought a litre, and that was proving to be a lot less than we would prefer to have had. We turned around and started on the way back down, wondering how Sandra's knee would perform on the descent.
And she did great! She credits a lot of it to the hiking poles she was using, but she really ran into very little trouble throughout the hike. I was so proud! There was a bit of a surprise on the way down, though. Along the trail, we started to hear an "Unph, unph, unph!". I had no idea what I was hearing. Was this a new birdcall? A... crazy squirrel? We paused and narrowed our search to a tree about fifty feet away from us through the forest. And there sat a bear cub, up a tree, barking directly at us. I snapped some quick pictures, but we didn't want to stick around long given the close proximity. After rounding the corner, the group in front of us let us know that they'd just encountered the bear cub's mother directly on the trail, but momma bear had run off to the other side of the trail. By the time we'd showed up, it turned out we were situated perfectly between the mother and her cub. Her screaming cub. Baaad situation! But luckily nothing untoward occurred, and we made it out unscathed!
We got back to the trailhead a bit early and utterly dehydrated. Sandra decided it was worthwhile to give swimming a shot during the wait, so we both stripped down to our undees and hopped into the lake. I can't express how wonderful it was. The water was freezing, but we were both so overheated and tired that it felt absolutely glorious. I don't normally like dipping my face into chilly water, but I couldn't get enough of it. After a few minutes of swimming, another hiker waded into the water and started pumping the icy-cold water through his filter. And, somehow sensing our desperation, offered us some. We couldn't believe our luck! I don't think I've ever had a better swim in my life. Perfection!
We'd planned it out so that we didn't have to drive too far from Waterton after finishing the hike -- we only had to make it to Lethbridge! We ate a quick pizza lunch and downed some drinks at 49° North Pizza, then departed the town. We arrived safely in Lethdribge, showered (ahhh!) and headed immediately to bed.
So long, Waterton! You will be missed. Next up: Drumheller!