Larissa Arthur, 33, ran into her mother’s house with tears streaming down her face and a scream escaping her lips.
Larissa’s mother, Donna Boyko, called in her youngest daughter, Annie, who was in the yard. Together they phoned the other two sisters — Shawna, the second oldest, who rushed home and the third oldest, Holly who was living in Hawaii.
Ken Arthur, their 65-year-old father — their mountain man — had died after falling 100 metres while on a weekend hike near Turquoise Lake in Banff National Park.
Larissa knew he was out there — Ken had asked her to come along — but it wasn’t on her mind that day. On Aug. 21, 2017, she had just finished work as a nursing instructor and was headed home when she got the call.
There had been times when the family worried about Ken while he was out on one of his solo hikes. Even times when he missed work because he was still out in the mountains. Once they went so far as to file a missing person’s report, but this time, they hadn’t seen it coming.
After her father’s death, Larissa was at her lowest point. She was depressed, barely ate and didn’t want to get out of bed. She blamed herself for his death.
A month later, lost and unsure what else to do, Larissa stepped back out onto the hiking trails with a new goal in mind — to complete 100 hikes in honour of her dad.
“It’s not like because I’m doing this it’s all better and okay. I would do anything to just change it and have him back, I really would,” she said.
Larissa struggles to find the right words to describe her father, but being out in the mountains, hiking the same trails that he did, she feels closer to him with every step.
Now, seven months after her father’s death, Larissa’s hikes have been the only things keeping her going.
Up to Turquoise Lake
The hike up to Turquoise Lake, located north of Lake Louise off Highway 93, is not for the faint of heart. Once you wade through the chest deep waters of the Bow River, canoe across Hector Lake and make your way around Lake Margaret, the most difficult part is yet to come. Rising up above you on the southwest side is a vertical head wall with faded green markings on the rocks pointing brave hikers in the right direction. Even with a rusted chain hanging down to help with the ascent, climbing this head wall is a challenge for even the most experienced hiker. But if you make it up, the views are stunning.
Turquoise Lake is a sight in itself, but looking back the way you came, you will be greeted by a picturesque view of the mountains and two clear blue lakes.
The view is beautiful — a mountain lover’s dream. This is likely the last view Ken ever saw.
Ken had spent the weekend of Aug. 19, 2017 hiking alone in Banff, but this was not unusual for him. He would often go out to the mountains himself — the only company he needed was a fishing rod.
On this trip, he spent the nights camping alongside Lake Margaret and spent the days exploring and fishing.
“He just wanted to fish lakes that are barely seen, barely touched — every cast you catch a fish,” said Larissa.
That morning, Ken put on his 50-pound backpack filled with survival equipment and fishing supplies, donned his hiking boots and set off in the direction of Turquoise Lake and the headwall that he had climbed with Donna years earlier, before the kids were born.
“I remember seeing this big cliff and never being so terrified before in my life,” said Donna. “I don’t even remember if I saw the lake or not, how far we got up, but I just remember coming back down was harder than going up. I didn’t know where to put my feet. He was above me — I was first — and he would tell me where to go, which way, left, right, and he would say, ‘Just take it one step at a time, it’s going to be ok.’ And we made it down.”
At 65 years old, Ken was in amazing shape. He had an obsession with vitamins that kept him healthy and a passion for hiking that kept him strong. But as a recently diagnosed celiac, he had lost a lot of weight.
“He couldn’t accept that he wasn’t as good at [hiking] as he used to be. He thought he was 30 years old still,” said Larissa.
Though news reports stated that he fell on his way up, Larissa says he made it to the top because he had pictures of Turquoise Lake on his camera. She believes it was coming down that he ran into problems.
“I know from a few people who’ve been up there, there’s an actual scramble route and if you don’t take that route, it gets considerably more dangerous,” she said. “He went too far over to the right and, up the scree, they found his fishing net, so that must have been where he fell.”
On Aug. 21, 2017, James Fettes, a Lake Louise local, and three friends were also out hiking around Hector and Margaret Lakes — one of Fettes’ favourite areas.
They stopped at a viewpoint overlooking Lake Margaret — the Spur — to take photos of the view. It was on their way down that they saw something strange.
“Maybe 100 metres to the left down in the trees, I could see something blue,” said Fettes. “Obviously it’s out of place because we’re so far into the back country essentially. Anything out there would be garbage or… it just didn’t belong.”
Expecting to find a sleeping bag or remnants of a tent, the group hiked down to investigate, but were instead confronted with the body of a man.
He was slumped around a tree stump, his equipment spread throughout the surrounding brush. Fettes felt for a pulse but there was none.
“The person I was with, I asked her to phone 911 and of course we didn’t have service out there,” he said. “It was still a long way to get out before we could call 911 — at least two or three hours.”
Once Fettes was able to notify police, darkness prevented recovery efforts that night, but according to the Rocky Mountain Outlook, Parks Canada rescuers recovered the body early the next morning.
Larissa is still coming to terms with the death of her father and says he was the last person she expected would go.
“People say stuff like, ‘At least he died doing what he loved,’” said Larissa, “and it just doesn’t help me because he was way too young and he didn’t want to die.”
Hike 1 – Lake Margaret
On Sept. 24, 2017, Larissa laced up her hiking boots for the first time since her father died. Mere days after his death, Parks Canada had taken the family up in a helicopter over the lakes to explain what they thought had happened to Ken, but at the time, Larissa was still in shock. But being in the trees, walking the same trails that he had — that had the most impact.
Larissa had been in contact with Fettes who agreed to take her out to the spot where Ken was found. The weather was already beginning to change as fall approached and they knew they had to do it soon before it got too dangerous.
“I thought it was the right thing to do and I felt I could get her there safely too,” said Fettes. “It was nice getting to know Larissa and hearing about Ken. He sounds very similar to myself to be honest.”
Larissa hadn’t had any scrambling experience recently and the group turned back before reaching the spot. But two weeks later with a good idea of where to go, Larissa was back to try again.
This was the first of her 100 hikes for dad.
“I was just pretty depressed, lying in bed a lot and thinking, ‘What can I do?’ I have two options here: I can either become really depressed and feel like my life was over… or I can turn it into something that he would have wanted.”
The second time to Lake Margaret was harder than the first. The canoes that live on the shores of Hector Lake were gone so Larissa and her friend bushwhacked around the lake, turning the hike into a 40-kilometre trek. They hadn’t accounted for the extra distance and once they got to the spot, it was already getting late. They had no satellite tracking devices with them and on their way back, the sun was setting and they were losing light. But they had done what they had gone to do. Larissa found the spot her dad had taken his final breath and buried his ashes.
“It was just kind of surreal,” said Larissa. “I’m not a spiritual person, I wish that I was. I try to find meaning in it, but unfortunately to me, if he’s gone, he’s gone and he’s never coming back. The only way that I can sort of honour him I think is to tell his story and have people know what a mountain man he was.”
The mountain man
Born in 1952 in Westmount, Quebec, Ken spent his childhood moving from city to city. His father sold chemicals — a job that took the family to Jamaica and Florida for a number of years, until they eventually ended up back in Montreal.
After high school, Ken went on to study kinesiology at Concordia University, and when he was done that, went to McGill University to study nutrition.
This is where he met Donna Boyko.
Ken was obsessed with nutrition so he never drank, but he and Donna met at a campus bar. Donna was studying chemistry at McGill and the two quickly hit it off despite their opposing personalities.
“He was a free spirit. He was everything I wished I could be but it was just not the way I was brought up,” said Donna. “He was really attractive to me and I just was mesmerized and I did everything he said.”
For the next two summers while they were finishing their degrees, Donna, Ken and his brother Jeff rented a van and drove out to Banff to find summer jobs and to hike.
“He was my opposite,” said Donna. “I would never have done any of this without him. Like we slept on the side of Tunnel Mountain in a tent and then I would go to work in the morning. But to Ken, that was normal — other people don’t do that.”
After they both graduated in 1979, Donna and Ken packed up their Chevrolet Citation and drove back to Alberta to start their lives in Calgary.
They both found jobs at Chevron, but they spent all their free time in the mountains, hiking, camping, skiing and fishing. By 1983, Donna was pregnant with Larissa and the couple decided to tie the knot.
“It was like, ‘Oh, might as well get married,’” said Donna. “I think we paid the guy like 20 bucks or something to get married —two witnesses at the convention centre.”
When Ken played with the kids, he was like a kid himself and Larissa says her mother often described Ken as her fifth child. But after the birth of their fourth daughter, Annie, Donna and Ken’s marriage began to fall apart. They were separated on and off until they eventually got a divorce.
“I did all the work bringing up the kids,” said Donna. “[Ken] was there but he was doing his own thing, but he really, really cared deep down inside. He was a family man… he just did it his own way.”
She says his relationship with each daughter was different, but with Larissa, he always pushed her — sometimes taking it too far.
“He thought she was the smart one and he would always be really blunt — no filter,” said Donna. “He’d say things like, ‘You could have been a doctor,’ even though she just graduated from nursing. She knew that he still loved her, but it was just the way he talked to everyone.”
Larissa says her father had Asperger’s, a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum, so he would just say and do whatever he wanted. He was spontaneous, often jumping from one idea to the next, once even hoping on a plane to Florida with no return ticket. Larissa was 19 when he left and five years later, she got a surprise phone call from her father saying he was driving down Deerfoot Trail and he was wondering where she lived.
“He kind of did whatever he wanted,” said Larissa. “He just didn’t really have a sense of responsibility a lot of the time.”
That spontaneity also translated into a spending problem. He always found a job but spent any money he made. After his death, the family found thousands of dollars worth of unused mountain gear in his basement and at least $15,000 worth of vitamin pills, mostly expired.
But throughout his whole life, Ken always loved to learn. He was always reading and even into his 60s, talked about going back to school to become a doctor. He had already gone back to university twice and gotten two more degrees after moving to Alberta, but while looking through his things, Donna found stacks of half completed university applications.
“He got very obsessed with things and he wanted to know everything, be an expert on everything,” said Larissa. “He’s just the biggest personality, he’d say whatever all the time and it hurt people a lot too. I admired him so much because he was just so brilliant and he didn’t think there was anything he couldn’t do.”
“He just wanted it all.”
Johnston Canyon to Luellen Lake
“Hike 4. This one reminds me of my dad more than anything,” wrote Larissa in an Instagram post on Oct. 11, 2017. “The Johnston Canyon trailhead, the starting point of our backcountry trips, where we followed the paths he seemed to create.”
Looking back, Larissa says her father probably took her and her three sisters out hiking far earlier than he should have. Ken always wanted boys but he got four girls, so he raised them like little boys. He would bring the kids out to the mountains for days at a time, carrying the youngest on his backpack while the others walked.
Donna never came on these hiking trips — she was a nurse and usually worked evening shifts. When she got home, there would often be a note from one of the kids telling her where they went.
“He would carry tons besides his pack and then he would have either Holly and then Annie right on top and he thought that was fine,” said Donna. “I guess he thought that’s what other people did.”
When Larissa was eight years old, Ken packed up the four girls, including baby Annie, and shuttled them out to the Johnston Canyon trailhead, where they would make their way out to Luellen Lake — one of his favourite spots.
Ken tied up the girls’ little Hi-Tec boots so tight they were almost in tears, but he swore it would help them walk better. Larissa still remembers her sister, Shawna, tripping on tree roots, the warden’s cabin that served as their checkpoint and the sight of the lake through the trees.
Ken hadn’t packed his fishing rod which was unusual, but this didn’t stop him from catching fish. Waiting by the stream that led into the lake, he reached into the water with lightning quick reflexes and caught a fish for them to eat.
They spent the night there, feasting on Magic Pantry meals — premade, foil packaged meals that were cooked in boiling water — and freshly caught fish, even though the kids hated fish.
“Since I’ve gone back, I’ve been really scared of bears because there’s bear warnings all around there, but I never cared when I was a kid,” said Larissa. “It’s an adventure and you’re not afraid of anything — you’re with your dad.”
On the second night, Ken packed up the gear at three in the morning to start heading back because it was a Monday and the older girls had school. The kids blew whistles as they walked through the trees and Ken would yell “ribbit, ribbit” to deter any bears.
But when the kids weren’t home by sunrise that morning, Donna expected the worst.
“I was on the phone with the cops reporting missing persons, giving descriptions, beside myself because it was 7 a.m. and school started at 8 a.m.,” said Donna, “And then the car pulled in and it was such a crazy happy end.”
In October 2017, Larissa started at the Johnston Canyon trailhead like she did as a kid. She hiked up to the ink pots, about three kilometres up the trail to Luellen Lake. As she walked, she was reminded of those hikes as a kid with her dad.
“I promise I’ll bring my own kids one day, Dad.”
Back on the trail
On Aug. 17, 2017, Ken had asked Larissa to go hiking with him — something they would still do together when she had the time — but she turned him down.
“I was like, ‘I’m busy,’ and all I did was go out drinking,” said Larissa. That was the last time she would speak to her father.
The guilt is still something she carries with her today, but Larissa says being out in the mountains, doing what he loved, is the only thing that’s helped.
“I just kept thinking about what would impress him and what would make him proud and as much as he loved all mountain activities — he did, he skied, he climbed, he hiked — the one thing he always asked me to do was go hiking,” she said.
“I’m not going to say I’m not depressed still — I definitely still am — but at least when I go out there, it’s like I’ve got a drive and a focus and an inspiration from him.”
Donna says that while she can see a little bit of Ken in each of her daughters, in Larissa she sees his intelligence, his drive and his determination.
After beginning her journey of 100 hikes for dad, Larissa began meeting fellow hikers through Instagram and started building a following. She began messaging and connecting with other mountain lovers to go on hikes and eventually met her boyfriend, Ken Dalton.
Their first hike together was Mount Roberta — Hike 17. It was November, the wind was strong, but as they trudged through the snow, Larissa began to talk about her dad and her childhood; sharing her stories, her memories. With a flask of whiskey to share between the two of them, they sat at the top and talked.
“Our first hike is where I saw everything great about Larissa,” said Dalton. “Her dedication, strength and her love for her family. On almost every hike we’ve had she shares stories about her dad — sometimes through a few tears. It’s connecting and healing for her.”
“Our first hike is when I knew I loved her.”
By March 21, 2017, exactly seven months after her father’s death, Larissa had completed 30 hikes and is determined to keep going. Every one of her hikes is emotional. They all bring back memories — memories that are still painful, but good memories too. Each new hike poses its own challenges, both mentally and physically, but each step she takes, she finds a little bit of her father.
This summer, Larissa will canoe across Hector Lake just like her father did, and she will camp out on the shores of Lake Margaret in her dad’s custom-made black tent. She will take in the beautiful views that he loved and she will climb the headwall to Turquoise Lake.
Larissa says she didn’t understand her father’s incredible relationship with nature before, but now, breathing in the fresh air, finding her own trails and standing on the summits of mountains — now she gets it.
“Thanks for leading me to the mountains, Dad.”
Editor: Paul McAleer | firstname.lastname@example.org