Monday, 11 March 2013

28th August Skyline Trail near Jasper

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 The Skyline trail is a short 45km hike in the hills east of Jasper and is very popular. We managed to book one camping spot on the trail and went for a two day hike near the end of our Canadian holiday.

Day 1 28th August 2012 With a stack of 5 pancakes for breakfast in Jasper we felt like we were well fuelled to keep hiking all day! Packed up and drove to the end of the trail where we left the car with the aim of hitching up to the start.

Whilst Brian was still rumaging around with gear in the car, Martina had already secured a lift in about 2 minutes! It was an RV rented by a friendly English family from London with 3 kids and we had a fun 40km drive up to Maligne Lake. Its a bit of a tourist spot here so we gladly headed out quickly onto the trail to start at about noon. The first hour or so in lodgepole pine forest was a little dull but we soon emerged out onto Little Shovel Pass for some views under a leaden sky. Walked through meadows with the flowers fading a bit now into early autumn and light rain. By Big Shovel Pass the views were better though and we crossed bare shale slopes before dropping down to Curator campsite after 5 hours of easy walking. Martina looked very mountainous with her pink flip flops attached to one side of her backpack and a bottle of red wine to the other!!

Considering the trail had been heralded as one of the best in North America it was a little disappointing today. Maybe we had been spoilt by the brilliant hiking we had done in the previous 3 weeks. Met lots of other interesting hikers in camp.

Maligne Lake

Big Shovel Pass

Curator Campsite with food hanging poles

Day 2 29th August 2012 It rained overnight and we slept in with the rain battering the tent in the morning. Left camp at 10:15 wearing all our clothes in the cold damp weather. A pleasant climb up to the 'Notch' pass warms us up though with partial views all round. We have a chat with a couple from Oklahoma at the top then speed off along a windy ridge to keep warm. This is the Amber Ridge, a 5km viewful undulating hike along a ridge crest but unfortunately we were in mist and rain here so just kept going.

On dropping off the ridge to the east we spot some bighorn sheep above us. Its still cold and wet so we keep hiking round to Signal mountain and then descend down and down towards the road. A cunning short cut down some mountain bike trails didn't work out for us as we got a bit lost and had to hike a little back up hill to find the car again. Give a Belgian hiker a lift back into Jasper and return to the campsite here for a big evening meal. Jasper is a cool place but it does seem to have a less welcoming climate than the likes of Banff or Canmore further south.

Near the Notch

Snow on the the Notch

Looking north past Signal Mountain

22nd August 12 Cataract Creek backpack

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This was a great 5 day backpack in varied adventurous feeling country and it was possibly the highlight of our summer holiday. We followed the route description from the 'Great Divide Trail' book which sets out an epic long north-south route along the Canadian Rockies from Waterston NP on the US border up to Jasper and further north.

Preparing our healthy 6 days of food

Day 1 22nd August 2012 We drove north and, after some discussion, managed to pick up permits for our trip from the Athabasca Pass park centre. They told us of a rogue grizzly that was in our intended area. The bear had a wounded hip after being hit by a slow moving freight train- poor thing! It did put us on alert though as we didn't want to meet a potentially angry bear.

We left the Sunwapta Trailhead at 2pm with 6 days of food, and with 21km to do before reaching our camp at Jonas Cut Off, we set off at a fair pace. Nice cool conditions but the walk was mostly along forested valleys with only occasional views to the surrounding mountains. We saw plenty of signs of bear- fairly fresh poo and paw prints- but luckily not the actual bear itself.

Poboktan river

Day 2 23rd August The campsite was set in a gully and stayed quite cold and moist so we were happy to leave for the more open mountain slopes. An easy set of zig zags led to Jonas Shoulder- a high pass with great mountain views under a leaden cloudy sky. Met two girls out hiking for 8 days here. We hiked south east along the long valley but with a wonderful wild feel under hanging cirques and snow patches. During a short sunny spell we managed to dry the tent and sleeping bags over lunch. Made it to Boulder Creek campground by about 5pm and made a fire as the temperature dipped sharply and some snow started falling. A very pleasant day.

Rainbow from Jonas Shoulder

Jonas Creek

Fire at Boulder Creek Campground

Day 3 24th August Wet snow cover this morning meant a cold damp start but the hiking was lovely up to Nigel Pass on a good trail. We then left that for the valley towards Cataract Pass on fainter trails and beautiful dramatic scenery. Spotted a flock of bighorn sheep next to the river sandflats amidst cottongrass. The final push over snow was grand to the col with marvellous views.

We dropped down steeply into the Cataract basin but lose any sign of trails and headed downstream until we hit the treeline on the Cataract river.  Hit some rough bushwacking for a while through dense scrub before finding an old trail with much tree downfall to make the going tough. After descending for a couple of hours we stop to have dinner on a fallen log. Our thinking was that we would walk on for a while then pitch the tent and reduce the cooking smells at camp to keep bears away.

At 7pm we took our shoes off to cross a tributary stream and managed to find somewhere to camp just after. Mountain goats on the slopes above. We hang the food - no sign of bears at camp but we had seen footprints along the trail- lots of moose prints though!
Looking up to Cataract Pass

At Cataract Pass

Lunch and drying session
Dinner on the trail

Great scenery approaching Cataract Pass

Camp in Cataract Valley

 Day 4 25th August More heavy frost on the tent, the zips creaked as we opened the front porch. Passed a pictograph panel on a huge boulder on the way down the valley. Further down we hit a junction with the Cline River trail and we set off on a very sketchy line through thick forest clambering over much deadwood. Lo and behold just when we thought we were lost we saw three other hikers coming towards us - Jellybean , Six and Spiff(?). They were hiking the whole Great Divide Trail northwards and had started at the US border. We had a enjoyable lengthy chat with them comparing notes on long distance hiking. That was fun!  Next up we waded the Cataract River which was about knee deep and cold! A second river, the Huchison was easier and about 10m wide.

We had a warm relaxing stop at the Pinto Lake outlet lazing around in the sun over lunch. A pleasant rough trail around the lake rim with the sound of jays was an easy start before the long climb up to the Waterfall Creek high pass. Found a small spring on a grassy shelf and after sniffing the air and declaring the area somewhat optimistically bear free we pitched the tent. It was an awesome spot.

Crossing Pinto Lake outlet

Waterfall Basin

Camp in Waterfall Basin

Day 5 26th August Awoke at 7am to watch the sun's rays slowly hit the tent and start melting the thick layer of frost. Set off early and dropped into Waterfall basin before a steady climb up to the Michelle lakes col (the highest point on the Great Divide trail(?)). There was plenty of signs of previous bear activity around here. Had a rest just above upper Michelle lake in this 'otherworldly' place. It was all quite stunning scenery.

Up to our final high col of the hike before the long drop down to the road near Saskatchewan Crossing. The first part was easy down open grass slopes with the sun warming us. Once we hit the tree line though the valley narrowed around Owen Creek and we had a much tougher time. The way was not obvious scrambling down hot, dusty, scrappy loose slopes on the east side of the river. This lasted for about two hours before the stream confluence with Mount Wilson where the trail improved. Still lots of scrapy willow bashing as the trail upped and downed along the river in dust and heat. We emerged out onto a wood burn area before the river gorge narrowed superbly to a maybe 40m deep chasm which was bridged by chockstones and fallen trees at one point.

We were both glad to reach the road though at about 15:30 and lucked out by getting a lift straight away from a friendly park ranger to the Saskatchewan Crossing diner and garage. Another lift and we were back at our car. What a great backpack- recommended!!
Overlooking Michell Lakes basin

Strange arid scenery

Michelle Lakes basin

Owens Creek

Friday, 8 March 2013

15th August 12 -6 days in Assiniboine and Egypt Lakes

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Day 1 15th Aug We planned on a 6 day loop backpack to see the famous Mt Assiniboine and the surrounding area. We left the car at sunshine meadows ski area. They run a bus service to the top car park which saves a couple of hours walking up a dirt track- we have done plenty of that before!  A lovely afternoon and evening hike along pleasant high meadows over Citadel Pass and a descent down into the valley took us to Porcupine Creek campground. Only one other tent here with no sign of people around. Martina worried there could be a dead body inside! 

Sunshine Meadows bus...

Porcupine Creek Campground

Day 2 16th Aug Frost this morning and the sun was slow to warm us. Thankfully though a friendly Japanese girl appeared from the other tent. We set off on a twisty, well maintained trail southwards towards Lake Magog. After a couple of hours we stopped to dry the tent in the now hot sun. Reached our campsite at Lake Magog mid afternoon and pitched the tent in an 'overflow' spot with good views of the mountains.

In the afternoon we hiked south off to 'Wonder Pass' with two eagles circling.  Managing a cooling swim in Gog Lake on the return
Lake Magog
Wonder Lookout

 Day 3 17th Aug Frosty again at camp and we set off carrying day packs to climb a nearby hill 'Nub Peak'. Fantastic views all round and we lazed on the summit enjoying the scenery...

Swam in a couple of lakes on the descent, this is the life! Back at the campground we packed the tent and headed out to camp at another lake- Og this time and had the by now obligatory swim in its cold waters!
Sunburst Lake

Views from Nub Peak

Cerulean Lake
 Day 4 18th Aug Today was another super hot day after a frosty start and a fairly long walk north of maybe 18 miles to Healy Camp. We set off early at 8am and were both flying along the pleasant trail. Plumes of smoke could be seen to the south west which looked like forest fires. Fierce horse flies took chunks out the skin when they bit. I think the heat must have made them hyperactive. We are both glad to make the Healy campground deep in a forested river valley and a little cooler. The flies are banging against the tent walls!
Forest Fire
Day 5 19th Aug Met some local hikers at the campground who told us that wolves had been heard from here but unfortunately no sounds last night. After a lazy breakfast we set off up valley to Healy Pass on a good trail at 9.30am. We camp in the Egypt Lakes area today at midday in hot, muggy conditions. We then head out for a fantastic circuit of the surrounding lakes and mounatins. First up to the stunning Scareb Lake and of course have to have another cold swim- with snowpatches in the background and the clear mountain water, it was beautiful. A short hike up to Mummy Lake and another dip with a osprey looking on from overhead.
We scrambled over boulders to a rocky pass then dropped down past some ptarmigans and lovely meadows to Talc Lake. Martina swam here with a big waterfall in the background. A short hike took us back to campsite again before some thunderstorms set in.
Lovely Scarab Lake
Egypt Lakes Area

Day 6 20th Aug A walk out from Egypt Lakes back to the car today in still steaming hot weather and skies hazy from forest fires. Witnessed an osprey catch a ground squirrel near Healy Pass. Reach the car and return to Banff for 'tea and medals' after a great hike- a smoothie, ice cream and a veggie meal.

12th August 12 Skoki Area Backpack from near Lake Louise

After a few day trips in the Rockies we took off for a short backpack to the Skoki Lakes east of Lake Louise. We started at the Fish Creek Trailhead below the Lake Louise ski area.

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Day 1- We walked in for about 3 hours to our camping spot we had pre-booked at Hidden Lake. Pitched the tent in a hurry as the mozzies soon found us and then hung our food up away from any hungry bears. We intended scrambling up Mt Richardson, a peak above the lake in the afternoon. This pic shows the approach to Hidden Lake through flower meadows.

 Climbing onto the ridge of Mt Richardson looking across to Pika Peak and down to Hidden Lake. Free from the mozzies at last!
Nice walking with beautiful panoramas all round.
Snow patches on the summit of Richardson. Here we are looking north to Mt Hector I think.
The panorama photo below gives a good impression of the beautiful landscape.

 Brian at rest on the summit!
More snow patches. On the descent we managed a dip in Hidden Lake, kept short by the frigid water temperature!
Day 2-We thought we would have a go scrambling up the next peak to Mt Richardson with the great name of Pika Peak. However we were beaten back by unending loose scree on the middle slopes! So we decided to move on to our next camp and to do an afternoon walk around to Skoki lodge.

 Looking back west past Ptarmigan Lake on our way to our 2nd campsite at Baker Lake.

Oncolites in the rock at Hidden Lake 
 The flower meadows were fantastic in this area.
Chipmunk ready to dash for cover. 
 After a couple of hours walking where we saw a couple of bald eagles and a loon, we made it to Baker Lake and pitched the tent in the prepared campsite. We decided to head out for a loop walk round Fossil mountain and over to Merlin Lakes for the afternoon/evening.
Passing Skoki Lodge, used as a winter ski touring base and for summer hikers as well.

 Lower Merlin Lake above Skoki Lodge
 Fork in the trail!
 Merlin Lake looking up to our peak from yesterday- Mt Richardson.
On the way back to camp over Deception Pass. On the other side of the pass we spotted fresh bear poo on the trail and lo- a bear appeared soon after about 150m from the trail but heading the same direction we were-back to our tent!! we shuffled off quickly but the bear reappeared at our campsite later, taking an unhealthy interest in our food bags hanging from a pole. Fortunately the bear lost interest and ambled off..........

....but next morning we saw the bear again rambling around on the other side of the lake, happily this time not taking any notice of us! Our new friends were millions of insects however. We took to the water for some relief....