The Skyline trail is a short 45km hike that stays high up on the ridges 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 fueled to keep hiking all day! After packing up we drove to the end of the trail where we left the car. Whilst Brian was still rummaging 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 (after our wonderful previous hike to the south) but we soon emerged out onto Little Shovel Pass for some views under a leaden sky. Walked through meadows with light rain we noticed that the flowers were fading a bit now into early autumn. By Big Shovel Pass the views improved 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!!
Although the hiking today was fine, given how hyped the trail is, we were slightly disappointed today so were looking forward and hoping for better trails tomorrow.
Met lots of interesting people in camp. ‘Brooks’ had done some of the CDT this year and had heard of us as we appear in Yogi’s guide to the trail- its a small world indeed! A couple from Oklahoma showed us their homemade 2 person quilt made to a Ray Jardine design. Other interesting folks from BC as well.
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 warmed 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.
At Signal campground we dropped down onto a fire road and into the trees before reaching our car at the northern trailhead to give a Belgian hiker a ride back into Jasper town. Tomorrow we are off to some Hot Springs to chill out!
22nd August 2012 We do a 5 day backpack along the ‘Great Divide Trail’
Day 122nd August 2012 We drove north to the Athabasca Pass park centre and, after some discussion, managed to pick up permits for our trip. We were informed 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- awful! It did put us on alert though as we didn’t want to meet the potentially angry bear.
We left the Sunwapta Trailhead at 2pm with 6 days of food, and set off at a fair pace as we had 21km to do before reaching our booked camp at Jonas Cut Off. It was nice cool conditions this time 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.
The horse flies from the previous few days had now been replaced by red flies and they didn’t bite – which was great!
Day 2 23rd August The campsite was set in a gully and stayed quite cold and moist so we were happy to leave and climb out onto 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 of Four Point Creek 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. By about 5pm we made it to Boulder Creek campground to get a fire going as the temperature dipped sharply and some snow started falling. A very pleasant day.
Day 3 24th August Wet snow cover this morning meant a cold damp start but after we got going 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 fantastically beautiful scenery. The tilted sedimentary rock on the mountains held the fresh snow and looked dramatic.
As we progressed up the valley we spotted a flock of bighorn sheep next to the river sandflats amidst Cottongrass. After a stop to dry out the tent and sleeping bags, we headed up into snow for the final push to Cataract Pass with marvelous views.
We dropped down steeply into the Cataract basin but lost any sign of trails and headed downstream until we reached the treeline on the Cataract river. This involved rough bushwhacking for a while through dense scrub before finding an old trail with much tree downfall and slow going. After descending for a couple of hours we stopped 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 with mountain goats on the slopes above. We hang the food – no sign of bears at camp but we had seen footprints along the trail- plus lots of moose prints!
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 Huntington Creek 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 made for an easy start with the sound of jays overhead, before the long climb up to the high pass above Waterfall Creek. We 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.
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. We 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 again quite stunning scenery with the striated sedimentary rock layers.
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!!
Day 1 15th Aug Following on from our short Skoki backpack, we found a campsite near Banff and wandered into town the next day to shop for some food and arrange permits at the park office for our next trip to the famous Mt Assiniboine (Canada’s Matterhorn!) and surrounding area.
We left the rental car at Sunshine Meadows, where a bus service runs to the top trailhead saving a couple of hours walking up a dirt track- we have done plenty of that before! Waiting for the bus was a pleasant chance to chill out sifting gear for the next 6 days, eating bagels and watching chipmunks.
From the bus drop off we headed south on good trails over high meadows on an undulating plateau over Citadel Pass (with a golden eagle overhead) and a steeper descent down into the valley containing our prebooked Porcupine Creek campground. The park service limit camping to specific areas in this region. There was only one other tent here with boots and a backpack outside, but with no sign of anyone. Martina worried there could be a dead body inside!
Day 2 16th Aug Frosty overnight and thankfully a friendly Japanese girl appeared from the other tent for breakfast… We continued southward on twisting trails through the scenic limestone ‘Valley of Rocks’ through trees, meadows and undulations, before after a couple of hours finding a spot to spread the camping gear out to dry in the now strong sun.
Later we arrived at Lake Magog in even hotter sun and reached our campsite. It was busy though and we hunted around to find a patch of grass in an overflow area but with lovely views to the aforementioned Mt Assiniboine.
After pitching the tent, we headed out at about 3pm round Lake Magog to Wonder Pass past some cabins then flower meadows. We dropped down the other side for about half an hour to an impressive view point to the turquoise glacial Gloria Lake. On our return we managed a chilly but fab dip in the wonderfully named Gog Lake with a couple of eagles soaring above.
A great mixed day overall finished off chatting to other hikers in the group cooking area- including James from Santa Barbara who had been to Scotland to play ‘ultimate frisbee’ of all things at St Andrews.
Day 3 17th Aug Frosty again at camp and we set off north carrying day packs to climb a nearby hill ‘Nub Peak’ past Sunburst, Cerulean and Elizabeth Lakes. Fantastic views all round (see banner pic) and we lazed on the summit enjoying the scenery…
Swam in a couple of the lakes on the descent with a gorgeous backdrop, this is the life! Back at the campground we packed the tent and headed back north to camp at another lake- Og this time and had the by now obligatory swim in its cold waters!
Day 4 18th Aug Another overnight freeze but we set off up valley northwards in excellent cold, still conditions retracing our first day to near Sunshine Meadows. Before that we managed another great swim in Howard Douglas Lake but couldn’t linger due to fierce horseflies. We split from Sunshine Meadows to strike out north west towards Healy valley and our next campsite. An ominous plume of smoke appeared to the south west, likely to be a forest fire in the distance.
Boy was it hot. Horse flies pestered us most of the day with their sharp stinging bites and we scrambled inside the tent to hear them banging against the outer fabric!
Day 5 19th Aug Local hikers at the campground yesterday told us that wolves had been heard from here- but unfortunately we had no sounds last night as that would have been wonderful!
After a lazy breakfast we hiked west on a good path over meadowy Healy Pass. We reach Egypt Lakes area at midday in hot, muggy conditions again and pitch the tent – it’s a large camping area with a ranger cabin. We then head out for a fantastic circuit of the surrounding lakes and mountains. First up to the stunning Scarab Lake and of course have to have another cold swim- with snow patches 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. Excellent day.
Day 6 20th Aug Today we walked out from Egypt Lakes back to the car in still steaming hot weather and skies hazy from the forest fires. On the way we 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. What a great backpack, we retraced our steps a few times but that did not detract from the trip and the views were different in each direction.
12th August 2012 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.
Day 1- Starting at the Fish Creek Trailhead below the Lake Louise ski area, we walked in for about 3 hours to our camping spot we had pre-booked at Hidden Lake. The tent was pitched in a hurry as the mozzies soon found us before we hung our food up away from any potentially hungry bears. In the afternoon we scrambling up Mt Richardson, a peak above the lake and a chance to escape the mosquitoes and various other biting flies!
We climbed on trail through colourful meadows and onto the ridge of Mt Richardson before heading up a rough trail on the south ridge. The summit area of Mt Richardson is dotted with snow patches and the panorama from there was just fantastic including to the wonderfully named nearby Pika Peak. We both had a short doze on the summit before dashing down scree back into the meadows. Back at hidden Lake we both have a quick cold dip in the frigid water. We retire to the tent early to escape the mozzies- but a great day.
Day 2-We thought we would have a go scrambling up Pika Peak. However we were beaten back by unending loose scree on the middle slopes- wimps that we are. So we decided to move on east to our next pre booked camp and to do an afternoon walk from there.
The walk east was pleasant on good trails to Baker Lake in a scenic open landscape. On the way we saw pika, bald eagles and a loon at the lake. After pitching the tent we headed north over Cottongrass Pass then were pleased to see some interesting crinoid fossils. The cluster of buildings at the rather quaint Skoki Lodge provided a break and a coffee in the luxurious wooden interior. Next we headed west on a grand balcony trail to Merlin Lakes under the north wall of yesterday’s peak, Mt Richardson. A great spot but it was too windy to linger.
On the way back to camp over Deception 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 eventually the bear lost interest and ambled off……….
Day 3 -Our day started with a quick dip and breakfast out on a promontory beside the lake for breeze to keep the mozzies at bay. There was an amazing cloud of small insects at the side of the lake, but we could see enough through that haze spot our friend the bear again. This time heading away from us around the lake- phew!
We opted for heading back today as the weather was worsening and the wind was getting up. A coyote crossed our path at close quarters, big and athletic and probably hunting for ground squirrels- always a nice sight. The light rain kept up through the day, but we made it back to the car before a downpour. In summary a varied and grand short backpack with plenty of wildlife! More pics here..
We had some wonderful day trips hiking and scrambling up mountains in the Rockies during our trip in August 2012. No climbing this time but great times nevertheless including:
Revelstoke BC hike
Burgess Shale guided walk to visit the protected fossil beds
Middle Sister is near the town of Canmore and provided a fine warm up to overcome jet lag at the start of the holiday
Eiffel Peak is near Lake Louise and south west of the more dominant Mount Temple (which we climbed in 2002). It is a magnificent viewpoint and thoroughly recommended.
Cirque Peak is east of the main Icefields parkway road and again had wonderful views helped by a recent fall of late summer snow.
The Burgess Shale is an exceptional fossil area from the Cambrian Explosion on Wapta Mountain north of the town of Field. Access is restricted so we booked a Parks Canada Guided Tour up the hill to see the fossils.
Vancouver Island – Johnstone Straight sea kayaking
Vancouver Island – West Coast Trail backpacking
This time we headed for some sea kayaking as well as climbing and backpacking trips on the west coast of British Columbia.
Sea Kayaking the Discovery Islands area east of Vancouver Island
Stein Divide backpack
Mt Macrae Revelstone
Glacier Crest trail
Lone Star ski area mountain biking
Harts Pass PCT hike (Washington)
In 2002 we we climbed a few peaks along with some rock climbing and backpacking- we came away with an appreciation of the beauty of the Canadian mountains but with a healthy respect for the looseness of the rock… and the grizzlies!
Peak Bourgeau hike -west of Banff
Col Ouray round -north of Banff
Lake O’Hara, Abbotts Pass Hut, Mt Victoria
Sawtooth Trail – Banff to Lake Louise backpack
Moraine Lake Tower of Babel
Mt Louise rock climb
Tonquin Valley Outpost peak glacier + Amethyst lake + WatesGibson Hut