Distance: approximately 43 km running from Maligne Lake to Maligne Canyon (or visa verso).
Elevation gained: 1,380 m, the highest point being the Notch, at 2,480 m above sea level (also, I believe, the highest trail pass in Jasper National Park).
Time to hike: 3 days, totalling approximately 16.5 hours of hiking over all.
A couple of years ago I received recommendations for various hikes to try in Alberta from a co-worker. I wanted serious wilderness-type hikes, not the front-country, touristy ones that are jammed full of people from June to September. Last year we went to Lake O'Hara, which I blogged about here. This trip provided a "gentle" introduction to backcountry camping where you could choose to hike to the site, or take a bus, and where there was no electricity, but food lockers and safe drinking water was available. We elected to hike to the site (approximately 10 km and around 700 m elevation gain) to see if we could carry our packs for that long. We managed the trek without much difficulty, and I certainly enjoyed the overall camping and hiking experience, so we were game to go for a full out point-to-point camping experience. Thus, we choose to do the Jasper Skyline trail.
Initially, we planned the hike for the Canada Day long weekend, as I had an extra day off from work. However, the trail report at that time stated it was "Not Recommended" and when we called the Jasper office they confirmed that deep (as in up to the knees) snow was still present on the trial. After 20 minutes on the phone (the Park employees were pleasantly patient with me) I was able to re-book the our trip for the Labour Day weekend. The one difficulty was that we couldn't get the same campsite for our second night (Tekerra), which made for a long day to get to the campsite we could book, Signal.
Okay, so without further ado...the hike.
Andrew and I rose at our regular (or at least my regular) work-week time, and were driving toward the Yellowhead (Highway 16) by 7:07 am Saturday morning. The sky started out delightfully blue and pretty, unfortunately that didn't last. The further west we drove, the grayer the sky became and eventually rain did indeed fall. I had hoped we might somehow managed to get away with good whether for the weekend, but considering the summer we've had (cold and rainy) I wasn't surprised. When we first arrived at the Maligne Canyon parking lot, the rain had abated, but as we rode the shuttle bus around to Maligne Lake it started up again.
Note to future hikers: We would recommend parking your car at the end of the trail you plan to finish at and take the shuttle bus to the opposite end. This way your car will be waiting for you at the completion of your hike and you can just drive away when you're ready. Although the bus runs at somewhat regular intervals, there's no guarantee that it will actually be on time.
When we got off the bus at Maligne Lake it was drizzling. I dug my gaiters out of my backpack and strapped them on, and Andrew grabbed out his rain pants. As it turned out, I wore my gaiters for all but the last day when our hike was only 8 km, and I was just too lazy to fight with the mud-caked zipper one last time. The trail was very muddy, as can be seen in the below picture. The sun came out not long after we started up the trail, causing us to stop to de-layer. The first part of the trail was rather pleasant (aside from the mud) as we trekked through a pretty forested section and occasionally caught glimpses of mountain lakes. Maybe half a kilometre before we reached the Evelyn Creek campground (5 km into the trail) it started hailing--yes hail--but it was fairly small so we kept on trudging. After Evelyn Creek the trail took on a steeper pitch, which kept us pretty warm despite the weather. Of course, by the time we reached the Little Shovel campground (8 km into the trail) the sun was back out again. We paused here for a short break and we also decided to fill up our water pack as we'd read there was no water supply at our destination campground, Snow Bowl (13.5 km into the trail).
|The muddy trail. I was grateful for my gaiters for keeping my pants dry.|
|A pretty look out onto a lake early on in our hike.|
Not long after setting out from Little Shovel we broke the tree line for the first time and spent a good stretch of the remaining distance to our destination hiking across alpine meadows. If memory serves correctly we saw our first glimpse of snow for the hike during this section, it was also a tad on the cool side as we traversed this mostly open section. As we approached Snow Bowl we lost some of the elevation we'd gained earlier as trees re-appeared. The campsites are all nestled within wooded sections of the trail, and so we found Snow Bowl a bit of a maze trying to find our way between the cook area, the toilet, and our campsite. We were one of the last sets of campers to arrive at Snow Bowl (around 6-6:30 pm), and at first we were worried that all of the tent pads had been taken. This was reminiscent of our trip to Lake O'Hara where we spent 20 minutes running around in the rain trying to find a spot for our tent. At Snow Bowl we found an open one after only a few minutes,got our tent pitched and set to work on dinner.
|Me, holding one half of our water filtration system, Andrew stood down stream of me.|
|Andrew unloading at our campsite at Snow Bowl. We were extremely relieved to take our packs off.|
Since it was rather cool, we didn't bring any books/cards with us, and it was getting dark, we went to bed early, around 9:00 pm. I had little difficulty falling asleep, although I woke up a couple of times during the evening. We managed to coax ourselves out of our sleeping bags around 7:45 the next morning. We ate quickly (oatmeal and tea), struck our tent, packed our bags and were off again by 9:30 am. We had a sizable distance to cover on our second day (21 km) and wanted to get a good head start. Unfortunately, we made a number of stops early on in our morning. We had to get more water for our bottles, we got too hot so we had to take off our long johns, etc., and so made somewhat slower progress than what we would have liked over the first stretch of the trail. Additionally, we got confused when we came to a sign pointing to the Watchtower mountain. One trail lead up, way up to the mountain, the other kept on in the direction we'd been traveling, but the sign didn't tell us what was on ahead. After some humming and hawing we (correctly) decided we didn't want to trek up to Watchtower, and kept going onto the Curator campground turn off (19.5 km into the trail, plus an extra 1 km off the trail to the actual site).
|Looking up toward The Notch from the trail turn off to the Curator campsite.|
|The mountain lake, about 1/3 of the way up The Notch.|
|Still a long way yet to go (aiming for the snow covered peaks) but on our way.|
Note to future hikers: A couple of points along this section of the trail are not as well marked as the rest of it. You have to look for the carins up there, although I think it unlikely you could get too far off track as at least on one side of you there's a big drop off the mountain.
We covered this mountain top section of the trail without break partially due to our hurry, but also partially due to the fact that there isn't anywhere to rest and be sheltered from the weather. The snow eventually stopped and the sun tried to come out. Around 2:00 pm (I'm not sure what the distance was at this point, we were just about to start our descent down to Tekerra) we came across a couple of hikers taking the trail in the other direction. We swapped information for a couple for minutes, which helped put "wind back in our sails," as it were. We would be down this section of mountain in under an hour and on to Tekerra (the next campsite, 30.5 km into the trail) in about that time again. Suddenly things looked rosy again, we were hiking down hill, the sky was cheering and we indeed made it to Tekerra before 4:00 pm, where we took a short rest.
|The snow covered trail on the mountain top.|
|Andrew taking a breather at Tekerra, we were relieved to reach the camp and take a break.|
The last section of our second day was 5 km from Tekerra to Signal. The trail between these two points does a couple of ups and downs, which when tired is a little trying on one's constitution; however, there are no terribly steep climbs, and the scenery is very pretty. Once you've crested the last hill, the trail is all down hill to Signal, and to your car (if you parked at Maligne Canyon). We reached Signal around 6:00, set up our tent and began preparing dinner by 6:30 pm. By this point the sky had return to a mass of gray clouds, which resulted in a couple short bursts of hail/snow, but we were able to eat most of our dinner in peace and without getting wet.
Note to future hikers: They're no shelters at the campsites. Many have limited tree cover, but if it starts to precipitate you're going to get wet/snowed on. If you can spare the space, it probably wouldn't hurt to bring along an extra tarp and some rope so you can set yourself up a small shelter for cooking and eating.
Again we went to bed with the sun on this night, and again I fell asleep pretty quickly. I heard a little pitter-pattering of rain at one point over night, which turn out to have been snow. Winter came early to the mountains. Snow covered everything on Monday morning, although it was fairly light, and maybe a centimetre thick at best. We stood to eat breakfast, re-heated the leftovers we couldn't finish the night before (nothing like dahl and brown sugar pudding cake for breakfast), then packed up as quickly as we could. We were only 8 km from our car and all down hill. We were off at 9:40 am on our way down an old logging road (I think, or it might have been a fire access road...an old road at any rate). This last stretch was still a pretty hike, although it was mostly trees, etc. It also wasn't quite as steep as we'd expected. We'd been warned that one could easily end up with bruised toes by the time you get down to the parking lot, but we didn't find this the case.
|Our tent, Monday morning. We were actually nice and cozy inside.|
|The last stretch of the trail, on our way down to our car. Really very pretty!|
|Andrew and I at the end of the trail.|
*I don't think I mentioned this explicitly, but you need some kind of water treatment system, whether it's a filtration unit, or purification tablets I don't think it really matters, but you need something as there's no potable water up there.
*Be prepared for the weather! We saw rain, hail, snow, and sun. A rain/wind resistant coat is necessary, as are waterproof boots. We had frequent river/creek crossing and lots of mud which would easily soak canvas shoes/boots. Having a waterproof cover for your pack would also be a benefit.
*Hiking poles are a nice extra if you can afford it. I don't think they're absolutely necessary (Andrew and I actually shared one set between the two of us, I had the left, he had the right), but it's a comfort to have something to put a little weight on and pull you along when heading up hills.
I think that's about it. Enjoy the slide show, and feel free to ask questions. Next year's plan: The Rockwall in BC!