The Skyline Trail

20130720-095622.jpgLast week I hiked 78 km on Jasper Park’s famous and popular Skyline Trail. My initial plan was to hike the 44 km from the Maligne Lake trailhead to the trail’s end at Maligne Canyon. But then I decided to just hike to Signal camp, 39 km from Maligne Lake and then return. This would constitute a better training trip, would avoid the hassle of hitchhiking back to my car at the end of the day, and would avoid the inaesthetic 6 km of fire road at the end of the hike.

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So I packed, drove to Jasper, and made final preparations while eating at the Maligne Lake picnic area. By 9 pm, I was on the trail and by 10 pm I had arrived at Evelyn Ck camp, five km along the trail. I camped there, enjoying a hot drink before turning in.

The next day I was away by 7 am, and passed two more campsites (Little Snowbowl and Snowbowl?) where hikers were still having breakfast. Little Shovel Pass and Big Shovel Pass were in good condition; a few well-consolidated low angle snow patches, but no problems. Many meadows were marked by numerous braided trails as hikers attempted to avoid mud holes, but otherwise, Parks personnel had taken good care of the route.

20130720-095556.jpgCreek crossings were easy to do with dry runners and much lower than we encountered last year about the same time.

Curator Lake marks the middle of the Skyline Trail and the beginning of a rubbly climb through scree and talus to The Notch. From here, the trail runs very close to the ridgeline that marks the divide between the Maligne Valley and the Athabasca Valley, where Jasper lies.

From a distance, I could see that here was still a large cornice threatening the south-facing aspect of the approach to the Notch from Curator Lake. Closer, I spotted a large crack well back form the lip of the cornice, and running almost its full width.

20130720-094331.jpgI had briefly considered carrying an ice axe to supplement my trail runners in case the snow slopes were steep and/or icy. But the snow was soft by midday and my ski pole served as a third point of balance. The well-kicked bucket steps climbed 50 or 60 metres of snow well to the right of the cornice. After dropping my pack at the Notch, I returned to coach an Irish couple up the snow slope. Like all the other hikers I saw en route, they were struggling under huge packs – 55 to 70 litres, and many loads I saw looked heavier than the packs Jon and carried on Mt. Logan. The extra gear and food may contribute to a better experience for some, but I’ll opt for a day pack and a sub ten kilo load any day.

From the Notch north almost to Lake Tekarra, I encountered strong winds on both days. The Houdini windshirt was a great addition to my wardrobe.

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I continued down from the ridge and stopped at Tekarra camp for dinner. Just around dusk, i reached the end of the trail at its intersection with the fire road. To my right, the road dropped down to the Maligne road, maybe six km away. To my left, it ascended to a viewpoint. Just as I arrived at the intersection, I heard a “woof” and I looked up to see a large brown bear, perhaps spooked by my sudden appearance,runnng up the road, no more than 15 metres away. He disappeared within seconds. I quickly debated whether prudence dictated that I should continue walking to the highway (even as the evening grew darker) or camp at Signal, only two hundred metres away.

I opted for the latter. Mosquitoes forced an early night and over a hundred of them took up residence in my tent vestibule for the entire night. As in every other campsite I visited on the Skyline, mosquitoes made life almost impossible, even when protected with DEET, bug hat, and long pants and windshirt. I resolved to treat my tent, bug hat, wind shirt, and long pants with permethrin, a long-lasting insecticide, on my return to Red Deer.20130720-095453.jpg

The next day, I broke camp and hiked to treeline to eat breakfast free of mosquitoes. I hiked more or less non-stop the final 39 km back to Maligne Lake in 11 hours (including rests). All in all, a good outing, a great training trip, and a justified repeat of a classic route I hadn’t done since 1981.

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