The Skyline Trail – II


After walking over 11 miles, and reaching Big Shovel Pass, one starts looking for the Shovel Pass Lodge.


There’s a rather daunting view of the trail as it passes up and over the next pass which is called the Notch. And it’s only daunting because at this point there’s really no telling where the Lodge is, or how to get there. And the thought of walking over the next pass is just … why I’m exhausted just thinking about it.


Still, one goes on, of course.


Fr. Jimmy insisted the Lodge was up, and next to the alpine lake before the Notch. I kept insisting it couldn’t be, because no one would build latrines above an alpine lake, they would build them in the woods.

As strange as my reasoning sounds at times, it’s at least sensible.


The only problem, which I’ve mentioned here before, is that the woods were very far away, and a very long way downhill.




Or wayyy down to the valley?


These cairns are all over the place, and marked the trail in several areas. We passed through and then walked uphill after everyone in our party (we had met a couple from California who were walking about the same pace as us,) agreed that the Lodge was uphill.

Everyone except me that is.


And of course I was right! The Lodge is actually down around there.


In fact, here it is now. And it was quite a welcome sight after the intense downhill trek on sore feet.


Nestled in the woods at the base of the… incline,


… it has a rugged comfort to it. And it sure the heck beat lugging a tent along the trail. Aren’t my feet attractive?


We all settled in. The Californians and the Germans were fantastic company throughout the evening…


And all watched a beautiful sunset from the front porch.


After the intense downhill trek, and with the prospect of a huge climb the next morning, it took a great dinner to truly relax. And dinner did not disappoint!

Chuck and Laura, the couple in the front, astounded me in several ways. Chuck carried next to no water, along with a bottle of wine, and did just fine. Laura looked fantastic throughout the entire trek, never flagging, never a hair out of place.

Next to me is the guide of the German group, who’s from New Zealand and who set a brisk pace throughout the days. The German man in the back lives 5 minutes from France and invited me to visit him and his wife, sometime after I chatted briefly with him in my sparse French. The fascinating woman next to Fr. Jimmy is a German psychiatrist, and our little group held quite a fascination for her.

And actually, the bottle of ketchup and the coffee mugs are a sign that this is not a dinner picture at all, but in reality is a breakfast picture. Breakfast… it was wonderful too.

So I am getting ahead of myself in this little travelogue, even though I’m a month behind in posting this never ending story of hiking around the Canadian Rockies…

Evening came, then morning. The Second Day.

The Skyline Trail – Part 1


The Skyline Trail (via Wikipedia, via Trailpeaks, in Men’s Journal, and of course via the Official Site,) is one of the most exhilarating walks I’ve ever taken. It’s definitely the longest, in terms of 2 day treks.

For whatever reason, my little Nikon Coolpix was not having any more of this wild photo spree I was on, and inconveniently stopped storing photos in my camera card. And, in the short time frame I had to deal with the situation, I just ended up ceding all photo ops to Fr. Jimmy, who usually does a very good job with photos. So… these are all his doing! My only contribution is to over-process them with editing software, as per usual.

But here we are, at the beginning! Isn’t it grand and glorious? It’s going to be a long, long walk before we see a sign resembling this again, and by the time we get there, I will want to kiss it.

And yes, the sad truth is, that I do go out looking like this in public. Every now and then my hiking chic comes together with haphazard savvy, sadly, this trip is not one of those times.


All of Jasper National Park is a mycologist’s dream, and this trail is not one to let you down in the fungi department. Aren’t these attractive?


Fr. Jimmy (who took all of these photos…) has a thing for driftwood. The difference between us is, that I will post these either on Facebook or here on my website, and he will make beautiful prints to hang on his Rectory wall. I’m just starting to delve into prints… one only has so much time in the day.


Not that there’s any driftwood on the Skyline Trail way up at the ridge line, of course! But there are lots of dead trees which provide the same sort of, strangely attractive, dried wood shapes. I actually don’t find anything strangely attractive about this formation, but it does have an unusual beauty.


Before you know it, you’ve climbed out of the woods and up onto the ridge, where you’ll be walking for another 20 miles or so. And those 20 miles are, indeed, splendid. (Which is of course a very good thing, as that is a very long way to be walking.)


Usually when I take pictures while traveling with Fr. Jimmy, I end up with a lot of extraneous photos of him. So it was interesting to note that he ended up with a lot of extraneous photos of me. Here, he had asked to take a shot, and while I was still getting my usual death-grip-for-photos on my walking sticks, he snapped away. Alas. That will teach me to rely on walking sticks for everything.


The majority of the trail is a wonderland of alpine flora and fauna. I felt that I rushed through the first day, in a quest for mileage. Yet on the second day I decided to relax and take my own pace, and just take it all in. It’s mostly easy walking, so that’s the better bet for the entire route, in retrospect.


Every moment, in every direction… splendid views of wondrous things.


And speaking of splendid views… a self-timed shot. Interesting that Fr. Jimmy looks taller than me. But thankfully I’ve had time to get the death grip on my walking sticks again, in my dowdy hiking ensemble.


More stunning scenery…


And more….


Yea more…. there was a group of German tourists who were ahead of us on the trail; tall and sturdy, I felt right at home amongst them. While they started ahead of us, we eventually passed them up, and were both somewhat thankful for that, as some of the people in the group were in their 70’s, and it would have been a real ego deflator to have not had a better pace than them. This resulted in me just wanting to set a good pace the first day, and then not caring the second day when I decided just to do my own thing. (I ended up finishing first by the way… it always pays to trust your heart, and to pace yourself propery.)


More scenery… more miles… I had come into this with the understanding we were walking about 24 miles in two days. At some point on the way up to the ridge, one of our newfound compadres gave me the impression that the entire hike was about 12 miles, and that we were walking about 6 miles today. I had an unexpected surge forward at that news, until I realized a few hours later that we were indeed doing about 12 miles a day. As endless as it seemed, it was fun.


Action shot!

big shovel pass

Eventually, towards the end of a beautiful day of walking, you reach Big Shovel Pass. This is after 11 miles or so, and you can make out the thin line of the trail to the left of the sign, in the distance, snaking it’s way up over the next very high ridge. We were staying in a place called “The Lodge”, but had no clue where it was. I was convinced we had to walk downhill, but Fr. Jimmy and a couple from California we had made friends with were convinced it was uphill.

So… we trod endlessly uphill. Up, and up, more and more. Until we eventually realized that the Lodge was nowhere in sight, and, it was actually downhill. And not only was it downhill, but it was way down, off the ridge line entirely.

So downhill it was.

Steep curve followed steep curve. Lower and lower and lower we went until, at last, we reached the Lodge. With the prospect of climbing uphill about 1500 feet first thing the next morning, on very tired feet, I was quite dismayed at this point. And I was hardly alone, as many grumbles quietly ensued from the entire cast of characters assembled in this strangely beautiful location.

But not everything was going downhill. For the Lodge provided an abundant meal of beef filet and vegetables; and afterwards, the bedding was comfortable.

To be continued…

Cardinal Sean in New Orleans

Cardinal Sean

Cardinal Sean spoke at our recent Priest’s Convention (or Convocation, as it were,) and posted very beautifully about New Orleans on his blog. His Homily was magnificent, and I wish that I had a copy of it (I never take notes during Mass.)

My apologies for the poor picture; while the iphone is becoming the most popular camera in the world, my iphone photo skills are apparently lacking. Touch the screen to focus! Otherwise your focus will be on the elevator carpet, instead of on this very kind and very generous man’s face. I’m forever moved, truly, by his calm and prayerful bearing.

While this is not his Homily, there is some news regarding the Cardinal’s visit via the Clarion Herald.

Archbishop Aymond

Archbishop Aymond gave a brilliant closing address, and I took copious notes on my iPhones note app; I had forgotten my notes journal. As he spoke about the need to be one on one, and to not be a slave to technology, I got many stares as I typed away on my phone. But my notes are well worth it because his closing talk was very clear, open and prescient. I’d like to think I’ll post it here, but I will definitely speak to it in Homilies.

It was a great time to get together with fellow Priests, to share, to learn, and to grow. Mostly, simply, just to be, to pray, and to have fellowship.

Be sure to check out the Cardinal’s Blog.

Berg Lake – The Rest of the Story


Not that it’s much of a story… But this is the hut and dishwashing area up at the Berg Lake campground.  It’s actually the back of the hut, and I was usually hesitant to walk in through this door due to the rain and mud, but it turned out to be no big deal.  The inside of the shelter stays pretty dry because everyone is taking care not to get it all wet and muddy. That and you walk in right by the wood burning stove, which dries things out pretty fast.

And it is THE place to hang all of your wet clothes to dry out.  The assorted batch in this view is from the previous night.  At this point many hikers were still heading back in the rain, cold and mist.  And soon this area was completely filled with drying clothes as a warm fire was built in the wood burning stove (which is just outside of the range of this picture!)


And here’s Fr. Jimmy holding up tonight’s dinner!  It was a freeze dried extravaganza, and every meal was delicious.  While that’s partly due to the fact that almost any meal tastes good on the trail (with some notable exceptions….), it also has to do with the fact that freeze dried meals have come a long way in the last decade.  A lot of them just taste fantastic. And this coconut Cuban rice thing hit the spot after the freezing cold rain fest over at the glacier earlier in the day.


Fr. Jimmy is convinced he is an introvert.  I’m not quite convinced of that, as he is so out going and popular on the trail. But he does read a lot, and needs his alone time.

The woman in the background is measuring water for dinner.  In this Shangri-La of a campsite, you can literally just walk to the edge of the lawn and dip your container into the clear, briskly flowing stream for water.  It was beautiful. Many campers especially the Canadians, do that alone.  But we southerners, jaded by the muddy Mississippi and the Gulf Oil Spill no doubt, used Steripens if we weren’t cooking with it.


The glacier makes huge groaning noises throughout the day and night, which are often mistaken for thunder.  While we were looking at it the evening prior to this, a chunk fell off into the lake while we oohed and aah’d in complete wonder.  It looked like a puff of snow falling gently into the lake.

A few seconds later there was a huge boom, which was the delayed sound reaching us … truly amazing!

But later that night, as the soft rain fell, the glacier groaned for what seemed several minutes, with a terrific rumbling sound as well.  Some campers saw large chunks of ice fall into the water, and the ranger who passed by the next morning called it a “significant event”.

That led me to use the term “significant event” throughout the day, to anyone and everyone who commented upon the amount of ice in the lake.

It was a significant event.

A significant event I tell you.  The Ranger said so.


And the lake was filled with a significant amount of ice.  But these small ice bergs are what give the lake it’s name, after all.


Which for whatever reason led me to try artistic shots with my little Nikon Coolpix. And at the base of the mountain and the glacier, you can make out a significant line of ice.


Despite the ongoing rain and mist and fog and the damp and the cold, (I kept trying to explain to the Canadians that  this was like winter in New Orleans…) the shelter remained a haven of warmth and dryness.  The wood burning stove inside was kept well tended, and people were hanging clothes out to dry until there was barely any room left, and one had to search high and low for an extra inch of hang space.

And speaking of dry, the Marmot Limelight 3p tent kept us high, dry and warm throughout this wet and rainy first week of backpacking and hiking.  I was initially concerned about it’s weight, but between two relatively large men, (one of which there is nothing relative in the least about largeness… I am just a big guy,) the weight was entirely manageable, and the tent roomy enough so that you almost don’t even remember there’s another person in the tent at times.


The Steripen Ultra, in action.


Low lying clouds scudding by in the evening light.


A Canadian Stand Around.  Bob and his family were celebrating some major birthdays by taking some trail time together then hitting Jasper over the weekend. The amount of families on the trail was both amazing and inspiring.


Cloudy Mist, with a glint of twilight, begging to be photographed.


We fixed breakfast inside the shelter the next morning as we prepared to leave.  Despite the heights of complexity and deliciousness that freeze dried meals have obtained,  we stuck to a fairly penitential breakfast regimen of gruel … granola with hot water added, and coffee.

And actually we  just brought all of our gear up to the shelter to pack it up since we were leaving fairly early and it was starting to rain. Again.


But then the sun came out and everyone shouted Hallelujah!  Bradley showed up and fetched some water during this brief appearance of the sun.  And from the looks of this picture, my little Nikon didn’t know how to respond to the sudden appearance of sunlight. Especially with random raindrops falling…


The walk out was as beautiful as the walk in… shrouded in glory.


Between the last picture and this one, a huge rain squall erupted, with cold winds blowing at what must have been at least Tropical Storm force.  We had to lean into the wind, and the rain hit us in the face, feeling like sleet or, at times, hail.  I felt like I was in a National Geographic special.   Fr. Jimmy noted, over the wind, that this was the back country at it’s roughest.

At the height of this storm, a man and woman walked around a bend with packs on, holding an umbrella impossibly against the wind and the rain.  It was absurd and yet somehow delightful.  It reminded me what I had come to love about the Berg Lake Trail in these few short days… that everything and everyone on it was so unique and so strange and so beautiful.

After a few moments, we descended off of the plain and began the intense 4K descent back to Whitehorn and the rest of the trail out.   The weather cleared, and we stopped and prayed morning prayer, giving thanks for such a beautiful and wonderful stay at Berg Lake.





At Berg Lake


Hiking along Berg Lake affords incredible, soul-stirring views.  This glacier coming off of Mount Robson feeds into a small damned lake which is viewable via Google Earth, but which I had zero energy to attempt once I had arrived on site.  Aside from the fact that it’s not the most attractive hike on the planet,  let alone at Lake Berg, one would also have to ford the raging river…  or just hike in from the other side.  And that certainly wasn’t going to be happening anytime soon.


Lots of little bridges like this one to help ford the streams.  Usually when they’re there, they are quite necessary and helpful. (Admittedly, there are a few superfluous bridges, though this is not one of them.)


Ah.  Que magnifico!


One hikes along Berg Lake for what seems a small eternity.  Having just flown in and not having my trail legs yet (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it,)  I was ready to set up camp and fix dinner, then settle into reading the book I had brought with me.    But with views like this, who doesn’t mind walking another mile or two to get to camp?  Certainly not me!  (That’s my story and again I’m sticking to it.)


At last we arrived at the Berg Lake campground, where the view more or less looks like this, at least when it’s cloudy. It reminded me of the Old Testament stories of the clouds around the mountains, around the temple…

To make a long story short, we set up camp, met a lot of great people, ate dinner, visited, read books, and had a peaceful night’s sleep at the well made camp grounds.

The next day we had decided to hike up to the traditional 12 mile day hike from Lake Berg, which is to Snowbird Pass.  But the weather was windy, rainy, and ultra misty and cloudy.   We opted to visit the glacier (which was only 6 miles…) and everyone who attempted Snowbird that day, except for a hardy few, turned back due to the weather.  So, I didn’t feel like a total failure;  I’m usually vindicated in these low mileage decisions.


For some reason in photos I am always clutching my hiking poles for dear life.  I will have to get to the bottom of this issue.


The trail to Snowbird Pass, passes along this glacier.  It was rainy, windy and cold and I was convinced I was going to die from hypothermia before the day was out despite my many layers of polar-tec.

Still, this glacier beckoned us forward.


The trail leads safely around this boulder field (you can see Fr. Jimmy who is now a tiny red speck to the left…) and we safely bypassed it to the glacier.  But, coming away from the glacier we trod right through it and I just have to add here that it’s a completely tedious task to pick one’s way through a boulder field.  They slip, they roll over, the fall downhill after you… entirely doable, but so is hiking back up to the trail and simply walking down.


The bottom of the glacier is fascinating, with these amazing caves underneath it.  The river flows out from under it with an amazing force.

Er… that’s a warning sign to the right, warning about the dangers of going off trail, most likely. I’m pretty sure it just says “Be Careful!”


Another glacial view, with caves on the bottom right.


And yet another view….  there are rain drops on the camera lens at this point because it was raining pretty steadily.  And the closer we got to this huge chunk of ice, the colder it got.  I had my hat, gloves, wool sweater, rain jacket, polar-tec shirts…  it was freezing cold and I loved it.


At the base of the glacier with the river flowing from underneath…


There’s a beach of sorts composed entirely of mud so that it reminded me of Grand Isle except a thousand degrees cooler.

The mud gets all over everything, and the stones can be slippery.  Still, we opted to have lunch in this odd environment.  As we did, the rain poured down even harder.    We dined on packaged chicken, cheese crackers, and, my personal trail favorite, M&M’s.   This was also the 8th anniversary of Katrina, so somehow the rain did not bother me, nor the cool temperatures.  I was so thankful to be out of the heat, taking good exercise and seeing amazing new sites….

That lasted for a good twenty minutes before I decided that if I did not get out of there I would freeze to death within the hour and what good would that do anyone? Fr. Jimmy agreed and we packed up and left.


You can kind of see the rain in this pic of one of the berg caves.


Fr. Jimmy felt compelled to drink some of this ‘pure glacial water’, which I found odd.  It looks incredibly muddy to me, and the water in the streams flowing from it didn’t carry all of the sediment, so was much purer.  Still, he’ll probably outlive me so who am I to question drinking glacial runoff?  It’s evidently quite popular at Lake Berg.


Cold, freezing, rained out…   Life belongs to the rugged!


Heading back, after successfully traversing the boulder field, there’s a placid lake, which runs deep;  it feeds into the streams running to Lake Berg.


These tiny baby Christmas Trees dot the landscape all over the place.  I love them!


Looking back towards the glacier, thinking about drying out in the shelter at Lake Berg campground…


The glacial runoff is pretty impressive…


And, the glacier in 1911 reached up to this point.  But I still don’t believe in anthropogenic global warming.  Can’t we focus on curbing pollution and the use of plastics instead of creating a hysterical movement which is questioned, credibly, by science itself?


And this is why I was completely fine with the weather up at Lake Berg… Who needs sunshine every day when life can be so beautiful without it? It’s the way the clouds roll in, the way the mist clings to things, the way the light transfuses into everything… it can be altogether lovely.


After the hike, and admiring the misty vistas, we headed into the Shelter, where someone built a roaring fire in the wood stove, clothes and gear were dried out, and everyone who had attempted Snowbird Pass eventually returned to proclaim in dismay why they had turned back due to the wind, the clouds and mist and the rain.

I read my book in peace that night, and had a wonderful night’s sleep amidst the chill, the damp and the rain. It was a wonderful day.

The Rev. Kenneth Allen