The Big Finish

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Did I mention that this is a fifteen mile day-hike, starting off with with the sudden and unending 1500 foot, 300 meter, 150 story or so, ascent up to The Notch and ending with a five mile slog down what is politely known as the “Fire Road”? I know that I did, but if you missed that, these pix cover a lot of territory.

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So many scenes are left out. But the thing is, you need to go there and hike the route yourself if you can, to glorify God in the simplicity of walking through His creation.

That route through the valley down there, by the way, is the route the horses take when they bring provision up to The Lodge. It’s overall a 6,000 ft.ascent, with 3,000 of those feet being very sharp and demanding. Evidently they’ve stopped trying to bring tourists up through the trails as few can handle it. (And I’m fine with the hundreds of other fine trails in the area…)

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Ten thirty in the morning, and me looking like a lobster head. My hat was on as soon as we were off the ridge, but the wind was blowing everything away faster than you could recite a Glory Be.

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I’m pretty sure, tho could easily be wrong, that somewhere back there is the Tonquin Valley.

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This site made my morning. My spirit rejoiced and I sang a song of joy to see this long, flat trail and mild ascent. An interesting point, is that The Notch is the highest point of the trip, and here we are about to hike uphill again. I just had to pretend I didn’t notice that, flatlander that I am. If you squint you can see Laura and Chuck ahead of us.

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Walking on scree has its issues. Researching this trail one can’t help but note that it’s used by long distance runners who do long sections in a day. I think what this means is that I need to do more walking on scree to just get the hang of things.

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This was one of my favorite parts of this hike.

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Nothing can describe the strong, brisk wind here. The pic caught my walking sticks in the downswing.

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You can also catch your first glimpse of the trail ahead. But first you go through an area that reminded me of every movie I’ve ever seen about Mars.

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Fr. Jimmy (who took these pics, as my Nikon CoolPix P6000 was revolting against my compatible storage cards…) has a good eye for contrasts.

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The mountains…

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The valleys…

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The city of Jasper!

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The Athabasca River! The Icefield Parkway!

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The scenery!

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The Priests!

I’m fairly certain, tho correct me if I’m wrong, that Athabasca Falls is directly behind me.

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The path ultimately wends down to the Valley…

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… but not before one last intriguing jaunt through the mountaintop.

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Amazingly spry. Notice all the rocks?

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Suddenly it seemed as if we were on the moon. There were no views other than being surrounded by rocks and rock formations.

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But in our amazement we took no photos… we just wandered on eventually to gaze again upon the valley below.

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I know, God bless you. You’re thinking that this post goes on forever and a day.

But so does this hike!

Fr. Jimmy was determined to gather drinking water from this small glacier. We have different views on glacier water, as on most things. Still, we travel well together.

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The trail spirals downward over a mile or more.

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Fr. Jimmy, pretending to be me.

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The glorious valley spreads before you, after forty-five minutes or so of sheer downward hiking in scree. But by this time you’ve adjusted your hiking boots and cinching things and are ready for lunch by one of the pretty lakes that lay ahead.

They only seem far away because they are.

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After we passed this one we stopped for lunch next to the group of German tourists who were ahead of us, then made our way through the very pleasant and entirely lovely valley.

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The Trail at Valley Level. Only ten miles to go from here!

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Another lake.

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A marmot, shortly before being noticed.

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Yet another lake, which brings into mind the whole question of marshland type terrain in the mountains. It does if you’re me at least, being from South Louisiana and owning hundreds of acres of marshland.

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Later in the day, you begin to look over into what’s known as Maligne Valley, which is another wonder entirely.

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And of course you wander, off and on, off of the ridge and into woodlands where you see these type of… dead trees which hold such fascination for some photographers.

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I don’t have the words to describe how beautiful the Skyline Trail is, let alone the part before the Fire Road. This doesn’t begin to do it justice, but it’s all we have.

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Ultimately, you end up, after a valley and a few (long) mild up and downs, at what’s known as the Fire Road. By this time I had considered the hike to be over, and most people do. But the thing is, you still have to walk five miles down the Fire Road.

The flowers and scenes are unforgettable in my mind. They’re just not present in the end of this photo series.

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The Fire Road is an old trail which used to be used as an access route by rangers on the way to a fire lookout. Way back when. These days it’s a trail, overgrown in the end of summer, with zero views other than immediate forest, and which more or less takes you downhill at a grade which would not encumber a ranger’s vehicle. It’s overgrown and pretty boring, and filled with berry bushes, and is five miles long. Although we walked it seemingly quickly, for close to two and a half hours, it seems in retrospect a blink of an eye.

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We drove immediately to the Jasper Pub, and met fellow hikers for a beer. Just don’t have your meal there.

Just sayin…

Evening came, then the night. And everyone slept soundly after the long day’s trek into light.

Skyline III – To the Notch

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After leaving the fantastic breakfast at the Lodge, we left for the days walk, which promised to be an all day affair. But first you’ll recall that one has to walk about 1500 feet uphill first thing. I’d liken this to being on a stairmaster for about an hour and a half. But thankfully the scenery is a so much better than being on a stairmaster.

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It’s a fairly quick rise out of the valley.

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Although every now and again it does seem the one will never stop rising!

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At last upon the ridgeline again, the trail can be seen easily summiting that next pass, which is known as the Notch.

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This easy summit is actually a fairly long walk uphill again. It never ceased to be fascinating.

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You very…

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…slowly…

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…pass…

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…the alpine lake…

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…and suddenly you’re much farther above it than you ever imagined you would be.

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And the trail is much steeper than you had ever imagined it might be. We were catching up a bit with Chuck and Laura at this point; I was actually the last one to leave camp (though the first to finish! But Im getting ahead of myself.) This section is very steep, with kind of jinky footing at times.

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It would be easy to fall off of the trail anywhere along here; it’s slippery, rocky, shifty…steep.

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Still, it’s not rocket science. An the view of the valley is amazing.

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Life is good up here. The wind had picked up and it was pretty chilly, which was so nice, especially remembering that back home it was probably 96 degrees in the shade with 85% humidity.

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Far away, in a different valley, you can see the Icefield Parkway.

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Splendid views…

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Life at the Notch. A great place to stop for a snack and catch up with your trail mates you haven’t seen since breakfast.

The Skyline Trail – II

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

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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.

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Still, one goes on, of course.

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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.

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

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Uphill?

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Or wayyy down to the valley?

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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And all watched a beautiful sunset from the front porch.

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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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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More stunning scenery…

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And more….

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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.)

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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.

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Action shot!

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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…