The Skyline Trail in Jasper has been on my list for a long time – longer perhaps than Robson’s Berg Lake. This year, we were vigilant and booked as soon as reservations opened. And last Tuesday we set off.
We spent our first night in Whistlers Campground, then drove to the end point of the trail where a shuttle picked us up to deposit us at the start point about 44 kilometres south. There we heaved on our packs and set off on a very pretty trail winding its way up through the forest. Smoke from a multitude of forest fires obliterated distant views for most of our trek – but we caught glimpses – and our close-in views were so epic they more than made up for anything we may have missed.
On our first day we trekked to Snowbowl. After rising through the forest, we were in glorious meadows so vast they felt more like rolling foothills with grassy plains all around. What a landscape! In the early afternoon we arrived at Snowbowl, although at first we weren’t quite sure about it. We were used to camping in places like Robson or Strathcona. Jasper is, apparently, a different experience. Tent pads were barren clay and toilets were open-air affairs. Picnic tables were rickety and there was no central kitchen or cook house. We were surprised. But hey – you go with the flow, right?
One of the finest parts of the day was our trek to a creek to refill with water (yes, the camp site was also dry!). While Simon pumped water, I lay down in the meadow, feeling like a character in “Heidi.” Heaven – sheer, pure heaven. And then Simon joined me and the peace was perfect.
After an early night (what else is there to do?) we got up equally early and were back on the trail by 7.15. We’d heard grim stories about “The Notch,” the steepest ascent on the trail and supposedly tricky at the top depending on snow conditions.
No matter – we travelled through more and bigger amazing meadows surrounded by barren mountains and then topped Big Shovel Pass. As we descended through another grandiose valley that had us “wowing” constantly, we finally saw The Notch. Simon made out the trail pretty quickly – and it was impressive: straight up.
And at this point, I should say that the trail is beautifully built and engineered. Perfect in every way. You can only pray that every trail is built like this.
On we went until we arrived at Curator Lake and campground. Up through a boulder field (no builders – the trail went through the field: boulders moved aside!!) And then we went up. Yes, the ascent was steep but there was nothing the least bit scary about any of it, not even at the top. The snow was gone and the way was clear and easy. At the top we took a few minutes to take photos and then began the next four kilometres of what is, reputedly, the quintessential part of the Skyline: a trail meandering high on the ridge with expansive views stretching all the way to Mount Robson on one side and the Queen Elizabeth range with its gorgeous valleys on the other. The wind up here is relentless – always. Several times Simon had to grab me by my pack to help me balance as I took photos. And yes, there was even a time or two he kept hold of me just to keep me from being blown away. I exaggerate not.
But every step was worth it in this magnificent alpine tundra. Finally we topped out over our first view of Tekarra Mountain and the valley far below. The descent was gentle and delightful with dozens more wows along the way. After setting up our tent mid-afternoon, we wandered a bit, drank in the views and again – another early night. The next morning we were on the trail shortly after seven and, for the most part, booted it down to the trailhead and our car, arriving at about 10.30 a.m. Total ascent – about 2,000 metres with about 1500 metres of descent.
After that – a long drive back but still getting home before dark. Showers!!!! Hot showers! We were soooo stinky. Oh yes – also – a real bed! A down duvet! Ahhhh. It was cold at night up on that ridge. I didn’t get much sleep for three nights and even with my sleeping bag liner, I spent most of those night hours shivering. I suspect a down sleeping bag is in my future.
But what a glorious three days! We saw loads of fat, happy marmots, most of them very close up and completely unconcerned about us. We also saw tons of ground squirrels and a few picas. We played silly word games at night before sleep and on our return trip to the car – laughing, giggling, having the time of our lives. Skyline was another amazing and wondrous thing to share with my love.
Tomorrow: Alps Alturas! A continuation of bliss.