Reaching for the Sky: Skyline Trail – Jasper National Park
For 3 days in August, I was fortunate enough to be able to go backpacking in Jasper National Park for a 48 km trek with my sister, Elaine, and her husband Brian. Touted as one of the most scenic trails in all of Canada’s national parks, this one did not disappoint. What was especially fun was that over 2/3rds of the trail is above the treeline, providing spectacular views along the way, as well as helping with what I like to call mosquito avoidance (I really hate mosquitoes BTW.) I would definitely recommend this trail and it’s one that you should add to your list in the very near future.
Being a 3 day hike, its pretty manageable in term of gear and food as there isn’t an excessive amount of group gear/food to carry. While the 3 of us carried a little bit more than necessary, including a camp chair (me, but I love it!), too much trail mix and a big bag of Gatorade (yeah, I carried that too) that wasn’t even touched, the load wasn’t too heavy or unbearable. It made for a very brisk pace each day even though for the first 2 days we would start late, around 1000, to make it into camp before 1700.
On day 1 we started from the south at Maligne Lake trail head and worked our way north to what was supposed to be our destination, Snowbowl campsite,12 km later but really turned into 19 km. The trail starts in a ascent (get used to it, it continues!) up through a lush evergreen forest. I found to be pretty representative of what you’d find back in British Columbia with the same sort of plants and trees. We went off the main trail twice to check out some lakes not too far off, which was ok, but I was really itching to get out of the trees. I’m kinda not really of fan of being confined within a tree restricted narrow trail. After more km’s and more uphill, we finally treated with wide open meadows, large expansive mountains and a couple passes to traverse. Squirrels and what looked like groundhogs were quick to welcome us to the great outdoors. After going though Little Shovel Pass, we made it to our assigned campground, Snowbowl, relatively early at around 1500. Full of energy and enthusiasm, we decided to continue to Curator campground another 7 km away in order to shorten what was supposed to be a long 26km trek on day 2. After pushing up Big Shovel Pass (2286m) we continued along a wind swept barren ridge for what seemed like an eternity only to descend 1km, of which we would have to climb/backtrack the next day (how discouraging!), to Curator. The extra 7 km took us about 3 hours, no doubt in part to the long climb up to Big Shovel Pass.
Day 2′s objective was 20km away at Signal Hill campsite (normally you do Snowbowl to Takarra but it was all booked up months in advance). After climbing the 1 km out of Curator we proceeded to conquer “The Notch” at 2480m. Just ahead, we started to approach a small glacier fed lake that we eventually caught up to. With the wind beating down on us, we slowly continued up to the snow capped (if you can cap a depression) mountain pass. After the pass was more ridge traversing, then some winding switchbacks into another large open meadow. Just amazing views in all directions to this point. After passing through Takarra campsite, it was another 6 km up Signal Mountain to Signal Hill (don’t know why the campsite is called hill and the mountain a mountain). Another green, lush, mountainside to climb until the end of the day. Once on the other side of the mountain we got a spectacular view of a waterway passing through the far away mountains. Awesome. A slight decent back into the treeline,into Signal Hill campsite and we setup for the night.
Day 3 was essentially just a getting outta there 9 km along a fire road. The big trek was done, our packs were lighter and we were ready to buy some Wine Gums from the store. Pretty boring 9 km out through the trees, but at least it was descending and easy. Although, I’m pretty sure, nothing could have topped trekking all that time above the treeline.
The skyline trail was truly a sight to see and really earned its place, in my mind, as one of the nicest trails I’ve ever done. If you ever get the chance, go check out this trail and book early. Don’t be surprised to have to book months in advance in order to get a spot. You don’t want to miss out!