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This was a great 5 day backpack in varied adventurous feeling country and it was possibly the highlight of our summer holiday. We followed the route description from the 'Great Divide Trail' book which sets out an epic long north-south route along the Canadian Rockies from Waterston NP on the US border up to Jasper and further north.
|Preparing our healthy 6 days of food|
Day 1 22nd August 2012 We drove north and, after some discussion, managed to pick up permits for our trip from the Athabasca Pass park centre. They told us of a rogue grizzly that was in our intended area. The bear had a wounded hip after being hit by a slow moving freight train- poor thing! It did put us on alert though as we didn't want to meet a potentially angry bear.
We left the Sunwapta Trailhead at 2pm with 6 days of food, and with 21km to do before reaching our camp at Jonas Cut Off, we set off at a fair pace. Nice cool conditions but the walk was mostly along forested valleys with only occasional views to the surrounding mountains. We saw plenty of signs of bear- fairly fresh poo and paw prints- but luckily not the actual bear itself.
Day 2 23rd August The campsite was set in a gully and stayed quite cold and moist so we were happy to leave for the more open mountain slopes. An easy set of zig zags led to Jonas Shoulder- a high pass with great mountain views under a leaden cloudy sky. Met two girls out hiking for 8 days here. We hiked south east along the long valley but with a wonderful wild feel under hanging cirques and snow patches. During a short sunny spell we managed to dry the tent and sleeping bags over lunch. Made it to Boulder Creek campground by about 5pm and made a fire as the temperature dipped sharply and some snow started falling. A very pleasant day.
|Rainbow from Jonas Shoulder|
|Fire at Boulder Creek Campground|
Day 3 24th August Wet snow cover this morning meant a cold damp start but the hiking was lovely up to Nigel Pass on a good trail. We then left that for the valley towards Cataract Pass on fainter trails and beautiful dramatic scenery. Spotted a flock of bighorn sheep next to the river sandflats amidst cottongrass. The final push over snow was grand to the col with marvellous views.
We dropped down steeply into the Cataract basin but lose any sign of trails and headed downstream until we hit the treeline on the Cataract river. Hit some rough bushwacking for a while through dense scrub before finding an old trail with much tree downfall to make the going tough. After descending for a couple of hours we stop to have dinner on a fallen log. Our thinking was that we would walk on for a while then pitch the tent and reduce the cooking smells at camp to keep bears away.
At 7pm we took our shoes off to cross a tributary stream and managed to find somewhere to camp just after. Mountain goats on the slopes above. We hang the food - no sign of bears at camp but we had seen footprints along the trail- lots of moose prints though!
|Looking up to Cataract Pass|
|At Cataract Pass|
|Lunch and drying session|
|Dinner on the trail|
|Great scenery approaching Cataract Pass|
|Camp in Waterfall Basin|
Day 5 26th August Awoke at 7am to watch the sun's rays slowly hit the tent and start melting the thick layer of frost. Set off early and dropped into Waterfall basin before a steady climb up to the Michelle lakes col (the highest point on the Great Divide trail(?)). There was plenty of signs of previous bear activity around here. Had a rest just above upper Michelle lake in this 'otherworldly' place. It was all quite stunning scenery.
Up to our final high col of the hike before the long drop down to the road near Saskatchewan Crossing. The first part was easy down open grass slopes with the sun warming us. Once we hit the tree line though the valley narrowed around Owen Creek and we had a much tougher time. The way was not obvious scrambling down hot, dusty, scrappy loose slopes on the east side of the river. This lasted for about two hours before the stream confluence with Mount Wilson where the trail improved. Still lots of scrapy willow bashing as the trail upped and downed along the river in dust and heat. We emerged out onto a wood burn area before the river gorge narrowed superbly to a maybe 40m deep chasm which was bridged by chockstones and fallen trees at one point.
We were both glad to reach the road though at about 15:30 and lucked out by getting a lift straight away from a friendly park ranger to the Saskatchewan Crossing diner and garage. Another lift and we were back at our car. What a great backpack- recommended!!
|Overlooking Michell Lakes basin|
|Strange arid scenery|
|Michelle Lakes basin|