Forum Index > Trip Reports > Jasper, Alberta to Mt. Robson, BC, September 3-7, 2012
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Roald
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Roald
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PostTue Sep 18, 2012 10:29 am 
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Berg Lake from trail
Berg Lake from trail

I spent several days hiking with my daughters Alex and Tesha, and Sye, and got to meet Luka as well.  This was Alex and Sye’s last week on Canada’s Great Divide Trail (GDT), which they started at Waterton National Park on July 15.  Tesha, Luka, and I joined them for their final 75-mile leg from Jasper to Mt. Robson Provincial Park in northern British Columbia.     

This is a beautiful and varied chunk of real estate.  At times the terrain reminded me of Alaska’s Brooks Range, with its vast river valleys and endless waves of mountains.  The vegetation was more like southcentral Alaska – spruce forests, wild cranberries, and crowberry bushes.  There was more than a hint of the Cascades, including scrub alder, thimbleberry, and blueberries (mostly Vaccinium membranaceum with a sprinkling of Vaccinium deliciosum).  Sometimes the rock formations looked like Mt. Vishnu in the Grand Canyon, minus the red rock.  More often, the mountains were uplifted like in the Pasaytens, with broad ramps peaking abruptly above sheer cliffs on the uplifted side of the peak.  All around, glaciers sat in stately repose on high benches, or tumbled down toward the valley floor in chaotic icefalls.

Moose Pass, where we lingered for lunch on Day 4 of the trip, is one of the prettiest places I have ever been.

And Mt. Robson Provincial Park, in British Columbia, is a Disneyland of wonder.  The Berg Lake trail passes by glacier-fed lakes, towering cliffs, and booming waterfalls, all on a deluxe trail on which one can – and we did – push a wheelbarrow.  But more on that later.

This feast of a journey, however, came at a price.  Here is our story:   

Chapter 1:  I hate Canada

At the end of Day 1 it rained.  It rained all night.  The track, when we could find one, was ankle deep in mud.  Broad, attractive meadows turned out to be boggy swamps.  We hit the first bog on the morning of Day 2, and my shoes were sopping wet the rest of the way.  A typical bog would lure us in, promising a direct line through pretty brush and decaying flowers.  At first, you would think that you could step from one hummock to the next and keep your feet dry.  After 80-100 meters, however, you would be trapped – surrounded by ankle-deep muck with no easy retreat.  Sometimes the muck went over your ankles. 

“It always rains in Canada,”  someone muttered.  The rain, swamps, bogs, and muck were sneaky, insidious.  They sucked the heat out of us like vampires.

Our first river crossing - before the days of wet feet
Our first river crossing - before the days of wet feet
The crew ponders where to go
The crew ponders where to go
Heading toward Miette Pass
Heading toward Miette Pass
Head for the trees!  It's got to be less swampy in there.
Head for the trees!  It's got to be less swampy in there.

The Weakerthans have a song called, “I hate Winnipeg.”  As the tune began to loop through my head, its words morphed.  The Weakerthans were not thinking large enough, I concluded.  It’s not just Winnipeg, it's the whole friggin country.  I sang the song again, with a larger complaint … “I … hate … Canada.”

Although it was still beautiful:

Salient Mt. - our route goes around the left shoulder
Salient Mt. - our route goes around the left shoulder
Descending Grant Pass, back into Alberta
Descending Grant Pass, back into Alberta

Chapter 2:  Butt gum

“Hey, look at this,” Tesha exclaimed during a break on Day 3.  “I forgot that I have a package of gum in my pack.  I’m gonna have fresh breath now!”

“You should’ve brought some butt gum,” Alex observed.


Chapter 3:  We’re going on a bear hunt!

Do you know the classic children’s story of going on a bear hunt?  Well, this trail is where that story comes from.  Here’s what I mean…

“We’re going on a bear hunt!
We’re not afraid.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared!
Oh, oh, … what’s that?”

“… Long wavy grass!”  (Check.)

“… A deep cold river!”  (Check, many times over.)

“… Thick oozy mud!”  (Check, a million times.)

“… A swirling snowstorm!”  (Ok, only rain and sleet, but close enough.)

“… A big dark forest!”  (Doh.)

“... We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it… Oh no!  We’ve got to go through it!”   (Check.)

Mt. Moren
Mt. Moren
Miette Lake
Miette Lake
Mt. McNaughton and Miette Pass
Mt. McNaughton and Miette Pass
Alex heads straight for the pass
Alex heads straight for the pass
To the north of Salient Mt. from Miette/Center Pass
To the north of Salient Mt. from Miette/Center Pass
Lunch at Miette/Center Pass
Lunch at Miette/Center Pass
Lots of open terrain
Lots of open terrain

The only thing in the story that we did not experience in real life is that we never met an actual bear.  We were a large and noisy group of five people bantering much of the time about food, music, the MI-5 TV show, and Ciara's Ride.  So, theoretically, our noisiness would give any large critters plenty of warning to keep their distance.  But that’s all theoretical.  As far as I can tell - from my direct personal observation - there are no bears in Canada.

Human, bear, and moose
Human, bear, and moose
Wolf track
Wolf track

Chapter 4:  Frozen shoes

Sometime as kids we learn that ice is actually water that is really, really cold.  I can’t count how many college degrees are represented among the five of us in our merry band.  But not enough, apparently, because we all forgot our elementary school physics.  I’ve mentioned that our shoes were completely soaked.  And I don’t mean just sort of wet.  These shoes carried enough water for us to slake our thirst if, by some miracle, all of Canada suddenly dried up and became a desert.  John Franklin, the 19th Century British explorer, became a hero when he literally ate his boots to stay alive during a botched expedition to the northern Canadian shores in 1822.  Unlike Franklin, we did not have to eat our shoes.  But we could have drunk them.

Having wet shoes was, in a way, liberating.  We began to plunge into icy streams with little hesitation, not bothering to change into anything – because we had nothing into which to change.  Here are pics of just two of many crossings:
Steppe Creek crossing
Steppe Creek crossing
Steppe Creek crossing
Steppe Creek crossing
Steppe Creek crossing
Steppe Creek crossing
Crossing Coleman Creek
Crossing Coleman Creek
Crossing Coleman Creek
Crossing Coleman Creek
Crossing Coleman Creek
Crossing Coleman Creek

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that our shoes now consisted largely of a liquid material that is known to – when the temperature drops far enough – freeze into a solid block.  So, when on the morning of Day 4 the temperature did in fact drop quite a bit, our shoes were transformed into solid blocks of ice with Brooks and New Balance logos.

None of us were spared.  By solid, I mean really solid.  I could not bend those little suckers.  I could not fit my feet into them.  No matter how much I whacked them on a rock, the ice remained, well, ice.  My only hope was to warm my shoes with my own body heat.

Shoe defrosting technique
Shoe defrosting technique
Warming up the feet - hey, it's at least 32 degrees.
Warming up the feet - hey, it's at least 32 degrees.
Warm from head to knee
Warm from head to knee

Franklin’s 1819-22 expedition was not the only excursion into northern Canada that the British botched.  Several expeditions were noteworthy for their dysfunctional gear – including frozen footwear.  During the Nares expedition of 1875-76, sledging teams would have to thaw their way into their sleeping bags every night.  The bags, made of buffalo skins, would absorb moisture during the night, only to freeze during the day and impose yet another discomfort on the over-extended and scurvy-ridden sledgers. 

From the comfort of my armchair, I’ve always gazed with patronizing scorn at these poor souls.  How could they have been so stupid as to let their own clothes, bags, and shoes freeze?  But now, after thawing my way into my own shoes, I am more sympathetic.  Those were tough dudes.  And sometimes there’s only a thin line between recreation and misery.


Chapter 5:  Melted shoe

Alex’s reaction to her frozen shoe problem was to set her left shoe on fire.  Really.  Trying to avoid the frozen shoe problem for the next morning, she left her shoe too close to the fire one night, melting the heel.  So now, I reckon that she had one frozen foot and the other on fire.  My statistics teacher, P.J. Hill, would observe that, on average, Alex was therefore comfortable in both feet.


Defrosting shoes
Defrosting shoes

(I’m not saying this is hereditary or anything, but it appears that Alex comes by her shoe issues honestly.  I’ve had my own footware issues, for example, having a boot gallop down a mountain ahead of me, as explained in this Goode-Storm King trip report from a couple years ago.)

Chapter 6:  Which way?

We were armed to the teeth with maps and the route description from a book by Dustin Lynx about the Great Divide Trail.  But sometimes things did not align.  One map had “Miette Pass” before “Center Pass,” while another map had the two passes exactly reversed.  One source referred to “Miette/Center Pass.”  Whatever.

Now, where are we?
Now, where are we?
Fanning out to see if we can find a track
Fanning out to see if we can find a track
Sye pondering the route
Sye pondering the route

When we hit the Moose River on Day 3 of the trip, the GDT book said to stay on its east side.  A map had a dotted line indicating the presence of a trail on the west side.

Somewhere in this story I should point out that we were on a route that has no official trail.  “I don’t know if you want to go there,” warned an officer of Parks Canada when I called for information about the route.  “There once was a trail through there, but it has been officially abandoned for years.  It is reverting to wilderness status.”

But never fear.  In addition to all that information, we had exactly two bits of Priceless Trail Beta from Lee.  Lee, it turns out, appears to be the only person other than Alex and Sye to hike the GDT this year.  He finished ahead of them, and Sye met him in Jasper as he was rushing to catch a bus home.

“There are two important things I’ve got to tell you about that part of the trail,” Lee warned Sye.  “First, there is a 15-20 km stretch through blowdown that completely sucks.  It starts at Colonel Creek and goes all the way to Steppe Creek.”  Let’s call this Lee’s 15-20 Kilometers of Hell.

That was important news to us.  As we headed west from Colonel Pass the morning of Day 3, we saw what he meant.  A large fire in 1998 left a huge swath of burnt trees knocked around like Pick-Up Stix.  We had to hike through that.  And, oh, did I mention that it was raining?

Navigating blowdown in the 1998 burn area
Navigating blowdown in the 1998 burn area
The 1998 burn created a ghost forest
The 1998 burn created a ghost forest
Lots of travel like this through the burn area
Lots of travel like this through the burn area
The Colonel
The Colonel

As for the second Priceless Trail Beta Lee had to tell us?  “Oh, I forget,” Lee told Sye.  Then he hopped on the bus.  “I’ll text you when I remember!” he shouted as the bus pulled away.  A lot of good that would do.  “And while we’re at it,” I thought when I heard this story, “we’ll pick up an Iridium phone to collect that precious text.”  Grrrr.  [Note to self:  Kill Lee.]   

We never figured out what Lee’s Second Priceless Trail Beta was.  Here, however, are some possibilities: 

“Don’t go – it’s a bear hunt!”
“The maps are all screwed up.”
“Do not melt your shoe.  Step away from the fire.”
“I hate Canada.”


Chapter 6:  Treasure map

It was part way through Lee’s 15-20 Kilometers of Hell that we experienced enlightenment.  Really. 

By “enlightenment,” I do not mean any new-agey mind rush that comes after prolonged deprivation.  No, by “enlightenment” I mean that we got smart.  Instead of following the GDT route description and battling our way up the blowdown on the east side of Moose River, we scouted the west side and found a route.

Moose River falls
Moose River falls
First ford of the Moose
First ford of the Moose
First ford of the Moose River
First ford of the Moose River
Ok, that wasn't so bad
Ok, that wasn't so bad

And boy, did we ever find a route.  It turns out that the west side of the river sports a genuine, real-life, trail.  There are yellow markers nailed to trees and everything.  Sometimes we would loose the tread, or ford and re-ford the Moose at odd places, but in general we were now on a path to somewhere.

And, then as if by magic, we found The Treasure Map.  We came to a pretty cove along the river, took off our packs, and there it was, a piece of map lying as if some fairy godmother had placed it there for us.  It was a sketch of something called the “Moose River Route,” and it had a description of where the route went and landmarks along the way.

Moose River beach
Moose River beach

This confirmed that we were on a genuine track of some kind, and that our head-scratching days of route finding were mostly over.  And, as if on cue, the sun popped out and blue skies dawned.

Blue sky ahead
Blue sky ahead
Upright Mountain and Moose River
Upright Mountain and Moose River

The sun was infectious and promised blue skies upvalley:

What's that bright thing in the sky?
What's that bright thing in the sky?
Sun basking
Sun basking
Luka looking happy
Luka looking happy

Chapter 7:  I love Canada

The sun shone the rest of the trip, and we entered the Shangri-La of the upper Moose River valley.  These pictures do not do justice to the beauty of the place.
 
Another swimming lake
Another swimming lake
Moose Pass ahead
Moose Pass ahead
Easy walking toward Moose Pass
Easy walking toward Moose Pass
Moose Pass ahead
Moose Pass ahead
The band marches on
The band marches on
Approaching Moose Pass
Approaching Moose Pass
Moose Pass
Moose Pass
Moose Pass goes on forever
Moose Pass goes on forever
Moose Pass flowers
Moose Pass flowers
Calumet Mountain from Moose Pass
Calumet Mountain from Moose Pass
Yard sale at Moose Pass (drying out)
Yard sale at Moose Pass (drying out)
Calumet Creek
Calumet Creek

Chapter 8:  Civilization

As we approached the Alberta-British Columbia border for the last time – leaving Jasper National Park and entering Mt. Robson Provincial Park – we heard the chop of a helicopter, our first encounter with humans since we started.  It was day 5 of our trip and we were only 25 kilometers from the car that friends had deposited at the Berg Lake trailhead.


First view of Mt. Robson
First view of Mt. Robson
Adolphus Lake
Adolphus Lake
Civilization - entrance to Mt. Robson Park
Civilization - entrance to Mt. Robson Park
Wheelbarrow and road
Wheelbarrow and road
The traveling got easy
The traveling got easy

The trail suddenly appeared as a superhighway.  We chatted with the people deposited by the helicopter, discovered a wheelbarrow with which to enjoy the humongously wide and gentle trail, and lazied our way south through the stupendous scenery of Mt. Robson park.


Berg Glacier and lake
Berg Glacier and lake
Yard sale at Berg Lake
Yard sale at Berg Lake
Alex at Berg Lake
Alex at Berg Lake
Yoga class
Yoga class
Tesha at Berg Lake
Tesha at Berg Lake
Three 2008 PCT veterans
Three 2008 PCT veterans
Berg Lake from trail
Berg Lake from trail
Emperor Falls
Emperor Falls
Along the Berg Lake trail
Along the Berg Lake trail
White Falls
White Falls
Supervise children
Supervise children
Robson River
Robson River
Ambling down the Berg Lake trail
Ambling down the Berg Lake trail
What, a bridge?!!
What, a bridge?!!
Robson River
Robson River
Goodbye to Mt. Robson
Goodbye to Mt. Robson

Some stats: 
# people:  5
# miles:  The book says 75.1
# river fords:  15?
   # with wet feet:  12
# mosquitos:  3 (I love Canada!)
# blown down trees to cross:  a google
# genuine treasure maps:  1
# bear and/or wolf tracks:  X, where X is a large number
# moose tracks:  100X
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Magellan
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Joined: 26 Jul 2006
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Magellan
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PostTue Sep 18, 2012 1:19 pm 
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Love it!!  Beautiful scenery. up.gif up.gif  It has been way too long since I read a Roald report. Thanks for taking the time to write it up.
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Stefan-K
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PostThu Sep 20, 2012 10:54 am 
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for all the muck there's way too many smiles!  fun read.
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David¹
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David¹
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PostThu Sep 20, 2012 1:48 pm 
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Wonderful report, even with all that Canada bashing  hockeygrin.gif

So glad you got to see Mt. Robson and Berg Lake in all their glory.

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Warning! Posts may contain traces of sarcasm.

Hiking Website: http://members.shaw.ca/karenanddavid/Index.htm
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Roald
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Roald
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PostSat Sep 22, 2012 3:41 pm 
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Sye (trail name: Spiff) posted a nice description with photos of this trip on Sye's and Alex's GDT blog:  http://spiffandsixgdt.blogspot.com/2012/09/section-6-jasper-to-mt-robson.html.  Their whole blog is worth a look.  The Great Divide Trail gets very little attention, so their blog is also a valuable source of information about the GDT.
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > Jasper, Alberta to Mt. Robson, BC, September 3-7, 2012
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