Despite all the time I’ve spent outside, I, for some damn fool reason, have never gotten around to actually going it alone. A few weeks ago I went to Jasper by myself and stayed in the huge public camp ground. This weekend, I decided to up it a bit and try a solo back country hike.
Early in the week I called the booking office and asked what they had available for the weekend, I was told that all they had left was a campsite at “Little Shovel” it is one of the first stops for people doing the famous Skyline trail. As I only had one night, my plan was to simply hike into the campsite, then in the morning hike to the pass, take in the views, and hike out the way I came in.
Saturday morning I drove to Jasper, and was thoroughly annoyed when I hit a heavy traffic jam at the entry gates to Jasper. It is understandable that there would be a line, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the idea that I was trying to escape the city, and its traffic, only to be stuck in traffic at the park. Finally I got into the park and checked in at the park office and headed to the trail head. It was a lengthy, but scenic, drive passed Maligne lake. I parked my car, loaded my gear on my back and hit the trail. This would be my first run with my new backpack, a Tenzing TZ 6000, which I have purchased with the crazy idea of someday doing a back country hunt…….. someday… someday.
I immediately noticed that I am too tall and too thin for it.. I did some tinkering and found that if I maxed out the waist belt it finally snugged up enough to be useful, after a few hundred yards of walking I found that the pack settled into a more comfortable position. That said, it still wasn’t as comfortable as my regular pack, and old kelty that has more miles than most cars… so maybe its not a fair comparison, at this point my body may have broken into the pack and not the other way around.
Anyway, lets continue. I noticed on the drive in that some of the landscape was recovering from a fire a few years ago. Much to my delight, so was the trail. It was neat to see all the old burnt trees standing stoically while the green grasses and shrubs displayed their vibrant green around them. All along the trail I noticed there was nearly an infestation level of squirrels, they were cute, but it also made me think about hunting some. I have always wondered what they taste like, they are popular table fare in the USA so they cant be that bad right? The trial was initially well packed, wide, and on a gentle grade. As the miles went on the trail steepened and turned to switchbacks. It was still clearly marked and well worn, the Skyline trail is one of Jasper’s most popular so that’s not surprising. All along the trail I munched on energy bites and dried apples and bananas. I prefer to walk and snack instead of stop for lunch, I find it easier on my stomach to eat small amounts over a long period instead of gorging myself, which I can easily do as I have extremely limited self control.
Along the way I passed a few small lakes and ponds, most showing a beautiful turquoise colour and filled with dead fall. They looked exactly what you imagine a pristine alpine lake looks like. I was the second of 8 parties to reach the campsite so I certainly had my pick of where to set up camp. I looked at the remaining sites and chose the high ground, for no particular reason beyond it was level and I remember being told, in my childhood, that high ground was an advantage for some reason. I set up my tent and then went to the eating area and had a boiled egg and some orange bell pepper that I had chopped the night before. I then went and laid in my tent for a few hours.
I was half asleep when like a thundering herd, a family with a small army of children came roaring into the campground. As best I could tell, the three young boys were having a yelling competition, if so, they had all certainly brought their “A” game. No doubt they were professionals. I decided I best go use the “bathroom” before I lost the daylight. For those of you unfamiliar, a back country bathroom is essentially a toiled seat on a large drum with some wood that goes about half way up your back for privacy. It is nice to be out in the open and take in nature while doing what nature compels you to do, however, there is always mosquitoes to… hurry the affair along. At any rate, I needed to use the facilities. I grabbed my toilet paper and wandered toward the toilet. Along the way I stopped and chatted with the parents of the amateur choir. Unfortunately, while I was chatting, one of the kids ran up to the table and grabbed their toilet paper and ran off. Knowing that privacy was limited, I decided to wait around at the eating area for the kids to come back before heading to the facilities. To my understanding, based on what I had heard, the kids decided that the mosquito infested toiled was better used as a drum set/ sound stage. I got so tired of waiting I decided to go back to my tent and wait for the noise to get closer before attempting to use the washroom. After about an hour of spirited yelling and kicking of the facilities, they finally decided they were hungry and I climbed out of my tent and finally got my chance.
I went to bed and began to read my book, again, hampered by the noise outside. Eventually the parent intervened, I guess eleven pm is the curfew for yelling in a campsite these days. I am glad that parents are trying to get their kids into hiking and the outdoors, dont get me wrong, but people hike 10 km into the wilderness to get away from people and noise, or maybe that’s just me. At any rate, that all seemed like nice people despite being a little rambunctious for my mood. As dark descended, sleep did not come easy, even in the quiet of night. I tossed and turned most of the night, in the early hours of the morning there was some gusts of wind and a bit of rain, but nothing exciting.
The next morning I had another boiled egg, this time it was called breakfast. I then hit the trail to see Little Shovel pass, long before anyone else in the campsite got out of bed. I stuffed some more dried fruit in my pocket along with my bear spray and a bottle of water. It took just over an hour to reach the beautiful alpine meadow and another half hour to reach the end of it, and the sign declaring it the pass I was looking for. I then spun on my heels and headed back to the camp ground. I quickly broke my camp and headed back toward the trail head.
Along the way I passed a few muddy patches with what looked like either moose or elk tracks. I could tell they were fresh because there where still wet track on the dry parts of the trail. When I came to a nice wide bend with a lake below I was sure I had lost the tracks I had been lazily following, I stopped to dig a granola bar out of my pack. Below me in the lake I heard water splashing. I thought at first it might be a person, this left me in a strange dilemma. If it was a person, it would be creepy to sneak down silently and watch them, if it was wildlife, announcing my presence might scare it off. Luckily my question was answered when I heard a deep grunt, at this point I was sure it was a moose. I stayed quiet and leaned left and right trying to get a good view through the trees when I suddenly heard more splashing. Slowly a swimming cow moose, making her way across the small lake, came into view. I was watching intently when two hikers rounded to bend ahead of me. I waved, made a shushing motion and pointed at my eyes and then to the moose. They were as enthralled as I was. After a few short minutes the moose was across and the hikers and I crossed paths we exchanged a polite “good morning” and a “good eye” and we were on our respective ways. Unfortunately it was simply too far away to get a good picture, sorry. Someday Ill invest in a good camera.
I made it to the parking lot, loaded my now heavy backpack into my little car, changed into clean clothes and began the long drive back home. I had set out to do what I wanted, do a solo hike. I just hope that next time its a little more solo. I also hope that that family keeps hiking, and never gets dissuaded by grumps like me.
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