Tonquin Valley in 3 days

Trip Diary: 16-18th September

16 Sep – 6pm

I’m in my tent huddled in my sleeping bag keeping warm. It’s drizzling as it has been all day. Today I started hiking from Portal Creek trailhead at 9am and arrived at Maccarib camp at 2:45pm, 19km in total. First 9km to Portal Creek campground was through a valley covered by many trees, and beyond 9km was through wide open meadows where I was expecting to see a Grizzly at any moment.

In the meadows
In the meadows

Trail was really muddy and in desperate need of repair. Overall not too big a day. Past a handful of people. Awesome green, yellow and red foliage all around, winter is just around the corner! Cooked up noodles and made a hot cup of tea already, very satisfying. Then since it was raining hoisted my food up the bear pole and crashed. Hope the rain eases so I can go down to the lake and scope out positions for sunrise photos when first light hits the “wall” that is the Ramparts. Excited to get wicked photos. Fingers crossed!

Rest break from my 20kg pack (45 pound) at Portal Creek camp.
Rest break from my 20kg pack (45 pound) at Portal Creek camp.

18th Sep – 5am

It’s early and cold but I’m wide awake once again tucked in my sleeping bag. Yesterday wasn’t an enormous day but it was enough to do me in early. I got up at 5:30am and walked half an hour to the lake shore. Turned out I was well and truly early enough since the first rays only hit the mountain tops after 7.

Before sunrise a wicked view about 1km north of Amethyst camp.
Before sunrise a wicked view about 1km north of Amethyst camp.
Enjoying sunrise
Enjoying sunrise

As it usually happens my best photo was unplanned as I was walking back to camp.

The swampy, wet marshlands of the Tonquin Valley from the northern end of Amethyst Lake.
The swampy, wet marshlands of the Tonquin Valley from the northern end of Amethyst Lake.

After breakfast and packing up I left Maccarib at 11:30am and walked back down the muddy, horse beaten path 9km to Surprise Point. On the way I got lucky seeing a rare species. I turned to my right and woah – two woodland caribou 40m away staring at me.

This is the rare species the woodland caribou
This is the rare species the woodland caribou

I just stayed still and watched them for 15 minutes. One even used it’s antlers to tear the branches off a tree. I’m not sure why as it left all the branches on the ground (since found out it might be to remove the fur off it’s antlers to look more attractive). I arrived to the awesome location of Surprise Point at 2:30 and by 5 took a lay down which turned out to be bed for the night. I’ll try for better sunrise photos today, then begin the 17km back to the real world.

19 Sep – 11pm

The sunrise never prevailed through the clouds that next morning unfortunately, but good news is it didn’t rain on me. I gunned it out of there at 8am to get to work by 4pm and ended up doing the 17km in just shy of five hours. 3.5km/h with a heavy pack is solid pace. When I reconnected to the main trail (Astoria River trail) I was so grateful to finally be out of the mud, and hopping over rocks and logs. For a while there I was following some fresh animal tracks but didn’t see any this time.

I believe these were moose tracks I was following on the way out (my foot is pointing in the wrong direction)
I believe these were moose tracks I was following on the way out (my foot is pointing in the wrong direction)

So how did the Tonquin compare to other similar trips in the area? Straight up Berg Lake and The Skyline are both superior in my opinion.

For me the Tonquin was hyped up to be a magical “Garden of the Gods” experience, but it wasn’t. Yes, the Ramparts are an incredible sight and I know the weather wasn’t perfect (if I was there a few days earlier it would have been 10 degrees warmer) but the fact is the trails are so beat into the ground which just takes up too much focus to avoid sinking ankle deep every step. Your eyes are spending too much time on the ground instead of marvelling at the surroundings.

And how do you compensate for this? You can’t go earlier in the season before the horses have eaten the trail apart because you’ll get eaten alive by mosquitoes and flies. In June and July avoid the Tonquin at all costs! Those marshlands are a mosquito breeding ground heaven.

Am I missing something here? Was this year just particularly bad or is the trail condition just part of the deal? Maybe a March backcountry ski trip is the way to go.

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Why do we climb mountains?

In light of me crossing another two mountains off my list on the 9th and 10th of September it got me thinking about why people climb mountains…

9th September. Mt Hardisty 2716m.
9th September. Mt Hardisty 2716m.
10th September. Pyramid Mountain 2774m.
10th September. Pyramid Mountain 2774m.

Now I’m not going to try and put such a vast topic into my own words just yet, but I have found some excellent quotes that align with me.

These first three come from the book “Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies” by Kathy and Craig Copeland.

“Though unaware of it, human beings exist on the thin seam of extremes: earth, and atmosphere. Only on a mountaintop does this dawn on us. Only then does it exhilarate us. Our reality doesn’t shift when we climb a mountain, but our perspective does. So be it. If that’s what it takes to open our eyes, let’s climb. But for mere hikers to climb it can’t be just any mountain. The climbing must be merely ascending, not dangling from ropes. And the mountain should be close enough to much bigger mountains, so we can revel in the rewards of climbing without assuming it’s risks. (Pathetic, but true.)” p129

On top of Pyramid Mountain looking towards the Colin Range
On top of Pyramid Mountain looking east towards the Colin Range

“The desire to explore is bred in the bone. Hiking fulfills that desire for many of us.” p149

“To promote peace, to advance social justice, to foster more soulful living, we need new ideas. But we won’t find them by hunkering longer at the office, behind the newspaper, or in front of the TV. To change the world, we must join it. We must get outdoors where we can see, hear, feel what’s happening around us. The answer is to walk. It can shift your awareness to the here and now. It’s the optimal pace for allowing your senses to appreciate your surroundings. And, by emulating the rhythm of your beating heart, it balances and centers you, inducing clarity and focus. Walking, anywhere, will open you to what really matters.” p152

Two hours up Mt Hardisty overlooking Horseshoe Lake
Two hours up Mt Hardisty overlooking Horseshoe Lake

“One cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” Rene Daumal

“What is hard to endure is sweet to remember” Unknown

Nico soaking it in a top Pyramid.
Nico soaking it in a top Pyramid. Jasper town is middle right.

So with those deep thoughts I’d like to leave you with a bit of a photo diary of the last couple of days…

First up, Hardisty.

Hardisty is a steep sucker. 8.5 hours of bush bashing.
Hardisty was a steep sucker. 8.5 hours of bush bashing.
What a spot for a break on Hardisty.
What a spot for a break. Pyramid Mountain is the tall one in the distance on the right.
Enjoying summit views on Mt Hardisty.
Enjoying summit views on Mt Hardisty.
On the way down the lighting was awesome!
On the way down the lighting was awesome over Horseshoe Lake and back towards Pyramid Mountain.

And now from Pyramid.

Nearing the top.
Nearing the top from the back side. Still one hour to go from here.
Love this view back to Roche Miette mountain.
Love this view back to Roche Miette mountain.

Until next time.

Skyline trail in a day

“The Skyline Trail” in Jasper is a premier backpacking trip. Arguably the best trail in the Canadian Rockies! But who needs to backpack it over two, three or four days when you can do it in just one!

It was a huge day of 44km but in hindsight it was easier than I had anticipated. My conditioning for big days is peaking thanks to lots of practice over the last few months.

Our group of four hiked it in the more common south to north direction starting at Maligne Lake. This way saved 500m of climbing. We made the distance in 14 hours, 7am to 9pm, sunrise to sunset, what a day!

It never felt like we were rushed for time either. We stopped to marvel at the landscapes often and took plenty of photos.

This spectacular trail even reminded me of trekking in Iceland by the way the scenery just kept changing constantly.

We even deviated off-trail for four hours while we scrambled up Mt Tekarra which proved more difficult than expected but so worth it.

Tekarra was a mountain that beat me back in early August when I gave it a shot but didn’t make it, time and weather stood in my way. So this was a day of redemption for me as well.

So far September has provided nothing but brilliant weather. The clouds that typified August just disappeared as soon as the 1st of the month ticked over. Let’s hope this weather lingers. It’s perfect!!!

The colours of fall are starting to pop up all around too – the greens of summer morphing into bold yellows, oranges and reds. Awesome. My first “real” autumn is underway.

These photos show snapshots of the day from beginning to end.

Meadows
From dense trees into sparse open sub-alpine meadows – perfect Grizzly territory.
A convenient stream to top up depleting water bottles.
A convenient stream to top up some depleting water bottles.
Up into alpine heights. Snow covered for most of the year, in summer a desert like landscape is unveiled.
Up into the alpine heights where we stayed for over 20km! Snow covered for most of the year, in summer a desert like landscape is unveiled. “The Notch” is ahead – the low point between the two mountains on the left.
Halfway point (22km) at the Notch. Laura, Grayden, Joel and I.
Halfway point (22km) at “The Notch”. Laura, Grayden, Joel and I. Feeling fresh.
View like these were everywhere
Commanding views like these were everywhere. In the background the aptly named “Watchtower” mountain overlooks the valley to keep everything in order.
Now my favourite mountain in the area, Tekarra is like a castle in the clouds.
Now my favourite mountain in the area, Tekarra (2693m) is like a castle in the clouds.
5pm
5pm on top of Tekarra.
Oh yeah!
Oh yeah! 9th summit of the year.
Descending a super steep scree gully on the north side of Tekarra.
Descending a super steep scree gully on the north side of Tekarra.