Tag Archives: backpacking

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.


Berg Lake trail and back in Jasper

I’m back in my second home, Jasper, and the mountains are a calling. I’ve sorted myself a job until mid October and right now summer is in full swing. There’s no time to waste! Let me explain…

Summer in the Canadian Rockies is oh so short when compared to seven months of snowy winter. Snow snow go away come again another day.

For people like me who want to walk along ridges and stand in places looking down on mountains, summer only lasts two and a half months. That’s it. Mid July until late September.

Let’s break it down. That’s 75 days. Factor in working five days a week and I’m left with 21 days off. Furthermore consider that one in three days are likely to have some form of precipitation that leaves just 14 days.

14 days of work free and snow free summer days. 14 days…

I’ve made a list of adventures for the summer and one of the big ticket items was a three day backpacking trip to Berg Lake. It’s a hidden gem behind Mount Robson – the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies by a long shot at 3954m, a whopping 3100m above the visitor centre.

Mount Robson from the highway. It's almost always covered in clouds.
Mount Robson from the highway near the visitor centre. It’s almost always covered in clouds.
Interesting comparison. This was Robson on 21 Dec 2012 when I visited it.
Interesting comparison. This was Mount Robson on 21 Dec 2012 when I visited it.

Ben and I started our adventure hitch hiking from Jasper. We waited an hour which wasn’t too bad and arrived fresh at the visitor centre at midday.

Our destination was Adolphus campground, still a whopping 28km away with a heavy pack.

The 21km trail to Berg Lake is the most popular in the Rockies, so when we started out we were pleasantly surprised. We only saw a dozen others on the trail all day. We figured as it was the day after a long weekend we hit the jackpot. Ding ding ding.

The first 10km was nothing too exciting. Kinney Lake was the highlight, but pressing on and up the first part of the 800m days elevation gain we were engulfed inside the Valley of a Thousand Falls.

Valley of a Thousand Falls.
Valley of a Thousand Falls.

It’s an impressive place. A big wide valley with mountain peaks protruding in the distance and a fair few giant waterfalls cascading down the vertical walls. It reminded me of Yosemite even, and that’s saying something cause that place rocks.

The most awesome part though was witnessing a bizarre stream junction. One stream flowing with brown water and the other blue water. After intersecting there was a definite line separating the two shades for hundreds of metres.

Brown vs blue
Brown vs blue
The stream in the valley
The stream in the valley

Stretching the legs again the trail turned evil, presenting a steep grade that just spelled out lactic acid. This must have been round about kilometre 12 and over the following 3.5km we gained 450m. But it was worth it.

Up here we glimpsed a rather ferocious looking waterfall – Emperor Falls. I didn’t think too much of it until we branched off the main trail to check it out. Woahhhh!!!

Emperor Falls
Emperor Falls and Mount Robson behind

The endless power in this fall was tremendous. Constant, unrelently, loud. I have to say the most impressive waterfall I’ve experienced. It is a showcase of the extreme forces of nature.

What contributed to it’s impact was we could walk right up beside where the water was crashing down. On our hike out we even braved the tame looking mist (which is actually painfully strong) and stood beneath the edge of the fall. It was like being hailed on!

It really puts things in perspective
It really puts things in perspective. Nature rules.

We reached Berg Lake near sunset and it’s just like the postcard. Bliss.

Ben and I take it all in
Ben and I take it all in. Berg glacier on the left, Mist glacier on the right and mighty Mt Robson.

Camping out in Canada is different than in Australia.

Over here it’s all about securing your food away from a hungry bear’s grasp and definitely not keeping food inside your tent. Unless you want an uninvited guest at night. I slept within reach of bear spray to let my mind rest easy.

We cooked our three course meal of pasta, pasta, and rice well away from our tents and hoisted our food bag up a tree. Even at this height it’s a bit low but it’s the best we could do.

Lucky bears can't untie knots
Lucky bears can’t untie knots

It’s off putting to think a mighty bear might be roaming around me while I sleep but I was fine. Slept great after such an exhausting eight hour grind.

The second day we lightened our loads and hiked up another 800m higher and 25km round trip to Snowbird pass. It was really worth it.

This trail takes you right beside Robson glacier. It’s so close and gave me such an appreciation of the size of it, especially when compared to the tiny dots that were people.

See the people down by the blue pond bottom right...
See the people down by the blue pond bottom right…

On top of that you are presented with a 180 degree view of the Reef icefield upon reaching Snowbird Pass. It’s a great tough day hike, but take note that it’s only open from 1 July onwards.

At snowbird pass. The halfway point of our trip. "It's all down hill from here" says Ben.
At snowbird pass. The halfway point of our trip. “It’s all down hill from here” says Ben.
Ben checks out the view. Not bad, not bad.
Ben checks out the storm on the horizon. Not bad, not bad.

The last day we spent hiking back out with a good dose of time allocated to swimming in Berg Lake and Emperor Falls. We were so so grateful that the sun appeared after we awoke to mist.

There was no way I was jumping in a biting cold Berg Lake with the sun hiding, or the Falls for that matter.

Arrgghhh. The hailing waterfall.
Arrgghhh. The hailing waterfall.
I love this one. Ben just feeling the moment.
I love this one. Ben just feeling the moment.

I said to Ben as we were pacing along the shore feeling refreshed after our swim, “This is just how hiking in the Canadian Rockies looks in guidebooks”.

The sun was out, the glaciers shining, and the water was vivid.

There’s no doubt this is a premier trail and it’s popular for a reason. It presents the most glaciers I’ve seen in such close proximity, plus blue lakes, waterfalls, tall mountains and provides plenty of camping space. Just try to go mid week.

Vancouver first day

I made it to Vancouver!

My first day here I’ve spent exploring the downtown area. It is amazing seeing snow capped mountains full stop, but you can see them from the city! A vast inlet in the foreground, bordered by lush green flora and beyond that snowy mountains…with ski runs. Impressive.

16/11/12 – Stanley Park in the foreground and West Vancouver behind

I checked out the BC Sports Museum, and caught a glimpse of the BC Lions (gridiron) going through their paces in their newly roofed stadium – museum was really interesting but the training was boring to tell the truth.

This afternoon I faced the chilly winds on a bike tour around the Stanley Park seawall. Amazing picturesque views all round, and we even saw squirrels and raccoons in real life – not in picture books. Yes they really exist! Raccoons are like wombats crossed with a cat – fat and lazy. And squirrels are so small like a possum crossed with a hang glider.

Today was a perfect blue sky and cloudless day. Apparently we hit the jackpot cause it rains here a lot.

Some quirky Canadian observances are cars on the right hand side of the road. This is really strange! This translates to walking on the footpath. Everyone wants to walk on the right.

It also gets dark around 5 and even in the middle of the day it looks like it’s 4pm.

On top of that are the 1 cent coins, the yellow traffic lights (instead of black) and no pedestrian crossing buttons to push (it’s automatic everywhere) and there’s no sound either. And then there’s the electric buses too.

Well that’s about as much as I want to type on this little iPod and plus it’s 10pm and I need to go eat dinner. Might even catch a game of ice hockey tomorrow with one of my three German room mates.

16/11/12 – The British Columbia Lions in training
16/11/12 – The suspension bridge over to the expensive North and West Vancouver
16/11/12 – North Vancouver mountains
16/11/12 – A raccoon in Stanley Park