Today was the day I had been worried about the most. I was going to be hiking over two passes today, including the Notch, which I had heard was easily the hardest and most exposed part of the entire trail. Not only that, but I was hiking to Tekarra, which was over 18 kilometres away from the Snowbowl. It was going to make for quite the interesting and long day. Nonetheless, I was excited to get going.
Because I didn’t want to waste my iPhone battery on an alarm, I ended up waking up much later than I had predicted. So it wasn’t until 10:00 am that I finally managed to pack up my tent, eat breakfast and head off. Whoops!
The trees that surround Snowbowl Campground quickly disperse as you begin making your way back into the Alpine Meadows towards Big Shovel Pass. The first part of the trail is very easy as you walk along flat ground, crossing over various creeks and bridges.
Off to my right was the stunning view of the valley as it faded off into the background.
To my left was the seemingly never ending stretch of mountains, guiding me along the pass. There weren’t a lot of wild flowers in this area due to the fact that it was a bit later in the summer but there was no shortage of ground squirrels darting around while a large assortment of birds soared above me. It was an absolutely gorgeous day. There were only a few white puffy clouds, dotting against a backdrop of a robin-blue sky.
My “skipping in the meadow” moment dissipated when I began making the slow and at times agonizing ascension up the second pass of the trip. Big Shovel Pass is a bit more difficult than Little Shovel Pass (as the name suggests) as the elevation gain is a bit bigger and seems to drag on for quite some time.
I did finally find myself at the top of the Pass, coming up right behind another group of hikers who were accompanied by a professional hiking guide.
After getting my picture taken beside the Pass elevation sign, I overheard the guide pointing out the Notch in the distance to his clients. Sure enough, as I looked towards the direction he was pointing, I could see the large snow cornice sitting in between two mountain points. It looked a bit bigger than in the pictures. But first, I had to cross the next few kilometres over a very desolate looking landscape.
There were no trees in sight unless you looked yonder towards the valley that housed the unseen Curator campground. The only thing that dotted this area was the occasional cairn.
About halfway to the Notch, I passed the turn off for the Watchtower. If the weather had been bad and I had been unable to climb the completely exposed remainder of the trail, this is where I would have turned off.
Fortunately for me, there still wasn’t a dark cloud in the sky. The only thing that interrupted my hike was one very curious hoary marmot who had been busy sunning himself on a rock and wanted to pose for a few pictures.
I finally made it to two separate tall cairns that were overlooking the valley below. At this point, there is a slight dip on the trail as you begin making your way towards Curator Lake, passing the sign that indicates the turn off for Curator Campground and the Icefields Parkway highway (another option for bailing off the trail if the weather turns).
As I began to get closer and closer to the lake, boulders began to litter the trail around me, growing bigger in size as I continued on.
Once I had walked around the lake itself, I decided to take a lunch break before I continued up the final push to the top of the notch.
It gave me a great perspective to gaze upon the distance I had already covered that day. The lake was more beautiful than I had expected as it was a gorgeous color of blue, so clean and clear that I could see the bottom of it. Once I had finished admiring the view and scarfing down my lunch, I put my pack back on and then began the short but biggest ascent of the trail. I believe this part is called the Notch because of the little bit of snow cornice that is left on the top of the mountain all year round. It is very rare for the cornice to completely disappear.
Since there is so much elevation gain in such a short amount of time, the views get amazing right away. In between my many breaks to the top, I stopped to look behind me to see the lake getting smaller and smaller. Once I finally did get to the top of the Notch (it’s a bit of a scramble after a while), I was greeted with “congrats” from several other hiker’s who had reached the top before me.
Because the sun was shining bright, it became an impromptu meet-up between hikers to just hang out and enjoy our accomplishment.
We all dropped our packs and lounged around, a few of us even choosing to make the even higher climb up the west side of the mountain in order to get a more panoramic view. Below are pictures from the extra climb, including a picture of a snowman one of the other hikers built as there was definitely plenty of snow once we reached the higher elevation.
After about 30 minutes, I finally decided to move on from the Notch. The best part was still yet to come- the famous 4 km hike across completely exposed ridges surrounded by miles of beautiful mountain scenery. I could definitely see why a person needed to make sure there were no thunderstorms while on this part of the trail. There were no trees in sight and no shelter against rain, wind or lightning.
I had definitely gotten lucky that the day had turned out to be so nice. The hike on the ridge is mostly flat as you move along loose rock that has been packed down over time to form a faded path. As I passed various cairns, I was treated to views of the Watchtower, two alpine lakes and eventually even the town of Jasper, far off in the distance.
My feet were beginning to get very sore by the time the path moved through a boulder bed and then began to descend into the valley.
As I walked down the switchbacks, I was given a good look at Tekarra Mountain and a stretched out lake.
I was even given the view of a hiker’s bare butt as I walked around the corner and spotted them taking an impromptu bathroom break! Nature at it’s finest.
Once I got to the bottom of the valley, I was back in alpine meadows, surrounded suddenly by lush green grass, the wide stream and whistling hoary marmots. Literally everywhere I looked there was a hoary marmot sunning itself. They had no problem with walking right alongside me at some points.
Tekarra Mountain continued to loom large to my left as I finally moved past the lake in front of it and back into the trees.
As soon as I was back in the trees, I reached my last campground of the trip- Tekarra at around 4:00 pm.
This campground was a bit disorganized as some of the signs had been knocked down.
The tent pants were dispersed all over the place and I had a bit of trouble finding the outhouse (another wall-less unit that provided a pretty cool view of Tekarra Mountain).
I even ended up having to use my map to confirm that I did in fact have to move across the river in order to continue the hike for the next day.
Once I set up my tent, I read my book for an hour or so and then went to one of the three picnic tables to cook a dinner of rice and chicken.
Moving around the campsite was a bit of an ordeal as the ground was still saturated from the weather the day before so there were mud puddles everywhere. While the entire day had been beautiful and sunny, once I finished my cinnamon apple tea, clouds began to roll in, signalling to me that it was time to hunker down in my tent. Though I had sore legs and sore feet, I fell asleep with a smile that night.
Stay tuned next week for Part 3 of this blog, which will cover Tekarra Campground to the North Skyline Trailhead!