Tonquin Valley- Part 1 (Portal Creek Trailhead to Maccarib Campground)
August 6, 2017
Portal Creek Trailhead to Maccarib Campground
Distance: 19.5 km
Elevation Gain: 500 m
Elevation Loss: 100 m
Time: 8 hours
How To Get There: When driving north on Highway 93 towards Jasper Townsite, turn onto Highway 93A. You can start the trail by taking either Cavel Road to Tonquin Valley Trailhead or Marmot Basin Rd. to Portal Creek Trailhead.
What’s the first thing anyone wants to do after coming off an 11 hour night shift? If you answered ‘sleep’, you’d be wrong. I decided it was a brilliant idea to hike for 19 km with a full pack instead. I’d say I regret it…but the views I experienced while trekking through the first part of Tonquin Valley tell me otherwise. This backpacking trip was probably my favorite so far (and yes, I know I say this every time, but this time I mean it!...until next time anyway). Just like Skoki, it had its downfalls (i.e., mosquitoes!!) but the amount of amazing scenery and gorgeous wildflowers made it so the negatives don’t really matter at all. I couldn’t believe the abundance of wildflowers on this trail! Half the time it looked like we were hiking in a colorful painting.
But I’ll let my blog do most of the hiking when it comes to going on about the beauty of this particular backcountry. So let’s get to it, shall we?
As mentioned above, our first day was the longest of the four. We parked the vehicle at Tonquin Valley trailhead and then had a pre-arranged taxi take us to Portal Creek Trailhead, where we would start our journey. It cost us $80 for the ride but it was worth it knowing that we would have the jeep waiting for us when we finished the trip. I would suggest arranging a carpool instead. Unfortunately that wasn’t an option for us but I would definitely recommend that instead.
The trail was surprisingly narrow starting off with thick greenery surrounding us on both sides.
It immediately began running alongside Portal Creek and after about 200 m, we found ourselves crossing over the creek on a newer looking bridge.
The trail continues to move westward through a forest of pine and various deciduous trees. The creek remained diligently to our left for around 4 km before departing further south. It was still there but further off into the trees and harder to hear.
The trail goes from smooth to rocky several different times as it finally found its way back to the creek.
We crossed over a bridge and walked along the south side of the creek.
The elevation increased through the trees and we decided to take a quick break for lunch.
As the valley deepened beside us and the trail began to gain gradual elevation, the wildflowers began to pop up wherever we looked. Pink and red paintbrush, yarrow, shrubby cinquefoil, oxeye daisies, harebell, common fireweed…just to name a few.
We continued our march up through the trees until we were traversing along an old rock slide with a beautiful view of the valley all around us.
With Peveril Peak to our right and Portal Creek down below us, we hiked among the red stained rocks, picking our way over the rougher sections and being careful not to sprain our ankles.
After 2 km, we began to descend downwards, back into the valley and closer to the creek.
The tree-line reached up to greet us once again as we began making our way through a wetland. Various bridges popped up in order to protect the land below it from trampling feet.
It wasn’t long afterwards when we reached the next campsite along the trail which was called Portal. We used this as another opportunity to stop and rest our feet. The campground looked a little worn down and was partially hidden in the tall grass. We didn’t do a lot of exploring in the area as we still had another 12 km to go and it was already 4:00 pm. But it looked like a fairly nice place to camp as it was right beside the creek and there was no elevation to combat with to get from the tent pads to the food lockers.
After Portal campground, we began to start the journey to Maccarib Pass. From Portal to the Pass, we walked along the creek, hopping across various boulders as the trail crisscrossed back and forth over the water.
We could see various remnants of old boardwalks that once bridged the gap between dry land and the creek. But the water was low enough that the boulders provided enough of a stepping stone to get across.
We passed a place that looked like it was meant for tying up horses and then finally reached a slightly smoother part of the trail where the elevation was minimal.
The hike in the trees didn’t last much longer and we began rising again, this time, making our way towards an expansive alpine meadow that nearly took my breath away.
As with most passes, the trail was a gradual climb upwards and was a real leg burner.
But the view of endless wildflowers and greenery for as far as the eye could see more than made up for it.
The trail widened and then thinned, moving quickly over a large knoll in the meadow before topping out at the top of the pass.
Here we were greeted with short grass and snow patches. We took a few pictures beside the cairn that held the sign. The sign itself had fallen off its post.
We kept walking, thankful for the slight descent in the trail. More fireweed popped up around us and we were greeted by the call of various hoary marmot. I was surprised by how little of fear they seemed to have with humans since they were so far away from any touristy spots.
By this point, my legs were tired and my eyes were closing as I had been awake for well over 20 straight hours. But coming around the corner of the descent was like looking at a masterpiece painting. With the Ramparts finally showing themselves off in the distance and a bubbling Maccarib creek to our right, it was like a scene straight from a fairy tale. If the fairy-tale was infested with mosquitos.
Thus began our walk across bridges, past Mt. Maccarib and Mt. Clitheroe and through various tree patches.
About 3 km from our final destination, we found ourselves picking our way through a massive wetland, adding yet another layer of environmental intricacy to the Tonquin trail.
But traveling across a wetland meant water logged trails which posed a challenge for us several times.
Once we managed to get across the soggy portion of the trail, we continued across several more bridges, continuing to boomerang the creek.
The trail laced its way through a few more tree patches and then we were finally at our destination.
The creek widened to a log crossing and a sign that said Maccarib Campground. 19.5 km and we were finally home for the evening.
We set up our tent quickly (and by we, I mean Matt), had a quick dinner and then it was bed time.
Never had I fallen asleep so quickly as I did that night. I dreamed of the beautiful views I had just seen and the wonderful ones still to come.
Click here for Part 2 of the journey which will feature the trail from Maccarib Campground to Amethyst Campground!