My journal entry, dated July 28 1998, states that Spencer drew a picture of the airplane and wrote one long sentence that had no punctuation. We were on our way to England for a family reunion and I felt that writing about the experience would be a good idea but I quickly gave up that idea but I am pleased to report that, 21 years later, my son was excited to write up and submit this blog post.
So without further ado here, in Spencer’s own words, is Jasper National Park which was their first stop on an exciting summer vacation trip.
Before we left for our annual bike trip out to the mountains, I was asked to do a blog post about the red chairs hidden in the Canadian national parks. While this post has a lot less to do with those red chairs than it does the adventure that follows, we did enjoy our “day off” and hiking around Jasper looking for them. We found a set of them tucked away at Lake Edith day use area. We were able to enjoy a couple of hours hanging out there, eating lunch, swimming and watching a large school of trout sunning themselves on a group of white rocks 30 or so feet from the chairs.
I have been looking forward to attempting my first bikepacking adventure for some time now. Fortunately for me I have been blessed with a partner that rarely says no to any of my crazy ideas, adventures or trips.
What is bikepacking you ask? Simply put, bikepacking is the synthesis of mountain biking and minimalist camping. It evokes the freedom of multi-day backcountry hiking, with the range and thrill of riding a mountain bike. It’s about finding places less traveled, both near and afar, via singletrack trails, gravel, and abandoned dirt roads, carrying only essential gear.
With this in mind we had to find a route, one that would get us out into the wilderness, truly alone with nature. We chose to ride the first section of the Athabasca pass trail. The Athabasca pass was first discovered by David Thompson in 1811. After its discovery it was used for more than 50 years as the main fur trading route. In the early 1900’s the pass was harvested for timber that was then floated down to Jasper to make rail ties. I think that it was very fitting that for our Canada 150 adventure we explore a trail with so much history.
So after a wonderful 3 days in Jasper, we packed the truck, loaded the bikes and headed down the icefield parkway to the trail head. We had wonderful weather, although it was a little smokey. The first 8.6 Km of the trail is an old fire road that winds its way along the bottom of the valley beside the Whirlpool river. We made excellent time through this section and enjoyed some long fast descents and beautiful views.
The next 2.4 Km of the trail would put us to our intended camp site at the Tie camp ground. This section of trail was wildly over grown and under maintained single track that proved to be slow going to say the least. The bush was so dense and thick that our voices didn’t echo. The views at this point were lost to the trees and we were very happy to come out of the trees and see our camp sitting on a little hill overlooking the river with the flood planes below it.
After unpacking the bikes, making camp for the night and having supper we decided to try to make it as far as we could to see as much as possible. We hiked to the original tie camp, and got to see what was left of the camp the men would have used while working in the remote valley. We pushed on from there and were able to make it to Simon creek, 3.4 Km from our camp site.
Unfortunately traveling further then that would have meant fording Simon Creek, which seemed to be more of a river, as the old bridge was washed.
On our way back to camp from Simon Creek, we happened upon the only wildlife we would actually see in the valley during our two days there. It was what I believe to be a great gray horned owl, and a very large one at that. We both enjoyed watching him fly ahead of us from tree to tree, until he moved on to find somewhere quiet to spend the rest of the evening. We did see animal tracks, bear, wolf, moose and elk, in various locations but the owl was the sole spotting.
We got back to camp with about an hour of light left, but unfortunately for us were forced to retreat to our tent or risk being viciously attacked by mosquitos. After 11 Km of biking and 7 Km of hiking we played a couple of games of cribbage (our one luxury item that we brought) and went to sleep listening to the sounds of nature. It was so quiet you could hear scurry of critters and the crack and groans of the trees.
The morning brought picture perfect golden light to the valley, so after having breakfast and packing up camp, we headed out to get a few good pictures with perfect lighting and an even better view. After that we packed the bikes and headed back the way we came.
Our time on the trail left me with two major take aways. One was knowing that this was once a major trading route and a very well used trail, yet you can find very little trace of human impact in the valley. It truly felt like one of the wildest, most remote places I have ever been. I immensely enjoyed following in the foot steps of one of Canada’s greatest explorers. It’s quite incredible that these mountains are some only a handful of people per year have seen in the last 150 years.
The other was that I was so lucky to have found a girlfriend (now fiance… more on that later) who enjoys spending time in remote places. There were some hard miles through portions of that trail and she pushed on with little complaint. I am so proud of the adventurous person she is becoming and look forward to the rest of our adventures.