Divergence Lake

Jasper-Hamber

Jasper to Hamber (EPIC)

I’m not exag­ger­at­ing with the title I’ve given this, most like­ly the most awe­some off trail adven­ture in my hik­ing history.…So far any­way. Its hard to know where to begin but all I can say is that this is one of those treks which grabs hold of your sens­es and nev­er ever lets go. Be it the sheer chal­lenges in the unknown depths of wilder­ness, or those qui­et reflec­tive moments high in some des­o­late pass with the night winds howl­ing around your own pro­tec­tive cocoon. I’m going to try to take you where I went, or most like­ly give you an idea of the strug­gle. And that’s just what it was, 10 days of it.

It all began where most day hikes or week­end camp­ing trips end, at the south­ern tip of the 2nd Geraldine Lake and the camp­ground there. As usu­al I real­ly had no idea what I was get­ting into except that it would be wild and track­less. Some peo­ple at the camp­ground said I was in for a great trip and they don’t know how right they were. Cairns and bits of trail led the way to the 3rd and 4th Geraldine Lakes, absolute gems of turquoise, bor­dered on all sides by mead­ows. The giant tooth­like shape of Mt. Fry­att loomed ahead as a stun­ning and vast mead­ow­land was reached. I call the high gap above the lakes Fry­att Pass, pure­ly as a point of ref­er­ence. The views all around were jaw drop­ping­ly unbe­liev­able. At once the scope of the ordeal became appar­ent, and look­ing out across a time­less land­scape I began my quest for Ham­ber.

Alnus Col
Alnus Col

Ham­ber Provin­cial Park is a remote park tucked away on the B.C. side of the con­ti­nen­tal divide, bor­der­ing Jasper Nation­al Park. Scrub­by, low plants with rocks under­neath which rolled under my feet were all the rage dur­ing the descent to a pale blue lake(Aqua Lake). It seemed to take forever to get down there and at its far end an inquis­i­tive group of mar­mots looked and looked as if they’d nev­er seen any­thing like it. May­be they hadn’t. Soon I would be noth­ing they’d ever smelled either. Yeah.

An incred­i­bly dense tan­gle of conif­er­ous growth imped­ed my pro­gress down to the next lake(Green Lake). It was like going through a car wash minus the water and the car. What kind of descrip­tions have I thought up. My next goal was to reach the val­ley con­tain­ing Diver­gence Creek(a trib­u­tary to the Whirlpool River) and it lay just ahead. Well not exact­ly. Pun­ish­ing scree slopes mixed with dead­fall, big rocks, and den­si­ties of some­thing or oth­er I’d rather not go into detail about got in the way. But what could one expect as there was no rud­dy trail.

Alnus Creek Headwaters
Alnus Creek Head­wa­ters

Dur­ing the paus­es between exhaust­ing bouts of exercise(there’s got to be a bet­ter word) darned if I wasn’t hav­ing a good time. Clouds of bugs, main­ly mos­qui­toes had formed a per­ma­nent cloud about my head, which felt like it had been in an oven on grill. Lit­tle won­der as I’d just bush­whacked around the side of a moun­tain, diag­o­nal­ly. The trees began to thin and around one more ridge lay …heav­en.… Unob­scured views of peak after peak, untrod­den mead­ows stretched every which way, and a small gur­gling creek flow­ing down from some­where below Mt. Lapensee, the dom­i­nant castle-like moun­tain in this area. Lapensee, Belanger? and Franchere were three guys who went through Athabas­ca Pass in 1814. This I know, and so each had a peak named after them, Belanger being near­by, but Franchere in the Asto­ria River val­ley of Jasper I believe. Can’t recall who they were, but any­way it was long ago.

Approaching Divergence Pass
Approach­ing Diver­gence Pass

I stayed in the mead­ows for a cou­ple of days , study­ing the way ahead with the zoom lens on my cam­era. The pass(Divergence Pass) which would lead into Ham­ber loomed above me across the val­ley at the head­wa­ters of Diver­gence Creek and the bril­liant green lake of the same name. Please remem­ber I’m mak­ing up the names of the lakes and pass­es as they are in real­i­ty offi­cial­ly name­less. Sur­pris­ing­ly, and with a great deal of joy, I found the way to the pass much eas­ier than the pre­vi­ous absur­di­ties encoun­tered, the forests were open with lots of mead­ow­filled cor­ri­dors amongst the trees. I was tru­ly hap­py, not a wor­ry in the world. The back­pack itself had become a part of me, not weight­less, but unno­ticed as the par­adise was an all con­sum­ing feast for the eyes, ears, scent. Anoth­er tree­less mead­ow­land, sim­ply sprawling,filled the scene below Mts. Lapensee, Belanger, Par­nas­sus.

Aqua Lake
Aqua Lake

To the west I then began the ascent towards Diver­gence Pass and Ham­ber Park, a remark­able scram­ble up talus slopes set beneath a hang­ing glac­i­er. Chunks of ice from the glac­i­er lay in piles here and there so I didn’t linger here too long, just in case. Well packed snow­fields led the rest of the way to.….almost the pass. An extreme­ly steep slope of down­shelv­ing slabs of rock and scree. It couldn’t be done stand­ing or even crouch­ing, so on my butt it was, the bot­tom of the pack drag­ging along as the feet probed for holds. More snow­fields after this, and then…the moon. It might as well have been, and only one small spot to pitch my tent amongst chaotic heaps of geo­log­ic jum­bles. I’m not kid­ding! Piles of rocks just don’t describe the scene, I’m sor­ry. I knew I wasn’t at Edith Cavell below the Angel Glac­i­er that’s for sure, no cairns!

Divergence Pass Entering
Diver­gence Pass Enter­ing

The weath­er had remained uncan­ni­ly good and rain­free so far, and I had been tak­ing it for grant­ed. What a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence it might have been. Next morn­ing began the absolute­ly monot­o­nous ascent up to the pass prop­er, an end­less sea of rocks most of which were quite large and teetered under my weight. It was sooooooooo.…. qui­et, qui­et. If I stood still there was just the sound of the pulse in my ears. How long had silence reigned here until this two-legged trav­eller stum­bled through? I won­dered about alot of things…out here… and there was time to won­der, and think and wan­der. All the time in the world. Green, green mead­ows , ice clad peaks and a small sub­alpine tarn entered my field of vision at once. I was in Ham­ber.

Enroute to Hamber
Enroute to Ham­ber

Sim­ply absorbed and over­whelmed with this fairy­tale land odyssey, it wasn’t until the move­ment out of the cor­ner of my left eye remind­ed me to be on the look­out for wildlife. It was a griz­zly, not so big, but still a griz­zly, and it ambled along the oth­er side of Alnus creek, may­be 10 metres away if that. My heart pound­ed with an inten­si­ty I’d nev­er known, but I kept calm and walked slow­ly past as if I were just some oth­er moun­tain ani­mal or some­thing. Oh hey, how you going grizz. Out for a walk huh. Yup. Me too. The bear was behind me now and out of sight, until a splash caused my head to look back sud­den­ly and in time to see it raise its nose a lit­tle and then run away faster than I’ve ever seen any­thing move. Like a film, on high speed. It must have just caught my .…smell. I saw it star­ing down at me through a gap in some trees, and then it was gone.

Entering Jasper from Hamber
Enter­ing Jasper from Ham­ber

So now all the dug up mead­ows became more vis­i­ble all of a sud­den. A cou­ple of days of rel­a­tive ease fol­lowed, camp­ing at both the North and South Alnus Glac­i­er out­wash plains. I stud­ied the maps, rest­ed, stud­ied some more, espe­cial­ly on how I was to pro­ceed from here. A group of peaks in the area were named after Capt. Scott, the Antarc­tic explor­er and some of his asso­ciates. I could hard­ly imag­ine the scale of their hard­ships. Mine was a plea­sure cruise.According to the maps, a high col on the divide could per­mit access back into JNP, but who was to be cer­tain. I had to go to find out.

Extreme moon­scape hik­ing for hours and hours final­ly led to the final approach over solid snow­fields, lit­tle sun­cups cov­er­ing the entire snow sur­face. Also, a long track mark, as if some­thing had dragged itself, or may­be it was just a trail where some ani­mals had come through and melt­ing snow had altered its appear­ance. Any­way, it was strange. Now an 80 degree snow­face pre­sent­ed itself. Oops. I’d nev­er chopped steps into hard snow before, but I learned quick­ly, climb­ing up like on a lad­der as the ice axe did its job. The first time it was real­ly need­ed and glad to have brought it along.

Mount Lapensee
Mount Lapensee

The col was only about 3 metres wide and the descent into Jasper on snow with wet moraine and slush under­neath began after one last look back into Hamber.I’m sure it was the very remote Clemenceau Ice­field Group off in the far dis­tance, and the peaks which cra­dled the unseen Fortress Lake at the extreme far end of the Alnus Creek val­ley. I made camp on a flat moraine area just below the col and con­tem­plat­ed the return to civ­i­liza­tion. The weath­er remained glo­ri­ous through­out the remain­der of the trip, remark­ably the tent fly hadn’t even got wet.

The next day’s trudge over more talus and scree was more bear­able as it was all down­hill, the return to tree­line a wel­come change from the drudgery of the rock­fields. A sink­ing stream end­ed at a moraine dammed lake, and then a sound.… It was a chop­per, per­haps car­ry­ing some climbers or fish­er­men to Fortress Lake. I’m sure they saw me, prob­a­bly thinking..what in the name of… The sink­ing stream reap­peared deep in the slopes of the bush, roar­ing out of a hole. Caves in the mak­ing no doubt. It was going to be a hot day, and I was a lit­tle bit con­cerned about the creek and river lev­els.

Whirlpool Valley
Whirlpool Val­ley

The Whirlpool River was final­ly reached and I’d come down a trib­u­tary just to the north­east of Ross Cox Creek after a glance at the map. Wide windy and beau­ti­ful is how I’d describe the dryas flats which stretched as far as the eye could see, how­ev­er a curi­ous cliff-like area ahead raised some wor­ries. It was time for a scout­ing trip. Leav­ing camp behind it soon became appar­ent that one branch of the Whirlpool flowed right next to the cliff band, cut­ting off my pro­gress. The cliff formed the base of a ridge which I first climbed to check out if there was anoth­er way. SCOTTY!!! ENERGIZE! It was a very steep scree cov­ered sheet of rock with­out ben­e­fit of any trees to hang on to. Just when I’d thought it would be all clear sail­ing, then this. The river’s cur­rent was slowed by out­crops of rock which jut­ted out into the main stream, so fac­ing the cliff I inched my way along prob­ing for holes and the like. It was hip deep at its worst, but no cur­rent to speak of. Was it cold? Not as bad as the ice water in Scott Creek, which was the next ford to cross. It was rag­ing and very very fast, the Scott Glac­i­er vis­i­ble in the dis­tance. I knew things would be much more dif­fi­cult with the pack on but I tried to choose the shal­low­est place to cross. Hard when you can’t see the bot­tom due to the glacial silt present. I stomped and slapped my legs on the far side to try to get some feel­ing back into them, and then the bridge! I’d read about the exis­tence of a foot­bridge across a gorge con­tain­ing the Whirlpool River and here it was.

The Whirlpool Val­ley trail then stretched away into the dis­tance. And now I had to go back and do it again. Oh broth­er. The next day was even warmer, 30C on my thermometer.And yes the water was even high­er. Instead of hug­ging the cliff band with the pack on, I opt­ed to ford the branch of the Whirlpool out­right, and very near­ly got swept away. Stu­pid­ly, I grabbed a cross­ing stick which shat­tered into pieces half-way across, leav­ing me afraid to move one foot so was the force of the stream. Hasti­ly I lunged for the grav­el cov­ered river bank, which was waist high, and was soon dragged a short dis­tance down­stream until my elbows and fore­arms were used to haul my butt out of the tor­rent. This was seri­ous stuff and my cam­era bag had been dunked. Cripes! Numb and shak­ing, Scott Creek was all that sep­a­rat­ed me from the trail, and it was much worse than antic­i­pat­ed, but the hasty bug had me and in I went, near­ly get­ting bowled over a short dis­tance from the bank. Mid­way across, the water boil­ing up to my hips, it was do or die, and once again I lunged myself for­ward into the shal­lows, land­ing full force on one knee, but feel­ing noth­ing.

My legs were like slabs of dead meat and once on the trail it became appar­ent that it would be a slow hob­ble. My knee would hard­ly bend in either direc­tion, obvi­ous­ly inflamed from the fall. The final forced march to Moab Lake was a painful 27 km. slog using a branch for a crutch, and luck­i­ly a cou­ple of nice peo­ple at the Moab Lake park­ing lot fer­ried me into Jasper. After a week or so of ice and beer, I was out on anoth­er trip. Unfor­get­table!

John Boehm

Sto­ry and Pho­tos sub­mit­ted by: John Boehm

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