“Why not hike a trail for a change”
kept ringing in my head as I was planning another excursion into the wilds of Jasper National Park. But it had to be a trail which led into remote and seldom visited country, a place where my inner cravings for challenge and adventure could be realized. So then.. a long trail which maintenance had forgotten was my goal, the Miette Pack Trail. A previous trip up the trail in the mid 90s had ended at a boggy quagmire of a meadow, so of course I had to see what lay beyond. It was September 2013, a time chosen for its lack of bugs. The weather happened to be wonderful as well, but warmer than I had expected.
The actual beginning of the trail was tucked away off the highway near the park’s western boundary, a faded yellow tag nailed to a tree marked the way. “Oh boy” I thought. This is gonna be great!! A very narrow recognizable trail zig zagged up through huge stands of aspen, their leaves fluttering and dancing in the breeze. I glimpsed my last view of the highway as the way veered north and quickly became swallowed up by the immediate sense of solitude. Yes I was alone again, and I wouldn’t see another soul for 7 days. The trail was clear for long sections, but then very dense shrubs would all but obliterate it’s presence in other areas. Thankfully, deadfall was non-existent, much to my surprise. Mud was an ever present annoyance however, the trail degrading at an alarming rate now. To be blunt, this is an extremely wet trail, and what at times can be made out to be one is at other times little more than horse hooves in slop.
My goal for the first day was to get to the site of the former Rink warden cabin, an area which held the only bit of open flat area upon which to rest my weary bones. This was reached in late afternoon, and there was plenty of daylight left to enjoy sitting around with a few shots of tequila. Hmmm or was it the Johnny Walker Platinum? At any rate one had to bring some sort of creature comfort out here, food was the usual freeze dried tastelessness. Non stop plodding was the order of the following day, a very long day which saw mud and more mud, a couple of ankle deep stream crossings, and the total disappearance of the trail, and not just once either. I finally reached the turnaround place of 1995, and it proved to be just as confusing now as it was then. The trail dead ended at a large open meadow, which upon close examination contained black pools of ooze, too deep to cross. The river flowed at my left and after some tricky footwork found my self at its bank, thrashing through dense bushes with somewhat dry ground underneath. I could not believe yellow ribbons tied to trees when I saw them, this was the trail!? The route continued to reappear in forest and disappear into wet grasslands throughout the day and as elevation increased so did my confusion. In many ways this was actually harder than my usual off trail adventures, simply because I actually had to try following something!! Before long it would descend into absolute bushwhacking, but not before I managed to finally reach Miette Lake and its makeshift campground. It was a majestic and very rewarding destination in its own right, and a campfire that night was enjoyed beyond all measure. My next goal was to get up into Miette Pass to the west, I had passed the trail sign a short distance before camp. I would be crossing the continental divide into B.C. and back again during the course of the next few days. Miette River was a tiny ouflow creek of the lake at this point and fording it was of no concern, as the trail ascended a forested slope up towards the pass. The trail then vanished for at least half the day. It was all open wet meadows, knee high shrubs and the like, bordered by dense forests. This pass is simply immense, I tried to stay as high up out of the pass proper as much as could be helped, since it was mostly boggy grassland. The sharp spike of Salient Mountain peeked out above the forest , and trees began to thin out. The trail reappeared for awhile but I didn’t pay it much mind, it was just something that couldn’t be counted on to continue.… like a full stomach or…a burning match, hehe. Some kind of raptor made this pass this pass their home, as several of them were seen soaring above, but it was also home of the grizzly as I was soon to find out. Not 300 metres away walked a grizzly, parallel to my own course. It was enormous. I had been making lots of noise, yelling and such throughout the trip, and maybe it had already heard me and was aware of my presence. I yelled out anyway, it looked at me and then just continued on its slow ambling way. Of course I immediately changed my course and began heading in the direction of Grant Pass, where I would recross the divide back into Alberta.
Plans to camp up at Miette Pass were changed owing to the grizzly encounter so the campground at Colonel Pass would be my objective. A good solid trail actually appeared as Miette Pass was descended, and a strange landscape began to unfold. The trail took an odd line through beautiful tree lined ravines with towering cliffs replete with waterfalls. It looked like a scene out of Lord of the Rings, but at no point was I jumped by Smeegle or whatever his name was, whew. The trail vanished as the forested access to Grant pass was reached, and I was left once again wandering aimlessly through meadow and forest alike. The notch of Grant Pass was obvious up ahead so I just forged my way through rockfields and more bush, bits of trail here and there aiding somewhat. Colonel Pass, also on the divide, sits at the headwaters of the Snaring River and this was my goal for the day. I was very late in arriving and barely managed to set up the tent before dusk. This place was solitude, the coming and fading of the lofty winds accentuating this feeling, that I was absolutely alone. I stayed here for a couple of nights, exploring around, enjoying a nice campfire, thinking about life and so forth. I also enjoyed the fruits of my endeavors with more than several shots of some liquor, staring into the glowing embers, just absorbing the energy of the place… and it was good. I retraced my steps the entire journey back, but the highlght of the trip had to be my encounter with not one but two wolverines up in Grant Pass!! One just doesn’t see these critters, they are reclusive to the extreme. Two strange creatures approached me in a strange galloping gait, and they were large, too large to be a marten or fisher. They immediately took off up a side hill and were gone in an instant. Amazing timing to say the least, on a truly amazing trip. I camped at Miette Lake a few more nights, though not surprisingly I didn’t find the trail down, instead I picked my way down through thick dense bush with deadfall, forded the Miette River outflow creek and stumbled back into camp. Of course it had to be this way… i was a bushwhacker!
Story and Photos submitted by: John Boehm
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