“Your instincts are telling you something. Trust them and listen to them.”
― Ed Viesturs
I had already been to the Swan Lakes once earlier in the summer, this time I wanted to push on towards the Brazeau headwater and come back via the Swan pass.
The ‘pass’ is really a climber access route towards the taller peaks of Grand Brazeau, pursuits that would require snow and ice travel; but as outlined in another trip in Explore Jasper there is a way to accomplish a loop: to the lakes and return via Swan pass.
There is lots to explore in the area. One could also choose to follow a route North-East across the Grand Brazeau to Warren Creek and then complete a traverse in between the Brazeau and Maligne Lake, This is a more involved route though, and the trip has generally been done in seven days I am told. Some people cross over from Coronet creek and down I hear. A traveler could also start from the Swan Lakes and find their way down valley to Brazeau Lake instead, the official campground being located at the South end of the lake on the East side, about 30 km away as the crow flies. The temptation would be to cross the river below the gorge and follow the river. It would not be necessary as there is a bridge consisting of an erratic over the river immediately above a waterfall about mid way down valley.
It is to be noted that these routes should only be attempted by experienced wilderness travellers with at least some route finding experience and they are just not suited for casual hikers.
I left the parking lot a little late on an average July mid-afternoon, the Poboktan creek trail was a little damp and the weather forecast wasn’t great. Even though Poboktan campsite does not generally figure as popular destination it’s a pleasant site and not it a bad place to be at all. It’s an easy eight km in with an approximately 200 m elevation gain to the campsite, a good place to stop for someone like me whom left not so early all the way from Edmonton.
The Swan pass access trail is not what I remembered it to be from my first visit in the early 2000. Its fainter, remains it’s a great way to push fast towards the Brazeau headwater.
Access is immediately after the creek past the campsite. The path makes its way around a small gorge, across an erratic field and down on a river flat.
Climbers go up beside the waterfall (right side climber view) one can easily see at the end of the valley. Follow the left side and you’ll be bushwhacking it. I followed the adjacent drainage, eastward it goes, not as steep as its sister straight up the Brazeau but still somewhat of a challenge as the Engelmann spruce forest is dense. Over a few attempts I’ve decided the drainage is best climbed left side of the creek (climber view) keeping near the creek where there are less obstacles overall. There is a couple of tributaries to cross along the way and that’s accomplished by following them up for a short distance, then back to the main creek.
Angling across valley way before the waterfall I crossed the creek early and baby stepped my way up. Since I delayed getting started as to avoid a wet forest the whole thing took me all day and I camped just below the col, ready to cross over the next morning.
By mid morning the next day I was in view of the upper Swan Lakes (unofficial name). From the top of the col one doesn’t see all of the lakes; the glacial valley takes a twist to the left and the little gems are revealed a few at the time.
It’s an easy descent to the first lake, little did I know I was to camp there the next day.
From there on the natural route follows the North side of the glacial valley and once at the lower Lake I went due north towards the Brazeau Glacier. I would recommend going down slightly just after a hump that marks the edge of the valley so that one could skirt the Brazeau gorge, approximately 1.5 km of great views in and across valley. It’s barely four km to the mapped branch of the NW Brazeau River. At that point I set camp early near the river and did an exploration tour around the headwater.
Did I mention the unpromising weather forecast? There was a thunder shower system in the making and what follows should serve as a caution note for mountain travellers who would consider honing their skills in higher elevation.
Here I am, back at the campsite as the evening light recedes, and just before it got dark the storm hits.
I seldom have experienced a thunderstorm of such violence, it felt like there was a giant standing over my tent, he was taking pleasure at shaking my up a little.
So the next morning with knowledge of possibly degrading weather in mind, I cautiously began to ascend the NW branch of the river, back towards the chaotic Grand Brazeau. I am having second thoughts as by mid morning thick black clouds gather and start rolling in across the heavily glaciated Grand Brazeau. Instinct prevailing I turned around. It was only supposed to get worse over the next couple of days so I felt it would be safer to come back along a known route. One just doesn’t want to be caught in high elevation dodging lightning bolts, not wise.
Disappointed I grudgingly begin the short trek to the lakes, there are things to explore in and around the valley and as soon as I get a window I’ll zip over the 2650 m col.
The storm hits me halfway in, mayhem. Horizontal rain hitting me sideway, ferocious gust of winds, I am half thinking I’ll be blown across valley; and, there is no shelter whatsoever. I know the area quite well, that did not help me one bit.
I had never been so pleased to see the Swan Lakes, somewhere in the meadows was a rare clump of alpine spruce. I hunkered down in between them, soaked and sensing the temperature dropping slowly. My old rain jacket had been mostly useless.
Decisions, decisions, since I won’t be doing anything new I am impatient to get out. The rain stops and it looks like I may get a break to cross over the col; however, since it’s looking like the overall weather will only be degrading I am only thinking about a window out.
I will press on, the plan is to make it to the upper lake and decide, if it looks like I have a decent opportunity I will make it over the col, then it will slow but safe slugging down. I get there in no time and am hesitating. From here on there will be no campsite until I go down on the other side.
I got a bad feeling as I am standing there scrutinizing the sky. The rain begins, softly at first, and it looks like it won’t stop. I decide to set up. Just as I got the fly over main body of the tent the sky opens up. Now I am freezing, I crawl under the vestibule and painstakingly attach the S clips to the main frame, with frozen hands it proves to be slow.
Downpour, I still have to get out, there is hardly any wind, just torrential rain, in my heart I know I am lucky, it’s inexcusable to have taken that chance up high in elevation. By the time I have constructed mini cairns around each corner of the tent and secured all the strings in the same fashion I crawl back under the vestibule. I am shivering almost uncontrollably, not good, I pull my base layers and my sleeping bag out of their respective waterproof bags, get naked, and crawl in the tent. Within a few minutes I begin warming up. Shortly I dose off.
It was probably not very long before the downpour stopped. Presently, I am awakened by the soothing warmth of sunshine warming up my tent. Instinct keeps dictating the course of action, I dash out.
It’s incredible how powerful the sun can be in high elevation. Within minutes everything that is wet is on it’s way towards back to normal. I pull the stove and boil water for a tea and a soup, in the meantime I prepare the tent for war.
I am ready, the rain comes back, now it’s going to get bad. I was in the tent with my soup and a tea cup when the giant came back, and he brought a friend.
I spend the rest of the afternoon counting my blessings and weathering storms. Really, it’s not a bad thing to spend an afternoon staying put. Now it’s all OK though except for that thunder that feels a little close for comfort. It’s a lesson. Lots of food to spare, I am having a buffet and there is now plenty of time to write in the log. I will not explore around the glacial valley that day.
By about six o’clock there is a substantial temperature drop. I know what’s going on. By morning the system will be done with. I awaken to snow covered peaks all around, and while stray clouds gently seep thru the col it’s completely safe, its time to go home now. Up the col, and down a wet, very wet forest.
Somehow I don’t make it back to Poboktan until five o’clock and I keep pushing towards the parking lot. Sometime after eight I am patiently waiting for my food at the pizza shop.
I have to say: My boots were quite wet.
This story is brought you by Gaston Synnott, thank you for sharing your experience with us and hope it will motivate some others to get out and enjoy the back country of #myjasper #jaspernp #explorejasper. We welcome more of these stories, so feel free to contact us and submit your adventures!
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