Snaring Wildland Loop


Vine Pass in Jasper Nation­al Park is not a par­tic­u­lar­ly reward­ing or scenic des­ti­na­tion, but I did find it to be an obvi­ous place to begin this dar­ing jaunt into the wilds of Jasper. I had ached to explore beyond this pass many times before, but I had been stopped by extreme rainy weath­er and deep snow on oth­er occa­sions. But this was August 2011, and the only real bar­ri­er was one of tol­er­ance, espe­cial­ly for the many mos­qui­tos plagu­ing the moun­tains at this time of year. My exact route was unknown, hid­den obsta­cles would no doubt present them­selves, and I would have to make judg­ment calls on where to go and what to do.


I was alone out here and this was the first time that a satel­lite mes­sen­ger device was brought along, to let peo­ple know where I was, and when I was there. They could track my progress through the wilder­ness and know that I was alright, thanks to a pre-arranged mes­sage. I was get­ting old­er, 50 now, but still in great shape, and had been weight train­ing since my ear­ly 20s. One sim­ply need­ed to be in shape for this sort of thing, its not like nor­mal hik­ing, no guide­book to let you know whats up ahead, no estab­lished camp­grounds wait­ing, you had to also be pre­pared men­tal­ly to be able to cope with your small­ness and alone­ness in the vast wilder­ness. Lone­li­ness might not enter many people’s minds when they think of being sur­round­ed by nature’s beau­ty, but when you are cut off from civ­i­liza­tion by lack of a trail, you know you are real­ly alone, even though you may not be that far away, as the eagle flies.


A rough nar­row trail led north away from the Vine Pass camp­ground and began its slow descent towards White­cap Creek, which I decid­ed to name since there was a White­cap Moun­tain at its head­wa­ters. Dozens of downed trees of all sizes criss­crossed the trail, remind­ing me that this route was no longer main­tained. The weath­er was good, a few clouds, some sun, just the way I liked it. I plunged out of the bush and onto the grav­el­ly, shrub cov­ered bank of White­cap Creek. The trail was no more, now began the track­less upstream jour­ney into who knows what. Snack­ing on some nuts, I looked out across the creek to a com­plete­ly burned out moun­tain side, that of Cum­nock Moun­tain, prob­a­bly caused by a wild­fire. Black­ened trees stood in silence above me, occa­sion­al­ly creak­ing with a sud­den breeze, then silent again. Some­how it was spooky, I just couldn’t put my fin­ger on it though. The creek­side hike now began and it wasn’t too bad at first, flat shrub cov­ered areas that I could just wind my way through. But all that van­ished after a few kilo­me­tres, it got more hilly, the creek now bor­dered by dense wil­low growth. The for­est away from the creek was sloped and mossy, and this was where I had to go. This was very time con­sum­ing and some­times the creek would bend back on itself, so I opt­ed to veer deep­er into the bush and push up val­ley in this man­ner. Push­ing into what though? It was a long way to tree­line, ele­va­tion gain had been grad­ual so a place to camp had to be found amidst this bush some­place, some­time soon! It was get­ting late and noth­ing was flat, until a small and more open area right next to White­cap creek was found. I sent a sig­nal from my satel­lite device and set up camp. Besides a tent I had also brought along a small mos­qui­to shel­ter, a place where I could eat and drink cof­fee in rel­a­tive bug free com­fort, except for the bugs that dis­cov­ered a way under the net­ting. I relaxed after a freeze dried din­ner with a few shots of tequi­la! Oh yeah, well worth the weight of a cou­ple plas­tic flasks of the stuff. Soon the bugs weren’t the only ones buzzing. lol.


The forest­ed hik­ing con­tin­ued the next day, until open bog­gy areas began appear­ing, trees thinned out, and a long grey wall of peaks loomed in the dis­tance. A water­fall poured down from heights unseen, it looked like it would be a hard climb up next to it, but it turned out to be ok. Thank­ful­ly, because it was the ONLY way up. It was a very steep climb how­ev­er, and final­ly I left the last of the trees behind and found myself look­ing at White­cap Lake, backed by the soar­ing cliffs of White­cap Moun­tain. I won­dered if any­one had ever been up here, and if they had, were they sane? This was nowhere­land, albeit a beau­ti­ful, and very peace­ful one. Sev­er­al more lakes lay fur­ther up, before the approach to White­cap Pass, my intend­ed route out of here. I found a nice flat place to set up camp on mead­ows with stu­pen­dous views across to the clif­fwalls. My voiced echoed many times while yelling for the heck of it.


An unbe­liev­able tour de force began in the morn­ing with the ascent towards the intim­i­dat­ing White­cap Pass. Snow filled gul­lies of packed snow made the hik­ing so much more bear­able than the loose rocks next to them, and in no time at all I was kick­ing steps into hard snow to gain the pass, which was actu­al­ly a col, a gap between two moun­tains. It was a great relief to see that snow gul­lies actu­al­ly con­tin­ued down the oth­er side of the pass, but first I had to slip up on some down shelv­ing slabs of rock with scree on top, which offered no pur­chase what­so­ev­er, and down I went. Luck­i­ly I only scraped my hand and didn’t slide down any­where. The descent on the snow led down into what looked like a rock quar­ry on an aster­oid, so bleak was the scene. An end­less sea of rocks was tra­versed until I could make my way up into anoth­er basin next to the base of Mount Thorn­ton. Up here there was no mead­ow, no lakes, just rub­ble and a small creek com­ing down from Thorn­ton Pass, a fore­bod­ing gap at the head of the basin. It was kind of ear­ly so it was decid­ed to push on and see what was over this pass. This one was much hard­er and steep­er than White­cap Pass had been, even though snow gul­lies did aid my ascent up to a point. The final slog was extreme­ly steep and my 60 lb. back­pack kept threat­en­ing to drag me back­wards. I had to stop and lean on one leg every 10 steps or so, so exhaust­ing was the climb. The top of this pass was unusu­al to say the least, it was like look­ing down into an are­na of packed scree with a very small tarn in it. There was a large hill of rub­ble at the far end of the are­na, a gap on each side of it, none of which looked invit­ing. Gulp! I removed my back­pack and neared the edge of one gap and it plunged away into noth­ing­ness! Def­i­nite­ly not this way! A 5 minute walk to the oth­er gap con­firmed a dis­ap­point­ing real­i­ty, cliffs pre­vent­ed my con­tin­u­ing on in this direc­tion. So sad­ly I would have to return to the base of Mount Thorn­ton, set up camp and decide where to go next. It took no time at all to get back down there, and was I going to have some tequi­la tonight! The only sounds were rock­fall and wind as I sat atop a large boul­der and filled shot glass after shot glass, star­ing down into the Cum­nock Val­ley, whose head­wa­ters I now occu­pied.


There pos­si­bly exist­ed anoth­er way to get into the next val­ley, via yet anoth­er pass which could be gained by bush­whack­ing down the Cum­nock val­ley a short dis­tance then tra­vers­ing up into anoth­er alpine basin. So… thats what I did. The rocky abode was left behind and the trees once again became my com­pan­ions, they pro­vid­ed hand­holds in steep open for­est with rock slabs. I crossed a large flat area next to Cum­nock Creek, then ascend­ed a shrub­by, rocky ridge to gain the high coun­try once more. Curi­ous­ly I hadn’t encoun­tered any wildlife so far, but maybe it was all the for the best. I was clap­ping and yelling every now and again, main­ly for the bears. The mead­ows I entered now sat at either end of the basin, the mid­dle area being a giant rocky trench, as if carved or scooped out by giant hands. No sign of water and I had to get some, so down into the trench I went. A few pools of water were found and then I began the ascent toward Rowand Pass, my last chance at pro­gress­ing fur­ther to the NW. It was ill fat­ed due to impos­si­bly steep slopes and I just didn’t like the feel of the place. One has to rely on their instincts out here and mine clear­ly said, “don’t do it.” The pass descend­ed into a side val­ley which would lead into anoth­er val­ley, and that was the val­ley I want­ed, but this time, I wouldn’t get there. Descend­ing the Cum­nock Val­ley was my only choice at this point, and a loop would be com­plet­ed by cross­ing Cum­nock Pass, ford­ing White­cap Creek and once again return­ing by way of Vine Pass. Hmmm.…“Cumnock was burned” kept ring­ing in my head. Yikes!


The night­mar­ish hike to get to Cum­nock Lake, a small lake half way down Cum­nock val­ley, began by clam­ber­ing down steep dead­fall filled bush next to a small creek drain­ing the mead­ows below Rowand Pass. It took for­ev­er to even get a short dis­tance through the tan­gled veg­e­ta­tion, and then it rained… I kept going though, this was no place to stop for a pic­nic lunch. I reached the creek at a point where it had just exit­ed a gorge and entered for­est, so my nav­i­ga­tion had been uncan­ni­ly lucky to say the least. Then the down­stream plod­ding began, huge open areas of dense shrubs with dead­fall and water under­neath. It was so yum­my I could have gob­bled it up. lol. Of course the mos­qui­tos now joined in the show, no applause for this pro­duc­tion how­ev­er. Cum­nock Creek had remained on the oth­er side of the val­ley for the most part but now its course veered over to my side, so I just crossed the thing, walk­ing through it out­right. I had sneak­ers with me, but kind of liked hav­ing them dry for my feet at camp instead of soaked and under a rock. I found rust­ed emp­ty tin cans on the far side of the creek, so amaz­ing­ly peo­ple had actu­al­ly been here at one time. They must have been lunatics! The say that Cum­nock Lake was dis­ap­point­ing was an under­state­ment. It was sur­round­ed by reeds and a black sludge, and there was no place whatsover to set up camp. I fol­lowed the creek as it exit­ed the lake and decid­ed to see what was up at the top of a boul­der cov­ered avalanche slope. There was one spot that would have almost been ok for the tent, but it just wasn’t flat enough. There was no water, and that was the main rea­son for head­ing back down to the creek. Extreme­ly dense conifers slowed me down to a snail’s pace, although even slime wouldn’t have done them any­good. I end­ed up in dense woods again, camped on a fair­ly open mossy area next to the creek.


It was extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out where to begin climb­ing up to gain Cum­nock Pass. I tried going up high­er and soon regret­ted it, noth­ing but dead­fall filled, moss cov­ered steep slopes. Even­tu­al­ly the creek showed up again, and then.. a trail!! Out here? It had to be an old rem­nant from some bygone era, but it was bet­ter than noth­ing and I eager­ly began fol­low­ing it uphill into the forest­ed moun­tain­side. The trail van­ished into shrubs and was unrec­og­niz­able, then the burn zone appeared out of nowhere. I was now enter­ing the burned out moun­tain­side I had gazed up at from White­cap Creek at the begin­ning of the hike, and it was not pleas­ant. My boots crunched deep into charred dry ash­es of what was moss at one time, and black­ened trunks dot­ted the rolling hills for as far as I could see. The dead­fall was atro­cious, most­ly at waist lev­el and at all angles. I need­ed a giant who want­ed to play pick up sticks. The soles of my feet burned from being wet and from the steep hik­ing. It seemed like for­ev­er, then I saw White­cap Creek and end­ed up at exact­ly the same place I had begun! Even though exhaust­ed I con­tin­ued back up the trail to camp at Vine Pass again. The next day on the way out, a lone wolf appeared in the for­est, looked at me for a short time, then dart­ed off, as if to say, “farewell.”

White­cap Creek


Enrouter to Kerr Lakes
Sto­ry and Pho­tos sub­mit­ted by: John Boehm


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