Tuesday, 30 September 2014

2 September: From the busy Skyline to the quiet Maligne Valley

Waking up at the Curator Campground, it is wet and cool.  There is some rainfall turning into wet snow.  I am among the first to get up, but by the time I'm eating my breakfast the picknick tables are full of people preparing their morning meal.  People are discussing their plans.  They don't like the weather and decide to head down to the valley.  I don't.

Soon after people have started hiking, the weather clears up and remains sunny and dry for the next hours.  Through the fresh snow, I climb up to Big Shovel Pass, then down through the meadows to Little Shovel Pass.  It is a beatiful day with a beautiful landscape, and great white powder on the mountains.  The snow has melted by lunchtime, as it should at this time of the year.  The weather is still well-behaved.

Big Shovel Pass

Curator Mountain

Near Little Shovel Pass

Mono Lake
After Little Shovel Pass the trail starts to descend.  It is still a very good trail, and I still meet many people, around 30 per day.  As I get closer to the Maligne Lake trailhead, the trail gets even larger, as I pass smaller sights and am close enough to the road for day trip people.  Soon after Mono Lake I reach the trailhead, and, after a short break, I head straight onto the Maligne Valley trail.  From here it's 33 km to the Maligne Pass.

From here, the trail is small.  It has been officially decommissioned.  When I first learned that, I was worried.  Would I still be allowed to hike here?  Turns out that I am.  But the caveat: bridges may be out.  Bear poles may have fallen down.  Deadfall will not be cleared.  Trail might be overgrown.  And the person at the phone said I would almost certainly be alone here.

Within 5 minutes I meet a Japanese tourist.  He tried to hike to the first campground and back, but didn't find it.  Oops.

Indeed, the trail is smaller.  Much smaller.  It is still easy to follow, though.

I have a waypoint at the Trapper Creek campground, where I will spend the night.  The waypoints from Dustin Lynx's book on the Great Divide Trail are useful, although I've had to reprogram them all, as when I finally finished to enter the 40 or so waypoints, I noticed I entered them using the wrong datum.  Oops.  Now the datum is corrected.  Yet when I arrive at the waypoint, there is nothing.  Not a trace of a former campground either.

I put down my backpack and start hiking forward.  The Japanese tourist didn't find the campground.  Will I?  I follow the Trapper Creek down.   I'm more than a hundred metre beyond the waypoint now.  I decide I will hike until the bridge, then give up and camp randomly.  This is not recommended, but as this trail has been decommisioned, it is permitted now.

Walking across the bridge, I notice a tent.  So much for being on my own here.  I fetch my backpack and head to the campground.  A lone bearded man is sitting in front of his MSR tent.  He introduces himself as Roland from Switzerland.  He is 70 years old and has been hiking for 2 months so far, from the Canadian border.  He hikes from south to north.  I hike from north to south.  So, we exchange or experiences.

He tells me that the next days, I will be miserable.  I will get soaked due to the overgrown and poorly maintained trail, and have to keep watching the ground in order not to miss it.  And later, he says, it will get worse; he shows me on the map the segment between Pinto Lake and Nigel Pass.  “There is no trail,” he says.  “I searched for the trail for five hours, but I gave up.  I met two other hikers who did hike it all the way, but it took them two days because of all the fallen trees.  It is up to you, but it may be best to hike out at Nigel Pass, hitch-hike to the Sunset Pass trailhead, and hike in to Pinto Lake, then continue from there to Saskatchewan River Crossing.”.  I ask him what his final destination is, if he's heading all the way to the Kakwa Lake provincial park.  That's a solid 200 km hiking from Jasper.  He says that due to the lack of resupply points, he will finish at Jasper; he blames it on his high age.  And then he will head east to do another month of hiking there, before returning to Switzerland.  Impressive.

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