Day 10, August 20th, Evelyn Creek CG to Signal CG. 32.6 km, 1278 m elevation gain, 1120 m elevation loss, 10 hrs 5 min (Segment 28).
We had another big day ahead of us but we did not attempt to get up overly early like we did for our day on the Six Passes. Today’s hike would take us up and over the Skyline in Jasper. We knew that we would be on good trail all along the Skyline plus we had a favourable weather forecast so we really felt no reason to rush out of the tent. Still I did roll out of the tent just before 6 am, which is early for some, and had the water boiling for the coffee going in the dark.
We hit the trail at 7:10 am. We were in quite a cheery mood and the conversation level was high as we headed uphill away from Evelyn CG. The rain had made the trail a little sloppy in places but with our fresh legs we made good progress.
Only 20 minutes after leaving our campsite we came across some fresh bear tracks. The fact that we could still see them after the rain overnight meant that the tracks could not be too old. Just like yesterday when we saw the bear scat we never did see the bear. The track were a good reminder that we were in bear country and to be vigilant that they were around.
Our first views through the trees came just before 8:00 am. I thought that the view was of the Bald Hills but looking at the map we were looking at the lower slopes of Trowel Peak.
We blew past Little Shovel CG in 55 minutes. Similar to Evelyn CG Little Shovel was in the trees and split by the trail with the tent pads below the trail and the eating area just above the trail. It had been a brisk start to the day. We had gained a little over 300 m in 3.5 km which was almost a quarter of our elevation for the day completed in just the first hour. Now that it was a little later in the morning and we had past Little Shovel CG we started up yelling out “yo bear” to alert the bears of our presence. The trees thinned out dramatically shortly after leaving Little Shovel CG and we would remain above treeline for the bulk of the day.
The trail flattened out as we emerged from the trees. In the cool of the morning it was a very pleasant hike in the open terrain of Little Shovel Pass. Near the pass our friendly bear prints reappeared but still no bear in sight.
We arrived at Little Shovel Pass at 8:47 am having hiked 5.5 km and gained 420 m of elevation in 1 hr 40 min.
The trail dropped steeply away from the pass. In the shade a few sections of the trail were a little slippery from the rain overnight. We soon arrived at Snowbowl CG which similar to previous two campsites was in a heavily treed area. We stopped for a moment to look around. The campground was bustling with people we did waved at at couple and then we moved on down the trail.
After Snowbowl CG the trail dropped moderately for another 2.3 km. The forest ended about 12 minutes after we left Snowbowl CG revealing an expansive meadow known as The Snowbowl. The trail headed slightly downhill crossing a couple of small streams both complete with simple bridges. The second small stream crossing was the low point for this section. After the stream crossing the trail headed uphill at a pleasant grade climbing steadily over the next 3.4 km to Big Shovel Pass.
The story behind the names Big Shovel and Little Shovel Pass is quite interesting. Mary Schäffer had visited Maligne Lake area in 1908 traveling with the aid of a handrawn map by Stoney Sampson Beaver. Afterwards Mary wrote “Lake Louise is a pearl; Lake Maligne is a whole string of pearls.” Three years later during debate as to whether Maligne Lake should be included inside the national park Mary was asked to survey the lake. During Mary’s 1911 trip her guide Jack Otto had the group follow the high route of the skyline from end of the railway to Maligne Lake. Being mid June the snow was still deep across the passes so Otto had some of the men advance ahead of the group and dig a path through the snow. The men had to make their own shovels which they did out of spruce trees and after leaving the highest pass they left the shovels in the snow to be used by the following party if necessary. Upon finding the shovels Mary named the pass Shovel Pass.
Schäffer was thrilled to on the the trail again – and keen to share its wonders with her young nephew. However, not everything turned out to be as it appeared. “A mile from the summit, where the last, hard ascent began,” Schäffer wrote, “Jack rather excitedly called our attention to two tiny specks on the skyline and, though he remained sweetly non-committal and suggested the might be a horse or two, we knew he meant ‘sheep,’ and sheep they promptly became.”
The weary travellers carried on, fuelled by the anticipation of what lay ahead. At last, Schäffer continued, “we came close enough to analyse our two immovable sheep – only to find them a pair of abandoned shovels which had been hewn from a tree and, in case we needed the same, left standing conspicuously in the snow….[L]aughingly we named the pass ‘Shovel Pass’ and went on our way down the heather and snow decked slopes.” The shovels remained in place for many years, acting as sentinels to mark the top of the pass. Today they are in the Jasper museum.Life of the Trail 4: Historic Hikes in Eastern Jasper National Park, Emerson Sanford and Janice Sanford Beck, 2009, Rocky Mountain Books, page 162
On our way up to Big Shovel Pass we met our first southbound (SOBO) trail runner of the day. The guy was tall and lanky and making amazing time down the trail. We stepped off the trail to allow him by and just like that he was gone down the trail. The hiking on this section was easy on braided trails. The trail rose steadily all the way to pass at a bit less than 100 m/km. Big Shovel Pass is about 100 m higher than Little Shovel Pass but the lack of vegetation near the top made it feel much higher. We arrived at the pass at 10:40 am 1 hr 50 min since leaving Little Shovel Pass. If you follow the pass up to the left you come to Curator Mountain. Curator Mountain is named due to its location as it acts as the guardian or “curator” of the area.
The trail descended slightly while contouring over to the junction with the trail to the Watchtower. We met some day hikers staying at the Watchtower CG who were heading southbound to explore the Snowbowl. They were very positive about the Watchtower CG which was in contrast to the family from yesterday who did not have anything good to say about the campground.
Hiking to the junction with Curator CG was really like being in a big bowl. We mainly contoured around the east side losing just 100 m of elevation on the way to the junction. We were passed by three trail runners heading northbound (NOBO) and again we stepped out of the way to let them pass. We hiked apart during this section. The hiking was very easy and aided by the slight downhill slope we arrived at the junction for Curator CG in just 35 minutes since leaving Big Shovel Pass.
We made a right hand turn at the junction for Curator CG and headed up towards the Notch. Curator CG looked like a great place to stop. It would give a person the opportunity to scramble some of the peaks in the area and to simply do more exploring. We hiked through a short but striking section of red sandstone a very uncommon sight in the Canadian Rockies. Ten minutes after leaving the junction we arrived at Curator Lake. The trail runners who had passed us a little earlier were down at the waters edge refilling their water bottles. We stopped for a few minutes taking in the view of the lake contrasting with the surrounding rocky cliffs.
Hiking up to the Notch would be our last pass for our trip. Shortly after leaving the lake we had a bet on how long it would take to hike to the Notch. Emily said 40 minutes and I think I went longer.
While we had seen evidence of some of the wildlife such as bears or elk we had not seen much wildlife at all on the trip. Thus we were both quite excited when a pika scurried through the rocks beside us. It may not have been a bear but it was wild and extremely cute.
Shortly after our brush with the wild side the trail headed up in earnest. At first the slope had some vegetation and the footing was quite good. The trail then transitioned to a scree covered slope and the footing was not as firm and in places the trail was very steep.
I do want to apologize about the photos on this section. I operate my camera on manual mode which means I have to pay attention to the settings especially when the light changes. The easy way to know if the settings are close is to check the histogram on the back of the camera. Unfortunately whether it was the excitement of the climb to the last pass, the extraordinary scenery or lack of attention to detail I did not check the histogram and as a consequence most of photos for this section are somewhat overexposed.
We were leading quite a group up the Notch. The three runners were behind us now walking up the steep slopes. We had past a group of four women. They had been staying at Shovel Pass Backcountry Lodge which was located at the bottom of the valley near Curator CG. We talked mostly to the youngest member of the group who was hiking with mom and her mom’s friends. They had decided to visit the lodge as it was a way for them to experience the backcountry without having to haul all their gear and camp. While they had nice day packs and a packed lunch courtesy of the lodge it was going to be a long 28 km hike back to their trailhead at Maligne Canyon. Emily was quite excited about the prospects of possibly do the trip with her mom and staying at the lodge. That was until we found out the cost to stay at Shovel Pass Backcountry Lodge is $300/night/person which is just a little or maybe a lot out of our price range.
The last few minutes up to the Notch was on very steep and open slopes. I never felt exposed but it sure was steep. We arrived at the top with big grins on our faces. It had been 35 minutes since we made the bet on how long it would take. The views were outstanding in every direction. As we looked around people started arriving at the top. At one point there was over 10 people gathered around taking in the sights. The younger women from the group of four went for a quick scramble up the western peak of the Notch. The three trail runners we had passed at the lake looked around and then headed off followed shortly by a group of four trail runners. We spent about 10 minutes at the Notch before deciding to head off. We would have stayed longer but it was quite windy.
We headed off down the Skyline. The name is well chosen as it really feels like you are hiking in the sky. The initial couple of kilometres actually hikes below the ridge on the west side of so that there are no views to the east. After half an hour of walking on the ridge we found some conveniently west facing rocks that were somewhat sheltered from the wind and dropped our packs to enjoy our lunch.
While we were stopped for lunch Emily once again tendered to her feet. It was just before 1 pm and it was high traffic time on The Skyline. There were many trail runners going past us while we ate mostly heading NOBO. Now Emily will tell you its not a true hiking trip unless Dad meets some random person he knows in the backcountry. As we were having lunch two teachers from my school ran by. We had a quick chat before they headed off. The one teacher had spent 55 days the previous summer hiking the GDT SOBO with her children aged 5 and 7. As we got up to head back down the trail. The women we had met on our way up to the Notch were just coming into view to the south.
The Skyline after the Notch was more the ridge walk that I had been expecting on the Six Passes. The surface we were walking on was hard and firm and travel was easy.
Descending off the Skyline I started to feel as though the trip was over. Even though we were still in the mountains it felt like the next objective was to get to Signal CG then the next day would only be to hike to Jasper. There were no doubts about whether we would be able to finish the hike and with the end in sight I was feeling slightly deflated as we started our descent.
As we dropped down to the alpine bowl formed by Mt Tekarra, Centre Mt and Excelsior Mt a trail runner passed us and shouted out a comment about Frosty Paws. She quickly disappeared from view and was the last runner or hiker we would see on the trail on this day.
We arrived at Tekarra CG at 3:20 pm. We had been hiking for 8 hr and 10 min and had covered 26 km. The campground was set alongside a tumbling creek and at the time of our arrival there was only one campsite occupied. After using the very unique toilets Emily floated the idea of staying at Tekarra CG instead of continuing on to our campsite at Signal. I was a little unsympathetic and dismissed the idea quickly. We had a short day of 20 km for our last day and and did not want to turn it into a longer day. I was really looking forward to an easy last day. Emily had read on the Guthooks (Far Out) App that there was not a good water supply at Signal so we refilled in the stream and headed off after a 15 minute break on the final 6 km stretch for the day.
We passed by two young men enjoying cool refreshments while sitting on rocks in the stream. The trail headed uphill but at a comfortable grade. Emily was off by herself at the front and I felt she was annoyed at continuing on. Emily dislikes hiking over 25 km and today we would be doing 32 and I figured that mentally she was checking out. After catching up to her I attempted to distract her by engaging in conversation. It took quite a while and a few failed attempts to finally get Emily engaged. I asked her about the people she had met on her travels and the conversation and stories took us all the way to our campsite at Signal CG.
Leaving the backside of Mount Tekarra we started to lose elevation while contouring around Signal Mountain. The trail became wider and rockier as we descended. At 5:05 pm about 90 minutes after we left Tekarra CG we arrived at the junction for Signal CG.
We threw our packs down at 5:10 pm. We relaxed for a few minutes before setting up camp. After the rain yesterday we had some damp items that we draped on anything we could find that still had some sunlight on it to dry.
There was another group of campers already at the campground and they had me a little concerned as they were very loud. They had one permit and three tents for the five of them. They had shoehorned all three tents onto one tent pad. When we talked to them they were very pleasant. In the end I need not have worried since they had a big day on the Skyline planned for the next day and they would go to bed shortly after us.
We had dinner just after 6 pm. The sun was setting fast and we snagged the only table that had any sunshine for our dinner. After dinner we got into a pleasant conversation with one of the other campers about water filters. Slowly the group started to congregate around our table. After we moved on from talking about equipment the conversation turned to different trails and hikes. Emily quickly became the star of the show. The conversation went something like:
Them “what hike did are doing”, us “the GDT, its a long trail and we are only doing a section of it”
Them “I did a long trail on Vancouver Island, can’t remember what it is called, Emily “the West Coast Trail, I did that”
Them “isn’t there a long trail in the Sierra’s”, Emily “the John Muir Trail, I did that”
Them “I did a long hike in Spain with my mom”, Emily “the El Camino, I did that with my mom as well”
Them “there is a long trail in New Zealand, don’t remember the name”, Emily “the Te Araroa, I spent 45 days hiking that”
As we talked it got darker and colder. Finally after an hour and a half we all agreed it was time to head to bed. After sitting on the picnic table for close to two hours I remember being very stiff when I got up and only then realizing how cold it had become. The campground was quiet at about 9:30 pm. We were very tired and decided on skipping our bedtime reading on this night.