Day 7, August 17th, Waterfalls CG to First Valley Six Passes. 22 km, 1000 m elevation gain, 780 m elevation loss, 9 hrs (Segment 26, Segment 27).
It rained all night at times quite hard. I was awake at 5 am listening to the rain wondering how the day was going to unfold. I have hiked in the rain many times and the toughest part for me is actually getting out of the tent and into the rain. Once outside I really do not mind the rain too much. Just after 7 am the rain started to diminish and by 7:30 am the rain had ceased altogether. Getting up late was not really the plan but having a good rest was not a bad thing. I really was not worried about the time as it was still light till quite late and the goal for the day was about 25 km. Our pan today was to enter the Six Passes Route. I did have a permit but it was for tomorrow. I was non-committal on what to do but a friend who had done the GDT said that I had a permit so if I was a day early it would be fine.
We ran into our first challenge when Micah dug into their food bag and found that over half their Logan Bread that they were planning to eat for breakfast had gone moldy! I had kept my Logan Bread in the freezer until I packed it the day before I left for the hike. Micah had put their Logan Bread in a cold room before the hike. Obviously the cold room was not adequate to keep the Logan Bread from going moldy over a few weeks. On Micah’s John Muir Trail hike they had eaten Logan Bread for breakfast but had vacuum packed it. It might be time to invest in some new equipment for food storage. We were able to manage with food for the trip but I think we both wished we had a just little more.
We left camp at 9:10 am. Initially the trail was firm and wide but it narrowed into a small path worn deep into the ground leading to minor flooding across the trail. Trying to avoid the worst of the water resulted in the legs getting repeatedly wet from being “car washed” by the wet grasses that lined the trail. One hour 10 minutes after we left camp we arrived at Poboktan CG. Micah decided to take the opportunity to put their rain pants on to keep their legs dryer. I decided that I was warm enough despite my my pants getting a little wet and was confident that my pants would dry as we climbed into the alpine.
Back on the trail we soon covered the 1.2 km to the junction with the Maligne Pass Trail. I would like to know why but Parks Canada has decided to not maintain the Maligne Pass Trail. I was expecting the trail to be more like Day 4 through the Cataract and I my expectations would prove to be correct.
“From my research after I got home I learned that the process of decommissioning several Jasper NP trails began almost a decade ago. Parks Canada decided that some trails are not worthy of maintenance and the Maligne Pass Trail specifically cut through important wildlife habitat that was compromised by recreational users, i.e. hikers. Avalanche CG will continued being maintained for single parties but there will be no trail maintenance on the trail up to Maligne Pass. North of Maligne Pass the trail will become a “wilderness route”. Hikers will still need a permit and pay a fee for the privilege of accessing the “wilderness routes”. Campgrounds will be removed and the bridge over Maligne River will not be replaced. For hikers purchasing maps of Jasper Park new maps will no longer show the decommissioned trails. Parks Canada has asked Gem Trek and National Geographic to remove several decommissioned trails from their maps.”
It was only 3 minutes before we came to see what was meant by the trail being “no longer maintained”. A bridge across Poligne Creek, the creek draining Maligne Pass, had broken in two and collapsed. After a quick inspection we felt the bridge was still safe and was the driest way across the creek. It looked like it had been broken for a while and I am thinking Parks Canada is not going to do anything about it.
The trail was very easy to follow as we made our way to Avalanche CG. There were lots of cloud hanging low on the mountains but they never looked very threatening. After 30 minutes of hiking we came to another stream crossing. Not a very sophisticated bridge but I felt very safe while crossing which is something that I would not be able to say about the next two crossings.
We had multiple stream crossings on this section but none of the streams would have been a barrier to hiking even if there had been no bridges/logs to aid in the crossing. The bridges/logs helped keep our feet dry but with the persistent drizzle we had made the logs wet and slippery which added a great deal of excitement to the crossings. With the rain we had our feet were already wet so it would not have been a big deal for us just to wade through the water. We eventually came to a calm shallow crossing that did not have an option to cross and stay dry but instead of changing to our sandals we just waded across soaking our already wet feet in the process.
Shortly after Crossing #5 we came to small detour around some avalanche debris. Some hiker had come through and put some orange flagging up to help guide people around the debris. It was soon after that the sun came out and we rejoiced in seeing our shadows. The trail was very easy to follow at this point even if it was somewhat narrow.
The mountain that was to our left that we ware traversing around forms the southern tip of the Endless Chain Ridge. The Endless Chain Ridge runs unbroken for almost 30 km and it will be our companion all the way to the 4th pass on the Six Passes Route.
A few minutes after the sun came out we came to another stream crossing utilizing a very broken log as a bridge. The Poligne Creek which we have been following is now not much more than a bubbling brook. We could have easily walked across the creek but we took the bridge to keep our damp feet from becoming soaked once again.
It was 12:30 pm when we arrived at Avalanche CG. To compare the difference in the two sections of trail that we had been on it had taken us 1.5 hrs to hike 5.7 km and 150 m of elevation loss from Waterfalls CG to the junction with the Maligne Pass Trail. It had then taken us 1.75 hrs to hike only 4.5 km with a gentle gain of 300 m from the junction to Avalanche CG. It had taken us 15 minutes longer to hike 1.2 km less on the Maligne Pass Trail. Avalanche CG looked like a very nice little campground. There were four tent pads and a fire ring. Interesting that Parks Canada is not maintaining the Maligne Pass Trail but the signage is all new. My understanding is that Avalanche CG is only available for one group per night who have a reservation on Six Passes or down the Maligne Pass Trail. The campground did not look very well used.
We had a 15 minutes break at Avalanche CG. We took the opportunity to down some snacks and use the toilet before heading off on the last 4.25 km stretch to Maligne Pass.
Leaving Avalanche CG the trail was good and firm in some spots and rocky and wet in others. Looking at the speed graph on my Viewranger our speed was noticeably slower in the section just after we left the campground. Twenty five minutes after leaving the campground we came to stream crossing number 7. The crossing led to us very wet and marshy section. Afterwards we determined that Micah got us a little lost and we had not been on the main trail. The trail moved away from the creek and started to head uphill leading to drier and better trail.
The trail headed uphill away from the marsh gaining 150 m of elevation in just 1.2 km. This little climb was our steepest section we had encountered on a very light day in terms of elevation. As we approached the pass the trees started to thin, the trail firmed up and our speed increased. Since we were getting nearer the pass it was decision time. We did have a permit for the Six Passes but it was for tomorrow. The question was should we head in anyway? Both Micah and myself are good rule followers.
We arrived at the pass at 2:05 pm. Even with the wet and sloppy trail after Avalanche CG it had only taken us 1 hour 20 minutes to hike the 4.25 km to Maligne Pass. Maligne Pass was a glorious alpine meadow. The views stretched off into the distance in both directions. We choose a rock to shelter us from the wind and enjoyed our lunch overlooking the small lake that occupied the southern side of the pass.
Just as we were finishing lunch the hiker who we had first seen at arriving late at Four Points came striding down the trail. She was very talkative and we had a lovely chat as we got ready for the next leg of our adventure. She was thru hiking the GDT after having completed the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2020. Comparing the two trails she said that she missed the communal atmosphere of the PCT. She was finding that there were very few people on the GDT compared to the PCT as a result she had often found herself hiking alone. We discussed the Six Passes Route that was the major decision for both of us. She had a permit but how she came by it was quite the story. She had been originally unable to secure a permit for the Six Passes. She met another hiker online who was also thru hiking the GDT on the same itinerary and they agreed to hike together. A week before they were scheduled to leave for the GDT the other hiker broke her leg when they was hit by car while riding their bicycle. Now injured the other hiker gave her the permit for the Six Passes. At first she was quite excited about the prospect of hiking with us on the Six Passes. As she reflected on her upcoming schedule she decided that since she had to be in Jasper in just two days and it would be better for her to just hike down the Maligne Pass Trail. We asked if we could have her permit for the evening and she agreed. She took a couple of pictures of us and then was off down the trail. We never did get her name.
Now we had to decide what we were going to do. Initially we decided that we do the Six Passes. We headed out towards what we thought was the first pass. Leaving Maligne Pass the going was very, very difficult. The initial slope that looked so green and lovely was covered in hummocks, small mounds of dirt created by differentials in the amount of frost heave in the area. While the hummocks are not very large they are soft and make for a very uneven walking surface. We slogged our way up the hill, hiking in silence some distance apart. I found this small section to be a lot of work and it was dampening my enthusiasm to hike the Six Passes.
After about 30 minutes we found ourselves at the top of the grassy slope where the ground became firmer and rockier. The flatter harder ground provided easier travel and we started to feel as we were actually making progress towards the pass. As we walked together along the rocks we started to feel better. We have done very little off trail hiking so we just did not know what to expect. We hiked past our one and only cairn for the Six Passes. Even though it was obvious where we had to go it was a strange feeling not having a trail laid out to take us to our destination. Part way up the slope leading to the pass we both agreed that we did not think that the Six Passes was for us and that we would just go to the top of the 1st pass and look over before heading back to the main trail.
The footing leading up to the pass was very soft. The rocks were very small and it felt like we were hiking up a wet pile of gravel. Without solid footing each step sunk into the dirt and when you pushed off your foot sunk even further. It was a quiet and subdued approach to the pass.
After exactly 1 hour of hiking we arrived at the top of the 1st pass. Micah let out a primordial scream before I was able to join them at the top. I wish I had a video of them screaming. The sight before leading away from the pass was absolute alpine beauty at its finest. We looked at each and smiled. Our fates where sealed. Without a word we headed down from the pass and deeper into the Six Passes.
Since the weather was not being overly cooperative we decided to hedge a little on our distance. We decided we would not hike too far into the the Six Passes in case the weather was not good the next day. The shorter distance meant that it would not take too much time to hike back to the main trail. We both agreed to the plan as it sounded like a reasonable compromise.
We found a nice spot in the meadow not too far from a water source and set up camp. After the rain the previous night and during the morning hike up the Maligne Pass Trail we had a lot of wet clothing and equipment. Once we had the tent set up we utilized the external poles of the tent as a laundry dryer.
Camping in a grassy meadow made me happy I had bear canisters. There were trees a little further down the valley up the slope to the right but I was happy to have the flexibility to camp where we did. The plan was to get up at 5:45 am the following morning to start our day. While we were hiking down the valley I had texted Laura to send us a weather update for the next couple of days using my SPOT X. We stopped and set up the tent after hiking about 4 km into the valley as was our plan. The weather update from Laura came a little later in the evening and said that the next day was suppose to be sunny but 30% rain the day after. Too bad I did not ask for the weather update earlier as we decided with the good weather coming tomorrow that we would continue into the Six Passes. Doing a couple extra kilometers on this day would have made the next day a bit easier. The valley cooled off quite quickly as the sun went down behind the mountains so shortly after dinner we retired into the tent. We did quite a bit of reading before calling it a night at about 8:30 pm.