October 6, 2012
Jasper – Skyline Trail, AB
I had my eyes on the Jasper Skyline north section traverse (Excelsior, Center, Amber, Tekarra) since I snowshoed up Signal Mountain back in February. Signal Mountain is rather a bump on the north end of the range. This Thanksgiving long weekend seemed like a perfect time to try this “experimental” traverse. There’s very limited route beta for these peaks, and in fact, I couldn’t find any trip report for Excelsior Mountain nor Center Mountain. Soloing all three days didn’t sound very appealing to me so I decided to take my mom on the trip. She hadn’t done a hike since June so I wouldn’t let mom join me up this traverse as I had to speed things up if I wanted to success. The parking lot is pretty close to Maligne Canyon so she could always find something to do.
The 5:30 alarm couldn’t wake me up in the morning, as it was too cold.. I re-set my alarm to 6:30 but still couldn’t get up in time.. Anyway, I finally started the trudge at 7:30am. If I could get up earlier, the day would be more enjoyable, but now, I had to rush throughout the day. For those of you planning on Jasper Skyline, make sure you get mentally prepared for the initial 2 hours trudging up Signal Mountain road. You had almost zero view along the way, and the road just went on forever.. I encountered snow from about 300 m vertical meters up. Thankfully the snow was only about 10-15 cm deep. If I had to start post-holing at this stage, I definitely wouldn’t make it… But the snow did slow me down a bit. The Skyline trail became harder and harder to follow as I progressed through. I lost the trail for a few times in some large meadows, but I managed to re-gain the trail soon. The clouds were lifting up now and that was really encouraging. The trail hugs around treeline traversing below Signal Mountain, and circumvents the northeast ridge extension of Mount Tekarra to its back side.
What was appearing to be very close, Excelsior Mountain, seemed to be very far away now, because there was apparently a significant amount of elevation loss to get down to campground Tekarra… Well, I didn’t pay attention to the contour lines on the map, so I wasn’t mentally prepared for this part. At least it was down-hill so the hiking was relatively fast, and I soon made down to the campground. It’s 15 km one way to get here from parking lot.
Excelsior Mountain was the big slope directly ahead of me, and looked to be straightforward.. Really? Not with snow on… After re-filling my water bottle at a nearby stream I crossed the stream and bushwhacked straight up the slope, only to find I actually topped out on a small hill… Damn, I had to lose some elevation then.. But anyway, I dropped down to the creek bed again, and now I could ascend straight up. I soon broke through the treeline, and now what… A giant slope of snow covered boulder field. What looked like to be a giant rubble slope turned out to be quartzite boulder field as I got closer… This could be fun in dry condition, but when wet, the scrambling could get very tricky. I had to hands-down regularly to prevent me from slipping. Slipping and falling on these boulders could result in serious injury so I had to be careful. The slope went on forever, and it felt like eternity.
I suggest you to constantly look back at Mt. Tekarra, not just because of the view, but also it gives you a good perspective of how far you still have to go. You gotta get higher than Tekarra. The slope itself is very very foreshortened. It took me 6 hours to get up Excelsior from parking lot, which was much slower than anticipated… A big WOW moment was waiting for me at the summit. This is quite a lofty summit as I was looking down at most nearby peaks except for the distant giants like Edith Cavell.
I didn’t do the necessary summit stay as I was quite behind schedule. I really had to speed up a bit. I quickly made my way down the west ridge towards my next objective, Center Mountain.