Athabasca Pass - Sept 8 - 13, 2015 - ClubTread Community

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post #1 of (permalink) Old 09-16-2015, 01:55 PM Thread Starter
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Default Athabasca Pass - Sept 8 - 13, 2015

Having done all of the more popular backpacks I decided to head out to Athabasca Pass this year, as one of our two annual longer backpacks we do every year. This area is rarely visited, probably because the trial is mostly in the trees, and the pass itself is actually still below treeline. But you do get to walk out on the open at Scott Gravel Flats and along the river here and there. It feels very remote and you are sure to have solitude. We only saw two other solo hikers and the Wardens.

We had been told that the Middle Whirlpool River by Middleforks campground had changed its course and that the bridge no longer spanned the river. The River has actually moved from before the Warden Cabin, to between it and Middleforks campground. It consists of a short deeper section and a larger washout section. Both were quite manageable to cross on logs and/or vegetation.

We were also told that there was a re-route to a new ford of the Whirlpool rather than Kane Creek. It starts at KM 38.8 were there used to be a bridge that spanned the Whirlpool River and took you to the east side. That bridge is now gone. Instead you 'bushwhack' on a new trail cut and marked by Parks to just upriver of where the last channel of Kane Creek enters the Whirlpool and then you ford the Whirlpool there. In this area the current is not strong. It was knee deep for us but we had no problems crossing. This crossing looked very preferable to the old Kane Creek ford and I am glad that Parks intends to keep the trail on this reroute. It then continues up the side of Kane Creek to meet the main trail.

As well of note the bridge that used to span the canyon near Scott Campground used to get over to Scott Glacier is gone. It was cut down by the Wardens because it was unstable.

When we were out there we saw the Wardens on the Saturday we were hiking back out on. They were constructing a new log 'bridge' over the shorter section of the new course of the Middle Whirlpool River. They had also cut down all the blowdown between the trailhead and the beginning of Scott Gravel Flats. This made hiking these sections more enjoyable.

We had only two days of sun but thankfully one was the day we got to the pass. It has been raining so much recently that all three lakes were present even in September.

Our itinerary was:
Day 1: ~21km to Middleforks Camp
Day 2: ~10km to Scott Camp (and were supposed to go to see glacier but could not so just rested instead)
Day 3: ~10km to Kane Meadows Camp
Day 4: ~16km day hike to Pass and back
Day 5: ~26km march back to Simon Creek camp (not marked on new Gem Trek map, but its on the far side (from trailhead) of Simon Creek)
Day 6: ~15km march out (it only took us 3.5hours!)

I would not recommend camping at Athabasca Pass. It looked wet, and why haul your pack further than you have to? Kane Meadows is a nice campground for the area.

Now for some pictures:

A lot of creek crossings look similar to this.

Washout section of Middle Whirlpool River

Washout section of Middle Whirlpool River

Scott Gravel Flats on the way in.

Scott Glacier.

Canyon that used to have the bridge over it. I guess there must be somewhere on the flats you could try to ford. But right by the campground it looked thigh deep or higher, and the current was quite strong.

There was much forest. Some of it was like this with moss in the undergrowth and was quite nice. Some was terribly boring.

Where the bridge at KM 38.8 used to be over the Whirlpool River.

Start of the reroute by that bridge. There is no bushwhacking, and the trail is faint but easy to follow.

Nearing the ford and looking up valley at Mount Brown in the center of the photo.

New 'bridge' near the ford. 5 whole logs! But only one piece of twine holding them altogether.

Fording the Whirlpool at the new crossing parks has marked off.

Mount Brown.

Heading up to the pass the trail is faint as well in places. Mostly muddy and very wet.

The Committee's Punch Bowl at the top of Athabasca Pass.

Third southern lake.

First northern lake.

Scott Glacier on the return.

The end of Scott Gravel Flats on the return.

The Wardens making their new 'bridge' over the shorter section of the new course of the Middle Whirlpool River. Works very well. Just hold on to the branch stubs as you cross the lower log.

View of River on last day. This is about as good as that section gets.

All in all I'm glad I went, but I wouldn't repeat this one.

Further info and pics at my blog:
Attached Images
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 09-16-2015, 03:15 PM
Join Date: Jul 2010
Location: Calgary
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Nice trip! Thanks for posting!

This one has been on my radar for awhile, but I've avoided it thus far in part due to uncertainty about the trail. From your report it sounds like there is only one river ford (knee deep) and that other crossings are bridged in some way - is that correct? Also, beyond the area cleared by the wardens how is the deadfall?

On other backpacking trips in the Rockies: I looked at the list of what you've done on your blog and you've certainly done the more popular ones! (I'm sensing you own a copy of Don't Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies too?). We reached a similar point a few years ago (and also tired of the crowds) and have since had great success plotting our own routes. The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide is a great resource for that, especially the maps. After plotting out a route I browse the web for reports on different sections, then piece it together on my own. There are tons of fantastic routes you can find this way and many are better than the popular ones. Random camping is great too and means you'll always get the best site and picnic table! It's something to consider if you're longing for new high-impact scenery trips.
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 09-16-2015, 04:17 PM Thread Starter
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The second part of the new Middle Whirlpool River does not have a bridge and they won't be able to build one - its too long of a section. But its not very deep and there is that one tree. Otherwise the only River you cross has a bridge at Simon Creek. You don't cross any other rivers they are all creeks. All the creeks just have logs like in the first picture. They are generally quite small and you could ford them or rock hop as well if you don't like the look of the log. Often you end up getting your boots a bit wet no matter what you do though, so make sure your waterproofing is recent.
As for deadfall along the rest: Along Scott Gravel Flats you have to go on a side hilling trail for about 500 meters. There is one really annoying tree down there, its safe enough to get around just annoying. Between Scott and Kane there are ~15-20 trees. Only 1-2 really annoying ones. And between Kane and the Pass there are ~10-15 trees. Again only 1-2 really annoying ones.

I do have a copy of Don't Waste You Time. Which means I still have the South Boundary Trail, Cairn Pass area like you did last year left from that book. I'd love to go on the old trail all the way to Southesk Lake and Glacier Pass as well, but I bet its mostly impassible/overgrown or not worth it. And Malign Pass. One of the trails not in the book I really want to do is go up Owen Creek to Michelle Lakes, over to Pinto Lake, along to Cataract Pass and then out. That is gaining popularity from what I see of trip reports. There seems to be a lot of possibilities in the White Goat Wilderness actually I haven't explored at all. But Michelle Lakes/Cataract Pass is high on my list. And then, ya, I'll start making up my own routes. I am confident enough in my route finding abilities now, even without GPS (I don't own one and have no intention of buying one ever if I can help it) to start doing that. I do own the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide. I find the National Geographic Maps help, because even though the scale is useless for when your hiking, they show more area then the Gem Trek ones. I probably own every trail guide actually. There is also a lot of trips in BC to do so I'm not worried.
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 09-16-2015, 06:14 PM
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Great report, and thank you for the time to do this!
Re long remote backpacks, have you done Castleguard Meadows (via Alexandra)? If so, how would it compare to Athabasca?

Re GPS: Interesting remark. I used to think like that, but once I crossed the bridge I find it really invaluable. It is also nice to look at your own tracks later on at Google Earth.
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 09-16-2015, 11:28 PM Thread Starter
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I haven't done Castleguard Meadows via Alexandra.
I don't like worrying about battery life, or tees blocking the signal, or any other problems with a GPS. Maybe they are better now. But I like map and compass. The only time I worry I need one is in the winter for whiteouts. I can follow trip reports quite well scrambling and off trail without one. And any problems I have are such micro route finding problems that a GPS wouldn't be able to help anyway I feel. I never have huge macro route finding problems.
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post #6 of (permalink) Old 09-17-2015, 12:26 AM
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A fine report, and thanks for sharing your adventure, enjoyed your narrative and all the fine pictures illustrating your hike and the surrounding country.

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