I've been on trails that I didn't want to leave, like this year in incredible Castleguard Meadows and the along the expansive Alexandra River valley. It felt sad to arrive at the terminal trailhead. I could have spent several more days easily.
Then there are trails that you can't wait to see the end. The Chrome Lake trail leading to the Wates-Gibson hut for example. Dark and wet, a forced march, high-stepping all the way like a marching band to avoid tripping on the rooty trail that mercifully ends at the hut.
There's a little of both on the Maligne Pass trail. The route up to the pass from the Poboktan trailhead is pretty typical national parks kinda trail. Reasonably maintained and pleasant enough to walk on if unexceptional in terms of scenery or landmarks. There isn't much to see on the way to the pass, but I was excited at the prospect of hiking the Six Passes route to Maligne Lake, although apprehensive about the possibility of late season weather. The forecast for Jasper townsite was excellent, so off I went.
Maligne Pass is lovely if not very distinctive. As the trees thinned out near the head of the pass, I saw that the back side of the Endless Chain had already seen some pretty significant snow. I said out loud to the ground squirrels "if that's First Pass, I'm not going!"
Entering Maligne Pass with Ellusive Pass in distance
I had brought some photos of the six passes (kindly provided by Steve Howes), so I stopped at the summit of Maligne Pass to take a look. Sure enough, I was looking at at snowy Ellusive Pass (first of the six passes) with a big cornice right at the low point of the pass.
Digital closeup of Ellusive Pass
I contemplated a climb to get a closer look, but it seemed like a lot of snow. I have neither equipment nor experience to scramble through deep snow, so I decided to bail on the Six Passes route and return to Maligne Lake via the valley bottom. Plus it was late in the day and attempting the ascent fresh from a good night's sleep would have meant a camp in the windy, chilly pass. So down I went to spend night 1 in Mary Vaux campsite.
Cooking Area at Mary Vaux Camp
Stump Chair at Mary Vaux Camp
Althought the valley trail has been decommissioned by Parks, the campsites are still in good shape. Mary Vaux was excellent with good tent pads, sturdy tables, a bear hang with new-looking cables and a green throne privy. The other campsites on the trail were similar, although the crossbar of the bear hang at Mary Schaeffer is cracked and the one at Trapper Creek is completely broken. (Maybe the bear won that one.)
Downslope from Mary Vaux, I entered that part of the trail where my mind began to wander away from the wonder of my valley trek toward the pizza and beer that were awaiting me in Jasper. Yes, the delight of backcountry hiking was overwhelmed by the desire to finish a trail whose only views of open sky were accompanied by tall willows to be bashed. I came to appreciate the dark dense forest because it provided a respite from the willows and bog birch that barred the trail whenever it passed into a sunny area.
I am exaggerating, of course; there were a few places where you could see the sun without scraping through willows. Nearing Trapper Creek campsite closer to Maligne Lake, there was a stretch of beautiful meadow with autumn gold tall grass.
Pretty Autumn Meadows
Although I never saw them, there was evidence of moose, wolves and bears on the trails by their tracks and scat.
The bridge across the Maligne River has been washed out, with reports of a difficult ford in early season. My ford was easy. It was about 2 feet deep where I crossed.
The Washed-out Bridge of the Maligne River
I Forded Here
I camped on night 2 at Mary Schaeffer campsite, and exited to Maligne Lake on Day 3. Had a great greasy burger and IPA at the Jasper Legion that night and went home the next day.
So, not the hike that I wanted. I will try again next year for the Six Passes route.
Although it always good to get outside and to have good weather 'til Sep 30, I hafta say I would not do this route again. The willow bashing is really tiresome. Don't go.