AB Nor = Alberta Rockies North (Jasper & Willmore) Swarming Bugs and Wildfire Haze: Enter Tonquin - ClubTread Community

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post #1 of (permalink) Old 07-18-2021, 12:08 AM Thread Starter
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Default Swarming Bugs and Wildfire Haze: Enter Tonquin

From Patton&Robinson Canadian Rockies Trail Guide
Quote:
.. but in the midst of summer when mosquitoes and horseflies are swarming and trails have been churned to mush by horses, Tonquin can resemble backpacker definition of hell
I've been to Tonquin before, but it was out-and-back Astoria dayhike. I knew I'd return for overnight as it is one of classic Rockies backpacks. But why now, with knowledge of above warning? Part of me that found second wind in life by exploring great outdoors wants to experience all sides of the story. So I did 4 day, 3 night through mid-July backpack:



  • Day 1) Park at Astoria Trailhead, cycle to Portal Trailhead, Hike to Maccarib campground
  • Day 2) Dayhike to Moat Lake/Tonquin Pass then Maccarib meadows in the evening. 2nd night at Maccarib campground
  • Day 3) Move camp from Maccarib to Clitheroe, then dayhike to Outpost Lake via Surprise Point/Chrome Lake
  • Day 4) Hike out via Astoria River


And bugs? Well, there are bugs and then there are Tonquin bugs. I don't think I've experienced anything like this before; it needs to be seen to be believed. Endless swarms, often one of top of the other. Leave tea cup uncovered, within a minute at least 10 mozzies will have drowned. When you open tent zip to get in/out, regardless how fast you are, dozen will get in & you have to chase them out then unless you want to be bitten overnight (I woke up to dots of blood on tent floor in Maccarib). Bug spray doesn't do squat. For the first time ever I was forced to wear mosquito net: Don't go to Tonquin without it in summer!


But this might paint wrong picture; Tonquin is spectacular. 7km drop from Maccarib Pass is one of nicest alpine meadowlands I've ever seen. Amethyst outlet by Surprise point (where most classic Tonquin photos are taken) is simply spectacular. I know now I'll be back on a crisp Autumn week for sole photography purposes as potential for landscape photographer is immense.


Few photos, which are all poor quality but it couldn't be helped as haze from BC wildfires pretty much obscured everything entire time:


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[Looking back from Maccarib Pass, real highlight. That is Old Horn Mtn upper right, and Maccarib Mtn to its left. Further left in the distance even Edith Cavell is poking out. This was the clearest day of the 4]


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[Delightful alpine meadow on trail leading to Tonquin Lodge and onto Moat Lake. Bugs were tolerable here & even managed a nap after lunch lying in grass]


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[Maccarib Meadows trail end above Maccarib campsite. Mt. Clitheroe in the distance]


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[Classic boardwalk near Amethyst campground, with Ramparts in the background. Just imagine how spectacular photo one could make here with right conditions]


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[Chrome Lake. Note: Bridge leading to Eremite valley / Arrowhead lake is out (partially submerged)]


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[Amethyst Outlet ~1km from Surprise Point campground -- which is for me by margin the nicest of Tonquin campgrounds, even if Amethyst is quite nice too]


Total loop for Portal - Astoria direction (without dayhikes) comes to ~45km with +1290m (elev. gain) -1055m (elev.loss) so it is even doable as dayhike; I also know trail runners frequently do it too, but backpack is the only way to go for me. GPS Map and Elevation Profile
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In subsequent posts I will provide more details, including discussion about often asked transit between trailheads.
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Last edited by zeljkok; 07-18-2021 at 12:46 AM.
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 07-18-2021, 02:15 PM
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I've made three backpack trips into the Tonquin, all via Astoria, and one day hike to Maccarib Pass and back. I concur re the bugs but the mountain vistas and meadows are worth it. The first trip in we encountered a grizzly near the Surprise Point campground. Later, one of our gang hand caught a large trout from the stream flowing from Amethyst Lakes. His bare arm was severely pierced before he succeeded.

In '78 I made one of the best, with Great Divide Girl's mom, a five day, four night, bug-free, late September backpack loop. With no information other than the topographic map we started at Astoria and made our first camp beyond Verdant Pass high above the Whirlpool Valley. Next day we side-hilled to a camp in the valley east of Angle Peak. Next day we hiked up the valley to the pass leading to Eremite Valley.

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Looking up Eremite Valley in '94. I think we crossed the pass on the left.

The next day we backtracked a bit to cross a rough pass between the south outlier of Thunderbolt Peak and Campus Peak to a camp in the Campus Pass meadows. Later that day I made a solo first ascent of "Freshman Mountain". That evening we enjoyed watching a herd of caribou in the meadows. On the final day, we went through Campus Pass, past Beryl and Buttress Lakes to complete the loop at the Verdant Pass trail. It's a loop I'd be surprised if anyone else has done but maybe someone reading this will be inspired.

Here's a few photos from a '94 trip. We stayed at the ACC hut and climbed Outpost, Memorial, Surprise Point, McConnell and Clitheroe.

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The Ramparts. Surprise Point is the lower dark peak in the foreground.

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Amethyst Lakes beyond Surprise Point from the summit of Outpost. Outpost Lake and the Wates-Gibson ACC hut below.

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Surprise Point summit, Outpost and Memorial behind.

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The back side of the Ramparts, Redoubt, Dungeon and Oubliette from the summit of McConnell.

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Caribou in the meadows below Clitheroe.

Last edited by VicB; 07-18-2021 at 02:39 PM.
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 07-18-2021, 06:22 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VicB View Post
...
In '78 I made one of the best, with Great Divide Girl's mom, a five day, four night, bug-free, late September backpack loop. With no information other than the topographic map we started at Astoria and made our first camp beyond Verdant Pass high above the Whirlpool Valley....

Wow, this is separate, very advanced Tonquin Trip Report. I was wondering about scrambling, but except for Maccarib and Clitheroe have no beta. Wates-Gibson Hut was closed (I'll get to it in later post), but it's presence signaled peakbagging opportunities. That whole south corner (Eremite, Campus etc) just begs to be explored. Ditto vast ridge system above Maccarib Meadows. Next time, Sep timeframe, think I'll quickly hike in via Astoria, make multi-day base at Surprise Point Campground and go exploring/photographing, finally loop hike out via Chrome lake; incidentally heard talk about bridge being out there too
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 07-18-2021, 08:06 PM Thread Starter
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Default Astoria - Portal Trailhead Transport Logistics

Transport between Astoria and Portal trailheads is often discussed topic for those planning through hike. Obviously easiest way is if you are with group that has 2 cars. It will take ~20-25min of driving (1-way). Cavell Road is narrow at spots with several sharp switchbacks in lower part, but Marmot Road is wide open. Problem is if you are solo, or have just 1 vehicle. So here is bit of discussion on that topic & what worked for me.


Biggest, often repeated advice I can give is: Do NOT leave transport problem for the end when you are all tired and beat after several days in back-country, begging for food and shower. Always, always hike towards your vehicle; it might seem like a drag in the beginning when you are aching to get going, but you'll be really thankful at the end.


Three different approaches are possible:


1) Hitch-hiking. Keep in mind that Cavell Road is far busier than Marmot road, and you might need two different rides. This is least viable option in my mind


2) Taxi. Portal trailhead has cell coverage, Astoria doesn't. So if needing a ride from Astoria, you might need to arrange in advance. There is also $$ question; think someone told me it will take ~$100 CAD

3) Cycling. Most self-reliant which is always the best choice, but there are issues, such as:


  • Astoria trailhead is higher and cycling Cavell road uphill will be huge grunt
  • Cycling for at least an hour before the hike with heavy overnight backpack will require additional energy
  • Stashing of bike / backpack. You are likely not to cycle with overnight pack on your back & that means backpack will need to be left unattended at starting trailhead for over an hour. Also bike will have to be left 'out there' for several days. Now Jasper is not BC and thefts are not as common, but there is still a risk
Some people use combination of cycling and hitch-hiking. In Maccarib campground I met French girl; she had bike stashed at Portal where she planned to finish. She was going to cycle Marmot Road downhill, then try to hitch-hike busier Cavell Road where chances for pick-up are higher.
---------------


Finally, this is what I did, and including some info I think only few Jasper locals might be aware off:


First, I drove to Portal TH, got ready then left backpack behind the toilet. (It was a risk but nobody saw me doing it, road is almost deserted and you'd have to look quite hard to find it). I took only small water bottle with me, drove to Astoria, parked then mounted a bike. You will need water, and roughly 5 min down Cavell road there is bridge with good water where I stopped and filled up, then strapped bottle on bike frame
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[Aquila Peak behind the drainage with water on Cavell Road]


Ride down is great fun! Mind the switchbacks and brakes, as well as cars. Then it's ~3km on Wabasso Road which is mostly flat or even slightly downhill. Then it's up Marmot Road, and that is the problem. It was very hot day, already +30 and I was not sure I'll be able to pull it off. But just as I started up Marmot Road, almost directly opposite road sign ~100m from Wabasso Road I noticed trail entering forest. I was always suspecting hiking trail might exist there, even inquired with lobo, but he hasn't heard of any. Well, there is one and it is quite good; I think it is used by local mountain bikers. So I stashed my bike in the forest and hiked up. Basically trail climbs above south bank of Portal Creek and being with no backpack I was able to run up that trail very fast; it emerges on Marmot Road ~1km from Portal Trailhead !!

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[Remainder of Marmot road I walked to Portal Trailhead, ~1km]


In total, cycling + hiking it took just above 1 hour, spending very little energy. Backpack waited for me untouched. I highly recommend this alternative if you are not quite up to cycling Marmot Road uphill


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Portal Trailhead, after successful bike&hike from Astoria. It was exactly 2pm at this point and ~20km hike to Maccarib Campground awaited. This is next post.
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 07-19-2021, 06:21 AM
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@VicB that is amazing! I've had my eye on the Astoria - Verdant pass - Eremite part of your loop for a while but I don't know when I'll get to do it if ever.

@zeljkok I took the cab - it was $100 4-5 years ago, split it with other people so not too bad.
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post #6 of (permalink) Old 07-21-2021, 06:43 AM
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beautiful terrain despite the smoke. thanks for posting.
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post #7 of (permalink) Old 07-22-2021, 05:32 PM Thread Starter
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Default Portal Trailhead to Maccarib Campground

Stats: ~20km with +800m Elevation gain, -300m Elevation loss. Most of elev.loss is on 7km hike from Maccarib Pass following Maccarib creek to campground
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Patton&Robinson state that this approach holds "definite scenic advantage" compared to Astoria trail on the other side & I'd have to agree. Initial part is quite tedious; within 5 minutes trail crosses on north side of Portal creek then settles on long steady mostly forested climb on sometimes rocky & rooty trail. But after crossing back to south side of Portal creek ~4km mark, things start improving. Trail contours east slopes of Peveril mtn, then drops to Portal campground ~9km mark. Day was very hot & I was laboring quite a bit taking frequent breaks. There were no bugs at this point yet, but after passing the campground and starting Maccarib Pass ascent swarms started and just kept getting worse and worse. However fantastic views were more than adequate compensation, and 7km hike from the Pass down Maccarib creek is one of nicest alpine hikes you will ever do. I started from trailhead at 2pm & gave myself 8hrs to campground, but was able to get by 9pm with plenty of daylight to setup camp & have dinner. Photo story:


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[Lower Portal creek bridge ~5min from the start. Creek was raging and bridge is pretty much necessary. Overall I was quite impressed about the trail; maintained bridges and signs. There were signs of horse traffic, but horses frequent more Astoria side]


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[Upper Portal creek bridge ~4km mark; Peveril mtn upper left]


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[Crossing rock slides contouring Peveril Mtn. Portal creek in in valley below, and Aquila Mtn on the other side]


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[Ascending Maccarib Pass in great alpine environments. Maccarib Mtn. just poking upper right]


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[Parks Sign Post at 2210m; it was ~7pm at this point & I knew I'd be able to cover remaining 7km to Maccarib campground ahead of schedule]


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[First view of already hazy Ramparts. Smoke was still acceptable but thick haze rolled in overnight the next day and remained for rest of the trip unfortunately]


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[Looking back towards Maccarib Pass while crossing Maccarib Creek]


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[Nice shot of Maccarib Mtn while descending down the valley. It is definitely possible to trash up to skyline ridge just right of the peak, then drop down wooded slopes on the other side & intercept Astoria trail somewhere between Clitheroe and Switchback campgrounds]




Maccarib camp is nice and water source (Maccarib Creek) is right below the camp. 8 quite wide tent sites, 2 picnic tables in cooking area, numbered metal food lockers and 3 open-air toilets. There is semi-open view of Ramparts from cooking area. Only 3 sites out of 8 were occupied - so campground was half empty on first night, despite showing as all booked on Parks Reservation site. I can not understand why people book and then don't cancel if they decide not to go. There was also quite a bit of 'campground switching' -- on 2nd night I had 2 French guys pitching up tent at my site. There was enough space so I didn't care too much, but I did ask them why did they do it -- and answer was "We have reservation at Clitheroe, but decided to camp here to be with our friends". These are kind of things you have to deal with on these ultra-popular backpacks; in addition on 2nd night after I got back from my day-hikes I found food all over the tents of some Asian group; they decided to eat right by their tent, then crawl in to hide from mosquitoes. This made me quite nervous and although I generally mind my own business, I had to intervene as there were grizzly sightings the same day up in Maccarib Meadows.



Next day after quite good sleep I went dayhiking to Moat Lake/Tonquin Pass, and then Maccarib Meadows in the evening. This will be the next post.
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