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Chapter 2
Backpacking Canada's Skyline Trail








Day 3

On Monday we started our first backpack, a four-day, 27 mile hike along the Skyline Trail. We had to get up early and drive to Signal Mountain where we left our rental car at the western trailhead. There we were met by the Maligne Lake Shuttle Service, which shuttled us about 45 miles to the eastern trailhead near Maligne Lake. The shuttle driver off loaded our packs and took off, leaving us alone to ponder the trail ahead. After making some quick repairs to my pack (a plastic strap buckle had broken on the shuttle van) we took off. The trail started by gently meandering through a thick Lodgepole Pine forest. We were imperceptibly climbing. After a while we started breaking out above tree line and the views of the surrounding mountain ranges got better and better with every foot of ascent. We passed through Little Shovel Pass and entered Snowbowl meadow. The colorful wild flowers were doing their best to impress us. After a few more miles we arrived at our first night’s campground, #147;Snowbowl Campground”. The Canadian Park Service requires backpackers to stay in organized backcountry campgrounds, not like the US Park Service where you can camp anywhere in a national park. But on the plus side, they provide bear poles to hang your food (required in bear country), picnic tables to eat on, smooth flat tent pads and a “latrine”. The latrine, however, left much to be desired for privacy. A Canadian Park Service latrine consists of a green plastic “throne” you sit on with a low, waist-high privacy wall around it and no roof or door (see photo below of a Canadian “green throne”). Fortunately, you always had the option of going out in the woods and finding a private tree :-).

Lake Maligne hiker shutle
The Maligne Lake shuttle service drops us off at the trailhead.

The hike starts out thru a
lodgepole forest.

Snowbowl campsite bearpoles.  We never used the bearpoles, we used our bearcans instead.

Our campsite at Snowbowl Campground.
Our Snowbowl

The Canadian Park Service's "Green Throne".
Dave trying out the  "Green Throne".

The view thru Snowbowl Pass.
Diane leading us thru Snowbowl Pass (click on photo for larger version)

Day 4

Tuesday, we packed up and continued along the trail through more flowery meadows on our way to Big Shovel Pass. On the other side of the pass, the flowery meadows ceased and we entered an area that was more like a moonscape, just barren rock and loose talus and occasional snowfields. Up ahead of us loomed “the Notch”; a high, steep pass. Just before we reached the notch though, we had to turn left, leave the trail, and descend into a side valley for Curator Campground, our stop for this evening. The campground was empty, so we were able to take the only nice site in the campground. We camped beside a small creek and tranquil pond with a view of a waterfall in the distance. We had several trees for a buffer between us and the remaining sites, which were right on top of each other. Just below us in the valley, was Shovel Pass Lodge, a commercial horse ranch/lodge. The operator ran organized horseback trips into their lodge where they provided room and board in small cabins and you were free to do day hikes during your stay.

Meadows beyond Snowbowl Pass.
Hiking thru the meadows beyond Snowbowl .

The view thru Big Shovel Pass.
The view thru Big Shovel Pass. The flowery green meadows are gone.

The cutoff trail down to Curator Campground.
Rock cairn at trail
down to Curator Campground.
"The Notch" is beyond.

Curator Campground down in the valley.
We have to hike down there
for the campsite !?
(tan area in middle of trees)

Our campsite at Curator Campground.
Our campsite at Curator campground.

Day 5

On Wednesday, we had to climb back up out of the valley (UUGH !) and pick up the trail again. We had about a mile flat stretch of trail before we started our ascent of the notch. While it looked imposing, the steep switchbacks up to the top of the pass didn’t take long. Once "The Notch" we reached the top, the views were fantastic! Looking back, we could see the trail leading back thru Big Shovel Pass off in the distance. Ahead of us the trail wound alongside the exposed ridge of Amber Mountain for the next 3 miles before it descended into a valley to the east of Mount Tekarra. We stopped at Tekarra campground briefly and soaked our feet in the nearby stream. Lordy, did that cold water feel good on our tired aching feet! We had wanted to stay at Tekarra but couldn’t get a reservation since the campground was scheduled to be full that night. Therefore, we had to continue on another 3.5 miles to Signal Campground. Leaving the cool refreshing stream behind us, we crossed the valley and started a mild ascent around the eastern side of Mount Tekarra and onto the backside of Signal Mountain. The trail led us thru more flowery meadows. Unfortunately, we weren’t enjoying the view as much as before since our feet and backs were getting tired and sore. We eventually reached Signal Campground. Signal was the crummiest campground we encountered in Canada. We only found half of the 8 sites. We wandered all around looking for sites 1 thru 4 but never did find them. There were no scenic views and the mosquitoes were bad. We had been forewarned about the problem and had brought along our mosquito net enclosure. We used the ropes on the bear poles to hoist the enclosure, and then spread out the net and used rocks to hold it in place. We enjoyed a peaceful, bug-free supper that evening in the protective shrouds of our mosquito-net enclosure. It was so wonderful seeing all those mosquitoes on the OUTSIDE of the netting!

The view from "the Notch"
The view back NE towards where we came from.

Hiking along the ridge.

Hiking along the ridge.

The view ahead, along the exposed ridge. There was no protection from the elements.

The view down behind Mt. Tekarra.
The view into the valley behind Tekarra Mt.  The trail leads
down into the valley and to the right of the lake to Tekarra campground.  It then continues around the farside of
Tekarra Mt. to Signal campground.

Our mosquito netting saves the day !!
Our mosquito proof dining enclosure
at Signal campground. The net
saved the day. The mosquitos
were bad. We were the only
people in the campground that night.

Day 6

Thursday we hiked out the remaining 5 miles along a very boring fire road that gently lead downhill back to our car. We quick drove back to Maligne Lake and the trailhead we had left a few days ago to quickly check out the lake and eat a quick brunch. They had tourist boat rides on the lake but we declined since we wanted to stop off in Jasper and do some quick laundry before we drove south to Sunwapta Falls Resort where we had lodging reservations for the evening.



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last revised : February 18, 2006