Fellow shouldered shoulder-season-ers,
It’s camping season! At least, it is according to my annual rhythms. The hoards of mosquitoes and tourists have retreated back to the abodes from whence they came. Glacier runoff has slowed, making river crossings more possible than in the warmer days of summer. And equinox light is perfectly balanced - not too much, and not too little.
But it’s not all glory and giggles. The September forecast in the mountains tends to be turbulent: while it can certainly be golden sunshine and larches, it could just as likely be oppressive snow and darkness. More probably, it will be all of the above in the span of a single day.
The tempestuous light is beautiful photographically, which tempts us watchers of light to make the conditions manageable. As long as you have a dry tent to slip into after sundown, bearing witness is entirely possible (and sustainable for more than a single night!).
But, it takes care. Since the heat disappears with the sun, layer upon layer needs to be donned early to avoid a drop in body temperature. When breath becomes visible in the beam of your headlamp, it’s bedtime; a visual chime warning you to slide into your sleeping bag that rides the line between too-heavy-to-carry and not-warm-enough. At this point, you reach for your backcountry stuffy - a bag of batteries that you cuddle with to keep from freezing, in a practiced prayer that goes: please have a little bit of life left in you come morning.
Because daylight will come, and the darkness will retreat, and the cold nights will be worth it. At least, this is how my sentimental hindsight remembers them. In the midst of it, I doubt the experience is actually quite so rosy.
A paper calendar sits in front of me right now, a mottled mess of half-erased pencil marks spanning a shifting block of days and nights. Even though I’m heading into familiar territory, it’s always a delicate dance to line up permits and plans.
And then there are the wildcards. With a spark, another question mark is added to my margins - the Chetamon Wildfire in Jasper National Park has grown from nothing to a raging behemoth over the span of a week. Smoke and burnt power lines have plunged the region into darkness, as the flames continue to lick outward in hungry want.
Plans. Does anything ever actually go according to them?
“Plan A, B…F.“
“There’s been a change of plans.”
“Welp, time for the backup plan.”
There are an inordinately large amount of colloquial plan phrases that include multiples. Telling - it would seem that the best laid plan always has a backup at the ready.
My rough itinerary is loose, with three target areas (including Jasper) and two noted destinations within each of them. I’ll keep an eye on conditions as the timelines get closer, but with a pocket of plans I’m ready to go.
Here is a brief overview:
1) Jasper: Nigel Pass -> Upper Brazeau Canyon -> Cataract Pass -> White Goat Wilderness
First will be exploring around Cataract Pass - a wilderness area with a few unofficial trails that sits at the intersecting border of Jasper National Park, Banff National Park, and the White Goat Wilderness Area. There is a unique rubble field (pictured above) in the Upper Brazeau Valley on this approach which is stunning - remnants from when a mountain’s peak slid down to fill the valley.
I lost a hiking pole tip on this approach a couple years back. Who knows, maybe I’ll stumble upon it along the way?
2) Yoho: Takakkaw Falls -> Twin Falls -> Yoho Peak
Second will be exploring the glaciated valley at the foot of the Yoho Glacier. The last few kilometres of the official trail beyond Twin Falls is underused, with lots of deadfall and overgrowth. And once you pop out to the viewpoint (pictured above) the receding glacier is not even in view anymore. But the glaciated terrain that it left behind makes for fun exploring. On a previous trip I’ve followed some flagging tape that goes up and around the northeast slope of Yoho Peak - I suspect there is a way to access the Richard Guy Hut here and circumnavigate the park’s namesake mountain, though whether the scramble will turn into a full out climb I am not so certain.
3) Kootenay: Explore a region new to me
Third is a lower altitude basecamp in a national park I’ve not been before. The main draws: lower altitude later on in the month will probably mean more comfortable weather and the hot springs in this area will be a welcome wash (after ten days with only frigid glacial baptisms being an option in the previous two regions).
The ka-clunk of a door’s deadbolt marks the moment when you’ve locked into the resources you’ve packed. The road opens up at city limits as you lift your gaze from plans to the horizon. Reception fades from 3 bars, 2 bars, 1 bar…and with a flicker: disconnection.
There is a sweetness in the beginnings of a trek.
See you on the other side,