One of my favourite things about summer is big backpacking adventures. The Brazeau Loop, an 80-km long alpine traverse in Jasper National Park, is one of the best. But if it’s summer, you’d never know it on this trip. Here’s how it all happened…

Day 1

9:00am. We strap snowshoes to our already heavy packs. Parks Canada advises us there will be three feet of snow at Jonas Pass. Yes, even in late June. Mark grunts up the trail with the heaviest pair of snowshoes. I estimate that he’s carrying roughly 80 lbs. Even Silvi, our backpacking initiate, shoulders a pair.

We’re all sweating as we push through hot heavy air. I estimate it’s about 40C. It’s that hot. Don’t let the snow on the distant peaks fool you. We take frequent breaks to gulp copious amounts of water. At Nigel Pass we finally encounter a few scrawny patches of snow. Just a week earlier I’d run into knee-deep snow at this same elevation. How fast conditions change. Spring in the Rockies.

Mark finally gets fed up and throws his snowshoes into a clump of trees. “There’s no way I’m carrying these for 80 km!” We all have to agree. Except for Michael. He’s determined to find deep snow.

Thumbs-up to a great hike
Thumbs-up to a great hike – Nigel Pass

 

Still lots of snow up high
Still lots of snow up high

Day 2

Today is meant to be our easy day. It’s not. When we arrive at the bridge crossing Braeau River, it’s clearly blocked off. The next bridge – the one we need to cross back over – was washed away in last year’s flooding. We tromp through the bush on an improvised trail. Somehow, we manage not to get lost.

No crossing this bridge - the next returning bridge is washed out
No crossing this bridge – the returning bridge is washed out
Victory!
Victory! – on the new trail beside Brazeau River

Day 3

It’s a big climb up Poboktan Pass. But this is why we came. Big views. Wild country. Soon fog rolls in and it starts to rain. But, you know, it’s just as beautiful this way. Delicate wildflowers peek out from streaks of melting snow. Everything is green, everything is fresh. We all stop and soak it in.

Cold and wet but beautiful
Cold and wet but beautiful – Poboktan Pass

Day 4

We wake up to calm after a long night of rain. Everything is soaked. Except Michael, who managed to find an exceptionally well sheltered cluster of trees just big enough for his tent. Today we do an even bigger climb – this time to Jonas Shoulder. Dark clouds threaten in the distance. We’re half way up when thick fog blows in, obscuring any chance of seeing where we need to go.

Struggling up through the fog
Struggling up through the fog

After some moments of confusion, a brief gap in the mist and the help of a GPS give us just what we need – a glimpse at the shoulder. We’re lucky too. The ridgeline is all heavily corniced except for a thin strip of scree running all the way to the top.

Finding our way to the top
Finding our way to the top

Jonas Pass is actually a long gradual valley with stunning glacier-studded peaks defining its edges. The creek running down the middle makes it feel like a bit of a water slide. That’s good – we can’t get lost here. We linger for a long time, not wanting to leave this special place.

Caribou antlers at Jonas Pass
Caribou antlers at Jonas Pass

Day 5

We wake up and realize everything is frozen. Even the water-bottles we left out overnight are now full of slush. But wait – the sun is out! Within 15 minutes of the sun hitting us we all peel off our tuques and gloves and strip down to shorts and t-shirts.

Sunshine at Four Point campground
Sunshine at Four Point campground

But before leaving camp, there’s a big surprise – it’s Canada Day! And the local wildlife have put up our national flag in celebration!! We all congratulate each other on a great trip and look forward to many more. Then we all turn to Susan with wide eyes and big expectations and ask “so, where’s our ride out of here?”

Happy Canada Day!!
Happy Canada Day!!

 

Special thanks to Jim, Susan, Michael T, Michael L, Mark, and Silvi for making this such a memorable trip.

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