On a nice warm week in September 2003, a group of us spent 3 days, 2 nights hiking and backpacking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park. The Skyline Trail can be run by fit people in a day, so why did we take 3? Simply because we wanted to enjoy it and because we bagged a number of summits along its length of course! I am a peak bagger, after all... ;) I would recommend taking at least 3 days for this trail if you want to enjoy its many vistas. I think even 4 days would not be overkill.
This route is not a loop but rather a point-to-point hike between Maligne Lake and Maligne Canyon. The trail can be done in either direction, either from Maligne Canyon on the west end or Maligne Lake on the east end of the trail but the vast majority of folks do it from the lake to the canyon for the very simple reason that there is over 500 meters less height gain that way.
We parked a vehicle at the Maligne Canyon parking lot and crowded into Jon's truck for the short drive to Maligne Lake. The day was already hot but clear as we started up the steep trail from the Maligne Lake parking lot.
[Starting out from the Malign Lake parking lot.]
[The trail starts gaining height quite soon.]
As we worked our way up steep switchbacks in the hot September sun, we inhaled the fresh air and enjoyed the smell of rotting vegetation that is a classic Rockies scent when summer comes to an end. Eventually we took a nice break in the forest at Evelyn Creek, where the first campground was already located. This campground is fairly close to the trail head but it was nice. We were headed to the Snowbowl campground on our first day.
[Hann enjoys some open views on the trail.]
[The group takes a break at the Evelyn Creek campground.]
[Above Evelyn Creek the trail keeps climbing towards the Little Shovel Pass and Snowbowl Campground at tree line.]
[Here we are just breaking tree line after about 2.5 hours of hiking uphill through the forest.]
[Near tree line now and nearing the Snowbowl campground which is ahead in the distance.]
[The group keeps hiking, note that we're above tree line now - other than a few pockets of trees.]
[Gus and Gwen as we near the Snowbowl Campground.]
After setting up camp at the Snowbowl Campground we still had plenty of daylight left. So we did what any peak bagger does and went to bag a nearby peak! After a delightful, easy scramble up Antler Ridge which included a dip in a delightful nearby tarn, we enjoyed playing cards at camp and turned in for the night - sleeping quite well thanks to a full first day!
[We have set up camp and are exploring the area. Our destination is a peak that rises on a ridge behind the camp. Here Hanneke and Vern are coming up the ridge.]
[Views from Antler Ridge are quite spectacular in late afternoon lighting.]
[Looking towards Antler Mountain from the ridge.]
[Hann and Vern on Antler Ridge.]
[A refreshing tarn that we took a dip in on the way back down from Antler Ridge.]
[Back at camp with a setting sun. This camp would be kind of muddy if there was any rain in the forecast!]
[Making supper at the Snowbowl Campground.]
[Playing cards on a perfect night.]
Day two dawned clear and cool. After a hearty breakfast we broke camp and started off up the trail again. This particular day we were planning to make it all the way to the Tekarra Campground and were hoping to scramble Curator Mountain along the way.
[Good morning! Hann HATES being cold... ;)]
[Heading up to Big Shovel Pass with Curator Mountain looming on the left.]
[Hann and Vern hike out of camp.]
[The area around Big Shovel Pass is gorgeous! ]
[The trail runs high above the canyon below.]
[Beautiful, clear streams that I drank straight out of. You should always know the consequences of drinking untreated water but I've been drinking straight out of Rockies streams for over 15 years and I've never gotten sick.]
Curator was an easy scramble from the pass and soon we were standing on her summit enjoying great views in all directions. We could easily see the Skyline trail continuing on to the infamous 'notch' near Curator Lake.
[Looking back to Antler Ridge and Mountain from the ascent of Curator Mountain.]
After descending back to the pass we continued to Curator Lake. Here things got a wee bit depressing with some height loss followed by the biggest gains of the hike up to 'the Notch'. Thankfully the weather was perfect and so were the conditions. We made sure to fill up on water at Curator Lake.
[Chatting with other hikers.]
[If you want to camp at the Shovel Pass campground, you have to lose quite a bit of height from the main trail. The campground and cabin are at lower right in this photo. Curator Mountain at upper left.]
[A gorgeous Ram in the Curator Meadows.]
[A gorgeous view of the Watchtower at right.]
[Looking back at Curator Lake and mountain (R) from the top of The Notch.]
[It's a steep grunt up The Notch!]
[Vern and Hann are delighted to be finishing the steep hike up The Notch.]
[At The Notch.]
[We scrambled up a small summit directly to the south of The Notch - this is Gwen and Gus at the summit.]
[From The Notch traversing to Amber Mountain at upper right.]
[Looking ahead from near Amber Mountain's summit to Mount Tekarra at right. We will descend to the Tekarra campground out of the photo on the right.]
[Looking back at Amber Mountain (C).]
From the top of The Notch we spotted a very easy route to the summit of Amber Mountain alongside the trail. The trail literally goes right beside the peak, so there's very little reason for a peak bagger like myself not to tag it and claim it! ;) After that easy summit it was time to descend many hundreds of meters down the Tekarra switchbacks to the southeast of Mount Tekarra, eventually leading to the Tekarra campground and our home for the second night.
[Incredible views down the Tekarra switchbacks including, of course, Mount Tekarra which we'd scramble the following morning.]
[Vern, Hann, Kev and Jon just before dropping down the Tekarra switchbacks.]
[Heading down the Tekarra Switchbacks.]
After reaching the Tekarra Campground we set up the tents and enjoyed another great night under the stars.
[Hann and Gwen enjoying the Tekarra Camp.]
The following morning Gus and Gwen hiked out to the Maligne Canyon in order to do the car pickup from Maligne Lake while Jon, Kev and I rambled up Tekarra Mountain from the campground. We enjoyed route finding to the summit and were back in camp after a few hours.
[Eating breakfast after bagging Tekarra Mountain first.]
[Jon likes breakfast - looks like hearty oatmeal to me!]
While hiking out along Signal Mountain, we decided that we might as well bag that last summit too, since it was "right there". :) Yes, we managed to lug our large backpacks across alpine meadows before standing on the fifth summit of the trip. I'm not going to lie. The hike down the Signal Mountain Fire road sucked big time. In the heat and with all the kilometers that we'd scrambled and hiked over the past 2.5 days, I was *not* enjoying that long, concrete-hard surface! Not to mention, we lost many hundreds of meters of height gain. Eventually we made it down and it was with great relief that we finally hiked into the Maligne Canyon parking lot where Gwen and Gus were waiting with the vehicles.
[The main trail in the background as we head south to tag Signal Mountain.]
[The mighty summit of Signal Mountain! ;)]
[As we drop to tree line we still have some views.]
[The trail is obvious and easy to follow towards the Signal Mountain Fire Road.]
[The fire road sucked. BIG TIME. But we had great memories to keep us entertained while swearing at it... ;)]
[Kev, Jon, Vern, Hanneke, Gus and Gwen at the end of our trip in the Maligne Canyon parking lot.]
With over 1400 meters of height gain and 1900 meters of height loss, the Skyline Trail is a lot of work. But it's worth it. Add a few peaks and soon you're doing over 2200 meters of height gain, but again, it's worth it! I would recommend doing this trek from east to west and in the fall when the bugs are gone and the trail is dry and snow free (not to mention - tourist free). Don't bother if the weather is closed in though - this trek needs clear skies and stable weather to be safe, considering the many kilometers you spend above or at tree line.