Trip Coordinator:  Donna McKenzie

The Rivers are running high this year. We left Edmonton Saturday July 27th, planning to stop in Hinton and have a really good look at the Athabasca. We did and it was scary. We stopped at a logging bridge and while the clearance was probably okay, it looked from shore like we would have to duck our heads to safely paddle under the bridge. Thus began a re-planning of our trip, that never ended. Flexibility is our new motto!!

We were 8, Donna, Lisa, Mike, Karyn, Stephanie, Rob, Isobel and Gary. Most had little experience with running rivers and the Athabasca is a big river, flowing around 500 cms at Hinton and reaching 1000 cms by Windfall this day. Too high!

We camped Saturday and Sunday nights at Snaring overflow in Jasper, and used the day Sunday to paddle 14 km down Maligne Lake to Spirit Island, and back again. It was a lovely day and the views of the mountains were spectacular! Medicine Lake was full, something none of us had ever seen before.

Monday we packed our gear and paddled the Athabasca from the Maligne Lake bridge (Old Fort Point was suffering from WAY too much water), down to Athabasca Island. This was 25 km of fairly flat river with excellent current, and many braided channels to test our river reading skills. Athabasca Island is a reservable campsite within Jasper National Park, and we had reserved it months ago. It is a lovely spot to camp, with good tent sites, a green throne, a picnic table, fire pit and bear locker. Tuesday morning we packed up and paddled Jasper Lake to the Jasper House parking lot. This had long been an ambition of mine, as the lake parallels highway 16 and is the lake everyone goes wading in. This year there was enough water that not one of us ran aground! We did spend some time on a sand island, waiting out a thunder storm.

We had a mad scramble to find a place to camp that night, as with Whistler campground closed in Jasper, all sites are very full. We ended up in Wildhorse Provincial Recreation Area, just outside the park. It was also a lovely little place to camp. That night we drove back into the park and went to Miette Hotsprings for a soak and an excellent dinner at the restaurant up there. So much for roughing it!

With the river still high and Jasper packed to capacity, we headed north to William Switzer Park. We got camping there and paddled Jarvis Lake on Wednesday. Also on the Wednesday, Karyn and Mike left the trip as other commitments were calling them. Now we were 6.

August today and the beginning of exploring along highway 40. First we met the Gregg Lake campground Black Bear, who crossed the road between our vehicles. He’s a tall through the shoulders, but slim young bear. We were happy to not see him again! We paddled Gregg Lake this day, and learned a bit about the area. We paddled a bit up Jarvis creek, and downstream as well. It is lovely country. We were back at our campsite at Cache campground a bit early, so we tried Cindy’s back-country oven. The brownies were edible but looked more like a bubbling lava lake, and they were very chewy and fudgelike. I need more practice with that oven!!

August 2 we drove up to Grande Cache and stopped at the tourist info booth to see a replica of the dinosaur trackways found in the area. You cannot visit the real tracks as they are on mine land, but hopefully that changes some day. With some good advice and a valley full of fog, we drove to Sulphur Gates and hiked the trail to where the Smoky and Sulphur Rivers converge. Spectacular! We also hiked the “Crack of Doom” trail, which was part of the Death Race happening the next day. So we can say we did part of the Death Race! We did a bit of food resupplying in Grande Cache, and paddled Victor Lake which was a great place to view ospreys on their nest and hunting. We ended up huddled under trees on Victor Lake while it rained for 20 minutes, but otherwise had pretty good weather, despite black clouds all around us on most days. We hiked the Muskeg Falls trail and then returned to our campsite.

August 3 we headed north again to Pierre Grey’s Provincial Park, and paddled lakes Desjarlais and Moberly, and learned about Pierre and Marie Grey. We had an earlier day this day so we could attend a Parks presentation on Mountain Pine Beetles at Gregg Lake. It was very funny and very informative. The forests are sure red with the pine beetles in Jasper! It was still fairly early so I tackled the back-country oven again, and the cheddar cheese biscuits were a rousing success!

August 4 Isobel and Gary left us for Edmonton, so now we are 4. We packed up and headed back to the Athabasca River, running it again from the Maligne Lake bridge to the highway near Overlander staging area. It was a glorious day for a paddle and Stephanie and Rob honed their river reading skills. At the end of the paddle, Lisa and I left for Edmonton, leaving Stephanie and Rob (now 2) to paddle Talbot Lake and they hiked Sulphur Skyline on the Monday. We saw a lot of wildlife on this trip, 7 bears, many elk with the males in full velvet, sheep, goats, moose, and lots of birds. It was a wonderful trip, if not the trip we started out to take. Maybe next year!

Donna McKenzie

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