The weather forecast was sketchy, but Saturday started clear, blue and warm. We enjoyed the easy ascent of Little Shovel Pass and the wild flowers in Snowbowl. Rain rolled in just in time for dinner, but our trusty backpacking tarp kept the worst of it off, and things cleared up before bedtime.
The sun was shining at 6 am Sunday morning, but by the time we really got out of our tents at 8 the sky was grey and things were cold. Within a half hour it was snowing. Patches of blue sky made us optimistic, but the snow returned and we decided that the ridge wasn’t going to be do-able that day. Disappointed, we packed to hike back out the way we’d come. In the worsening snow we headed out, but within 2 km of the campground, blue sky appeared again.
Hopeful that the worst was really over, and determined to get our Skyline hike in, Jon and I turned around (again) to try our luck at the Notch and the rest of the hike. Jon set a blistering pace, and soon we were cruising through Big Shovel Pass in the chilly, but sunny weather. Luck was with us, because despite the clouds billowing over the mountains in front, and behind us, we walked in a patch of sunshine all the way to the Notch.
I must be out of shape, because the climb up the Notch was agony. We were only 8 km into our day, and already I was exhausted. Gusting winds at the top and an angry looking cloud bank heading out way gave me renewed energy and we hustled along the exposed ridge as fast as we could without being blown off. Again, we got lucky and the clouds behind us never got close. The wind cleared clouds from the peaks, and we were treated to brief views of the field of mountains to the west of us. I understand it’s spectacular on a clear day, and it was pretty nice even with the clouds. We could even see the town of Jasper, and trains along the highway.
I think the ridge would be pleasant walk in less cold and blustery weather, but we found ourselves just wishing we could get off it as the weather fluctuated between looking like sun, and looking like a storm was blowing our way. Just as we got to the end, the snow starting blowing through the valley in front of us. We met the only other hiker on the trail that day determinedly climbing up to the ridge as we scurried down the long set of switch backs. After a brief stop to pump water, we hiked into Tekarra campground at 5 pm to find that it was deserted (despite being fully booked after I made reservations). We’d been talking about hiking out the full 34 km that day, and the empty campground and looming snow clouds made the decision for us – we ate a few strips of beef jerky and started out on the last 14 km of the hike.
For the first hour we went up and down across a slope with views to the east – which was nice, but we were really just focused on getting to our car. When it became 6 pm, and we hadn’t hit the fire road that is the last 9 km out, we started to get nervous that our pace wasn’t going to get us out before dark. Just as we were begining to wonder how long it would possibly take to walk 5 km, we saw the signs for road. We’d expected the fire road to be the easy part of the hike out, but the combination of fatigue, blisters and bear hiding bushes made it into the longest part of the day. We limped down the road, hoping that we were going as fast as we thought, but geting more and more frustrated as each turn of the road lead to simply more road. When, 15 min after I’d expected to, we saw cars through the trees, I was so happy I started to cry. Thrilled to find our car, we lay down in the parking lot and pulled boots off sore feet. We’d only be hiking for 9 and 1/2 hours, but we were absolutly worn out. Luckily, my dad had cold beer, warm showers and a comfortable bed waiting for us when we arrived in Hinton an hour later.
I’m confident that the hike was worth the agony of wearing my pack for that long, although it will be a while before I attempt something like that again!