For the August Heritage Day long weekend (also known in the mountains as the weekend of mosquito hell) we took a couple of extra days holiday to head into the Jasper backcountry – destination the Brazeau Lake – Jonas Pass Loop.
The Brazeau Loop is a five day 80 km trek into the high alpine passes and forested river valleys of Jasper National Park. It’s more remote and challenging than many of the other backpack trips we’ve done and the scenery is very different than Banff, Kootenay, Yoho, or Assiniboine parks.
It is a fantastic hike – there are a few days of the loop spent in the forest, and we did those days first, hiking the loop anti-clockwise. We’d recommend this because, following the superb hike into the loop over Nigel Pass, the scenery builds and you get a real WOW as you emerge over Jonas Shoulder on day 4 and look south down Jonas Pass. Amazing!
Day 1 – parking lot to Four Point over Nigel Pass
[simage=3755,200,n,left,]We made a slow start from Calgary and stopped for great coffee at Rave in Canmore on the way to trailhead along the Icefields Parkway. We started hiking at 1:30 pm in glorious sunshine – at about 28 degrees Celsius it was hot! The trail up to Nigel Pass is easy hiking up through forest and into the interesting and rocky Nigel pass. Big mountains tower around the pass and there is a fascinating canyon off to the east where the south Brazeau River emerges. We crossed the river and dropped down into the south Brazeau River valley, passing some glorious wet meadows and braided sections of the river. It took us about 4 hrs 15 mins to arrive at the pleasant Four Point campground, set in the trees next to the river. We ate dinner at the river enjoying the breeze to keep the bugs away. Later we joined the handful of other hikers at the fire pit for an evening of sharing hiking stories. We’d see the same few hikers for the next four days on the trail and at the campgrounds. Brazeau attracts the best people!
Distance 14 km. Elevation gain & loss: +335m / -275m.
Day 2 – Four Point to Brazeau Lake along the south arm of the Brazeau River
[simage=3796,200,n,left,]This is a pleasant day hiking through forests and wet meadows along the South Brazeau River. We expected to see Wolverine Camp after 7 km and were worried we were hiking really slow. We eventually realised Wolverine is no longer accessible since the trail stays on the west side of the river due to a bridge wash out. The new (and hastily routed) trail is quite hard hiking – a bit soft underfoot and the route is more undulating than necessary. We were happy to reach the Main Brazeau River and hike up to the great campsite next to the large Brazeau Lake. A walk along the shore reveals the impressive size of the lake. A quick swim/splash and we were ready for dinner and another campfire.
Distance 19 km. Elevation gain & loss: +90m / -150m.
Day 3 – Brazeau Lake to Jonas Cutoff via Poboktan Pass
[simage=3769,200,n,left,]This day sees the climb up into the alpine from Brazeau Lake up the John-John Creek Valley. Unfortunately there is no killer view of Brazeau Lake, but the valley climb passing John-John campsite is really good and we eventually emerged into Pobokan Pass where we indulged in a lunch in the meadow that included getting the stove out for a nice brew. Amazingly this was a sachet of bandrek we’d been taking on hikes since Indonesia. We arrived at Jonas Cutoff campsite just below the alpine and quickly understood the bug problem that other hikers had mentioned. Crazy amounts of mosquitoes. A quick wash in the stream led to a frenzy of biting. We needed our bug nets for the first time in years.
Distance 16km. Elevation gain & loss: +490m / -180m
Day 4. – Jonas Cutoff to Four Point along Jonas Pass
[simage=3775,200,n,left,]We got up early for the premier day of the hike through Jonas Pass. The early start was also a (futile) attempt to eat breakfast and break camp before the temperatures warmed up enough for the bugs. From Jonas Cutoff, the trail quickly enters the alpine with great views of Le Grand Brazeau – a stocky mountain with a glacier that feeds Brazeau lake. It’s also easy to see from this area that there are are great mountains close to 3000m high that are easily attainable day hikes from Jonas Cutoff.
The hike became spectacular as we reached Jonas shoulder (2400m), the route over a large lateral morraine from a long gone glacier to Jonas shoulder gives jaw-dropping views down the Jonas Pass valley. One amazing aspect is the pink hue of the mountains due to the sandstone. Apparently nameless peaks with glaciers hang over the valley with a fabulous river meadow valley. And the best thing is that you can see that you have 7-8 km of fabulous hiking dropping into the valley and through the pass. We had another long lunch break in the pass and a cup of coffee. The drop down into Four Point is a short trudge through fire damaged forest. The loop is then done! We spent another fine evening having dinner by the river watching our fellow hikers drift into the campsite.
Check out the video from Jonas Cutoff.
Distance 19 km. Elevation gain & loss: +350m / -555m
Day 5 – Four Point to parking lot over Nigel Pass
[simage=3795,200,n,left,]Our luck with the weather apparently turned. Heavy rain in the early morning. We got up and appreciated that one new group of hikers entering the loop had a tarp to cook breakfast under. However, it stopped raining and brightened up as we hiked out at a great pace – our packs light by now because we’d eaten most of our food. We made it out in under 3hrs 45 mins. Some great views again over Nigel Pass – which looked different in the morning light.
A great hike. Feels remote and epic. Highly recommended.
Distance 14km. Elevation gain & loss: +280m / -335m
Five days is the only real option for this hike if you want to do the loop. The inaccessibility of Wolverine campsite due to a bridge washout means you can’t really shave a day off, even if you are a strong hiker.
A good alternative trip would be to hike into Jonas Cutoff following one night at Four Point. You could spend two or three nights here and explore the unnamed mountains on either side of the Poboktan Pass – they look superb and easy to climb. This would be our choice if we come back in the future.