Tonquin Valley – snow and mud!

The Ramparts at Amethyst Lake

The Ramparts at Amethyst Lake

Perhaps this was one backpack trip too many for 2016. We knew we were leaving Calgary to go back to Vancouver in 2017, and wanted to hike this spectacular u-shaped hike through the Tonquin Valley.

The weather forecast did not look great for the first day, but then was forecast to clear up. So we went for it. The logistics for this hike are a little tough, which we did not fully realize until the day before the hike. With it being late in the season, we were a bit concerned that we might not find an easy hitch from the end trailhead to the start, so we booked a taxi from Jasper to come to and shuttle us from our car to the trailhead.

Day one was the hike from the Cavell Hostel trailhead to Amethyst Lakes and the Surprise Point campsite. The trail starts out well, but starts to get muddy due to the horses after about 5 km. As we turned off the main trail to head up to Chrome Lake, the rain and then the snow started to fall. The trail to Chrome Lake is much rougher then we expected – rutted, boggy, and some deadfall to cross. Tired, wet, and muddy we arrived at Surprise Point before dusk and pitched our tent, ate a quick dinner, and headed to bed.

Snow overnight, but in the morning the clouds started to clear and made the Surprise Point a fabulous setting. After breakfast we optimistically set of towards Maccarib campsite, with views of Amethyst Lake and the Ramparts. Alas, the weather closed in again and we had snow and sleet for a good part of the hike. Part of this hike are spectacularly muddy. Simply the worst trail we have seen in the Rockies. Some trail building has lasted, but much of the trail is a mud fest. Fortunately, the weather did clear up as we reached Maccarib campsite, and it was fairly warm in the sunshine. We were the only ones camping. It was freezing over night and we woke up to solid boots, especially Gill’s leaking new pair of boots. Mental note: take hand-warmers to put in boots and warm them up.

Day three’s sunrise was spectacular, and were a little gutted to be leaving the valley in the best weather of the hike for Maccarib Pass.  The days starts with a need to take your boots off to cross the freezing cold Maccarib Creek. Then the hike up to Maccarib Pass is also very, very muddy. Finally, we reached the Pass, which is really great and a long stroll in the alpine with some great views. Descending into Portal Creek, the trail is terrible again. A kilometer after Portal Campsite, the trail climbs along a scree slope and is a welcome relief. We were muddy, hot, and happy to arrive at Portal Trailhead, to our waiting car.

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