canada,  north america,  travel

Skyline Hike in Jasper National Park – Day 2

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I certainly lucked out on the weather on this hike, as I awoke bright and early the next day to clear, blue skies. I fueled up with a hot breakfast (eggs, bacon, muffins, the works) and packed a ham and cheese sandwich, Rice Krispies square, and a juice box in an adorable brown paper bag. My legs were feeling the wear from the previous day’s exertions, but I determinedly strapped on my pack, armed myself with poles, and set off on the remaining 25 km of the Skyline Trail.

It was a steady uphill climb to reach a small lake at the base of the Notch. I could see the family of hikers, who left shortly before I had, making their way up the treacherously steep trail over the pass. I resolutely started the climb, relieved to be going up rather than down (if only for my knees’ sake).

This was definitely one of the steepest trails I’ve ever encountered—really just foot-sized notches in the rocky scree at certainly points. I was immensely appreciative of my hiking poles for giving me at least the illusion of stability and for helping me to haul myself up. I will say, though, that there is nothing quite like reaching the top of an arduous climb and surveying the valley and surrounding mountains, disappearing into the distance. I would’ve done a little jig of victory if I weren’t somewhat precariously perched at 2400 m. Not bad for 10 in the morning! 

From there, it was another 6 km along the top of the scenic ridgeline with nearly 360of mountainous joy (I really do love my mountains). This is what the trail was named for, as you really did feel like you could touch the sky. Eventually, however, all good things must come to an end, and I was soon descending again, much to my chagrin (I really hate going downhill). The trail switch-backed through the rocks, eventually flattening out along the fields towards Mount Tekarra. Rains from the previous night had saturated the grounds, making a game of “find the least muddiest bits of the trail”. 

I was definitely starting to feel the fatigue, checking my pedometer regularly to see how much farther I had to go and stopping to rest more frequently. I eventually passed through the Tekarra campgrounds before heading uphill (yet again). The trail wound through rolling hills for a few kilometres, and my mind was starting to go a little stir crazy, as it often does after hours of solitude. Everyone I’d come across was always surprised to hear that I was hiking the trail alone, commending me for my fortitude. Someone at one point even asked what I think about during all those solo hours of hiking, and it occurred to me that for much of the time, I don’t really think about anything. Part of the enjoyment I derive from hiking is that one often has to be very present—where to put my foot next, how to place my pole, what’s around the next bend. It is a wonderful to clear one’s head. But, after many, many hours, my mind does eventually start to crave some kind of human interaction. I was also bracing myself for the long, arduous descent ahead.

I soaked in the last of the mountain views as I passed through Signal Campsite, as I knew that I had a good 8 km of steady downhill through the trees. The trail at this point was in fact a relatively wide, gravel road. My knees were yet again making their displeasure known to me, and so I hobbled rather gracelessly. I had read that bears often frequent this particular area, thus it was from a combination of boredom and anxiety that I started to sing along to the various show tunes boomboxing from my phone. Thankfully, since I’m such a slow hiker, I was fairly certain I was one of the last on this part of the trail, so I was fairly unabashed in my warbling. 

After a truly interminable length of time spent limping through the trees, I finally caught sight of the parking lot where it all began, 46 km earlier. I definitely fist-pumped with joy at seeing my car and for having survived. Like most journeys in life, hiking the Skyline Trail had its moments of awe and frustration, agony and beauty, where by the end of it you long for a tall glass of wine and a foot massage. So definitely a journey worth taking.

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