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Jasper Dark Skies – The Learning Curve

image of pyramid mountain and the big dipper - jasper national park, ab

Our humble attempt at capturing Jasper’s Dark Skies – Pyramid Mountain, Jasper National Park AB ©theexplorerslens.com

For the past three years Jasper National Park has celebrated it’s dark side showcasing the celestial bodies above it’s rugged and scenic landscapes. Most of the time we’re already tucked into bed too tired from riding, hiking, or climbing by the time the star-studded spectical illuminates the Park.

Photographically speaking

Having spent many years behind a camera it’s shameful to admit I know nothing about taking photographs at night – seeing the image above some may say I still know nothing about taking photographs at night – fair enough. But playing with light is what I do, so sticking with the fundamentals of photography produced the image above.

Still lots to learn and I’m in awe of those whom have mastered this nocturnal art form.

Jasper’s Dark sky festival

Designated as a ‘dark sky preserve’ in 2011, Jasper is home to an annual star-studded festival of sorts every October.

Indian Ridge – Jasper Day Hike and Scramble

hiker approaching indian ridge - jasper national park, ab ©theexplorerslens.com

Traversing Jasper National Park’s Indian Ridge should be near the top of everyone’s Jasper Day Hike Bucket List. A popular ‘Kane scramble’ described in Kane’s Scrambles in the Canadian Rockes as;

an easy, scenic jaunt that benefits from the popular Whistlers tram (edit: now the Jasper SkyTram). From the upper tram station, the entire trip rambles above tree line granting an expansive view of peaks and lakes…

Consider hiking Indian Ridge as an adventurous done-in-a-day Skyline Trail like experience – All the wow factor of Jasper’s epic ridge line trek with none of the back country hassles.

The Numbers

Even though the aforementioned tram does most of the heavy lifting whisking you to the upper terminal at 2,277m/7,470′, accessing the ridge walk requires that you summit two minor peaks – Whistlers (2,464m/8084′) and Indian Ridge summit (2,758m/9,050′).

For the hardcore, or budget conscious not wanting to pay for the tram, the Whistlers Trail will take you to the upper tram terminal – here’s our Guide to Hiking the Whistlers Trail and Summit.

Trailhead – The Jasper SkyTram

Approximately five kilometres south of the Jasper Townsite turn right onto Whistlers Road. The road ends at the Jasper Skytram lower terminal and parking lot. Full facilities are available.

The Trail

Be prepared to spend an entire day (5 to 6 hours) above the treeline gawking at Jasper’s finest peaks. This is Canadian Rockies hiking at it’s best. We’ve broken the hike into the following segments:

    Whistlers Summit
    Once you exit the upper terminal leave the majority of your trammates behind and begin the 1 km climb to Whistlers summit along a well defined trail. It’s a short grind to the summit marker but the reward is panoramic views with the Victoria Cross Range, in particular Pyramid Mountain dominating the north. A handy summit marker/dial details all the major peaks in the area.

    Follow the trail westward off the summit and watch for a less defined left (southernly) fork that leads to a depression/saddle between Whistlers and the Indian Ridge summit.

    Indian Ridge Summit
    Judging by the well trodden trail leading to the Indian Ridge summit this trail has increased in popularity since Kane’s 1999 first edition. Once on the trail there’s little confusion as to where it leads – up!

    Views of the upper reaches of Marmot Basin open up to the east with a lovely alpine bowl nestled below to the west.

    Snow may cling to the edges of the trail well into August. If possible stay off the snow. Proceed with caution if attempting this hike early in the season as drifts and cornices may be unstable.

    The section just before the summit required us to scramble on all fours but the relative exposure is minimal and can be easily climbed without worry.

    Enjoy the views from the top! On clear days Mount Robson’s glaciated peak (tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies) figures prominently to the west.

    From the summit the northwest terminus (another summit marker) of the ridgewalk can be seen.

    The Ridge Walk
    Descend the summit and proceed along the curved ridge line. There’s no defined trail but the way forward is self explanatory. This is pure Canadian Rockies nirvana.
    The Notch
    Eventually you’ll reach a sizeable gap atop the ridge that cannot be easily navigated – the Notch – You’ll know it when you come to it. Basically there are two choices:
Recommended:
If we had to do this over again we’d retrace our steps and return the way we came avoiding the scramble around the Notch and Kane’s described descent completely.

Scramble:
If you’re looking for the full Kane experience brush up on you’re route finding skills. Kane’s route for navigating around the Notch still exists but not in any defined fashion. Backtrack off the Notch and drop down the west side of the ridge and scramble along the ridge below the Notch. Handholds are definately required and a fall, while probabaly not fatal would definately leave a mark – use of a climbing helmet highly recommended. Trail markers (cairns), if still in place, are only obvious once you’ve already figured out the route!

    Jane get me off this crazy thing!
    Kane’s description of an easy scree descent certainly leaves a lot to be desired. The number of hikers over this route has washed most of the forgiving scree away leaving a steep barren mountain side to slip and slide down. Not fun.

    Once off the scree slopes of the ridge you are forced to bushwhack as no defined trail exists. Make your way back to the low point between Whistlers and Indian Ridge summit rejoin the trail and retrace your steps the Whistlers summit. Return to the upper tramway terminal for a well-earned ride back down.

Special Considerations and the Fine Print

  • Sections of the trail, especially bushwhacking through the bowl are prime grizzly habitat. Carrying and knowing how to use bear spray is advised.
  • If attempting this hike early and/or late in the season pay particular attention to the time of the final tram down and plan your day accordingly to avoid an addition 8+ km walk back to your car. The tramway folks do their best to not knowingly leave hikers stranded so it’s a good idea to let them know your intentions before beginning the hike.
  • It’s called alpine tundra for a reason… it can get very cold and windy at the top even during the summer months. We always stuff a fleece jumper and our lightweight GoreTex shells into our pack. It’s also common to experience afternoon thundershowers making rain gear a necessity.
  • Always pack water and a snack. In case you forget, there is a full service restaurant at the upper tram station.
  • There’s no cost to hike the trail but a National Park entry fee is required to access the area.
  • You are hiking in an alpine area, please take care to avoid damaging plant life and sensitive soil.
  • If you have any doubts about the trail, heights, or your ability give this one a miss.

Resources

Click the link to purchase a copy of Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies.

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    As always, your support is truly appreciated.

Jasper National Park of Canada website.

Jasper SkyTram website.

Brochure related to bear safety – Parks Canada Bears and People.

Photo of the Week – Roped Up in Jasper

image of mountaineer on little a galcier - mount athabasca jasper national park, ab ©theexplorerslens.com

Roped up on Litte A glacier – Jasper National Park, AB ©theexplorerslens.com