Banff National Park: 9 days in the backcountry

 

Ryan Titley climbs to Divide Pass—a scenic highlight on one of the best days of their 9-day backpack through Banff National Park's northeast wilderness. Jim Shipley photo.

Ryan Titley climbs to Divide Pass—a scenic highlight on one of the best days of their 9-day backpack through Banff National Park’s northeast wilderness. Jim Shipley photo.

One of the pleasures of writing this blog is receiving queries from backpackers seeking advice on trips into remote reaches of the Mountain Parks. I received a couple of these this spring, including one from a Jim Shipley of Calgary, who was planning a two-week trip through the eastern Front Ranges of Banff National Park.

After checking out his proposed route, and conferring with Parks Canada’s Don Gorrie, I sent Jim a few cautions concerning his rather ambitious itinerary and suggested some alternatives. And as usual, I asked him to get back to me when his trip was over. Recent trip experiences, particularly on far-flung trails, are how we keep the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide current and reliable.

In late September, Jim reported in on a successful nine-day, 130-km backpack through Banff’s northeast wilderness. Jim’s 13-page report, including photos, is too long to reproduce here, so I’ll do my best to summarize.

Jim set off from Temple (Lake Louise) on Aug 22 with his two hiking buddies, Dan Ducholke and Ryan Titley. They crossed over Boulder Pass, the first of five passes on their route, and spent their first night at Baker Lake. The 8-km day would be the shortest of their trip.

As is usually the case on long treks, you spend your first night with fellow-backpackers (in this case, two young ladies who were trying out backcountry camping at Baker Lake), then it’s rare to encounter more than one party per day until you get within a day of civilization again. That was the case as the boys made their way down the Red Deer River to Divide Creek, over Divide Summit and down Peters Creek to the Clearwater River, up the Clearwater to Devon Lakes, and finally back to civilization via Clearwater, Pipestone and North Molar Passes.

It was encouraging to note that most of their daily encounters were with Parks Canada employees (sometimes I worry about the Parks Canada presence “back there”): a Parks Canada horse party fording the Red Deer River to Scotch Camp at the end of Day 3; a gruff, overly-officious Park Warden at Indianhead on Day 6; and a more-amiable, helicopter-assisted works crew restoring the historic Clearwater Patrol Cabin on Day 7.

As is usual on these adventures, the trip was a mixture of cloud, sunshine and downpours. Luckily, the latter didn’t drench the party until the final night at Fish Lakes, where they met their first “civilian” campers since the Red Deer headwaters. Only one grizzly bear was encountered (just south of Pipestone Pass), though there were lots of wolf tracks in the mud on the Red Deer.

Jim and his buddies emerged on the Icefields Parkway at Mosquito Creek on the afternoon of Aug 31. In reading his report a month later, I was happy to see that things haven’t changed all that much since we described these trails many moons ago. Don Gorrie forewarned that the always-sketchy Peters Creek trail below Divide Pass was even more difficult in the wake of 2013 washouts, and the boys certainly found it so. And it was nice to know that the Clearwater River ford remains “nut-deep,” as Jim so colourfully relates, even in late August.

For a full account of Jim’s trek, click Red Deer-Clearwater Circuit.