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I had a group of six, mostly newbies to backpacking but with some decent dayhiking experience. I figured a good place to start would be a single overnighter at Jacques Lake, 13 km each way but virtually no elevation gain.
We drove out from Edmonton on Saturday morning and met at the TH at noon. With one carload of latecomers and assorted other delays, we left at 1:00 in some nice sunlight. The first part of the trail is up an old fireroad to Beaver Lake, then to the first Summit Lake. A few small hills, but basically just enough exercise to loosen up muscles still stiff from the drive and get all the straps on the backpacks properly adjusted.
From the first Summit Lake, the trail branches off into the forest, and the trail turns into a rooted, soggy single-track. It wasn't too bad up past the second Summit Lake, where we paused for a moment but then it began to rain a bit.
Past that lake, the trail crosses a divide and begins to descend alongside the Rocky River on the other side. The trail is always wet anyway, with lots of soggy areas and stream crossings. I counted 15 bridges on that side, crossing everything from permanent creeks to small temporary drainage channels. And there still weren't enough! The most annoying thing was that we had to spend most of our time watching where we were putting our feet - we had to make a point of stopping occasionally so we could actually have a look at the scenery.
As the drizzle got heavier, the trail became even muddier, and the underbrush on the sides brushing across our legs quickly soaked our pants and boots. The rain wasn't heavy enough to warrant putting on our rain gear - just a light drizzle easily handled by a waterproof/breathable jacket - so we kept on going.
Except for a few scenic glimpses, the trail is pretty much closed in, but eventually we broke out of the forest and got our first glimpse of the Rocky River Wardens Station. We made our way to the campsite across the river from the station and set up our tents. The moose the biker had mentioned (or her sister) was grazing calmly in the lake with her calf.
By then it had been raining steadily for three or four hours, and the moment we stopped, it began to feel a lot colder. The extra layers came out, and of course we regretted not stopping sooner to put on the rain gear. A quick supper, and by about 6:00, a few of the people had already scooted off to their tents to warm up. Building a fire proved to be more trouble than it was worth - all the firewood was soaked. I loaned my hardshell to one woman whose lips were turning blue (leaving me with just a fleece and a jacket) but within another hour or so, attendance at the dining area had drastically declined. There was one brief moment when the sun came out, but within a few minutes, the drizzle started again.
I've never seen a whole group bed down quite so early! By 7:00 or 8:00 we were all snuggled up in our tents just trying to warm up. Lots of quiet conversations going on in each tent, but not the usual camaraderie one would find around a campfire. Soon everyone was asleep.
The next morning was better, with nothing more nasty than a few showers overnight. Still, most people's clothes were still damp and the underbrush was soaked. At least we were able to start warm and put on rain pants and other dry clothing so we could stay that way.
Jacques Lake is a truly beautiful area, with great views all around, lush greenery, and interesting trails leaving in many directions to pique one's curiousity. I'm not sure where Merill (sp?) Pass or Cairn Pass are, and but I expect I'll be finding out someday..
The hike out was more pleasant. We'd had a decent breakfast and even though the tents were wet, we were still packed and ready to go by 10:00. Lots of wet areas and slippery spots, but the clouds had mostly lifted and at least we had something to look at on the way. It was a challenging weekend, but I was surprised how well the people coped - few complaints, some great conversations, and a lot of people now more experienced and ready for something a bit harder.