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I was looking for a new area to explore, and a friend had gone to the Black Cat Ranch just outside Jasper National Park for a winter hike. Thought I'd check it out, so I got a group together and we camped at the Ranch and used it as a base for our hikes on the August Long Weekend.
The TH for the many trails that leave Black Cat is just across the road from the entrance. Trails 9 then 18 lead to the summit of Mt. Solomon. The ranch offers trailrides, but most of those seem to follow different routes so you don't have to be concerned about stepping in manure.
We left at around 8:30 - kind of nice not to have to drive to a trailhead. We were accompanied by a couple of the dogs from the ranch - I guess they figured it was a nice day for a walk, but I was impressed with how well the took care of us. One older dog stayed with us, but when we came to a junction he would lead the way down the proper trail. The younger dog ran ahead through the bush checking out the area, then would wait patiently until we caught up before scouting ahead again.
The first part of the hike is a lovely nature walk through the forest on the valley floor, then the trail gradually begins to rise for a hundred meters or so, steepening steadily as it begins to climb the mountainside. Trail 9 is signed 'Side of Mt. Solomon' and Trail 18 is marked 'Summit of Mt. Solomon'. After a few kilometers the forest begins to open up, and we reached the junction of trails 9 and 18, marked by a bench and the start of some nice views.
Trail 18 climbs straight up the mountain's south ridge - no switchbacks for the wimpy. It's a bit of a grind broken up only by a few nice viewpoints. Cumulative elevation gain for the whole hike is 590 meters and most of it takes place in that one 3 km section of trail 18. The views include Brule Lake (which is really just a widening of the Athabasca River) and the entire valley well up into Jasper. The flowers were out, and the day was beautiful, cool and sunny.
Looking across the valley, we could see that we were already higher than the elevation of the treelines on other mountains. As the forest thinned out, we began to expect that we'd pop out into the alpine, then hopefully onto an open slope and crest. When we did reach the summit, it was a bit of a disappointment, just a clearing at the top of a cliff and a cairn with a summit register. Spectacular views, but only one way down the valley. The register was interesting, though, recording other recent trips to the summit days and even weeks apart - obviously the trail isn't hiked very often at all. If you're looking for solitude, this a really nice walk. We stopped for lunch for about an hour, and soaked up some sun, then started back down.
On the descent, we turned off on Trail 18A, which drops steeply straight back to the ranch. Lots of sore knees at the bottom - hiking poles strongly recommended. Some deadfalls and some sections that would be really nasty and slippery when wet. In bad weather, it would be wiser to return the way you came.