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Got a Friday off, and managed to get out of Edmonton by 6:30 AM for a weekend in Jasper. I planned on getting in at least a half-day hike on the way in, and my plan was to do the Sulphur Skyline then relax in the Miette Hot Springs afterwards before checking in to my hotel.
I was lucky enough to tuck my little Yaris in behind a semi that was flying along at 130km/hr and drafted all the way to the park gates. I was at the trailhead by 9:30 and ready to go by 9:45. There were three other people in the Miette parking lot when I got there, a Swiss couple and a German, and no vehicles other than ours. The benefits of week-day, shoulder season hiking, I guess.
It's not a very hard climb, or very long, but the 'bang-for-the-buck' is great. For a relatively minor investment in time and energy (750 metres over 4 km), you get to the top of a real mountain, and enjoy great views all the way. The trails are well-groomed and easy to follow, but heavily worn.
The first part of the hike is a straight run up a moderate grade, with a series of benches to stop at if you want a break. I started out fully-loaded - shell, fleece, and gloves - but the shell was gone right away and the fleece followed shortly after. The Swiss couple was behind me and the German was five minutes ahead. The views begin fairly quickly. You're climbing up away from the hot springs with a deepening valley off to your right, and a dropoff steep enough that you can see the opposite side and its summits through the trees. After a couple of kilometres, the trail turns to the right and a series of switchbacks take you up to the treeline. The trail is severely compromised here - try to avoid the temptation to take the shortcuts.
When you break out of the treeline, you find yourself on a plateau at the foot of the final ascent. Great views, and I suspect some people, when confronted by an unobstructed view of the rest of the climb to the top, stop their hike here. Everyone paused, and we got a bunch of photos of the views and each other. I'd promised my wife I wouldn't hike 'alone' so I wanted shots of other people to prove I was obeying. The fleece and gloves were back on, and a chilly wind was rolling down the slope.
It's not too much farther, but it's a slippery stairclimb up a scree slope before you get to the summit. The trail would be especially nasty in wet weather, but it was dry and not too bad that day. The German had already started out when we reached the plateau, and we followed a few minutes later. After a bit of huffing and puffing, and a few pauses along the way, we finally made it to the top. Total ascent time 1.5 hrs.
The views from the summit are excellent - a full 360 of every mountain in the area, and of the Hot Springs in the valley far below. There is also a wonderful view of the Fiddle River Valley.
It was windy and cold on top but the temperature immediately began to rise as we descended. The Swiss couple stopped on the plateau for lunch while the German ran on ahead down to the parking lot. By the time I got back into the trees, the fleece and shell were gone again. It was now after 11:00, and we began to meet other people coming up. The jeans-and-sneakers crowd was well-represented, but many seemed to be those very fit, older Europeans who flock to the mountains in the fall. Total descent time 1 hr.
Everyone I'd seen on the trail wound up in the Hot Springs later for a soak. Definitely a nice way to finish off a brisk hike.
Bear Anecdote: When I got back to the parking lot, I ran into a (second) young Swiss couple who excitedly told me about their encounter with a black bear only moments before on the old Hot Springs Source trail. They met the bear just a few hundred metres down the trail and snapped a couple of photos.
However, when they retreated, the bear advanced, following them back almost to the parking lot! Thinking quickly, they decided it was probably after the apple in the man's pack, so they tossed the fruit in its general direction and scurried back to their vehicle.
I guess they just didn't know any better. I pointed out that it was probably following them because it had learned to associate people with food - in other words, someone else had fed it before, and it was just repeating its lesson. All they'd done was reinforce that behaviour, and now the bear would follow even more people looking for food, until it would one day get too close and would be killed by the wardens.
At least they got a 'Canadian Adventure Story' to tell their friends, and some great photos to back it up. Shame about the bear, though...