11-Jun-2001 -- After waiting several days for the weather to improve June 11 dawned with clear skies and a forecast for just a chance of showers. I drove into Jasper National Park after scraping the frost from my car's windshield (springtime in the Rockies!) and parked at the trail head at the east end of the Overlander trail. The hike into 53N 118W looked to be about a 20 kilometre round trip with an elevation gain of 1000 metres. I anticipated about 12 hours on the trail including breaks. At 6:17 AM I created a waypoint for my car and set out.
The Overlander trail starts from the Athabasca River bridge on Highway 16 and parallels the river for 15 kilometres to the sixth bridge on the Maligne Canyon trail. It is popular with both hikers and mountain bikers but I had the trail to myself on this early Monday morning. After three kilometres I left the trail and followed a dry creek bed up through an old burn west to the base of a ridge. Starting from the creek bed the ridge rises towards the south west and overlooks the Athabasca River valley. There is no formal trail and the first part of the hike up the ridge line involved a lot of high stepping to pick a route through the dead fall in the area of the old forest fire. Higher on the ridge tree cover was mainly dense spindly pine requiring some dead reckoning and bush whacking to navigate a straight course. My Garmin GPS 12 was struggling to maintain a lock through the heavy tree cover and the resulting tracklog required some imagination to "connect the dots" in the correct order.
Occasional openings in the forest allowed great views of the Athabasca valley including the Jasper air strip beside the river, the townsite further away in the distance to the south-east and the Palisades ridge on the opposite of the valley. The ridge eventually widened into a small alpine meadow and at 10:20 AM I crested it's south end overlooking Garonne Creek.
The GPS placed me within a kilometre of the confluence at this point. Unfortunately there was no direct path and I had to descend 250 meters in elevation to the creek only to have climb up almost that much again to reach the confluence. Moving laterally as much as possible along the north side of the valley while descending I reached Garonne Creek at the point where the upper valley swings to the west along the base of Mount Colin.
Hiking up the creek I passed several small cairns marking the trail into the Colin Hut. The narrow valley limited the view of the sky and created lots of multipathing causing my Garmin indicated position to hop around like mad. Eventually it lost it's lock completely as I ascended the creek. It's last fix had me 150 metres from the confluence so I continued up the valley while waiting for satellites. After five minutes the GPS was still trying to reacquire sats. Figuring I might have better luck if moved up the side of the valley I refilled my water bottle and hiked 50 meters up to investigate a yellow marker on a tree above the creek.
The marker proved to be indicating where the Colin Hut trail left the creek and entered the trees. As I was thinking of settling in for lunch the GPS reacquired sats telling me that I was only 15 meters from the confluence! A quick walk up the trail and I was there at just past noon.
The deep valley was resulting in EPE's between 10 and 15 meters so after a few minutes I gave up trying to get that nice photo of GPS reading exactly 53N 118W and had lunch. At this point the sun disappeared, a cold wind came up and it started to snow. The comfortable lunch that I had been looking forward to was not to be as I sat out in the blowing snow (springtime in the Rockies again!)
The confluence turned out to be only a couple of paces off the trail. I wondered how many hundreds of climbers had hiked by this spot without realizing it's significance.
After finishing my lunch I quickly snapped the required photos, packed up and headed back down the creek at 1 PM. Only 15 minutes down the trail the sun came out again and I was able to strip down to my tee shirt for the remainder of the trip. Rather than climb back up to retrace my path I opted to follow the trail out. The portion along the creek bottom was well marked with cairns and an easy walk in the open. The trail soon left the creek bottom and ran along the north side of the valley above Garonne Creek. This is not a formal trail maintained by the park and some spots have eroded away while others not in the trees are not well marked. There are a couple of portions going past rock outcrops that require all ten fingers and toes for grip. The trail does offer some spectacular views of the canyons on the lower portions of the creek.
Following the trail downhill I reached the river flats at 3:40 PM and after a short stretch of dead reckoning to the east I was back on the Overlander trail heading back towards my car. The three mountain bikers that passed me on the trail were the only people that I saw all day until I was back to the trail head. I reached my car at 5:45 PM after 11 1/2 hours on the trail. Reconstructing the tracklogs later showed distances of 10.8 km on the trip in and 11.9 on the way out. Hiking the extra km on the way out was well worth not having to regain the 250 metres of elevation to retrace my route in.
Those considering a visit to this confluence would do well to spend the night at the Colin Hut and make it a two day trip. Details are available at the Alpine Club of Canada website.