20170723, 26: Skyline Trail Peaks (Maligne Range, Jasper N.P.)

  • Watchtower to Skyline 14km, 4hrs
  • Skyline to Maligne Canyon 26km, 7.5hrs

The weather can get it out of its system, I thought, as we lay in our sleeping bags listening to the rain pitter-patter on the tent. I couldn’t sleep I was so excited.

Five years ago this very weekend I completed the Skyline Trail on a foggy wet day. We were more concerned about keeping going than trying to glimpse any of the supposedly amazing views through the cloud cover. Some might say it was a slightly miserable experience.

2016 we were rained out; we didn’t even bother to make the trip up to Jasper.

Skyline Trail, heading up to The Notch, 2012
Skyline Trail, heading up to The Notch, 2012. Photo by Dale Hackinen.

This year, only light rain was forecast. Here we were, Brian, Bert, and me.

We cut into Skyline via Watchtower Trail. Rumors of tricky route-finding, washed out bridges, and overgrown vegetation were unfounded. Just cross the stream at the Watchtower campsite sign so that you’re on the left side of the stream. From there the trail connecting to Skyline is distinct; very obvious, easy to find and follow.

At first the col looked very, very far away. But when we finally made our way up, looking down the Watchtower basin was a WOW moment. I almost felt bad for the people on Skyline, who wouldn’t get to see this exact view.

Start of the Watchtower Trail
Parks Canada trail map. Campsite reservations start online mid January. If you’re planning to backpack, reserve early!
Watchtower Basin
Watchtower col. I know it looks terribly exciting, but trust me.
Watchtower col. I know it looks terribly exciting, but trust me.
View from Notch summit
View from Notch summit. There’s another lake you’ll be able to see as you make your way along Skyline Trail.
The marmots are clearly not threatened by my human presence
The marmots are clearly not threatened by my human presence
Route up.
Amber Mountain

We were standing on the windy col looking down the other side at the people on the Skyline trail; it was a bit surreal after having had the wilderness to ourselves. We were scanning the surrounding mountains when we understood just how tall these mountains are and how vast the geographic scale. Curator mountain looked like a bazillion miles away even though I knew it was only 2 or 3 kms.


The Notch

The Notch is typically the source of much anxiety as the “crux” of the trail; Parks pretty much annually puts out a notice to tell people to stay away from its cornice. There was a good bypass for the cornice and from there it’s a short ways to the top of the peak and the reward of a great view of The Watchtower. The scree was sandy soft; better for going up than down.

Amber Mountain

The Skyline trail pretty much goes right up and over Amber Mountain. There were a series of bumps leading up to it, with cairns on every high point that led us to believe multiple times that this was it. A rocky outcrop about 100m off the trail is what I think is the real summit. It still feels like a little bump, but that’s if you forget the elevation you just did to get onto Skyline Trail in the first place.

Signal Mountain

Signal’s only 500m from the Skyline Trail so I did that one, too. Another little bump. Surprising that for such a prominently positioned peak above the town of Jasper there was no evidence of human celebratory activity such as a fancy cairn. I guess most people do Signal Lookout, which has a trail, is closer to the parking lot in distance, and is on a different prominence than the summit proper. There was a faint trail linking Signal summit to Signal Lookout but it was pouring rain and I was more than ready to head down and catch up with Bert and Brian.


  • From Maligne Canyon: 30km, 8hrs

Later that week I went all the way back up Skyline Trail after work to tag Tekarra, a mountain I’ve wanted to do for some time. Starting from North terminal at Maligne Canyon I headed up past Signal Mountain and cut across the crunchy meadow and up the obvious weakness in the north aspect. The weather station on its lower peak appears tantalizingly close. There was a small gap between the rock and the snow which I used as a chimney. You could head up the snow but I didn’t have an ice axe or traction. Due to the positioning of the snow tongue I ended up by the weather station first, though without snow you could easily head directly to the summit. The summit’s more boulders, some quite loose.

Just for fun I descended via the ridge towards Amber Mountain. It was a slow descent down the boulders. The spaces between boulders were strung with big spiderwebs, patrolled by really big and active spiders. Fascinating, but I wasn’t in the mood. At first I was going around or stepping over them to avoid them, then later I was brushing the smaller webs aside, and after a while, fed up, I took out my poles to cut them as I progressed. There were so many webs I became an expert in technique – cut the edge, flick the pole downhill. My poles and hands were so covered in spiderweb I had to pause every once in a while to gather it in a small ball and fling the web ball aside. The strands are thick, stringy, and strong, like fishing line. When I was studying biomaterials engineering we were assigned reading about the future of medical suture material “made of” spiderweb. Makes sense to me.

The exposed rock sections can be avoided to the left. The farther you head towards Amber Mtn. the easier the descent looks to be (increased scree-to-boulder ratio). In retrospect, looking back up at the mountain, I could have descended any of the Skyline-facing gullies after the main summit block, but I couldn’t see that from my vantage above. To connect back to Skyline Trail, wrapping tight around the base of Tekarra and rejoining near Signal Mtn. takes about the same amount of time as connecting near Tekarra campsite. The distance is shorter and feels more adventurous, but it’s more laborious due to boulder fields and willow whacking.

Skyline Trail's appeal becomes apparent
After a mind numbing 8.6km on the Maligne Canyon fire road, the Skyline Trail’s appeal becomes apparent. You won’t get lost on a clear day unless you really aren’t paying attention.
Route up.
Route up Mt. Tekarra is evident. Big boulders, then aim right, and up beside/ on the snow. Very loose rubble. This is used more typically as a descent route from what I can tell from trip reports.
Descending off the main summit block Tekarra
Looking between “pillars” during descent off the main summit block Mt. Tekarra. The boulders look none too secure but anyway you don’t have to touch them 🙂
Amber Mountain from Mt. Tekarra shortly before descending a scree/ boulder gully. Skyline Trail barely visible in the valley (left).
Tekarra, from Skyline Trail
Mt. Tekarra, from Skyline Trail

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