Paddle or Walk?
The first decision I have to make is whether I should do an extended canoe trip or should I do a multi-day hike. Both have their advantages and disadvantages so let's explore what they are.
The first obvious advantage to doing a trip in a canoe is that both of my canoes are capable of carrying 408kg (900lb) and that weight is not on my back. On an extended trip I can carry enough supplies and equipment to last for a lot of days before I have to resupply. I can also carry all the gear I could need for my comfort and safety in all anticipated circumstances. Its nice to have a cast iron griddle with you when you want to have eggs and pancakes for breakfast.
Next is the fact that both of my canoes are equipped with spray decks which means everything inside is weather tight including me if I'm wearing a rain jacket. Nice and dry as long as you don't have to get out of the canoe.
Travelling long distances down a river in a canoe is made easier by the fact that the river has a current that helps you on your way. On the upper reaches of the North Saskatchewan River the river current is significant and I have recorded speeds of 12kph on my GPS with the river current and my paddling effort. So travel days of 80km or more are quite realistic. Unfortunately lakes are not so helpful but they offer a slower pace and more opportunities for appreciating the scenery and taking photographs.
Travelling down a river provides the opportunity to stop in towns along the way to buy groceries and other provisions even when the route is through quite remote areas. Unlike in England where I was able to have lunch at a food stall at a lock, in a riverside restaurant or a local pub, on most Canadian rivers cities, towns and villages are few and far between but they do exist. Which relates back to my first paragraph, I can carry enough to get me to the next point of civilization.
The disadvantage to doing a long canoe trip is that you have to have somebody take you to the starting point and then pick you up at the end of your trip. For an extended trip the start is a minor inconvenience but the pick up at the end could mean hundreds of kilometres and several days of travel. If I were to paddle down the Athabasca River from Jasper to Whitecourt it would mean a round trip of 524km and an overnight stay in Whitecourt.
At the present time, unless I stay within Alberta, I would be crossing into Saskatchewan and possibly Manitoba and both provinces have placed restrictions on cross border travel. British Columbia has closed all of their parks to visitors from out of province so the lakes that I was considering are not available. If I were to travel down one of the rivers I'm not sure what my welcome would be if I arrived in town and walked to the grocery store.
Another disadvantage to a river trip is the limited view that you have once you are out of the mountains. Down in between the river banks all you can really see is the vegetation growing along the banks - not very interesting or exciting. You are also controlling the canoe so you have to pay attention to the route ahead so that some hazard doesn't cause an unexpected capsize.
When it comes to long distance walks in Jasper National Park the number of choices are numerous. Most are clearly defined by well maintained trails although the Jasper Park administration has stopped maintaining many of them in recent years. The available walks are among some of the most spectacular hiking trails in the world surrounded by mountains and rushing rivers. Some routes were the working trails used by the park wardens to patrol the backcountry (North & South Boundary trails), others were developed to access beautiful wilderness areas (Skyline Trail, Tonquin Valley Trail, Fryatt Valley Trail) and still others were trails used by the early Europeans who travelled, explored and exploited the mountain areas (Athabasca Pass Trail, Overlander Trail).
The advantages to these trails are many. As you walk along at whatever is your chosen pace you are surrounded by hugely varied aspects of natural beauty. Mountains, rivers, wild flowers, animals in their natural environments and many different kinds of birds are all around you as you travel along. Seemingly the best choice for my expedition this year, but.....
On an extended wilderness hike I would have to carry sufficient food, equipment and safety gear to last for the duration of the trip. That alone is a big disadvantage but that isn't all. With the restrictions on the equipment that I can carry due to weight and space it is difficult to ensure my comfort in inclement weather. Several rainy days would mean everything would be wet and I would be miserable. There is also the possibility of encounters with unfriendly wildlife. The one that everybody thinks of is running into a bear, but other less frightening creatures can also cause problems. If you leave any equipment accessible to the animals you can find that it has been chewed by small animals like rodents and porcupines. There also the issue of water. Are there enough sources of water along the route? When you plan a trip it is important to take into consideration the availability of water along the route because that will affect the amount you have to carry. On top of all of this, Parks Canada has not opened up access to the backcountry trails at the moment and they have not given a clear indication as to when they will start to take reservations.
There's so much to think about before I make my decision for this year's trip and it's further complicated by the pandemic restrictions. So let's look at the possibilities in the next and subsequent posts.
Spring Has Sprung
Here in Jasper the Prairie Crocus is the first sign that spring has truly arrived. They make their appearance among the wild fescue grass on the airfield shortly after the snow has gone and the soil is moistened by a spring rain shower. This year they are a sign that I have to consider my options for my outdoor trip in memory of Eva, Hazel and Lily, my three granddaughters that we lost as babies. My original plan was to travel to Italy with my brother where we were going to walk from the north to the south of Tuscany along the Via Francigena. All of my travel plans were organized and booked before the end of December and before Covid-19 became an issue. So now - what to do? At the moment we have no idea what the airlines are going to do about international flights at the end of August and what they intend to do about refunds for passengers that want to cancel their reservations. All I can do is come up with a contingency plan to put into effect if it is inadvisable for two old guys like my brother and me to travel to the UK and Italy before the pandemic is completely under control and transmission is effectively zero. This blog will share my thoughts on the alternative travels that I am considering with the pros and cons of each and the plans that would be necessary for each. I'll try to make it as interesting as possible with maps and pictures of each possibility.
I'm a grandfather who lost an infant granddaughter and who wants to help Gillian, her mother, provide support for other grieving parents through Hazel's Heroes.