Hiking the Skyline Trail | Jasper National Park
“I have seen your toothbrush touch so many different surfaces,” my friend said as we divided up the remaining food into parcels to distribute the weight between the packs. The face accompanying this statement was something I can only describe as amused disgust - brow furrowed, nostrils flared, but a slight, positive incline in the corners of the mouth. She was right. I am not one to protect my bristles on a 25-mile slog through rain, mist, hail, and wind. And in grizzly bear country to boot. Plus, I am not disillusioned in thinking that brushing plaque off my teeth makes my mouth actually clean; I have seen some gnarly infections originating from human bites.
Apart from my oral hygiene practices, there were other aspects of the Skyline Trail that were not ideal. Some of the difficulties were completely out of our control. The driving rain, hail, and wind that welcomed us to the Canadian Rockies on day one for example. The first two days had a total amount of sunshine that allowed me to individually count the number of Vitamin D molecules produced by my skin: zero. We made it to the ridge line in time to be completely socked in by clouds and unable to enjoy the sweeping views and endless jagged peaks that Jasper is known for.
The other obstacles we faced would not have seemed so daunting with a little bit of trail planning, assuming we had done some. The complexity of getting four women, from four different states, to a park in Canada took up most of the logistical energy in terms of trip research, and left little time for diving into the specific features of the actual trail we had signed up to hike.
Enter “The Notch.” Unbeknownst to the trip leader (yours truly) in tent B, the occupants of tent A had been discussing The Notch for 36 hours in language that could only be summarized as a near mutiny. (Now I know exactly what you’re thinking, “She must have been selected as the trip leader due to being the most experienced, strongest of character, and prettiest person in the group.” While I will not confirm nor deny any of those attributes, in this particular case, the trip leader was the one who walked first in line and was responsible for the bear spray. Think more sacrificial lamb.
A high saddle between two peaks, The Notch is the pinnacle of effort in the Skyline Trail due to the exposure, altitude gain, and scree-clad switchbacks. You will not see any photo documentation from the trudge up The Notch because the anxiety of the group dictated a steady pace with no breaks. Needless to say, the angst generated by tent A turned out to be excessive. Not one person struggled on The Notch; no injuries or misfortunes were befallen; no one performed the grounding functions of a lightning rod; and the sun rose in the east the following
The final night of the trip was spent in town in a “bungalow” amongst the busloads of tourist. This was the quintessential ending to the four-day trip and the perfect amount of respite and wine that we required after the discomfort and stress of the preceding three days in the backcountry. As I was stuffing my sleeping bag into it’s compression sack, getting ready for the long drive to Calgary, I reflected on how awesome it is to have three like-minded friends that will blindly sign up and grind out an adventure, minimal questions asked. Removing fuel and storing my stove, I looked around at the three badass women who took a break from the stress of their workweek by embracing adversity in nature. Reaching to collect the last remaining items for my pack - a water bladder, some rope, cookware, a first aid kit - I could still feel the soreness in my abdomen from the incessant laughter that accompanied our group every step of the way. I rearranged the items to fit in my pack one last time, making sure there was nothing TSA would collect from my carry-on. Lastly, I threw in my toothbrush, which had been sitting on the floor, bristles down, ready for the next adventure.