In late July of 2017, my wife Tori and I, along with our dog Buck rented a camper van in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada from North Campervans and then headed towards the Rocky Mountains. Our plan was to backpack from the Celestine Trailhead which is just north of the Trans Canada Highway in Jasper National Park, to the town of Grand Cache, Alberta. Our route would see us follow the North Boundary Trail and then cut North through Desolation Pass, and over the height-of-land into Wilmore Wilderness where we would pick up the fabled Mountain Trail that we’d follow all the way back to the road system and Grande Cache. We had 160km of traveling in front of us, and only 8 days to complete it. To make matters worse, we ended up having to start our trip 6km before the official trailhead. You see, the Celestine Rd is pretty much a glorified horse packing trail, and it’s only open for vehicle use between certain times in a given direction. To give our shuttle driver enough time to get out of there without the chance of meeting another vehicle head-on at the edge of a cliff, we had to jump out prematurely and see him on his way. He would then drive with our vehicle to Grand Cache so it would be there for our arrival. I would not recommend going in on the Celestine Rd. in a two-wheel-drive vehicle like we did, a 4×4 is the way to go or at least something with some more clearance as the road is pretty rough.
The smoke in the air from the rampant BC forest fires was concerning as it was burning my eyes and making me worry that the fires may encroach. But we pushed on, apprehensive that we’d bitten off more than we could chew – we needed to average 20km a day and our packs were heavy. The earlier stretches of the North Boundary Trail are not shockingly beautiful like the rest of Jasper, however, it’s flat and easy to navigate, plus any monotony is quickly forgotten with a side trip into Snake Indian Falls, which is thought to be one of the most impressive waterfalls in the Rockies. Alternate access to this route is via Rock Lake though you’d miss the Falls. Broken again at the end of day two, we passed the Rock Lake Trail fork, and knew it was our last chance to bail. But even though we were pushing ourselves so hard, it was so rewarding when we’d reach camp and meet our daily goal again, that we never considered it. The trail between Little Heaven Campsite in Jasper and Mountain Trail in Wilmore Wilderness is completely unmaintained and difficult to get info on. When you’re high up in Glacier and then Desolation Pass, you’re past the tree line and heading through a valley flanked by barren peaks on either side which helped guide the way. The trail was particularly hard – even perhaps non-existent after coming down out of the pass a ways and getting towards Summit Cabin in Wilmore. We took a wrong turn here late in the evening and had to walk an extra grueling 2km off trail arriving at camp seconds before dark after a 13 hour day of trekking, but this was only our halfway point. Watch Part Two to see how the trip ends.