Day 26, Banff to Coleman leg.
“Tina, Brent… it’s time to get up.” Peter’s familiar, soft morning wake-up call broke the silence. No need, I was already awake. Today we would enter an area two people had warned me about. Both Tania and Eric had cautioned me about the steep, narrow Joffre Creek valley with its old burn and multiple rock slides. Prior to this year, it’d been nearly a decade since it’d been traveled on horseback. My friends Eric and Guy, both seasoned backcountry packers, rode it earlier this year, in August, and had spent a lot of time clearing trail through old burns and rock slides. I was cautiously optimistic that we’d benefit from them having gone before. Once we got through that and crossed over Sylvan Pass, we’d enter another area where Eric had warned me, “Be prepared to get your asses handed to you.” For those of you unfamiliar with the vernacular, according to the online Urban Dictionary, it means “getting completely, utterly and totally beaten, defeated and crushed…” Oh Goodie!
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First a nice ride, working our way up the Palliser River. We passed a hunter’s backcountry cabin and camp. From the fresh tracks it looked like someone had been there on the weekend and just left. We continued on through intermittent sunshine, rain and hail squalls before turning up into the Joffre Creek valley.
The trail was definitely tighter, but not nearly as bad as I’d feared. We hit the rock slides I’d been warned about. Eric had cautioned me that we might want to tie up the horses and scout it out first; it was somewhat fluid. But they’d done such a good job filling holes across the three slides, our rock star mountain trail ponies had little difficulty. Again, not as bad as I’d feared.
After crossing the slides, we continued working our way up into the alpine, across a spectacular meadow and up to the top of Sylvan Pass. At 2561m, it was the highest pass in our entire trip by more than 100m. From our low point on the Palliser River (1346m) to top of the Pass, it was the greatest one-day elevation gain of the entire trip (1215m); more than double all previous one-day climbs, except Day 5, climbing up from the Jackpine to Mount Bess (737m), and still nearly double that. Exhausted and exhilarated, I said to Peter and Tine, “This is without question the toughest trail, where there actually is a trail, that I’ve been on in my entire life!” Sylvan Pass was spectacular!
Mike Tyson, once famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” We’d made it up the toughest trail in my life, to the top of Sylvan Pass, and then the old burn on the middle fork of the White River punched us square in the face. Steep, tough terrain through an old burn that was like navigating an epic game of All-Star Pick-Up-Sticks. To top it all off, there was grizzly poop everywhere.
We’d been warned that water might be an issue coming off the Pass. We found a spot where there was good grazing and a small water hole before the creek went underground, so we set up camp. We were just off a well-travelled game trail with plenty of the aforementioned grizzly poop on it, so for the first time ever, we set up an additional electric fence perimeter around our camp. In one of the most spectacular settings of the entire trip, exhausted, we ate dinner and crawled into bed.
We covered the toughest 28 km I’ve ever travelled today.