Day 8, Grande Cache to Jasper leg.
I was already awake when Peter’s familiar “Tina. Brent. Time to get up” broke the morning silence. I was excited and concerned. In all my route research, the section we’d start into today consistently came up as being extremely challenging. So challenging, in fact, that at one point the plan was to skip it and take the Moose River route out. That is until I spoke with a guy who’d grown up in Jasper, riding & packing Willmore and Jasper backcountry. He said, “yeah, it can be tough getting to, but the scenery is spectacular, and well worth the price of admission.” Ok then, we’ll do it!
We got on the trail early, heading down the valley. It wasn’t long before I spotted the mountain known as The Colonel and we began watching for where our trail would stay left, then veer hard left, taking us east, over Colonel Pass and into the valley beyond. If we missed that first left, the trail would take us down the Moose River valley.
Eventually, Peter stops. As usual, he’s been watching the GPS like a hawk. “This is wrong! We’ve missed the trail.” He dismounted and backtracked on foot, looking for the trail. There was none to be found. Yet, the GPS was showing us in the exact area where the trail diverged. Weird. Then again, maybe not. There had been times before where the trail shown on the GPS did not precisely match the trail on the ground. Maybe this was another one of those times.
We continued on for a bit and the divergence from where we should have been got bigger. We had definitely missed the split.
What to do? Do we backtrack and find the split to Colonel Pass, or continue on the Moose River route? Colonel Pass was our Plan A, but it was also the longer and tougher route requiring two full days of hard going. If we continued down the Moose River route, there were no mountain passes and we could make it out to the highway TODAY.
Ultimately, it was an easy decision. The horses were tired, plus Ahi was sore and two shoes shy of a full set. We’d take the shorter, easier route out and use the travel day saved to give the horses a rest.
While we didn’t have much info on the Moose River route, it was much more travelled than Colonel Pass, so we should be able to figure it out. No cell service out here, but we had GPS satellite communication through my Garmin InReach. We sent a message to Peter G, our support vehicle driver, advising him of the change in plans and revised rendezvous point at the Moose River trailhead.
There was only one real point of confusion on our revised route. We thought we followed the Moose River all the way down the valley. Then, suddenly the trail turned uphill and away from the river. It just seemed wrong. We stopped for a riverside lunch and grazing break while Peter investigated the route further on the GPS. While there was no clear trail shown on the GPS, it seemed like once we got over the hill, we could follow Resplendant Creek, which would eventually flow into the Moose River and down the valley.
Hmmmm… what to do… What to do? Bushwhack down the Moose River because that seemed more directionally-correct, or follow the nicely cleared trail over to Resplendant Creek and trust that was the main route? We chose the clear trail and it turned out to be the right call. 6 hours later we met Peter G. at the Moose River trailhead. Big hugs all around. We’d made it! While not exactly as planned, Leg 1 was complete, covering 220 km over 8 days and no one had been hurt or killed. Success!
We hadn’t booked accommodations in Jasper because we didn’t know exactly when we’d be finishing. So, while I was driving, Peter was in the back Googling Bed & Bale type accommodations and making calls. He found one place that sounded promising, but when he told the lady we were about an hour away she said, “no, I’m going to bed” and that was that. Um… alrighty then. Weird.
Then he called a place called Entrance Ranch, between Jasper and Hinton. They had a small cabin we could stay in, plus space, food and water for the horses, and they’d be happy to have us. Come on out! We found the place, unloaded and fed the horses, then unhooked the trailer and headed into Hinton for dinner. Boston Pizza was perfect for good food and cold beer; no one complained about our 8-days-horseback-in-the-bush aroma. My burger & beer was mighty tasty and a nice change from our dehydrated backpacker meals. The other interesting thing I noticed was sensory overload: people, conversations, music, television, lights, signs – it was a little overwhelming compared to life on the wilderness trail.
Back to our little cabin at the Entrance Ranch for much-needed showers and a change of clothes, then off to sleep in a real bed!
Tomorrow might be a rest day for the ponies, but it was gonna be a busy one for us. As I drifted off to sleep, I recalled one of my early conversations with Peter, in which he said “The Trail is Life.” There sure is a pile of wisdom is those four little words: plans are fine, but don’t get hung up on them. Sometimes, it’s best to just go with the flow. Today was a great example of that. Peter needs to write a book.