One of the points of attraction we had wanted to visit the day before was the Maligne Canyon, located just a few miles up Maligne Lake Road on the outskirts of town. The parking lot was absolutely packed when we arrived so we backtracked a few hundred yards to the same scenic overlook we had visited the day before and parked in the relatively empty lot. After a few minutes walk we arrived at the trailhead for the Maligne Canyon walk, a graded and paved trail that followed along the Maligne River as it downstream from Medicine Lake to the Athabasca River. Over the course of a few kilometers walk you can see 5 different waterfalls within the canyon walls, the water flowing nearly 160 feet below the spanning bridges at the canyon’s deepest point. We visited the first three waterfalls, sharing the limited space with countless other visitors before heading back to the car, turning our sights an hour south to Athabasca Falls where we’d stop for another quick visit to soak in the scenery.
In the early afternoon we arrived at the Sunwapta Falls trailhead/parking lot where we finalized our gear packs for our overnight backpacking trip to the remote campsite along the Athabasca River. For the trip I chose to bring my Cold Cold World “Chaos” backpack, a 66L alpine mountaineering bag that I purchased for my Long Trail thru-hike attempt last winter. Made by hand in Jackson, New Hampshire, it’s as sturdy a bag as you could ever imagine, with a mono-tube design and 1.2 million attachment points for extra gear (i.e. snowshoes, crampons, ice axes, climbing rope, water bottles, etc) on the outside, making it a great option for a versatile backpack for the duration of our Canada adventure. I filled it up with most of our gear and food, packing Dani’s ~30L Mountainsmith backpack for our sleeping pad and her clothes for the overnight. It took about an hour to be ready to hike out, first passing on a bridge over Sunwapta Falls itself before carrying on down the Fortress Lake Trail. Our hike to the Big Bend backcountry campsite would cover 6.3km on a moderately wide trail, mostly downhill through endless pine forests. Dani had never been backpacking before so we stopped a few times to adjust the shoulder, waist, and sternum straps in an effort to make her more comfortable. The time and terrain passed quickly as the afternoon sun baked down on the woods, and within two hours we arrived at the Big Bend camp, nestled in along the indescribably blue Athabasca River.
Big Bend was comprised of four tent sites, two picnic tables, and a bear-bag hanging line to suspend food fifteen feet in the air overnight. The entire area was subject to panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, and the warm air and sunshine made for a gorgeous scene as we set up the tent alongside the river. We wandered around for a little with the cameras, and after checking with the five or six other backpackers staying at the site, I took a few minutes to fly the drone and capture the area from the a few hundred feet above. We cooked a pasta dinner at the picnic tables using the frigidly cold glacier river from the Athabasca River that I had filtered with the same Sawyer Squeeze I carried for all 2,200 miles on the A.T. three years prior. We made friends with Jessica and Jessica, two other hikers from the Alberta area who were out for the weekend, talking for an hour or so about hiking and the vast beauty of the National Parks as the sun set and cast warm light on the glacially capped peaks to the south.
Rinsing out our dishes and hanging the food bag on the bear line, we sat on a log bench by the river and watched the water flow by without much conversation between us, simply enjoying the serenity of the mountains around us. Retiring to bed around 21h30, I set my phone’s alarm for shortly after midnight in hopes of waking up and capturing photos of the stars overhead in the night sky. After a busy day and great hike in on the Fortress Lake Trail, we fell fast asleep to the white noise of the Athabasca River rushing by, our short time in Jasper having already seemed to desensitize us to the bright glow of the sky in the late hours of the evening.