Tonquin Valley, Jasper
I hiked this in August 1981 with Anne-Marie B from Montreal, and in 1983 with Michael C from London. One day in the summer of 1981 I remember a group of us went up to day hike at Mount Edith Cavell, and we stopped at the viewpoint on the way up the road and looked up the Astoria River past Franchere Peak and Old Horn Mountain toward the Tonquin Valley and I wanted to go there. A few weeks later, Anne-Marie (who was in Jasper from Montreal visiting Ruth) came into Rowed and O’Neill’s gift shop and camera store, where I was working for the summer, bought a postcard with a mountain goat on it, and said “want to go into the Tonquin?”. So we did. In 1983, Michael was visiting Ruth from London (or was there with Carol?) and came hiking with the big gang that did the Skyline before Sue and Glen’s wedding. Most of that gang dispersed after the wedding, but Michael stuck around and we followed up the Skyline with a Tonquin trip the next week.
Like the Skyline, the Tonquin really needs four or five days to see properly without killing yourself with two long days hiking in and hiking out. You can go in either via the Astoria valley from Cavell, or from the Portal Creek valley and Maccarib Pass from the Marmot Basin ski hill road. Many people make it a through hike, most commonly from Portal to Cavell, and that’s what we did both times. The Astoria route, despite my longing looks up the valley from the Cavell viewpoint, isn’t really all that interesting but is relatively direct. The Portal-Maccarib route is longer but is much more scenic.
The Portal Creek trail takes you past Peveril, Lectern and Aquila Peaks, and over a long approach to Maccarib Pass. While slogging up Maccarib, on the 1981 trip we were surprised by a guy coming past us riding a bicycle. It was Ben Gadd, then working for Parks Canada but off exploring for a day on one of those new-fangled mountain bikes. In those days, everyone rode lightweight ten-speeds with skinny tires, which wouldn’t last two minutes on a trail like this. The mountain bike was revolutionary, although the one Ben was riding probably weighed sixty pounds.
The hike down from Maccarib to the Tonquin Valley itself was just as long as the hike up, and I seem to remember a lot of willow whomping. I think we were trying to get away from part of the trail that had been trashed by the pack trains. Horses can be a wonderful way to explore the mountains, but only if you’re on one.
The Tonquin Valley’s star attraction is the Amethyst Lakes and the ten kilometre long wall of quartzite known as the Ramparts. Getting to camp by these lakes makes the long hike worth it.
On the other side of the Ramparts is the source of the Fraser River, here only a mountain creek. Even around Mount Robson the Fraser doesn’t look like much, and I remember the first time I saw a highway bridge with the sign “Fraser River” that I thought it couldn’t possibly be the same as the one that runs through Vancouver. This river gets around.
There are a couple of side valleys and some higher ridges that you can’t get to do on a two-day hike.
The south end of the valley is very pretty. But once you leave it to hike out on the Astoria route there isn’t much to see except for a long stretch of switchbacks going down the edge of a very large boulder field. And yes, there is all that horse use, which often leaves behind trails of mud (and other stuff) and healthy populations of horseflies and other winged nasties.
But if you hike out via Astoria you can do that in a day; the Maccarib route really needs two days just to do it without pushing yourself too hard.
And if you hike out Astoria, the very last thing you see on the hike when you round the final bend in the trail is this view of Mount Edith Cavell.