Mount Tekarra trilogy
Three attempts: June 1980 with Paul K, Gary S and Joan C; July 1981 with Otto and Mike G; August 1991 with Kevin H.
As mentioned elsewhere, I first went to Jasper in 1980 and, about two weeks after seeing my first mountain (reckoning that the Adirondacks didn’t count) I found myself trying to climb one. I didn’t even have hiking boots; my hiking footwear was a pair of North Star runners. North Star is a late lamented domestic brand that were excellent runners but they weren’t made for mountain climbing or scrambling.
Paul and Gary had plans to actually climb Tekarra, while Joan and I were happy just to walk up the old fire road and wander along the easy summit that is Signal Mountain. The road isn’t very interesting most of the way, but it was my first time getting high in the mountains and all the views were new and exciting. Wow, I’m really on a mountain!
While we were hanging out on the summit of Signal, Paul and Gary managed to persuade Joan and me to come along and join them. Okay, that ridge below where it starts to get steep doesn’t look too risky, I thought, so why not, let’s see how far we can get. As I recall, their plan was to head along the low ridge about 1/3 of the way up in the middle in the photo below, then contour around on the scree to the right and somewhere work our way up a gully somewhere near the toe of the mummy. Joan and I had each been there for a couple of weeks, and Paul and Gary had been there the year before, so we assumed that they knew what they were doing. We all know what happens when you assume…
We somehow made it across the scree slope and got up a gully onto that ledge below the toe, but that was as far as we were getting that day. I have no idea where they thought they were going to go to get up the mountain from there (we assumed they knew what they were doing…) but there was no route there for any sane person. But we had lunch with the best views I’d ever had in my life up to that point. Then we came straight down the gully, or should I say shooting gallery. We learned fast how to try to get out of the way of someone descending above, but Paul wasn’t so lucky and took a fair-sized rock in the small of the back. It was quite a bit of luck that he wasn’t more seriously injured; he was in a fair bit of pain but was able to move and we slowly made our way back the way we’d come. Somehow by the time we got back to the road on Signal he seemed to be recovered. Youth, youth, what euphorian days them was. At our age now we’d be lucky if we could even stand up after taking a rock the size of a loaf of bread in the back.
In 1981, with a summer of hiking and a bit of scrambling under my belt, we had another go at it. Otto the Austrian had more experience with mountains, and we planned on having a go on Canada Day. To mark the occasion he brought along a Canadian flag on a long pole, and in the spirit of Austro-Canadian friendship he also had his accordion with him to play O Canada when we got to the summit. The week before he’d been up on one of the lower Opal Peaks with it, but this hike would be somewhat more involved than Opal. Mike was a customs guy from White Rock who said he had mountain experience, but looking back I think he was either having us on or he’d let himself go, because he wasn’t really up to this.
We looked at the mountain from different directions, and from the west we could see the ridge running south from Tekarra (part of which is part of the Skyline trail) and reckoned that if we could get up there it would be a fairly easy route to the summit and preferable to the frontal assault of the year before. By then we knew more about hiking and scrambling but still hadn’t learned a lot about NTS topographical maps, and naively believed that trails shown on the maps actually corresponded to trails on the ground. We looked at the map and saw a trail running up from Highway 93 past Wabasso Lake and fairly directly up to the ridge so decided to try that route. Wabasso Lake is nice but not as interesting as the Valley of the Five. The trail continues, as we learned later, eventually to the Skyline’s Curator campground and Shovel Pass, but we looked for it to gain elevation more directly and started following what looked like a trail doing exactly that. Gradually that trail petered out and we found ourselves bushwhacking up the side of Amber Mountain and over one or two not very pleasant gullies. The flagpole kept snagging on tree branches and the weight of the accordion can’t have helped things, but Otto was not to be deterred. At one point we happened upon a small flock of bighorn sheep, giving us the “what the heck are YOU doing here” look before prancing off effortlessly like Baryshnikov while the three of us stood there with our tongues hanging out.
It was late afternoon, I don’t remember what time but it was late, when we hauled ourselves out into the alpine of Amber Mountain and finally gained the Skyline trail near its high point between the Notch and Mount Tekarra. We made our way along the ridge, quite relieved to be on a trail again, and had a look at the route to the summit. If we hadn’t spent hours bushwhacking up the mountain we might have had time and energy to have a go, but we got to what looked like a good place to call it a day and called it our summit. We planted the flag, Otto played O Canada, we had a short prayer for the recently departed Terry Fox, and then thought about how we were going to get back.
Going back the way we came was not an option (I’ve done a lot of hikes like that, usually better planned beforehand). We could have hiked back to the Notch and then down via Curator Lake and back out the long way to Wabasso Lake, but that would have been an even longer trip than we’d already had. So we decided to follow the Skyline out via Tekarra Lake and to Signal Mountain and down the road, reckoning that if it got dark (which appeared quite likely) at least it would be easier to hike down the road than on a trail we by now weren’t too sure actually existed in the first place.
It was a perfect hiking day, and it was absolutely spectacular up there. Too bad we’d wasted so much of it following a non-existent trail. We were pretty tired as we worked our way around the east side of Tekarra and Signal, and Mike was failing badly. We got to the top of the Signal fire road as it was getting dark, and faced another two or three hours (or more in our condition) dragging ourselves down the road to the trailhead near Maligne Canyon. A small miracle occurred when a truck came down the road. The old fire lookout building, which was demolished shortly after this, was being used by some researchers and they were on their way down. We happily got into the back and rode down where they deposited us at the warden station which was then located near Sixth Bridge at Maligne Canyon. From there we called into town and got Glen from Lutheran House to pick us up, where we received a relieved welcome.
1991 was my first summer trip back to Jasper after moving to Vancouver, and a mechanically challenged 1979 VW Rabbit messed up a lot of plans for that trip. I made it from Vancouver to Jasper in about fourteen hours while it tried to make up its mind whether or not it wanted to come. Thankfully I had a couple of passengers from the Vancouver hostel, one of whom was a lady from New Zealand who happened to be a mechanic and knew what to do to get it to make it to Jasper. In Jasper, the car managed to make it up to Edith Cavell and it seemed to be doing fine. Meeting up with a couple of new hostellers in Jasper, we headed out south to spend a couple of days exploring the Icefields Parkway, with no trouble apart from it wanting a boost the next morning at Beauty Creek Hostel. But going up the hill on Tangle Ridge, when I tried to gear down the shifter cable broke. My passengers managed to hitch on but I had to wait for a tow back into Jasper. For hours.
Finding myself back at Kevin and Heather’s place having to wait around a few days for the repair, I decided I’d either hitch or bum a lift with Kevin out to Maligne Lake and do the Skyline. While I was making plans for that, Kevin said “wanna go do Tekarra?”.
We’d both hiked up the Signal Mountain road several times before and neither was keen on hiking up it again. So Kevin got his bike out and I managed to borrow one, we loaded them into their old Malibu station wagon (though he never was a station wagon kind of guy) and headed up the road. Biking up a road like that usually means pushing the bike up, but we knew we’d be glad of them for the ride back down. The bikes did save a bit of time going up, where we stashed them at the end of the road and headed out along the Skyline toward Tekarra.
Rather than the frontal assault at the hardest part of 1980 and the sneak-up-from-the-back approach of 1981, Kevin’s idea was a more reasonable idea to work our way along the ridge below the head of the mummy then up the gully between the head and the body. The gully didn’t look very appealing, but we weren’t taking no for an answer this time and found it much easier than it looked. It was by far the easier way to do it, and we had no trouble getting to the summit. The views speak for themselves.
Pyramid Mountain across the valley, and Signal Mountain which looks awfully flat from up here:
Centre Lakes in the foreground, the Maligne Lake peaks in left distance and Mounts Hardisty and Kerkeslin on right. That may even be Mount Alberta way back there behind Hardisty. The Skyline more or less comes along the ridge on the right; you can see where it drops down and continues down the valley from right to bottom centre.
Somewhere Kevin probably has a slide of me doing this back at him.
North down the Athabasca River:
The denouement: I got the car back and, after one more day trip up to Opal Hills, headed home a couple hundred dollars lighter. It did fine most of the way, until the bottom of the last big hill on the Coquihalla the engine finally blew and it was dead and dead indeed. Too bad it couldn’t have made it the last 160 km or so home.