I had my eyes on the Jasper Skyline traverse since I snowshoed up Signal Mountain back in February. Signal is not really a mountain, but rather a bump on the north end of the range. I didn't know where I should go until Friday, when the latest weather forecast suggested that I should head to Jasper instead of Kananskis. I didn't feel like soloing for all three days, so I decided to take my mom on the trip. She hadn't done a hike since Ship's Prow Mountain in June, so I figured out she wouldn't have the fitness for 3 days. It didn't take me long to make the decision of traversing Jasper Skyline north section, after messaging Vern about the route up Mount Tekarra from south side (Amber Mountain side). I knew it's doable from north because I have the photos taken from Signal, so ideally it should be done as a traverse. Of course I wouldn't let mom joining me up this traverse as I had to speed things up if I wanted to success. The parking lot is pretty close to Maligne Canyon anyway.
The 5:30 alarm couldn't wake me up in the morning, as it was too cold.. I re-set my alarm to 6:30 but still couldn't get up in time.. Anyway, I finally started the trudge at 7:30am. If I could get up earlier, the day would be more enjoyable, but now, I had to rush throughout the day. Doing a trip of 40km distance & 3000m elevation gain with snow covering 80% of the ground in October really really requires a headlamp start (6am start).
For those of you planning on Jasper Skyline, make sure you get mentally prepared for the initial 2 hours trudging up Signal Mountain road. You had almost zero view along the way, and the road just went on forever.. Biking is allowed here but the ground isn't that gentle to comfortably bike up. Without a heavy pack, you should make to treeline in about 2 hours. I encountered snow at about 300m vertical meters up. Thankfully the snow was only about 10-15cm deep. If I had to start post-holing at this stage, I definitely wouldn't make it... But the snow did slow me down a bit. The Skyline Trail became harder and harder to follow as I progressed through. I lost the trail for a few times in some large meadows, but I managed to re-gain the trail soon. The clouds were lifting up now and that was really encouraging. The trail hugs around treeline traversing below Signal Mountain, and circumvents the east ridge extension of Mount Tekarra to its back side.
What was appearing to be very close, Excelsior Mountain, seemed to be very far away now, because there was apparently a significant amount of elevation loss to get down to campground Tekarra... Well, I didn't pay attention to the contour lines on the map, so I wasn't mentally prepared for this part. At least it was down-hill so the hiking was relatively fast, and I soon made down to the campground. It's 15km one way to get here from parking lot.
Excelsior Mountain is the big slope directly ahead of me, and looks to be straightforward.. Really? Not with snow on... I re-filled my water bottle at a stream near the campground. By the way, you don't need to bring more than 1.5L water up Jasper Skyline as there're plenty of water sources. I crossed the stream and bushwhacked straight up the slope, only to find I actually topped out on the small hill... Damn, I had to lose all of the elevation.. This was quite frustrating but anyway. I dropped down to the creek bed again, and now I could ascend straight up. Looking back, Mount Tekarra looks impressive. What I didn't know was, Excelsior Mountain is actually higher than Tekarra.
I soon broke through the trees, and now what... A giant slope of snow covered boulder field. What looks like to be a giant rubble slope turned out to be quartz boulder field as I got closer... This could be fun in dry condition, but when wet, the scrambling could get very tricky. I had to hands-down regularly to prevent me from slipping. Slipping and falling on these boulders could result in serious injury so I had to be careful. The slope went on forever, and it felt like eternity. I suggest you to constantly look back at Mount Tekarra, not just because of the view, but also it gives you a good perspective of how far you still have to go. You gotta get higher than Tekarra. The slope itself is very very foreshortened. It took me 6 hours to get up Excelsior from parking lot, which was much slower than anticipated... A big WOW moment was waiting for me at the summit. This is quite a lofty summit as I was looking down at most nearby peaks except for the distant giants like Edith Cavell.
I didn't do the necessary summit stay as I was quite behind schedule. I really had to speed up a bit. I quickly made my way down the west ridge. To my surprise, this involves much less boulders compared to the north face route. It didn't take me long to drop down to Excelsior/Center col. The day continues with an ascent of Center Mountain, then Amber Mountain, and finally Mount Tekarra.