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Snowshoeing and Swampshoeing Along the North Boundary Trail to Welbourne Campsite

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Overgrown In Places, Quite Swampy
Friday, April 1, 2016

A trip into the northern reaches of Jasper along the North Boundary Trail had been in the pipes for quite some time.  The main question was when and to where...  A peak that has been on my radar for some time is The Rajah, an interesting name and a lovely looking mountain which would be quite the endeavor to climb, mostly due to access across the Snake Indian River.  Eric and I reckoned that given how warm it had been recently the trail might be drier than usual for this time of year and it could be a good time to get some first hand info on the area for future trips.  While the main goal was just getting out on the trail and snapping some pictures we also had our sights set on ascending Mount Kelsey though this did not work out.

Given that the trip could be on the order of 70ish km we got an early start hiking/snowshoeing for a few hours Friday night to shave off some distance for Saturday.  We approached the NBT from Rock Lake as we had done for Daybreak Peak back in May 2013.  Road conditions along the Rock Lake road were icy in places but actually quite decent.  The problem though was that the road wasn't driven all the way to the regular staging area during the winter so the unpacked slushy snow would have been a nightmare for our 'less-than-monster-truck' style vehicles, some extra distance was in the cards...  It turned out that we would add 4.5 km of distance each way.  The first night we snowshoed our way to Rock Creek (which took a little longer than expected as the trail takes a few interesting twists and turns along the flats which are hard to follow by starlight) and set up a hasty camp to catch a few hours sleep until sunrise.

Setting off from the end of the plowed part of the road, bonus distance (yay?).


Stars above when we reach the regular staging area parking lot.

The next morning we set off with our first objective of finding the yellow markers on either side of the creek that I remembered seeing when we were up here for Daybreak.  It ended up that they were only a few meters from where we had stopped a few hours earlier!  Once back on track things were at least mentally more on track though the snow was still quite sloggy to get through.  Between Rock Lake and Willow Creek the trail goes up and down, through tree and marsh requiring a steady sequence of changes from boots to 'shoes and back (and forth!).  Eventually we came to a fence that marked the edge of the Willow Creek Warden Cabin which is quite the area complete with a barn.

Glow on Daybreak Peak the next morning from Rock Creek.


Past Rock Creek looking towards the ridge NE of Mount Stornoway.


Eric with the trail trench beside him.


Further along the trail skirts the edge of several marshy clearings.


Crossing the gate that keeps the horsies at the Willow Creek Warden Cabin contained.


After leaving the Willow Creek area we kept plodding onwards.  This section of the trial would actually be fairly nice if it was dry and a light breeze was blowing.  I can certainly see that the North Boundary Trail would have a great deal of silence and solitude.  The main source of excitement on this part was coming across a great horned owl that was along the trail.  It was quite strange to see the beastie on the ground (and seemingly not spooked when we hiked past).  Given that it was cradling its left wing oddly I think it might have been injured.  One nice thing after passing Willow Creek is that there are numerous water sources along the trail.  Mud Creek, Deer Creek, and then the Snake Indian River itself are all fairly close together so hauling a ton to drink isn't needed.  By the time we hit the Deer Creek junction we were ~25 km from the car.  Eric was starting to look pretty tired and by the time we passed the Welbourne Campsite he said he wouldn't be able to make it past Welbourne.  Mount Kelsey would have to wait for another day but at least we were well-positioned to get some beta on crossing the river for The Rajah later on.  

The Willow Creek Compound (a big sign labels it as the 'district headquarters').


Looking back at Daybreak Peak from the Warden Station.


Leaving the Willow Creek station from the other side, back on the trail.


When dry this could actually be quite pleasent hiking.


One of the few signs encountered along the trail.


Lots of snow to contend with in the more sheltered spots.


A great horned owl (likely with an unjured wing) hanging out along the trail.


Getting closer to The Rajah, none of the other peaks are named.


At the Mud Creek junction, surprisingly clear and tasty water!


Further along the trail.


At the next signed junction with the Deer Creek trail.


Eric glad to be out of the snow for a while.


Looking up at the outliers of Mount Stornoway with The Rajah poking out on the far right.


Really light lighting with the sun shining through the trees.


A 'lake' alongside the trail near Welbourne Falls, I think it might be more swamp than lake when melted given the area!


I wasn't even aware there were Welbourne Falls before seeing this sign!


The Snake Indian River, big river even this time of year.


Reaching the Welbourne Horse camp, 300m from the human camp.


We made it to the camp a little after 3pm and quickly set to work cooking a late lunch and getting a fire going to dry off our water-laden boots.  I made a foray across the river to get a look at our proposed ascent line for Mount Kelsey and found there were scree lines leading right to the summit (albeit being very avi prone to slopes above and beside).  There was also an abundance of nice driftwood on the south side of the river, evidently the few people who camp here usually are around when crossing to gather firewood isn't an option!  After some discussion we reckoned that we had to get back to the car by tomorrow night to work schedule-wise.  I set about packing by drysack day-pack (an excellent thing to carry for trips like this!) for a solo trip up Kelsey which would require getting up dark and early and going through solo avi terrain; I reckoned I'd dream on it while sleeping and see how I felt at 2am.

The Welboure Campsite, great place to stay with river-adjacent sites!


On the south side of the Snake Indian River looking back at the campground.


Neat clouds looking towards Mount Simla.


Zoomed in towards Mount Kelsey.


A little after sunrise we were both refreshed and set about fixing some breakfast while breaking down camp.  The Welbourne Campsite is very well situated for views of The Rajah and the steady roar of the river is perfect for masking the sound of quiet alarms!  Given that we were heading back to the car we kept a steady pace on the way back which was made much easier by already having tracks squished down in the snowy sections from the previous day.  The route unfolded quite similarly to the previous day though we saved some time with navigational questions of 'where does the trail snake through this bog' etc.  We were sad to see that the owl was still at that same place on the trail, hopefully its wing heals up quickly.  It must be hard for the critter being grounded...  When crossing Rock Creek we stuck on the trail and were kind of amused that we were mere meters from the trail on our way in, just the other side of a small dip that blocked off views!  Ended up getting back to the cars a little before sunset, ~9.5 hours from Welbourne (which is probably a reasonable time when the trail is in good shape).  Good to scout out the area, have to come back for a longer trip and wander up some of the peaks in the area, they are sure to have good views!

The Rajah is quite the peak.


The Rajah with the outliers.


Stopping for a few pictures before the trail starts to move away from the river.


Lots of sections that could be great or miserable depending on swampyness.


These peaks really could use some ascents.


Looking back along the turning of the Snake Indian River as it bends down leading to the Celestine Lake trail.


Deep snowshoe tracks from the previous day.


The owl was still on the trial, his left wing didn't seem in good shape..


Front range terrain, even marshy patches does have aesthetic parts to it.


Quite a lot of sun on the trail today.


Back at the Warden Station.


Back towards Daybreak Peak.


Some signs still have labels in miles not km!


The trail trench is quite sloshy in places.


Back at the park boundary.


Likely the deepest snow was between the boundary and the car.


Lots of snowmobile tracks on the 'no mechanized vehicle' trail in Willmore!


A bit of a spelling mistake in the 'time' for the NBT to Celestine Lake.


Back at the regular staging area, now just the bonus distance to go.


At last the cars are in view!


Good to get some fresh beta for the trail (and pictures to motivate a return trip!).

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