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Solitude and (Brief) Sogitude Up Beaverdam Ridge on the Athabasca Pass Trail

Easy Scramble
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A Few Downed Trees On Trail, Slight Around Beaverdam.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Weather had looked pretty dreary for a long while so despite a rainy forecast I was looking for something to do around Jasper.  After waffling between two main plans (exploring a survey marker around Jacques Lake and heading up Beaverdam Ridge), the keen reader has already gathered that the Beaverdam plan won out.  While not a lofty peak, Beaverdam Ridge is officially named and is proudly emblazoned on all reputable maps.  A side benefit would be heading up the Athabasca Pass Trail to the Scott Glacier Flats, which Liam, Jake, Meghan and I last crossed in 2014 on the Great Divide Traverse ski trip.  It is a bit of a walk to get in to Beaverdam, some 25 km, but there are plenty of camps along the way to break up the distance.

Leaving the trailhead at the Moab Lake lot it seemed that goretex layers would be pretty key for the next few days...  I had planned on camping at the Middle Forks campground about 20 km from the road right at the base of the eastern slopes of Beaverdam Ridge.  Having not been on the Athabasca Pass Trail before I didn't really know what to expect but at least from the map it seems quite flat for the distance involved.  The first 9ish km is an old fire road which would be quite bikable at least until the Whirlpool Campground.  From the campground the rain started to pick up and into the pack went my camera to avoid water logging the case.  The trail itself is in pretty good shape with inevitable muddy patches but almost always easy to follow.  There are a handful of crossings without 'official' bridges but downed trees make fairly easy work of them.  Not really much in the way of views on the way in, a variety of different types of bush interlaced with clearings at the campsites.  The remnants of the original Tie Camp (complete with old wagon wheel and other metal relics) was kind of neat though.  About 1km before the Middle Forks camp is a warden cabin which would be a welcome sight on weather like this if I was a warden!  Once I got to the Middle Forks camp it was time to set up a tarp and get some lunch going.  Thankfully after a coffee and some soup the rain started to die down, eventually stopping all together!  Taking advantage of this break I wandered out into the soggy flats southwest of the camp to see the sights while they were visible.

Heading out from the Moab Lake parking lot.


The Whirlpool Campground would be a nice spot for a bike-and-camp.


Certainly a few creek crossings to contend with on the Athabasca Pass Trail.


Looking up the valley towards Divergence Peak.

The Middle Forks camp (like the other campgrounds up to the point on the trail) is fairly rustic with no picnic tables or toilets  (pit latrines for that authentic David Thompson era experience!) but there are fire boxes at least (if you arrive when it hasn't been raining for a week).  Eventually the rain came back with a vengeance and hiding out with a book in my tent (and hoping for less rain tommorow) was the plan for for the rest of the evening. 

Middle Forks Campground is simple but in a pretty nice location.


Looking around the fire pit towards Divergence Peak.

The next morning I was not very optimistic for good weather.  However peering outside the tent at the alpine hour of 8 it seemed rain - free, maybe for once the weather will be better than forecasted!  Brewing up a quick coffee a few bars served as quick breakfast and then off towards Beaverdam Ridge!  While the Middle Forks campground does border the ridge descending off Beaverdam Ridge I elected to start heading up about half of the way to the Scott Glacier Campground (with the backup plan of bailing on Beaverdam and visiting the campground for lunch if weather was very dreary).  After crossing the marshy flats near Middle Fork the trail is pretty decent with the inevitable downed log or five but progress is quick.  There are a few really solid viewpoints on this part of the trail too!  After following the trail to a steep scree ridge below Beaverdam I reckoned skipping some bush might be nice and started upwards, aiming for a traverse of the ridge picking the trail up some point closer towards Scott Glacier.  The ridge proved to be pretty decent sticking right on the climbers right until reaching more alpine vegetation above.  Trudging up the scree towards the summit was loose and tedious but the occasional patch of blue sky was more than enough to stay motivated (still no rain!).

The next morning, cloudy but not raining, huzzah!


Time to leave camp and head further up the trail.


The trail is actually quite nice in many places.


The Whirlpool River is your constant companion up the valley.


Approaching the Scott Glacier Flats.


The Whirlpool has many braids as it weaves down towards the Parkway.


Off the trail and up ridgewards.


A few glimpses of the Scott Glacier through the clouds.


A little more spooky lighting ascending into the clouds.


Bit of a scree bash to gain the summit ridge.


After around four hours from leaving Middle Forks I gained the summit ridge and a few seconds later topped out on Beaverdam Ridge!  It is a shame that things were still cloudy on the summit, this would be an excellent viewpoint.  There was a large cairn just below the summit but no sign of a register.


This would be a fabulous viewpoint without these clouds!


Quite the cairn up here.


As I started down the main ridge views started to open up a bit with even a decent chunk of Mount Hooker showing up.  The ridge crest was a pleasent hike which I eventually bailed seeing a good clearing heading back down to the bush.  Following skiers left of the creek on a mix of bush and game trails lead back down to the official trail below.  After that it was just one foot in front of the other (in sun no less!) back to the Middle Forks campground for a well deserved coffee.  Seeing how early it was I reckoned that putting some extra distance behind me while the weather cooperates was a good plan and set sail for Tie Camp about 10 km back towards the road.  Sure enough the trail seemed much more pleasent when the bush wasn't soaking wet!


Descending the ridge the clouds started to clear giving better views.


A clearer look towards the Scott Glacier and Mount Hooker.


The crest of Beaverdam Ridge itself is actually a nice hike.


Descending back to the trail weather actually turned for the better.


Bugs on the lense beside the Whirlpool.


Quite a few decent viewpoints on the trail.


Back at the Middle Forks Camp all packed up.


A few soggy spots on the trail near Middle Forks.


Some bridges are quite fortified, others are more log-based.


The warden cabin on the trail is in quite a peaceful spot.


One of the more sturdy bridges.


Beside the river with Verdant Pass in the background.


The Simon Creek camp has flat seating around the fire, what luxury!


Simon Creek itself is a large creek this time of year.


Some of the remenants of older usage of the Athabasca Pass Trail.


Not far from the Tie Campground at this point.


Tie Camp is actually in a pretty nice location and putting in some extra time to get there was well worth the effort.  Like the previous couple days I didn't see sign of any other people on the trail and had a relaxing night at the camp.  If coming back this way up to Athabasca Pass I reckon that staying over at Tie Camp on the first evening would probably be a good plan (especially is coming in on bikes to make shorter work of the fire road).  The next morning a packed up camp drank my last coffee packet (note to self, pack extra extra coffee on solo trips!) and started back towards the road.  The trail on the way back was drier that on the way in and actually stopping at some of the viewpoints made for a bit of a more pleasent stroll.  After hitting the fire road not having a bike was kind of fierce but not having any bush to deal with was still nice.


Tie Camp is a good place for an overnight stopover.


Later in the season when things are drier the trail could be much more pleasent.


At the start of the fire road, a bike would be quite snazzy here.


Back at the Whirlpool Campground, could lounge in style by the fire on that bench!


A short detour seeing the full Whirlpool River near the trailhead.


Characteristic travel on the fire-road, quite bikable.


This was a good trip to make the most of an unconfident forecast.  Despite the trail being overgrown at places and quite a few log crossings it is a pretty cool area.  Coming back to do the full trail to the pass (and probably wander up Mount Brown while in the area) would be a pretty excellent trip.  If only for the historical significance this is an interesting route (hard to think given conditions now that this was 'the highway' back in David Thompson's time).


Pretty solid trip, have to come back to Athabasca Pass itself as some point.

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