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Do Not Hike Down The Snaring


hiketofish
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After much planning and pleading for a hiking partner, I decided to venture to Harvey Lake in Jasper National Park. Rumors of good fishing in a remote section of JNP was all the motivation I needed. I managed to find a hiking rookie from work that was willing to go. I only had 5 days to do the trip and the "in" to the lake was 40 km. I figured it could be done with some long days of hiking. Off to Jasper we went on a Wednesday and decided to hike as far as we could starting at 6:00 PM. We hiked until after dark around 10:30 and under a near full moon set up our tent. We were most of the way up Elysium Pass and my hiking partner was struggling with the up but we were happy to be on our way. The next day we hiked from 9-7 through an alpine meadow section named Monarch meadows.

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It was easy hiking to a low pass with only a few bushwhacking sections but still 10 hours of hiking

 

Here is from the top of the pass looking towards the headwaters of a creek that we would be following all of the next day.

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Our goal was to get to a lake that an old Jasper Outfitter Curly Phillips had used when he used to travel to the lake in 30's.

But alas some movement caught my eye, something was coming towards us with a big furry animal in its mouth. It dropped the animal when it saw me and scurried off into the willows. "I just saw a small Grizzly" I announced to my exhausted hiking partner. We watched some more before I realized that it was no Grizzly but something much rarer to see. I'd just spotted a Wolverine. We crept a bit closer and hid behind a rock to watch as I knew that it would come back for the animal. Sure enough we got to watch not 1 but 2 wolverines keep standing up sniffing the air cautiously trying to come back to their kill. I managed a few blurry pictures and one clear one. We watched the wolverines for 10 minutes until they stopped coming back into our view. I really wanted to go and see what I was sure a dead marmot but refrained thinking we shouldn't be disturbing such a wild animal. Too bad you can't zoom in on these resized photos like the originals. The Wolverine was about 25 meters away.

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Excited but also a bit fearful for hanging our night's food we plodded further down the valley to our destination. A beautiful un-named lake that really felt like our own private lake. It had very old signs of camping like broken branches but not even 1 fire pit. It was still pristine and we kept it that way.

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The next day we followed at times a very faint horsetrail, and other times a heinous bushwhack. Did I also mention that it rained the whole day. We started a 8:30 in the morning and hiking through soggy mossy forests and willows that had us soaked to the bone. It was wet and cold. Here's some of the actual trail we went through

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My hiking partner was really struggling with his feet but we pressed on. As we got close to the snaring river, we lost all semblance of trail and hiked down some steep horrid willowy sections until finally reaching the Snaring and crossed it (just shy of waste deep). It was now after 5 PM. Our plan was to press on to the lake.

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Wet and exhausted, mildly hypothermic, we made it to the lake around 8:30 PM after climbing up its outlet creek, yes 12 hours of hiking. My partner's knees ankles and open blisters on his heels were making me worried. I was worried that my excitement and passion in getting to the Lake were clouding my judgement. I was very fit and experienced, he was not. Here's the first look at the lake.

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We ate late that night but we had made it to our destination. We set up our tent in the pouring rain at 10:30 that night. Did I mention how much I hate setting up tents in the rain with no discernable area to set up. We settled for a mossy section that was quite slanted but free of willows.

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The next day I hiked around the lake and fished.

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I flyfished where I could and cast a small panther martin with spinning reel in sections that I couldn't fly fish. Here's a couple of fish. Not monsters, but still big rainbow and alas my two biggest fish, one on the spinning reel and one on the fly rod got away.

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After one time around the lake, about 6 hours for me, we decided that we had better start the hike out that evening. So we packed up and went back down to the Snaring and hiked downstream until 9:00 PM. My hiking partner had spent the day recovering and drying things out and tending to his feet. On the way down from the lake I picked a whack of blueberries and the next morning my cream of wheat was to die for.

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We had three choices, take the 4 pass route that I had heard was difficult up and down but out of the trees, back the way we had come or hike down the Snaring River which was the shortest route by 10 km but we had been warned not to go this route due to the terrain. We got up early the next morning, we had two days to go about 25 km down the river.

It was not fun:

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We hiked 10 hours that day and did not get even half way out. The river was hikable but would then turn cliffy and you would have to go up steep sided hills and hike over deadfall after deadfall.

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Our last night we worried about whether we would make it out. My partner now had swollen ankles, open wounds on his heels and pain in his knees. Good fun we joked, we were backpacking. Our last day we were hiking by 7:45 AM and started the hike by climbing up nearly 600 vertical feet of cliff, going a few hundred meters and then back down to the river. It took us 2 hours to go a distance of 500 meters on the map.

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I made the decision that when we came to a cliff section we would hike in the river beside the cliff until it abated to save time. We did this twice. Both times my partner ended up swimming. I had times where I was striding along not touching bottom but I stayed up right. I figured we saved 2-3 hours doing that. The swims however made my pack really heavy. I was already carrying as much of the gear as I could as my partner was hurting.

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In the end we got out the Snaring arriving at the Yellowhead at midnight, 16 hours after we started. I congratulated my partner as he had really endured a lot of pain and suffering. Quite an adventure yet no one would stop at midnight for two stranded hikers. Finally a taxi went by and was happy to take a fare back to Jasper.

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I backpacked the Great Divide from Shark (Canmore) to Robson and even I would not enjoy the trip you just described. I bet your rookie friend burned his boots when he got home.

 

Still, when the blisters heal and the pain is just a memory (other then the life long recurring knee pain), it will be something he will remember all his life.

 

Your story brought back some memories. Thanks for sharing.

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Things I'd have changed:

 

1.) I would have loved to spend a night flyfishing in the shallows of the lake near the outlet stream. Unfortunately it was a long way to hike for just one trip around the lake. Our original plan was to spend another night at the lake but I felt it was too risky regarding our timelines. Because of this, I kind of feel that I didn't stop hiking the whole trip. So you need 6 days or more period, or comfort that your group can do long days and be fine with it.

 

2.) I would have brought more waterproof bags. We really got soaked on the third day as it rained all day and we were climbing and crawling over wet stuff the whole day. You need to protect your dry stuff. Plus since I'm a diabetic, my blood glucose tester stopped working on that day once it got wet. Not a complete emergency as I have good experience on what to do with my insulin while hiking but still, should have carried two of them to be safe. I know better.

 

3.) I would have went out the way we came in, based on my partner. I really, really wanted to go out the 4 pass route but at that point I was trying to make the choice that my partner could endure. We thought the Snaring was that choice. My sense of adventure of going somewhere new got the best of me. In hindsight, the route down the snaring is 30 km and it took us 30 hours to hike it. The first 10 km are easy, there is 17 km of nasty, heinous, awful sections then 3 km at the end that are easy.

 

4) I wouldn't have forgotten my GPS. (I left it on the kitchen table) As fun as taking a bearing in the dark on the last night and hiking for two hours until we hit the river again, the extra confidence of knowing exactly where you are would be nice. I like map and compass use and do it exclusively in adventure racing but would have been good to have an exact UTM reference in case a rescue would have been needed.

 

5) We brought a big comprehensive first aid kit, at least I thought we did but we just about emptied it of all gauze, tape, bandages, wraps etc. You just never know. I guess we were lucky we were dealing with just one pair of bad feet and not two.

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As a long time wisher of a trip into Harvey Lake. Hours of staring at the map, talking to folks, etc. I can say that what you did Pat was in a lot of ways reached the "Holy Grail" of JNP fishing. In the list of things I'd wished I had done in my life, hiking into Harvey ranks in the top 5 (without hyperbole either - really! I've stared at that lake and the old stocking reports on it my whole life...wondering). Wished I had done it and I thank you for the opportunity to view your photos!

 

Speculation by myself and other as to the fishing in the lake, routes in/out, trails, best access, etc. has been rampant for a long time. While there are indeed a rare few folks who have hiked into the lake, more often than not they were not fishermen, or of the kind that really aren't serious about fishing. As a result only speculative reports have made their way out over the years. I've met with JNP staff on the subject and even they have scratched their heads and wondered as to what it held.

 

Ordinarily I'd be a bit concerned as to stating the location of this lake, but I highly doubt there are many folks out there with the kind of gonads it takes to get in and out of that location. There are easier locations to hit for fishing that this place. And by easier I mean, like 99% of the backcountry lakes ever mentioned on this board. The sheer effort it takes compared to other locations dwarfs the fishing bug most men have.

 

I have only a few comments in regards to the adventure you undertook:

 

BALLS OF STEEL HikeToFish!

 

and

 

I hereby knight thee as "Lord and master of back country fishing!"

 

Truly and without question an adventure to respect!

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Aw Man...you've just blabbed my secret spot to the whole world. Now it's going to be shoulder to shoulder fishing every weekend ;)

 

What are the odds that you got an email like this.

 

Anyone who wants to go through that, more power to ya...I'll share the lake with ya....any I just may need you to carry me out :)

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wow thats a trip to remember...... does your hiking partner still talk to you or is he afraid you will ask him to go on another hike. Anyways that wolverine is really neat I have never seen one in the wild and I am glad the 2 of them left you guys alone. Love seeing reports from you as they are always extreme great pics and send your buddy a Gift certificate for a foot massage he deserves it after what you put him though :lol:

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As someone who likes to hike and fish, your report is the coolest thing I've read on this board. I'm jealous. You have showed us that the rewards of fishing backcountry often have little to do with the fishing itself. Well done HiketoFish. A wolverine dude, a freakin' wolverine. Gives me chills down my spine. Hey, what are you doing next weekend? ;)

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Thanks for the nice comments. I'll post a few more pictures when I get a chance. You have to remember that I really do love backpacking especially to fishing destinations. In fact it is rare that I hike to places that don't have fishing potential. It really is fun to look at maps and dream of going to places and then to try to make it a reality. I know that I am not alone in this pursuit. Anyone that likes Backcountry fishing needs to get Fishing the Canadian Rockies by Joey Ambrosey. A really good read and the last time I was in the Fishin Hole (North Store in Edmonton) they had some copies at 40% off. It doesn't look like a good book from its cover but great info.

 

I actually went hiking the next weekend doing the Northover ridge trail as I covet those September weekends for hiking. That is a great 3 day hike with good fishing at both camping nights. Kind of boring though that there isn't any bushwhacking or route finding.

 

As for my hiking partner, he missed 3 days of work, and I think this weekend was going to try and wear closed heel shoes again. He's been confined to slippers for a some time now. He got a great experience that he won't forget. The Wolverines really did make the trip for me, especially since we got to sit and watch them. Just awesome! They are quite tall (but thin) when they stand up and sniff the air.

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