Running the Jasper Skyline Trail
September 5 2017
Jasper National Park, Alberta
Allison has apparently had running the Jasper Skyline Trail in a day on her list of to-do’s for quite some time—she’s hiked it 3 times previous. Thanks to a conversation with Jen Elliott at a post-race runner brunch after the Edmonton Marathon, a spark was lit, and we are off to Jasper National Park.
The Skyline Trail in Jasper National park is 45km long with 1337m vertical climbing (Strava). Running it in a day is totally doable for any accomplished long distance runner. Me being a novice long distance runner, wanting to keep up to a seasoned veteran, while carrying a Canon 5D MKIV w/24mm f/1.4 lense attached (3.6lbs), might be ambitious.
It’s super ambitious, but I feel like I am up for it. Get it, up for it. Running over three passes. Up. At elevation. I’m terrible.
The logistics are pretty straight forward. Park your car in the Signal Mountain Fire Road parking lot, and take the shuttle to the south trailhead at Maligne Lake. Then run the 45kms to your car. Simple. We skipped the shuttle and had a friend dump us at Maligne so we could get started sooner than the shuttle would allow…you know…just in case this guy needs the extra sunlight.
Armed with water packs, snacks, a couple sandwiches, and a whole mess of Nuun tablets, we are off.
Getting this party started at the south end of the trail at Maligne Lake.
08:48:19 am on 02.09.2017 — f2.2 @ 24mm iso800
We stop for a quick snack 5k in just before the Evelyn Creek Campground. I decided to go with my Altra Impulses for footwear since I don’t actually own trail shoes. Turns out, with a bone dry trail, they were the perfect choice.
09:26:21 am on 02.09.2017 — f2.5 @ 24mm iso200
Someone’s happy to be out here.
09:28:00 am on 02.09.2017 — f2.8 @ 24mm iso200
Switchbacks amongst the trees get the vertical meters started right after the first campground. Despite being mostly treed in, there are gaps that provide a glimpse of the views to come.
09:57:10 am on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
In and out of trees. Back and forth up switchbacks we go.
09:57:28 am on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
Before we know it, we are above the treeline and boy do things open up.
10:13:28 am on 02.09.2017 — f2.2 @ 24mm iso50
The Skyline Trail is mostly above the treeline hence the name, Skyline, but a lot of the trail is through valley’s like this. Wide open for miles, and beautiful beyond belief. Follow the trail, you can see where we are headed after Little Shovel pass.
10:41:39 am on 02.09.2017 — f2.2 @ 24mm iso50
Down the ridge, over the rocks, across the creek, up the trail to Grandma’s house. Grandma’s house in this story is our rental car FYI.
10:48:57 am on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
All. Day. Long.
10:52:26 am on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
The terrain the Skyline Trail covers is always changing given the amount of mileage, and keeps the photos interesting throughout our run.
11:04:14 am on 02.09.2017 — f1.4 @ 24mm iso50
The clouds threaten all day long, but the weather holds off. In fact, with fast moving clouds, the bright sun peeks through for some amazing light to get shots like this as Allison dips her hat for a little cool off.
11:29:14 am on 02.09.2017 — f1.4 @ 24mm iso50
The taller grasses start to fall off and another terrain change is upon us. We rip through the valley headed for some more big vertical meters.
11:35:01 am on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
The Skyline Trail is almost a highway. It’s well worn, and up to this point, not very technical. We have a hunch that is about to change as the pitch starts to increase, and we start climbing again to Big Shovel, the second pass.
11:39:03 am on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
The grass gives way to a loose rocky surface that makes you feel like you are on the surface of another planet as you start to ascend around and above Curator Lake.
12:03:56 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
Before we know it, we are staring up at The Notch. Our last pass after Little Shovel and Big Shovel. It’s not the highest point, but the most unique. We also really start to feel the wind pick up. This is going to get fun.
12:34:18 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
Heading up to The Notch—with Curator Lake in the background—is the only place trail shoes would really help. The surface is loose rocks, and the angle of the ascent is rather steep.
12:52:08 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
Yes, I actually get in front of the camera. I mean, we have to take a selfie at the top of The Notch—it’s what you do. Too bad I decide to stand down slope to Allison…I already give up a few inches to her. This photo doesn’t help. I’m just a li’l guy.
12:58:44 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
The fun and games on The Notch are over. It’s time to keep moving before the wind blows us off. Little do we know what is up ahead along the ridgeline.
01:03:22 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
I spend most of the day running ahead, or falling behind, so I can take photos of Allison off in the distance with mountains as far as the eye can see. I desperately want to take a group on a photo run next year. Multiple runners. Multiple photographers…who’s in?
01:19:25 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
This is where things get interesting. All along this ridgeline the wind is pummeling. Rocks and sand pelting us the entire time. Hands on hats. I actually put my camera in my bag so I have both hands available in the event that a gust knocks me off my feet and I find myself flying off the ridge. Safety at least 2nd or 3rd.
01:20:12 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
Despite the crazy wind, we can’t help ourselves from stopping and looking. It’s so incredible in every direction while up here. The photos really aren’t doing it justice.
01:22:39 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
We aren’t the only ones on the trail today. Throughout the day we pass many groups hiking and one other person running the trail—we don’t get passed by anyone all day…we win! Our pace seems to coincidentally increase when a pack is spotted off in the distance. Allison isn’t competitive at all.
01:28:00 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
I haven’t really talked about gear much, but I rocked my Lululemon Surge Run Backpack. I love this bag in the city, and can attest to it being perfect out here as well. A long sleeve, a shell, bear spray, medical kit, food, and a 1.5L bladder along with my camera all fit perfectly in this little bag. It’s ideal for this run. Not too big, but big enough, and capable of carrying a load while letting me run in comfort.
01:46:33 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
We stopped amongst the larger rocks along the ridgeline for shelter from the wind and another food break. Then it’s time to head back down on some rather technical switchbacks. Shortly after taking this photo of Allison, I blitz the downhill with a shit eating grin I still have on my face. I may or may not have fallen in love with technical trail running. So. Much. Fun.
02:00:59 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso50
We reach Tekarra and swap an energy bar and a Babybel cheese for use of a water filter with Jeff from Calgary. We have tablets, but it’s just easier with Jeff’s pump. Plus it gives us an excuse to hang out on the rather dry creek for a rest.
02:53:32 pm on 02.09.2017 — f1.4 @ 24mm iso50
Loaded up with water, we are climbing back through the tree line towards the top of the Signal Fire Road with about 13k to run.
03:23:46 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2.2 @ 24mm iso50
Okay, so not only was I rocking the Surge Run Backpack, but also a Lululemon Metal Vent singlet, and Surge Shorts. Yeah, all my running gear is Lululemon. What of it? I wear a Ciele FSTCap and Run BK Achilles Socks…so at least I’m not Lululemon head to toe like some fanboy. When you shoot for Lululemon, you just get used to the gear, so you buy it. Sue me.
03:33:54 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2.5 @ 24mm iso200
The final run up to the Signal Fire Road is as lovely as the rest of the trail. At the top, the last of any climbing, we reach the road, and it is all downhill from there. I take no photos, and open my legs up a bit. I won’t lie though, the 9k downhill while seemingly would be nice, hurts the knees after a long 36k day.
03:41:56 pm on 02.09.2017 — f1.4 @ 24mm iso50
Selfie time at the trailhead. We done.
05:18:53 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2 @ 24mm iso200
The Altra Impulses hold up so well. I have never ran more than 22k, I’ve never summited a mountain, and I’ve never been back country before. Needless to say, the Impulses did me well today checking all of those boxes off in style…but letting these rank feet breathe did feel good. I can’t lie.
05:23:15 pm on 02.09.2017 — f2.8 @ 24mm iso200
46k total as I got a few extra steps in running around to get photos…apparently a full kilometer extra. Our elapsed time was 8 hours and 16 minutes from the time we started at Maligne Lake, until we reached our car at the north trailhead. Not bad for a little rip through the backcountry. Peep my Strava here. Like I said, who’s in for this run next year? I’m bringing bigger glass though.