Tonquin Valley – Edith Cavell to Amethyst Lakes

September 13, 2021

I was lucky enough to join the Alpine Club of Canada’s Rocky Mountain Section for a multiday hiking trip into Tonquin Valley in mid-September. The trip was lead by the amazing, energetic, knowledgeable and oh so patient Ivan. I swear he’s hiked and skied every square inch of Tonquin Valley, and knows it very well. The remaining seven of us were all Tonquin newbies, ready to soak up Ivan’s vast stores of knowledge and folklore.

The Alpine Club of Canada’s Rocky Mountain Section trip participants. We are standing beside the main lodge (left) at Tonquin Valley Adventures, getting ready for our hike on Day Two of our adventure.

This was a five day trip. One day each to hike in and out, plus three day trips. We stayed at Tonquin Valley Adventures, which is located on the shores of Amethyst Lake, right in the middle. I believe this was originally a Brewsters cabin, so it has a choice location. The lodge is located equal distance to all the hikes in the area.

Tonquin Valley Adventures is a horse outfitter. This meant we could hike in with only our day packs, while Gilbert and his horses brought in our food and extra clothing. We were self-catered, and the food was excellent with plenty of it. We stayed in little cabins around the main cooking / eating / lounging lodge, which was heated by wood stove. The cabins have their own propane heater, with heavy down duvets. The weather was cold and wet, so we sure did appreciate the warmth.

Located right above the trail head parking lot, we met with Tonquin Valley Adventure owner Gilbert (far right, blue puffy) to hand off our food and extra clothing. He packed it all into the plastic pack horse containers. Photo credit: Jacek Krolikowski.

Gear

Boots, poles, and gators, plus your regular hiking pack kit.

Tonquin Valley is a wet place. Ivan told us it gets 20% more rain than Jasper and area. We were there in September, but I can see this place being wet all year round. If you don’t normally use poles, I would suggest them here. We used our poles to vault over massive mud pits as we rock hopped endlessly, plus there is boggy marshes to get over. Gators were a must to keep our pants somewhat clean, and somewhat dry.

Binoculars and a good zoom camera to watch the Caribou is also an option. We found the Caribou right on Amethyst Lake, and in a meadow closer to the warden’s cabin. For obvious reasons, we didn’t get close. These animals are endangered and should be left alone.

Overview – Day One: Edith Cavell Parking Lot to Tonquin Valley

After dropping our food and extra clothing with Gilbert and his horses, we hiked along the Astoria River Trail for just over 8 km. At the junction to Wates-Gibson Hut, we kept right. Shortly after, we crossed a massive and active rock garden. Rock fall is common, so we did not linger. Once past this, we started up the switchbacks beside the rock fall. This was the majority of the elevation gain. We continued west on the main trail. The views increased dramatically, but the trail decreased in equal proportion as we entered the Tonquin Valley. At the 18 km mark, we went right at the T intersection. From here we lost some elevation on the last 2 km to the lodge, crossing a marshy area and a long boardwalk.

Parking and Trail Head

We parked at the Astoria River Trail Head, which is on the Mount Edith Cavell Road (not to be confused with Mount Edith above Banff) near Jasper. This is also a popular stopping point for tourists to view Cavell Lake, so be prepared for cars coming and going frequently.

The Astoria River trail head marker. The trail starts to the right of this sign.

The trail head is at the start of the parking lot, and winds down and around to the right before it heads back towards Cavell Lake.

This is a Y junction. Going left leads to the Tonquin Adventures horse paddock. Go straight (right) here and follow the signs.

The Cavell Lake bridge is just a few hundred meters away from the parking lot, with an absolutely stunning view of Mount Edith Cavell.

Mount Edith Cavell at an impressive 3,363 m.

Main Trail

Once past Cavell Lake, we continued on the Astoria River trail that would take us right into Tonquin Valley.

This part of the trail is in great shape. It’s wide enough for two people to walk and talk, and it’s blessedly dry. Looming above on the left is Mount Edith Cavell herself.

This is indicative of the trail from Cavell Lake to the start of the rock slide. It’s in great shape and well maintained.

At about 4 km, we came to the trail on the other side of Mt. Edith Cavell, which I think is called Trail’s End. It’s the climbers descent route off the mountain, or it’s a There and Back hike to view the lakes nestled in the mountain.

Our energetic and tireless leader Ivan, stopping at the Edith Cavell trail. Most people come down this way after climbing the mountain. We went straight.

The trail bobbed up and down a bit. At around 4.5 km, we crossed Verdant Creek, with glorious views up and down the valley.

Crossing the Verdant Creek bridge, which is the valley between Mt Edith Cavell and Throne Mountain. This is the view looking up at Throne Mountain.

In another 300 m, we crossed Astoria River on a narrow foot bridge. The Astoria campground is 7 km from the trailhead, and is the first in a series of campgrounds.

This is the Astoria campground. We hiked to most of the campgrounds in the area on this trip. All have the bear proof bins. This was something I’ve never seen before, but each bin was allocated to a specific camp spot. So, if you are in Tent Pad #1, then your food goes into Bear Bin #1. This makes life SO much easier, especially when the campsites are full.

At the 8.5 km mark, we passed the junction for The Alpine Club of Canada’s Wates-Gibson Hut. We would visit the hut in two days times, using a different route.

If going into Wates-Gibson, I’d hustle along the good portion of the trail. According to Ivan and others, the trail degrades immeasurably after this point. Ivan said 2 km / hour is a good metric for the remaining 7.5 km distance into the hut.

We hiked for another 150 m or so, and found a lovely spot for lunch. There were several benches to sit on, plus an open air throne outhouse in the trees, opposite the river. I found some Caribou footprints along the shore of Astoria River here, so keep your eyes open for a sighting.

This was our lunch spot. There is a third bench to the right so we could all sit and enjoy the sunshine. The open air throne pit toilet is to the right in the trees, directly opposite the river.
A Caribou footprint. It looks like two prongs in the front, and a semi-circle platter in the back. We found some more prints in the snow a few days later, which are easier to see.

At about the 10 km mark, we hit the massive rock slide. This rock garden is active, so we kept the pace up and didn’t linger.

This is an active rock pile, and we could see where recent fall had happened. Keep moving.

We waited at the start of the rock garden for Gilbert and his pack horses to pass us, just in case recent rock fall meant the horses couldn’t get through. The last horse is a major flirt! He always stops at a group of women and waits patiently to be petted and admired.

Gilbert is in the orange shirt. His riding horse is Joe, but Gilbert usually walks.

Once past the rock slide, we gained all the elevation for the day in a series of sweeping switchbacks that only the National Parks can build. We gained the elevation with nary anyone noticing. Along the way, we found a grand photo op that looks back towards Mt. Edith Cavell.

The Money Shot photo op is the big flat rock straight ahead. This is a great view back towards the Astoria River trail head. Throne Mountain is first, with Mt Edith Cavell behind.

Once at the top of the switchbacks, we stayed at this elevation for a long traverse. We hiked under Oldhorn Mountain, the lower portion being the rock slide.

Looking back at Oldhorn Mountain from the high meadow above the switchbacks.

We stopped for a tea break in the meadow on the opposite side of Switchback Campground, which is13.8 km from the trail head. This is where hiking with someone like Ivan is invaluable. From our position, we had a glorious view of the Eremite Range. We wouldn’t be able to see these mountains until our return, so it was great to soak up their beauty while we could.

Our view from the meadow. Outpost Peak is on the far right. Photo credit: Jacek Krolikowski.

As this was a new area for me, I asked to read Ivan’s large paper map. I like to follow along and name the mountains as we go, as this is the fastest way to gain situational awareness. Ivan pointed out a peak, and asked me to find it on the map. I thought I figured it out, but then realized I was off track. It turned out to be Outpost Peak, which is a good landmark to have. The Wates-Gibson Hut sits below this, and it’s directly across from the start of the impossibly beautiful Ramparts.

While you might be tempted to just boot it along the trail, especially because it is close to 20 km, I highly recommend that you take your time. The views really are incredible.

Once afternoon tea was done, we continued on the quickly deteriorating trail. Ivan regaled us with various trail building attempts over the years to deal with the wet trails, but nothing seemed to be working. We started rock hopping and pole vaulting from dry spot to dry spot. This would be our main mode of travel for the next several days, and it really slowed down our progress. What would normally take an hour seemed to drag on forever in an effort to stay somewhat clean and dry. While we were lucky to dry out in the lodge, the backpackers we chatted with along the way were wet with no way to dry out.

This is the driest the trail would be all week. After the rain and snowfall to come, this same portion was almost unpassable if you wanted to have dry feet.

At the 18 km mark, we came to the T intersection. We went right towards Amethyst Lakes, while left lead towards Clitheroe Campground and the alternate way into the ACC Wates-Gibson Hut.

This is looking left down towards Clitheroe Campground, the Warden’s Cabin, and the alternative approach to the Wates-Gibson Hut. We went right to continue towards Amethyst Lake.

Shortly after the T intersection, go right at the fork, following the Hiker sign. The other trail is also strong, but it’s way more muddy and boggy.

This is a slight elevation loss as we descended into Tonquin Valley and the Lodge on the shores of Amethyst Lake.

Our first real view of The Ramparts and Amethyst Lakes. Photo credit: Jacek Krolikowski.

Directly across from Amethyst Lake, we crossed a boggy area, and a long boardwalk that lead to Tonquin Adventure Lodge. We felt the boardwalk could have easily spanned the entire area, but what do I know?

Lovely fall colours on the large meadow. This whole area is prime Caribou habitat.

We arrived at the lodge to find Gilbert and the horses running free. The horses know where they can go, and had fun running down to the lake and back to the lodge. There used to be a larger grazing area for the horses, and Gilbert has some hilarious stories of one of his horses visiting the backpackers’ campsites. The horse would stick his head right into their tents to say hello. Sometimes, the tent fly would get stuck on his neck, and the horse would come back to the lodge all tangled up. Gilbert would untangle him and then have to go in search of a naked tent.

Gilbert’s riding horse Joe leading the others back from the lake to the meadow in front of the lodge.

There is a large family of marmots living under one of the buildings. This is excessively cute, BUT it also meant we had to keep an eye on our boots and gear. Marmots will gladly steal your boots and other clothing to chew and lick the salt off. Everything stayed inside to dry.

Down by the shores of the lake, a group of Caribou were lounging.

Gilbert told us that the Caribou were about 100 m away, so two of our group headed to see them. This photo was taken with a zoom camera. No one approached the animals. Photo credit: Monica Thomas.

After getting settled into our cabins, which were two bunkbeds with heavy down duvets, we headed to the main lodge for a lovely homecooked meal.

The fun doesn’t end here. Next up is Day Two of the Tonquin Valley Adventure and our summit of Mount Clitheroe.

If you found this post useful, please do me a huge favour and click the Star button to “Like” it. You can also follow my blog, follow me on Instagram, or join my FaceBook page Al’s Adventurers.

Alisen

Totals – Tracked on Gaia, Displayed on Strava

Date: September 13, 2021
Group:  Eight (Alisen, Ivan and the Rocky Mountain Section participants)
Distance:  ~19 km
Elevation:  468 m (1,544′)
Time:  7 hours 30 minutes (includes lunch & breaks)
Notes on Time: this was a long and leisurely stroll in, with three solid breaks. On the return trip, I had to hustle to get to another trip. My return trip was only 5 hours, but no chitchatting or sight-seeing.

The rock garden is just to the east of the switchbacks, which are about half way. It’s fairly easy hiking into the Tonquin Valley with stunning views the entire way.
The switchbacks mark the only real elevation gain on the trail. While the profile makes it seem massive, we only gained 470 m all day. Despite the long distances, it’s a fairly easy day.
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Posted in Adventures, Hiking
10 comments on “Tonquin Valley – Edith Cavell to Amethyst Lakes
  1. I’ve done the other side of this hike over Maccarib Pass to get to Amethyst Lakes. I had always thought the Edith Cavell side was on a road and in the trees with no views, but your pictures and descriptions make it sound like a great trail. Maggie

    • alisendopf says:

      Hey Maggie,
      Yes, we did get some lovely views, but there was a long stretch in the trees below Mt. Edith Cavell. We were planning on going out via Maccarib Pass, but we had hiked up that way the day before towards Majestic Ridge and the trail was in terrible shape – one giant mud bog. As it turned out, the ground was frozen in the morning so we could have done it. Oh well.
      Alisen

  2. Looks like a fun time. Such beautiful scenery 🙂

    • alisendopf says:

      Hi Ann,
      Yes, I was pleasantly surprised. I had almost no beta on the area, just that I wanted to be in the Tonquin and see the Ramparts. Lovely place with fairly easy hiking.
      Alisen

  3. What a stunning start! I bet there is even more beauty to follow. Mel

  4. This looks so beautiful, wow! I can’t wait to read about the rest of your trip. Also, I had no idea caribou could be found that far south. What a neat sighting!

  5. Now this sounds like a multi-day backcountry camping adventure that I would enjoy! That’s awesome to just hike with a day-pack, stay in a heated cabin, and eat excellent food. This hike looks particularly scenic in the fall with all those golden yellows. How awesome to see some caribou after your first day of hiking. Looking forward to reading about day two.

  6. Widdershins says:

    I wondered what you’d been up to. 😀 … following along with Goggle maps, I am. 😀 … glorious, glorious mountains. I can smell that alpine air from here. 🙂

  7. Makes me want to return to Jasper. Such a great place to see.We hiked around Banff in October. Thanks for sharing Anita

  8. maristravels says:

    Can’t wait for the next part of this great hike. What a fantastic trip, I’m totally in awe of what you did. Even when I was younger and fitter I was never in this class. You are way up there with the real hikers, not people like me who play at it. Thanks for a brilliant read.

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