Category: Outdoor

A historic connection between Jasper and the Miette River trail

Old tote road west of Jasper

Update August 2019: I have added information on how to reach the tote road from Jasper with minimal road walking.

Update June 2017: I was finally able to find the missing section of tote road just west of the Dorothy-Christine trail. I have improved the description below. Enjoy!

In Jasper National Park, there is a missing section in the Great Divide Trail: hikers have to walk for 21 km along Highway 16 west from the town of Jasper to the start of the Miette trail at Decoigne near the BC border. In his book, Hiking Canada‘s Great Divide Trail, Dustin Lynx suggests an alternative route via Minnow Lake and a cross-country section to the Virl/Dorothy Lake trail,. However, from there, hikers still have to walk 11.5 km along Highway 16. Moreover the Minnow to Dorothy Lake route leads over rough terrain, and some GDT hikers have been turned around by the many cliffs and mossy, steep boulder-strewn slopes in this area.

Dedicated through hikers with good route-finding skills can avoid most of Highway 16 by first hiking along a pipeline right of way to the Dorothy-Christine trailhead, and from there for about 4km along a historic wagon road between the Dorothy and Golden Lakes trails.

Jasper to Dorothy-Christine trailhead

In Jasper, start at the SW corner of Connaught Drive and Hazel Ave (the intersection with the traffic lights), by the square trailhead kiosk. Walk on the paved trail towards the underpass, but do not go under the tracks. In the second switchback, before the ramp to the underpass, turn right onto the gravel trail that leads back up the hill, along the back of the PetroCanada gas station. This is Trail 11, the Discovery Trail, marked with a grizzly bear’s face. Continue west, going underneath the tracks where the trail meets the western entrance into Jasper. Cross the road (Connaught Drive); on the west side of the road, there is a gated gravel road; Wynd Road. Walk along Wynd Road for about 800 m to 425261E 5857877N (UTM; all coordinates here are in Zone 11U). Here a single track trail leaves the road to the left (south), marked 3J on a yellow diamond. Descend the trail until it reaches Highway 16 at the Miette River. Cross the river and continue along the highway for 2 km to a small parking lot on the northside of the highway at 42282 E 5857034N. Here you have a choice to continue along the highway, or leave the highway and walk through the grass to the river bank. About 200 m past the parking lot you’ll reach the pipeline right of way.

NOTE: this is an experimental route: I have not walked along the pipeline, only skied it in winter. Walk along the southern edge of the right of way. It may be wet in spots, but the going should be pretty easy. At 417898.32 m E 5857702.79 m N the pipeline veers towards the river. Leave it here and walk back to the road via the large parking lot just west of here. From the parking lot walk along the highway for about 1.5 km to the Meadow Creek bridge. The Dorothy-Christine trailhead is just past the bridge.


Dorothy-Christine trailhead to Miette Valley trailhead

This route follows an old tote road. It was built during the construction of the railroad in the early 1900s to move supplies to workers’ camps. It has not been maintained since then, but it is still in surprisingly good shape for most of the way. From the Golden Lake trailhead, you follow the old rail bed all the way to the start of the Miette Valley trail.

From the Dorothy-Christine trailhead, walk down the gravel road to the railroad tracks; cross the tracks on the official pedestrian crossing. the trail crosses a new bridge across the Miette River and heads up the hill on the other side. Walk about 1 km up the hill to about 10 m before a sharp turn in the trail. The road starts at 414929E, 5858969N , at a slight left angle. It is very overgrown here, so it can be difficult to see. When coming from Virl/Dorothy Lake, descend the well-maintained trail (Trail 60 on hiking maps) towards Highway 16 until the last switchback, where the trail turns to the southeast. The old wagon road starts about 10m past the turn at 414929E, 5858969N , at a sharp right angle.

There is a faint blaze on a tree beside the trail. Look for rows of rock, which were used to delineate the downhill side of the tote road. The old trail is faint here, and there is quite a bit of blowdown, but it pretty easy to follow until 414783E, 5859021 N.

At this point, the road angles up the hill at a 45 degree angle on your right into a small draw. If you end up  in a small clearing with steep slopes on all sides, you have gone too far. Either backtrack, or bushwhack up the slope on your right to 414731E, 5859050N. You should now be on the trail again.  At the top of the draw, at 414618E 5859183N, the trail turns sharply left. It now follows the contours of the slope. If coming from the west, do not miss the turnoff downhill into the draw here. The trail is virtually impossible to see here, so you’ll be bushwhacking here through relatively open terrain.

From here, the trail contours along the mountainside at approximately 1200m. It is very faint to non-existing in places, so you may have to look around for it, or just head in a general westerly direction to 414287E, 5859301N. Keep an eye on the canopy – in most places there is a distinct opening where the trail is/was. And search for the rows of rocks. There’s also a game trail in places. At 414287E, 5859301N the trail becomes very good again, with clear signs of the old road. Hike west from here along the trail to a creek bed and fire guard. If you lose the trail before you get to the creek, on the west side the trail starts at 413488E, 5859726N. From here the trail is easy to follow until another open area where you may lose it. Going westwards, it reappears at 413142E, 5859586N. It should now be easy to follow until you join the old, but excellent trail to Golden Lakes at 411955E, 5859779N.

Continue westwards, and follow the trail down the hill to an old, grown-in parking lot at 5859586E, 5859472N. You emerge onto a wide, old road bed. About a km west this becomes the old railroad bed. Follow this beautiful rail bed west, past the Decoigne station, all the way to the Miette Trailhead at 401958E, 5861318N, just before the rail bed dead-ends at the Miette River.

Aside from a bit of bushwhacking and route finding, this is a very pleasant route, and a great, historic alternative to walking along the highway!

GPX file of the tote road route.

Start of old wagon road

Start of old wagon road, left of centre


Old wagon raod

Old wagon road

Golden Lake trail

Golden Lake trail

Grown-in parking lot for Golden Lake trail

Grown-in Golden Lake parking lot

Old rail bed

Old rail bed



Mahikan Trails survival course

There are a lot of outdoor courses out there, but few are as excellent and comprehensive as Mahikan Trails’ survival courses. Just took their 2-day survival course last week. It is actually more of a bushcraft course. At the end of it we had built shelters, made whistles, wood saws, fishing nets, traps, learnt about native foods, fire craft, you name it. And we had a great time while at it. Highly recommended.

Mountain time lapse

Yet another great time lapse video, this time from Spain, featuring some stunning night-time scenes. Inspiring as usual.


The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

Video footage from within an avalanche

This video has amazing footage from inside an avalanche, and shows how an airbag and avalung can save lives. It also shows to not underestimate the power of avalanches…

Avalanche, from Different Perspectives from William Finnoff on Vimeo.

How skiing was born

The Man and the Mammoth. Awesome story on how skiing was born!

How accurate is a Garmin GPS?

I spend a lot of time out on the trails in Jasper National Park with a GPS these days, so I want to know how accurate my unit is. My Garmin Vista HCx displays an accuracy number (EPE, or Estimated Position Error), typically ranging from +-3m to +-10m. One would think that this means that I am within 4-10m of my true location. However, this is not the case. An EPE of 4m actually means that there is a 50% chance that you are within 4m, but also a 50% chance that you are further off! However, there is a 95% chance that you are within 10m, and a 98.9% chance that you are within 10.2m. See the bottom of this article on GPS accuracy for more information.

Worse, one cannot easily compare the EPE among different GPSs, even units made by Garmin. This is because the EPE is a number that Garmin arrives at through a proprietary formula. Different manufacturers arrive at their EPE differently, and even among models made by the same company, the calculations may vary. So EPE is merely a qualitative measure of accuracy.

Interestingly, older Garmin units, like the 12 series, used to display DOP (Dilution of Position). This measurement is calculated according to a standard formula, so it can be used to compare accuracy of a location among different units. Yet it was dropped from more recent models, presumably because it is just a number (a DOP of 3 is better than a 4), so it doesn’t mean much to the average user.

Once you have recorded a trail, there is no way to compare its relative accuracy to other GPS recordings of the same trail because none of the accuracy information is stored with the waypoint or track data. For more details on all this, read this forum thread on GPS accuracy.

What does this mean for the average user?

1. After you turn on your GPS, allow it to record its position in one spot for a while before taking a waypoint. Accuracy tends to increase once a GPS has been on for a few minutes.

2. Keep an eye on the accuracy numbers. If they go up to for example 15m, then your track may be off by as much as 50 m. Normally this is not a big deal, but it could mean that a trail running close to a creek may appear to be on the other side of the creek. Keep a close eye on the map, and know how to read it. I always carry paper maps as backup.

3. If you use your GPS to record trails, get one of the more advanced units, like the GPSMAP 62s. They have more sensitive antennas, which work well even within buildings or under tree cover. My Vista HCx also performs well in the forest.

But most importantly, get out there, and have fun!

Great bear watching experience

Check out this video of watching grizzlies in the northern Yukon. The footage was shot with a simple Flip camera – it only has a wide-angle lens, no zoom at all. You get amazingly close to the bears. This amazing experience is offered by Bear Cave Mountain Tours in Ni’iinlii Njik Territorial Park.

BC is giving Google access to aerial photos

BC is the first province in Canada to give Google access to its aerial photography. This means that a large part of BC will soon be covered by hi-res imagery in Google Earth. Very good news for us avid outdoors people. Currently, large areas of BC are already available in hi-res.   They are also working on additional BC themes.

BC camping guide cover photo

2008 BC Camping GuideI sometimes wonder why I lug around my large camera when hiking, but a while back the work paid off when one of my photos won a photo contest for BC Parks. Today I picked up a copy of the 2008 camping guide for BC, and was happily surprised to see the photo on its cover.

I think it fits well – encouraging young people to go out and explore our provincial parks. The photo was taken in Golden Ears Provincial Park, just outside Vancouver.

UBC Varsity Outdoor Club Wiki

The UBC Varsity Outdoor Club has a good wiki on hiking and climbing trips around Vancouver. Yet another source for hiking ideas.