James exploring along the Watchtower Trail while we stopped for a rest.
Watchtower Hike 2015 Jasper National Park August 22, 2015
As part of Shawn and Jenn’s anniversary weekend (www.shawnbenbow.ca/jasper2015), we hiked along the lower section of the Watchtower Trail near Medicine Lake in Jasper.
The trailhead and parking lot is about four kilometres northwest (toward Jasper) of Medicine Lake on the Maligne Lake Road. Much of this area had been burned in the Excelsior Creek wildfire, which started on July 9, 2015 and burned for a few weeks. It was started naturally by a lightning strike, but was contained by a combination of rain and Jasper’s firefighting crews after burning over 5000 hectares of forest along Medicine Lake.
The trail begins by crossing the Maligne River just upstream of Excelsior Creek. We very quickly took a wrong turn to the south (within 200 metres of the start) onto a side trail and rock hopped across the river - and couldn’t find the trail on the steep bank. We were forced to retrace our steps almost to the start, where we realized the main trail travelled north about 50 metres before crossing the river at the site of an old bridge. The abutments remained, along with a pier in the river, but the bridge was gone. We’re not sure how long the bridge had been missing, and if there are any plans for Parks Canada to ever replace the bridge. It wasn’t too complicated to cross the river, however, by rock hopping at a wide shallow point along the channel.
From the edge of the river the trail quickly ascended through fairly lush forest for perhaps about 500m before we reached the burned area. Usually when hiking through forest, you hear sounds of leaves rustling, trees creaking in the wind, and the chirps of birds, squirrels, and other animals. However, because this area was so recently burned, there was almost no sound along the trail. It was actually a bit creepy how silent it was.
The trees were charred black, and the ground was a dark brown-black everywhere. However, even a couple weeks after the fire, there were little plants starting to sprout through the ash in places along the trail. It was also interesting to see how pockets of trees and plants resisted the fire right next to a couple small streams on the mountainside.
We walked about three kilometres up the trail until it turned to the southwest and began ascending along Watchtower Creek past the burned area. We turned around and found a nice place to have some lunch and to let James walk around for a while. He was happy to hike along the trail for a few minutes, but was even happier to get back into the pack and have Shawn carry him down the trail!