The sun was just coming up as we arrived at the Maligne Lake boat launch. The air may have been cool, just a few degrees above freezing, but our spirits were high as the lake was like glass. As we unloaded our canoes and floated them in the cold clear water we remarked how different the morning was to the last time we were here a year ago. That morning a light wind created lots of waves: this morning the wind was dead calm.
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With eight of us and four canoes, it took a little while to get everyone launched and loaded up. For four of us, this was out second “annual” canoe trip together on Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. For the other four, it was their first experience with a canoe trip. It would be 5 days before we returned to our starting point.
Paddling was relatively easy with no wind or waves. There is something very special about the stillness of the lake with the only sound the rhythmic dipping of paddles punctuated by the occasional call of a loon.
We would go as far as Fisherman’s Bay campground, halfway down the 22 km lake, on the first day then on to Coronet Creek, at the far end of the lake, on the second. After two nights at Coronet we would return to Fisherman’s Bay for a night then back home on the final day.
The first hour or so was very peaceful until the solitude was broken by the noise of a passing tour boat every 15 minutes or so. The boats take an endless stream of sightseers to Spirit Island, just past Fisherman’s Bay. A photo of Spirit Island once adorned the Canadian 5 dollar bill and has been called the most photographed place in Canada. While the boat captains were very good about slowing down as they approached us, the boats still created enough wake that we had to be careful to turn into the waves to avoid capsizing.
Halfway to Fisherman’s Bay we stopped and went ashore at Four Mile Point which is a picnic area. It provided an opportunity to relax and rest arms that were not used to paddling. After a stop of about a half hour we were once again on our way, arriving at the campsite about 3.5 hours after leaving the boat launch.
The day had turned sunny and warm as we pitched our tents and ate lunch. We spent a relaxing afternoon just taking it easy, or, for those who fished (which was basically everyone but me), a chance to see what they could catch. James (whose canoe I was sharing) caught the first Brook Trout, off the dock, which a short time later was fried up as an appetizer.
With 4 canoes we were able to pack plenty of firewood (there is none supplied at the campsites) and as the air cooled with the setting sun a blazing fire kept us warm.
Key to an enjoyable paddle on Maligne Lake is an early start, before the winds start to build. Our second day was pretty much a carbon copy of the first. Underway by about 9 am we were soon past Spirit Island and the tour boats. Once in the southern half of the lake it was again tranquil as tour boats are not allowed in this part of Maligne Lake.
Mid-morning James and I beached our canoe while James tried fishing from shore. While there the others casually passed by with their fishing lines trailing behind. With no luck on shore, we were soon back in the water for a slow “cruise” along the shore as James continued his quest for a large fish (OK, for any fish!).
Just before noon we arrived at the dock at Coronet Creek campground. While three canoes were devoid of fish, sometime later Garry and his son Travis arrived toting their catch. Appetizers all around again!
Once again the first order of business was pitching our tents and having lunch. Following lunch, James and I paddled over to Mary Vaux Creek and hiked up the valley towards the glacier on Mount Mary Vaux. The hike involved a lot of walking along a gravelly creek bed then some rock scrambling. Had we the benefit of more time we might well have made it pretty much to the base of the glacier, however, late in the afternoon we had to turn back so we could paddle back to camp. While we were gone, the rest of the group was out on the water fishing. Stan and Sandi had the misfortune of getting caught by a wind gust and capsizing. Fortunately they were close enough to shore that they managed to pull their canoe in, right it, empty it, and then retrieve all of their gear that had escaped. When we got back to camp they were still warming themselves by the fire.
The next morning it was nice to be able to sleep in and have a relaxing breakfast without thinking about having to strike camp and load up the canoes. The weather had turned a bit cooler and cloudy but still wasn’t too bad. Following breakfast, James and I donned our day packs and set off up the Henry Macleod Trail. The trail follows Coronet Creek up
to the moraine at the bottom of Coronet Glacier. About 8 km up the trail is a primitive campground which is where we stopped for lunch. Thanks to my handy dandy Jet Boil we were able to boil water and enjoy a hot coffee with our lunch. After our lunch stop we continued about another kilometer or so, getting pretty much as close as we could to the alluvial fan without having to cross the creek. It’s a pretty nice hike if you have the time to spare while at Coronet Creek campground.
The rain started late in the evening and carried on through the night, at some times fairly heavy. By the time we got up in the morning it had pretty well quit but we still had to pack up a wet tent (actually only the fly) for the first time on the trip. After a hearty breakfast we were once again on the water heading back to Fisherman’s Bay. We had a few windy patches during the morning but for the most part it wasn’t bad at all. Even better, the cloud and rain from the night before pretty much cleared out. Along the way we stopped at Spindly Creek where James, Peter and Brenda spent some time fishing from shore while I wandered around with my camera. Brenda did catch one large Brook Trout but alas it wiggled out of her hands and back into the water seconds before I was about to snap a photo. Curses!
As we were about to leave, Garry and Travis showed up with 4 fish that they had caught.
Sadly, as we neared Spirit Island our solitude was once again disturbed by the noise of the tour boats. However, we only needed to put up with them for a short time before we were once again at Fisherman’s Bay. Another restful afternoon and a nice warm campfire in the evening capped off another great day.
As was, by now, our routine, on our final morning we were up early and on the water by about 9:00. As we exited Fisherman’s Bay the wind came up a bit. The major decision was which shore to follow. Most often the western (left) shore is a little more sheltered. This morning the wind seemed to be coming right down the middle of the lake and neither shore appeared to have an advantage. In the end we opted for the eastern (right) shore which provided for a rest stop at Four Mile Point. By the time we reached the point the wind was dropping to a slight breeze and the sky was clearing. The rest of the morning’s paddle to Home Bay was uneventful.
All too soon we arrived back where we had started from and to the end of a pretty incredible 5-day journey.