Previous Posts: Backpacking the Marvel Pass Trail to Mount Assiniboine (Index)

Day Two

Pour Me Something Strong and Dark

After yesterday’s long day on the Marvel Pass Trail, we don’t greet “morning” until noon today.

We have less than 24 km (15 mi) of hiking on the well-traveled Bryant Lake Trail today. Neither of us feels pressure to rush this morning.

Backpacking the Marvel Pass Trail - sleeping in an Englightened Equipment Prodigy Quilt.
I wouldn’t want you to be responsible for waking me up. I’m in my Enlightened Equipment Prodigy Quilt and Hoodlum.

My “morning” (afternoon) starts badly as I realize the lighter I am carrying has disappeared.

I do have just enough emergency matches in my kit – one per cooked meal. I use two matches to light the stove for my morning boil.

We eat mashed potatoes and gravy and yesterday’s leftover snacks. After breakfast and choking down a liter of electrolyte-laced water and strong hot coffee, we pack up our gear and hit the trail.

Sunny Side Up

Breakfast, the sun, and time to recover and dry out gear are doing wonders for my mood.

After crashing through dense foliage and rain much of yesterday, the sunshine, a hiker highway, and the perception of fewer bears here feel like heaven. Our hiking day starts at 2:30 PM.

Sunshine on the trail to Mount Assiniboine via Marvel Pass.
Sunshine changes the landscape and my outlook. I am glad to have heat after yesterday’s icy wind and rain cut through me.

Marvel Pass Backpacking Trail

Running Scared

Unfortunately, 10 m (30 ft) from the Bryant Creek Warden Cabin, we realize we had miscalculated the grizzly bear risk for Bryant Creek Trail.

Less than 7 m (20 ft) in front of us a young adult grizzly bounds across the path.

In contrast to yesterday, fatigue does not lead us to panic. Craig calls out “Bear!” and we move backward together, each of reaching for our bear deterrents. The bear appears to be a yearling and stares back at us from the meadow. Soon, he moves 60 m (200 ft) away, ambling parallel to the trail while looking over his shoulder at us. We calmly talk to him and politely tell him to go away.

“Where is his mother?” I ask.

Craig loads a bear banger. “I don’t see or hear her.”

“He’s just barely big enough to be on his own, but he might be,” I observe. My train of thought is interrupted. The bear begins to turn back, ambling up the embankment toward us. Craig fires off the bear banger. The bear turns and runs in the opposite direction into a clump of trees.

“Do you see him?” Craig asks. “I think I saw him running out the trees and further into the meadow,” I reply.

“Are you sure, I thought he was hunkering down in the trees there.” Craig’s eyes are questioning me. To be honest, I don’t know what I saw; the bear had moved unbelievably fast.

“I’m not positive. What I do know is: we should get out of here before Junior decides to come back or Momma comes looking for him.” I respond while starting to hike down the path.

I turn on the Bluetooth speaker and start bellowing to the trees:

I’m going this way bear, you go someplace else.

Marvel Pass Backpacking Trail - deploying bear spray and a bear banger.

A Moment’s Peace

Aside from trail running, I have never hiked this fast in my life; intermittently, I run. We maintain this blistering pace for two and a half hours.

Clearly, I am as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof, but I can keep this 5 km/hr (3 mph) pace with a full pack for only so long. We cross meadows and creek bottoms filled with ripe buffalo berries. I can’t see over the berry bushes in many areas.

Head high berry bushes on the Marvel Pass Backpacking Trail towards Mount Assiniboine.
My nerves remained on edge as I hiked through waist- to head-high berry bushes.

Finally, we reach a small clearing, devoid of berry bushes. The clearing backs up to a steep mountain peak and seems like a safe spot to stop rest. We pull out some high-calorie snacks. I inhale my portion and drink mouthfuls of cool water from my water bladder.

Marvel Pass Backpacking - views from the trail.

“If You Want to Get Out Alive…”

The water and food soothes my anxiety, but that doesn’t last long.

I relax and toy around with my new Olympus OM-D E-M5 II Camera. My peaceful solitude ends in ten minutes when a large sow grizzly lumbers up behind us, walking on the path.

Craig spots her first and yells “Bear!”

I leap to my feet. The bear eyes us over carefully to decide if we are friends, foes, or food. My hand holding the bear spray is shaking. Craig loads another bear banger. I touch his arm and point out the loose talus above us.

Loose talus and boulders on the unstable face of Mount Cautley.
Loose talus and boulders littered the area around Mount Cautley’s unstable face. Would firing a bear banger start a rockslide?!

Luckily, the bear sidesteps the trail and disappears silently into the forest. I pack up and engage my “bear evasion pace” while talking abnormally loud.

“…Run for Your Lives”

At no point in my life have I ever scrambled up a trail with such a pace for so long.

Hours pass and the terrain and prevailing foliage do little to ease my concerns. The hiker’s bypass of the Bryant Creek Trail is closed this time of year, and we are forced to follow a steep horse trail instead.

Sadly, the switchbacks (or lack thereof) are taking a heavy toll on Craig’s knee and my cardiovascular system. We are pushing an uncomfortable pace up the mountain side, but the last bear was too close for comfort.

I want off this densely vegetated valley floor and up into the more (human-) populated subalpine valley near Magog Lake.

Bear sign on the Marvel Pass Backpacking Trail.
Having now seen two Grizzlies, I felt mildly like this sign was taunting me.

Top of the World

We pass another redundant “Beware of Grizzlies” sign, and push hard up a switchback-less climb that empties on a shelf above an alpine meadow. We catch our first glimpse of Mount Assiniboine in the distance.

Marvel Pass Backpacking Trail

In this valley, I am awestruck. In all directions, it is a beautiful masterpiece painted in mist and stone. All my exhaustion fades, and my hands seek out my camera to capture what my heart feels about what my eyes can see.

Meadow views near Lake Magog on the Marvel Pass Backpacking Trail.
A kilometer from Lake Magog lies a meadow with unparalleled views. I spent several minutes staring out at the green sea surrounded by rocky cliffs and shrouded by mist.

Sunshine on the Marvel Pass Backpacking Trail.

Further Up and Further In!

We are so close to the Lake Magog Campsite that I can almost feel my Enlightened Equipment Prodigy Quilt enveloping me.

Mount Assiniboine captivates.

Mount Assiniboine as approached from Marvel Pass.

Murphy’s Law

Part of the reason I am here is because of the meteor shower which is occurring.

I booked two nights at Lake Magog to increase the chances that I would see the shower. After a high mileage day yesterday, followed by a speed mileage day today, I was on the verge of collapse after dinner. How can I stay up late to look for meteors?

Regardless, I stay up waiting for clearing skies. Patiently, I wait. I wait some more. Finally, I find myself shivering profusely, and cold temperatures have killed my camera battery.

I give up, and turn in for the night.

Next: Day 3

Tune in tomorrow as Emylene and Craig continue their approach to Mount Assiniboine.