In the late summer of 2010, I was fortunate to be invited by Parks Canada to participate in a 6-day backpacking trek of the Athabasca Pass trail. I and 10 others were helicoptered into the BC side of the pass and hiked back to the eastern end of the trail located at Moab Lake in Jasper National Park.
Athabasca pass had been used as transportation corridor by Indigenous people for millennia.1 More recently it has become an iconic feature of Western Canadian fur trade history, closely linked with the stories of Thomas the Iroquois, and survey/trader, David Thompson.2 The most striking scenery awaited us at every turn and small day trips brought us to awe inspiring heights. A trip toward the summit of Mount Brown gave us a stunning view of the Hooker Icefield.
My second night was spent on the height of land which defines the pass. I was in admiration of the night sky. Nearly 200 years before, while camped in deep snow, David Thompson remarked that his “…men were not at their ease, yet when night came, they admired the brilliancy of the Stars. One of our Canadians, after gazing in silent Wonder, exclaimed with much vehemence, I’ll take my Oath, my dear friends, that God Almighty never made such a place!”3 And such was the rest of the trip. Every corner a new view and experience.
“…men were not at their ease, yet when night came, they admired the brilliancy of the Stars. One of our Canadians, after gazing in silent Wonder, exclaimed with much vehemence, I’ll take my Oath, my dear friends, that God Almighty never made such a place!”David Thompson
One experience, only surpassed by the 19th century blazes still present on the trunks of western red cedars, occurred while we were walking through the Whirlpool River flats. By mid-day, our group of travelers had spread out into groups of 2 or 3 and with 700 m or so between us. I was travelling with a wildlife photographer and his wife when halfway through the flats I noticed a fresh wolf track on the trail edge.
I stopped to look across the flats to the tree line to see if the maker of the track was still in the vicinity. Seeing nothing, I took a picture of the track with my walking pole for scale. Just a few steps later I slowed my walk to look at the multiple fresh tracks (likely 8 or so individuals) now visible of varying sizes. My companions inquired after the reason for my frequent stops. Not wanting to cause any alarm I made up an excuse and continued. I never saw the wolves that made the tracks, but I had a distinct feeling that I was being watched.
We were the second to last group into that night’s campsite. Soon after I began setting up my tent, the last group arrived. One of the foresters on the trip approached me and asked if we had seen the wolf tracks on the trail. I said that I had, but to my surprise his response was that the wolf tracks he saw were on top of our hiking boot tracks! Since I saw no wolf tracks covering the boot tracks of those ahead of us that day, the wolves had clearly circled around and followed us for a while. How long? I will never really know. But thinking of the experiences that day reminded me of the words of the elders in the Indigenous community I grew up by and how often they reminded me that you were never truly alone in the wilderness.
No… you really aren’t.
1 Jasper Alberta Athabasca Pass History https://albertajasper.com/Jasper-Alberta-Athabasca-Pass-History.html
2 Athabasca Pass National Historic Site https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/ab/athabasca/plan
3 Thompson, David. F443-1, Book No 25 unpublished, Archives of Ontario
Andreas Korsos is the Geographic Information System (GIS) Specialist for Ember Archaeology. He joined the Ember team in 2021 to continue his career and merge his two passions: mapping and the history of western Canada. Not only has Andreas worked in the private sector, but he has also aided several non-profit and government agencies. His extensive knowledge of geographic systems, his industry experience and his love of history make him a valuable addition to the Ember team.