Sunday, December 12, 2010

Big Bend Campground

This campground may very well have the most spectacular setting of any backcountry campground in the entire Rocky Mountain park system. The wide trail does not offer much viewing through the trees, but it is only a little more than 6 km of level hiking to the campground. The trail continues to

Fortress Lake, but going there is not recommended unless you expect to get awfully wet. Crossing the Chaba River requires fording cold water that is one-half to two metres deep. Even in low-water season there is still a very dangerous risk of being swept away in the strong current.
Day tripping to the Athabasca Crossing Campground and the Athabasca River bridge will take most of a day, as they are 8.8 and 9.3 km up the trail respectively.
Difficulty *
Distance: 6.3 km
Elevation gain: 105 m
Trailhead: G PS: N52 31 57.7 W117 38 43.5
E levation: 1408 m
Big Bend Campground: G PS: N52 29 08.1 W117 39 18.7
E levation: 1303 m

Trailhead: From the intersection of Highway 16 and the Icefields Parkway travel 53.5 km south to the Sunwapta Falls parking lot. Look for the throng of tourists making their way to and from the Sunwapta Falls viewpoint bridge. Break trail through the cameras to arrive, hopefully unscathed, at the far end of the short bridge. Actually, the falls are quite spectacular, justifying the heavy traffic. Stop and take a look yourself. After you cross the bridge over Sunwapta Falls, you’ll see the huge crowd of tourists suddenly thin out, as not many visitors to the falls venture farther than the bridge. Within 20 minutes the trail becomes wet as it passes over what appears to be a permanently soggy forest floor. This is 500 to 750 m. Stay on this track, as the sidelines can make your cozy, dry, warm boots suddenly very wet and cold.

Another 15 minutes gets you across a small stream. The level, uneventful, well-trodden path reaches through the beautiful coniferous forest, and soon enough the 6 km is complete as the  spectacular sight of the big bend in the Athabasca River comes into full view. As the forest opens  up at Big Bend the most prominent sight is Mount Quincy standing directly south 16.5 km away. Because of the flat walk-in, the work is done in 75 to 90 minutes, allowing hikers to pack in a few extra luxuries. These peaceful,tranquil, rapid waters can quickly calm even the most bad-tempered indi- viduals. The waters here move slow enough to become entrancing, yet just fast enough to make pre whitewater bubbling sounds,  thus momentarily breaking the enchanting trance.
Day hiking the trail is much like the first 6 km except that there is a mild rise in elevation immediately after leaving Big Bend Campground. One to two kilometres later the trail loses the  elevation gained and drops down to the Athabasca River. Then, just as quickly, it regains the  forest. The rest of the hike is straightforward by just simply following the main trail. There are no key intersections or diversions. The Athabasca River bridge is a wondrous destination, since it has few lingering visitors, leaving it for your sole enjoyment. Quiet contemplation on this structure makes this long day trip meaningful.

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