Hiking the Old Fort Point Loop in Jasper National Park

My father and I arrived in Jasper, Alberta on Via Rail’s Canadian at 1pm on Friday, October 17, 2014.  The town is surrounded by Jasper National Park, so we actually needed to purchase a pass from Parks Canada in order to drive outside the town!  My father, ever the rail fan, wanted to drive west to photograph the train once it got underway.  I was more eager to explore the park and asked him to drop me off at a nearby section of the park to hike.

Detail of map of Old Fort Point’s trailhead. The trail is marked by “1”.

Old Fort Point is a fairly steep hill that rises 130 m (426.5′) above the Athabasca River.  Hiked counterclockwise, the 3.8 km (2.4 mi) Old Fort Point Loop (trail 1) ascends to the hill’s south side to its summit, then descends the hill’s north side.

2 Old Fort Point Brg
The trailhead for the Old Fort Point Loop is just east of this bridge over the Athabasca River. Lowell Silverman photography, 2014

The trailhead is only about a 5 minute drive from the town of Jasper.  From Jasper, one simply drives southeast on Hazel Avenue (Alberta 93A) and turns left onto Old Fort Point Road right after the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16).  The parking lot for the trail is just on the other side of the Athabasca River.

The trail is marked by yellow diamonds with the number 1
The trail is marked by yellow diamonds with the number 1
1 Athabasca R and Pyramd Mt
View of the Athabasca River from near the start of the Old Fort Point Trail. At right is Pyramid Mountain, which towers above Jasper.

It was cloudy but not too cold when I began hiking around 2:30pm.  Immediately after I began gaining some altitude, I had good views of the Athabasca River and the mountains surrounding Jasper.  To the north, Pyramid Mountain was especially prominent.  Its rock texture and reddish coloration looks different than most other mountains in the Canadian Rockies.

Pyramid Mountain
3 Athabasca River HDR
View southwest along the Athabasca River with a hint of sun reflecting off the water. HDR

Just a few minutes into the hike I was surprised to see three big horn sheep uphill from me, two of whom were casually sitting right in the middle of the trail!  This was my first time seeing the species; I’d been disappointed that I hadn’t seen any during two previous visits to their territory in Montana’s Glacier National Park.  According to a chart posted in the Jasper National Park Information Centre, with an estimated population of 1,200 individuals, big horn sheep are the most common large mammal in the park.

Big horn sheep sitting on the Old Fort Point Trail.  HDR and cropped

I only had my standard 24-105 mm travel lens with me.  I kicked myself for leaving my telephoto lens in my hotel room.  Since I didn’t have any use for it on the train, I’d put the lens in my checked suitcase.  I’d forgotten to transfer it to my camera bag when I arrived in Jasper.  To avoid disturbing the animals, I flanked around them to the north.  They seemed indifferent to my presence as well as that of a few other hikers.

6 BHS Vertical HDR
Big horn sheep in HDR, no cropping.

With the limited zoom capacity of my lens, I focused on photographing the animals in relation to their surroundings.  When I first spotted them, the sheep were backlit against the sky, so I bracketed frames for later HDR processing.  I finished circling around the sheep and returned to the trail.  Once the subjects were no longer backlit against the sky, the images needed less processing.

Cropped image of the big horn sheep. Converted from RAW, white balance adjusted

The rest of the hike was a bit less eventful.  The hill’s forests were a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees.  It appeared to be past peak foliage in the area, but a handful of deciduous trees were still yellow.

8 Green and yellow

From the higher points on the hill, I had good views of Mount Tekarra—one of the more photogenic mountains around Jasper—to the southeast.

9 Tekarra
Mount Tekarra from Old Fort Point
Panorama of Mount Takarra seen from downtown Jasper…with better lighting conditions

10 Forest

I began descending as the trail passed through what appeared to be an aspen grove.  It probably would have been in peak foliage some weeks earlier.

The north side of the hill was carpeted by moss.  I found I had to use manual focus, as the camera’s autofocus was somewhat confused by branches and trees that were various distances from the camera.

Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge seen from the Old Fort Point Trail

I returned to the trailhead around 4pm and moseyed around the banks of the Athabasca River until my father returned to pick me up.  We visited the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (located to the north of Old Fort Point on the shores of Beauvert Lake).  Dad had stayed here fifty years previously during his first visit to the Canadian Rockies.

Jasper Park Lodge interior

We had dinner back in Jasper at the Raven Bistro, a very good upscale restaurant.  I loved the bar there, which had a giant mirror flanked by enormous wine racks on each side that must have been twice as tall as a person.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such elegant looking food at a restaurant.  It was attractive, delicious, and…completely unsatisfying.  It seemed almost sacrilegious to follow C$37  worth of gourmet food with a C$4.68 chicken sandwich from fast food chain, Tim Horton’s, but it was the latter that really sated my hunger!


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