Posted by: James Shannon | March 27, 2012

Treks And Trails: You Think Your City Has An Expansive Trail System? Jasper’s Pyramid Bench Has It Beat (And It’s Not Even Close!)

 The Edge Of The Bench trail, or trail 2B, on Pyramid Bench, just west of Jasper Townsite in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.

For residents of most towns and cities, the municipal park system is a place of serenity and peace, an area where one can cast off all the noise and stress of the urban environment and reconnect with nature.  Some urban parks are fortunate enough to be planned in advance to have plenty of space for a well-developed trail system, where, in some cities, you can easily forget that you are even in one, at least until the sound of a distant motorcycle snaps you back to reality.

Then, there are places like Jasper, where the abutting trails, being part of a world famous national park, elipse anything that any world class city recreation department could ever hope to emulate.  Here, local residents hike, bike, and jog in the shadow of mountain peaks, pass resting wildlife in shady thickets, and breath in unmolested, pure fresh air.

It’s one of the premier perks to living in this quiant, isolated town; this post will show off part of the network of trails that Jasper residents use to blow off the tension and stress of a work day spent serving the tourist trade, a profession that while rewarding, can also be very demanding on the worst of days.  With that, I present you the trails of the Pyramid Bench (named for the “foothills” of mighty Pyramid Mountain, dominating westerly views from Jasper at an elevation of approximately 9,100 feet or 2,700 metres above sea level…)

 Ascending the side of the Pyramid Bench from just behind a battery of hotels in Jasper’s north end, one immediately comes into contact with an array of floral life … this was taken during an particularly rainy summer, so the displays of colour were everywhere (as were the clouds of mosquitoes!)

 As many hikers seek to cut short the time spent ascending the steep faces of the Pyramid Bench, they end up tramping up the hill between switchbacks … unfortunately, this means delicate plant life ends up getting killed rather easily (such is life in the cold continental/subarctic/alpine regions of the world).  Don’t do this please.  Take your time, lose yourself in your surroundings, and stick to the trail, so that others can enjoy the beauty of this area so close to the Jasper Townsite!

 A view of the Athabasca River Valley, just north of Jasper, from the Edge of the Pyramid Bench.  Here, from the foreground progressing towards the background, we have the Yellowhead highway, or the northerly Trans-Canada highway (signed as highway 16 throughout BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba), the Athabasca River, and behind it, Lake Edith on the left and Lake Annette.  Lake Edith is popular with boaters, and Lake Annette with swimmers … though probably not on this day!

 Looking back towards Jasper one last time before the Bench trail I’m on (2B) veers into the trees for a spell … kind of a dreary day, but the way the cloud deck scrapes the top of Whistler’s mountain makes it delightfully moody, in my estimation.

 A reminder that you aren’t exactly on a leisurely stroll through Central Park in NYC … hikers share this trail with horse-riding companies, and when the weather is wet for extended periods of time, our equestrian friends can rip up the earth, leaving you with a mucky mess to tramp through … bring your hiking boots, or at least shoes you don’t mind getting dirty in!

 In sun-soaked meadows through the Bench, there are patches of berry bushes … some are barely edible, like juniper berries (used in the flavouring of gin), while some are common favourities (albeit in miniature), like strawberries.  To be safe, be accompanied by an experienced guide/outdoorsperson before picking any, and even if you are, double check using a field guide first.  Finally, because there are many of these bushes scattered throughout the area, be on alert for black and grizzly bears, as they LOVE this stuff too!

 In winter, the action doesn’t stop here … people strap on crampons to their shoes to brave the patches of ice on the trails, or when the snow gets deep enough, they slip on the cross-country skis and glide across the frozen wilderness. Conditions are highly variable from one winter to the next, and there are lots of hills, which can be troublesome if you’re not used to turning in XC skis, as I am 😛

 The highest point on Pyramid Bench, with views of Patricia Lake and the distant Main Range of the Canadian Rockies, clouds grinding over the top like cheddar cheese on a grater.  Occasionally, bighorn sheep can be seen up here … if you do, respect them and keep a safe distance; after all, you’re in their home now.  If you take the trail down the other side, you will end up at Pyramid Lake and the Coast Hotels resort on its shores.  Here, you can take trail #2 for a leisurely hour long jaunt back to town.

How To Get Here: From any number of points on the back of the Jasper Townsite. But if you want to access the trails where the photos in this post were taken, go to the north end of the Jasper Townsite, taking Geikie Street. Park on the street across from the Lobstick Lodge, and walk toward the back of the property. Follow the trail you find along the back of the hotel’s property until you reach another trail that goes through a field behind the Sawridge Hotel. Eventually, you will reach a trailhead where you cross a bridge across a stream (Cottonwood Creek) shortly after proceeding down the path. This is trail 2A. Follow it to its terminus at trail 2, then follow trail 2 until you reach an intersection with trail 2B. Follow that trail, which is the Edge of The Bench trail. This trail will take you to the summit of the Pyramid Bench, where spectacular views of the immediate area can be had!

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