Distance: 25.5 km
Elevation gain: ~400 m (from many very small bumps) View map Download GPS track
After sitting through several days of poor weather to start our Jasper vacation Sandra and I were very eager to get out hiking, but with another forecast of showers and thunderstorms we didn't think it would be a good idea to get up high. Instead we decided to hike to Jacques Lake, a popular backpacking destination that we figured we'd dayhike intead. It also once served as the start (or end) of the South Boundary Trail, but a forest fire in 2003 and flood in 2012 coupled with federal government cutbacks has made the section past Jacques Lake essentially impassable.
Parking at the east end of Medicine Lake we starting hiking along the excellent trail, following an old road for the first 4.5 km and passing Beaver Lake (a popular fishing destination, apparently) before arriving at the first of two oddly named “Summit” Lakes. Hiking along this initial section was very easy, but conditions deteriorated when the old road converted to trail at the lake. While in drier times the trail might be considered reasonable with just the usual amount of roots and rocks, the wet conditions this summer made it a muddy and incredibly slippery mess today. Coupled with the complete absence of views and threatening clouds it was total drudgery and I seriously considered just turning around several times.
We persevered, however, and swamps, creeks, mushrooms, and big trees kept us company for the next two hours as we continued to plod along, even resorting to categorizing the omnipresent mud to pass the time (there’s black mud, brown mud, super slippery grey mud, mud with poo, mud with squished vegetation…). Finally my GPS showed us just a few hundred meters from Jacques Lake, but the huge morale boost that provided was quickly squashed when the trail climbed away from it to avoid the swampy southern end! The longest 800 meters later the trail did reach the shore at the northern end where the backcountry campground is located.
Admittedly the campground area and lake were very beautiful with lots of areas for lounging about on the lakeshore, and after lunch we crossed the outlet stream (bridged) and explored the area around a warden cabin. The campground is apparently quite popular and a log book indicated that moose and bear are common in the area. Several entries mentioned that sex on the beach will attract those moose to the area, oddly enough. Two people had stayed there the night before and on the way out we passed another three groups coming in.
On the way out, absolutely sick of the mud and hoping to avoid the worst section of trail around the two Summit Lakes, I decided to instead follow the broad and dry lakeshore. While I figured I’d need to detour back to the trail at the end of the lake before cutting down to the next, I spotted a yellow flag at the head of the lake that marked a well maintained and sporadically used trail between the two lakes! This alternative lakeshore route ended up replacing over 2 km of terribly muddy and viewless trail with a wonderful walk through light grass and gravel along the shores of two lakes. An obvious trail was even evident through the grass at the first Summit Lake, but we’d missed it on our approach as we opted to avoid the lakeshore and (most importantly) a group of people breaking there.