Terrain: The terrain of Jasper National Park differs considerably from Banff National Park. There are no larch trees, and in general the valleys are larger, rivers are longer, and trees are thicker and smaller. In general, the passes such as the Yellowhead, are lower than their counterparts in Banff. Snowfall is roughly equivalent, and it rarely gets above freezing until April. The Columbia Icefield is larger than any similar icefield such as the Wapta Icefield, and is often cloudy and stormy. However, it does not receive as much snow as the icefields on the coast of BC, and so the crevasses are often only covered with a thin layer of snow - which requires being roped most of the time. Northeast of the icefields, mountains such as Mount Brazeau gradually give way to bigger and bigger grassland valleys. North of Jasper is still very much pack train country with the trails heavily used by horses. Like most of the Canadian North, mosquitoes can be a problem for several weeks in July or early August. Well known attractions include the deeply gouged Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake, Sunwapta Falls, and Mount Edith Cavell. There are over 1000 km of trails. In winter, the relatively flat rivers tend to freeze over completely, and make ideal ski routes far into the back country. Thus the Whirlpool River, Astoria River, Moose River, Smoky River, and Snaring River provide backcountry ski access. But the nights are long and cold, and from November to February, the weakened northern sun rarely climbs high enough above the ridges to shine into the bottoms of the valleys.
History: The Jasper area was actually ahead of Banff as far as being regularly visited by Europeans, since the Athabasca River provided canoe access in the fur trade era. n 1754, Anthony Henday, of the Hudson's Bay company saw the Canadian Rockies for the first time. In 1793 Alexander Mackenzie was the first European to reach the Pacific Coast going overland around the north end of the Rockies. By 1800 the Northwest company had established Rocky Mountain House, near Red Deer, Alberta, and from here David Thompson first found Howse Pass, through to the Columbia River. However, this pass was later blocked by hostile Peigan Indians, and so in 1810 Thompson, after an epic journey, discovered Athabasca Pass, which divides the Athabasca River from the Columbia River. Athabasca Pass is between the Arctic Ocean drainages and the Pacific, whereas Howse Pass is between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Once established, Athabasca Pass was used by numerous fur trade parties to reach the Columbia River. In 1827 David Douglas made an ascent of Mount Brown overlooking the pass, and mistakenly calculated its height to be 17,000 feet. Rumors of this peak fueled several notable mountaineering expeditions in the early 1900's to try and find these peaks. These expeditions were typically pack train expeditions, leaving from Laggan (Lake Louise) and heading north up the Bow Valley and over Bow Pass. In the process, the Columbia Icefield was discovered.
Until about 1912, the Canadian Pacific through Banff was the only railway access to the Rockies, however, in 1912-1918, Canada's second and third transcontinental railways were completed. These were the Grand Trunk Pacific and Canadian Northern Railways. Both new railways went through Jasper and the Yellowhead Pass, which lead to the establishment of the town of Jasper as a tourist destination. Alas, with the first world war cutting off the flow of immigrants for decades, three transcontinental railways were too many, and both the northern routes were amalgamated into the Canadian National Railway (CNR).
The first peaks ascended tended to be either close to the railway, or more moderate scrambles. However, a significant milestone was the climbing of Mount Robson in 1913, which is a serious mountaineering objective to this day. The last, and perhaps the most difficult large peak in the Rockies, Mount Alberta, was finally climbed in 1925 by a Japanese team. In the 1930's, backcountry skiing became established, along with the Wates-Gibson Hut in the Ramparts area, and a lodge at Maligne Lake. Today, Jasper National Park is still much more sparsely used than Banff, and once you get over the continental divide, trails are few and far between.
Jasper is the largest and most northerly of the four Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks which comprise the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Alpine Journal Articles
1915 First Ascent Of Mt. Edith Cavell... E. W. D. Holway
1924 Journey Through Jasper - Part 1: Athabasca Pass area J. Munroe Thorington
1924 First Ascents of Mount Barbican and Mount Geikie Val A. Fynn
1924 Journey Through Jasper - Part 2: Ascents in the Rampart Group J Munroe Thorington
1926 Attempt on Mt. Redoubt - 1926 T.B. Moffat
1928 Trails of the Athabaska and Columbia, 1928 - Part 1 J. Monroe Thorington
1928 Scrambles Around Maligne Lake M.M. Strumia
1928 Ascents of Mts. Redoubt and Casemate J.E.Johnson
1970 Mount Mitchell W. Pfisterer
Paper Maps of Park
Best of Jasper Scale 1:35000 Gem Trek
Columbia Icefield Scale 1:75000 Gem Trek
Jasper and Maligne Lake Scale 1:100000 Gem Trek
Best of Jasper Gem Trek 1:35000 25m
Columbia Icefield Gem Trek 1:75000 200'
Jasper and Maligne Lake Gem Trek 1:100000 50m