A Hike on Skies- Jacques Lake

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An Alpine Club of Canada Backcountry Hut

In winter of 2019, the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) added a new backcountry hut in Jasper National Park. Located close to the Jasper town site, the cute log cabin would be perfect for families or small groups. The Jacques Lake Hut is operational from November 1st to April 15th and reservations can be made by going onto the ACC Website. This year all hut bookings are exclusive bookings and require you to book the entire hut so they are not mixing family bubbles.

How To Get There

To access the trailhead follow Maligne Road 28km to the parking lot on the south end of Medicine Lake. Maligne Road is approximately 3km outside of the Jasper Town site. The trail starts at a small bridge crossing behind the wooden information stand. From their follow the summer trail to Jacques Lake Hut. Please note that the winter route that was advertised is no longer recommended as multiple parties broke through the ice on the crossings last year. The summer trail winds through the forest and does not require you to cross any lakes.

The Trail

We were lucky to have obtained a booking for a spot in the Hut for March 6-7, 2019. Jasper had received a lot of snow and the trail was a winter wonderland. We started the day nice and early so we could get to the hut at a reasonable time to enjoy. Though the distance is only 12 km and with low elevation gain it does take the 4-7 hours to get to the Hut. We opted to use cross country skies for our winter adventure, however after completing the trail, I would definitely recommend snowshoes. I will add that my cross country ski ability is pretty low, so if you are a more advance skier you may find the trail fine on skies.

To get to the hut it is recommended to follow the summer trail to the Jacques Lake, the hut is on the far (north) end of the lake. The winter trail crosses over lakes and it has been reported that multiple parties have broken through the ice on the crossing. The Summit Lakes are very shallow but Beaver and Jacques Lakes are deeper and pose a higher risk. It is important to have avalanche knowledge as you do cross through potential avalanche areas. Carrying the proper gear in case of an avalanche is also very important.

Though we started the morning with fresh snow and no tracks in front of us the trail was still easy to follow. You cross a couple little bridges/ log crossings right off the start. The first one is easy with skies, however the ones after get a little narrower though still manageable. You will follow the creek for the most part until you reach Beaver Lake at 2 km. The trail winds through thick forests for the majority of the way. The first approximately 3.5 km are in low avalanche risk areas, but as you approach the summit lakes the risks increase with the majority of the risks falling between the two summit lakes. Always check avalanche hazards before embarking on any winter trip. The risks are also higher if you do choose to do the winter trail and cross the lakes.

As you approach the first summit lake the trail verves to the right and does not take you to the lake front. The trail turns and twists a bit through this section on the summer trail, making it a bit more of a hike on skies then really finding any kind of flow through strides. We were lucky enough to spot a momma moose and her baby just off the trail. They seemed pretty comfortable with us passing by and allowed us to snap a quick photo. According the the Hut Journal they are regulars along the trail. Remember to not feed or approach wild animals as this could result in them becoming aggressive towards humans.

After passing the second summit lake you enter thick forest for the reminding duration of the trip, I found this section to be the most challenging. The trail is rather narrow with steep up and down hill sections, like I said I’m not a very strong cross country skier so someone with more experience may not find it that challenging. As you approach Jacques Lake, you can see the hut across the lake, we stayed on the summer trail and did not cross the lake. You will come across the camp ground they have for summer use, you will continue pass for a little while longer until you reach a little bridge. Cross the bridge and you have successfully reached the Hut .

On the way home, we opted to leave very early so we could make it back to Saskatoon at a reasonable hour as we both had to work the next day. So we skied out the first 2 hours by headlamp, we had a very bright moon, which definitely helped create enough light to see.

The Hut

 Like all ACC Huts, there is a magical charm to them. They are usually basic log cabins situated amongst beautiful surroundings. The Hut is used as a Warden’s Cabin during the summer and only started being used as an ACC Hut last winter. The Hut has 2 double bunk beds which sleep 8 adults comfortably. There are two large tables, perfect for sharing adventures from the day. The kitchen is equipped with a propane stove top, dishes and large pots to boil water in. Remember to always pack food out with you and don’t leave some extra food for the next person. Chances are most people will not eat food that has been stored for an unknown period of time, and there is a higher probability that little mice may find the food first. There is a list of house rules/ chores to follow to ensure future guests have a pleasant stay as well. There is an outhouse directly behind the hut, and also hut rules on how to deal with the barrel shall it become full on your trip.

The hut is supplied with sleeping pads on each of the beds, so it is not required to bring your own pad, but you will need to bring your own bedding and pillows. This hut has a propane furnace in it, so its easy to keep it nice and toasty. I have used a minus 1 sleeping bag and have always been warm. If you are a cold sleeper, taking the top bunk will definitely be warmer.

Overall, this was one of my favourite winter trips. We lucked out with amazing conditions and tons of snow. It felt like you were inside of a snow globe. The benefit of doing winter hut trips compared to tenting trips is it requires you to bring a few less items, saving space for some extra winter layers or some extra treats. The huts typically warm up pretty quickly, so it provides the perfect place to read a book, or play some cards after a long day outside.

Early Morning Ski out by headlamp!