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a beautiful shot of jasper national park in the winter with a river in the forefront and trees and the rockies in the distance
Wandering Crystal

Belgian Backpackers Get More Than They Bargained for in Jasper National Park

From collapsed tents to fallen trees, the Belgians conquered treacherous conditions, proving that resilience and resourcefulness are critical in the face of nature's surprises

Two backpackers from Brussels, Belgium, had an unexpected adventure during their trip to Canada.

On June 16, Raf Verbraeken and Arthur Van Eeghem embarked on a four-day hike along the Fryatt Trail in Jasper National Park. Everything seemed fine at first, with just some rain.

But on June 19, on the way back to town from the Brussels campground, their luck took a turn for the worse. The rain turned into a heavy downpour. 

They decided to seek shelter at the Sydney Vallance Hut, but snowfall started before they could reach it. They couldn’t check the weather or call for help because there was no mobile connection.

the two belgian hikers outside of a wooden cabin posing for a photo with the forest in the background
Raf Verbraeken (right) and Arthur Van Eeghem (left) at the Sydney Vallance Hut | Edmonton Journal

“We just thought that it’s gonna maybe snow for a couple of hours, and by the morning, it will all be gone. But it didn’t turn out that way because there was snow overnight,” Verbraeken told the Edmonton Journal.

Concerned about their food supply and the possibility of being snowed in for days, they decided to head back down the mountain the next day.

They hoped the snow would turn into rain once they got past the headwall and back to the valley.

Unfortunately, they were not prepared for the snow. They had only packed for rain. The descent through the deep snow was challenging and treacherous.

Their tents at the original campground had collapsed under the weight of the snow. Wet and cold, they trudged on for over seven hours, battling strong winds and hail. They couldn’t stop to rest or eat due to the freezing temperatures.

The trail was barely visible, covered in snow, with fallen trees obstructing their path. Finding signage was nearly impossible. There was no help in sight.

“We had to walk around because of all the fallen trees — it was deep snow all the way, but we had to continue; the path going down was totally different than the path going up,” commented Van Eeghem.

In total, 55 centimetres of snow and 100 millimetres of rain fell in parts of the national park, leading to road closures and the rescue of around 60 other stranded visitors.

Eventually, Verbraeken and Van Eeghem returned to safety, reaching their vehicle. They headed to town to rest and change before continuing their journey to snow-free San Francisco.

Compared to their hiking experiences in the Alps, the extreme weather changes in Jasper were unprecedented for them. They hope that park staff will improve signage along the trail to prevent such incidents in the future.

While both men are still recovering from the exhausting adventure, they consider it a story they will cherish forever, despite it being more challenging than anticipated.

Anyone heading into our magnificent Rockies’ backcountry must remember to “Be prepared.”

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