We took our breakfast over to the riverside seats which was a pretty special location looking up the Athabasca River towards more snow covered mountains. This was where we were heading, down the Icefields Parkway, alledged to be one of the 10 most scenic drives. Our guide leaflet gave information on various places to see on the way but also told us that there were very few facilities and advised taking a packed lunch. Our hotel offered ‘bag lunches’ purely for this purpose. It transpired that there were a few places we could have eaten so I suspect they aren’t too happy with that advice. The chef had offered to make me some sandwiches with gluten-free bread but I had requested one of their GF pizzas the night before so they were ready for collection before we set off.
Our first stop was the Athabasca Falls. We were most put out to find that we were having to share this beauty spot with a couple of coach loads! This was the first time we actually felt to be amongst a throng after relatively few people being anywhere we were the previous day but I suppose that was inevitable. Some of the viewing areas were quite congested, not just with the number of people but also their girth. Canadians seem to be going the same way as Americans. They also seemed to be oblivious to the fact that others wanted to be able to appreciate the view and have their photo taken as well. The falls themselves were very impressive but the photos can’t capture the force of the water cascading over the rocks. These were apparently enticing to young men with invincibility complexes as the warning notice and memorial benches attested. It was very sad but pertinent to see these as it was obviously a dangerous place but well protected if you didn’t climb over the barrier! Unfortunately death was inevitable if you fell from the trauma and/or drowning but also hypothermia as the blue/green water was glacial melt.
We drove on past another ridge of upended land; trees clinging to the slopes for dear life, with nothing to grasp on to but apparently finding something. I suppose that, as the road wound along a glacial valley, it was inevitable that the river would be the main feature of our roadtrip. Various lakes and creeks (small rivers, I’m not sure where the demarcation is) lined the route and our next stop was Sunwapta Falls, further up the Athabasca. Whilst this was upstream the size and force of the cascade didn’t seem any less at the main point. It was just quite surprising to see an adjacent benign little spout trickling over the edge.
We enjoyed our stops, cooled by the fine spray whilst gazing at the water, mesmerized in a similar way that one can become transfixed by a fire. I’m happy to admit that I have taken lots of photos but I’d like to think that I take the time to look as well. It appears that some people only see through a camera lense which is quite sad really. I want the photos to revise memories when I get back, of what I saw, others appear to take photos so that when they are home they can see where they’ve been, weird (and pointless).
The weather was beginning to deteriorate, clouds gathering threateningly. We still decided to stop at Beauty Creek where there is a wonderfully located hostel. The warden was very accommodating and started an explanation of the hostelling network and all the Canadian locations. A guest was about to leave to continue on his road trip south which had started in Alaska. They told us about the lovely time they’d had the previous night, sat outside around the fire pit watching the Northern Lights. We’d missed them again!
Our final waterfall was called Tangle Falls which, as you can see from the photo is a very apt name. We clambered up part of the way but were unable to see a path to the top. Roger wanted to determine what was up there to create such a wide ledge, possibly a lake?
I was becoming slightly agitated by this time by a ‘stalker’! A 15 or 16 year old lad seemed to be beside us at every stop, taking so many photos. His parents were there also but they didn’t seem to feel the same need to stand beside us all the time. He didn’t speak or even make any attempt to converse. Roger thought I was being paranoid until he started noticing him at the subsequent stops. Our task then became to shake him off which we successfully managed to by stopping for lunch.
Our ‘restaurant’ view was the Stutfield Glacier adjacent to the Columbia Icefield which is receeding like most glaciers worldwide. This withdrawl leaves behind a mas of morraine which is entirely natural but makes the area look like a stone works or disused building site. We watched the adapted tour buses taking people out onto the glacier via a prepared road, what’s wrong with using your legs? These came from the new Icefield Centre which we hadn’t particularly wanted to visit. Seeing the vast number of coaches and packed car park reinforced our decision to give it a miss and so we continue onto the top of Wilcox pass where Jasper National Park ends and becomes Banff NP so this seemed a good place to turn around, particularly as the weather was improving so I retook all the glacier photos in sunshine.
We headed back towards Jasper, watching the rain clouds deposit their contents in clearly defined locations. The scenery continued to entrance us, just travelling in the opposite direction gave a very different view. This day was going to be about scenery rather than wildlife until we came upon a car pulled in at the side of road. Wow, what exciting animal would we see this time? A goat! a scruffy shaggy sandstone coloured goat who was completely indifferent to us, we drove on. It was still mid afternoon and we were in no hurry to get back so turned up the road to the mountain tramway. When we reached the base station the weather was still uninspiring. It was quite expensive and there wasn’t a huge amount of time left before the last tram down. Despite the recommendations we didn’t bother and drove on to the hot springs.
As we wove up blind bends on the approach road a black bundle leapt from the trees to cross the road, startled, turned and ran back into the bushes. Another bear and not a particularly big one. We pulled up and watched behind us as a minute later it popped back out and trotted across the road. It was bigger than the cubs we’d seen the previous evening but still quite young. We waited to see if any family would follow, none did so we think that he had maybe been left behind. It was quite a narrow escape for the little fella. I don’t think the gate wardens would have been very impressed if we’d left the park with our trophy impaled on the winch, shouting ‘we’ve got one!’
We continued up to the hot springs which looked just like a heated out door pool but I was very relieved to find that it didn’t smell of sulphur. We luxuriated in soaking our permanently aching limbs, arms slightly the worse for canoe paddling the previous day. There were 4 pools of varying temperatures, I only sampled the warmest 2, Roger managed 3. It is a stunning setting and quite an experience to lie back in the warm waters looking out onto the mountains as the sun gradually sinks towards the horizon.
We drove back in the gathering dusk, a good wildlife spotting time. 2 moose stopped grazing as we passed and startled to trundle towards the tree line, the bigger one turned and glared, daring me to get out of the car. I didn’t, I suspect he was the sort who would have charged and is the subject of the ‘stay 100yds back’ signs. Further on a coyote trotted across the road, its silvery coat giving an almost ghost like appearance in the half light. Next a white-tailed deer startled as we came abreast of her. She made her escape route parallel to the road and, despite these creatures being regarded as a bit of a nuisance in these parts, we were entranced by her grace and elegance as she loped, wave-like along the grass verge. These 2 days have felt like a real holiday as opposed to the working holiday we’d enjoyed up until this point.