17. Jasper Day 2

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. IMAG1152IMAG1153 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.

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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.IMAG1165 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. IMAG1166IMAG1168IMAG1167Studio_20150623_200429

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!IMAG1172IMAG1171IMAG1170

Our final waterfall was called Tangle Falls which, as you can see from the photo is a very apt name.IMAG1174 We clambered up part of the way but IMAG1176were 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? IMAG1175

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.IMAG1179IMAG1173

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.

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Banff and Jasper boundary

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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.IMAG1190IMAG1189 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.

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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.

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We hadn’t gone all that far when we saw some stationary vehicles up ahead on the road, had there been an accident? As we approached we could see that everyone was looking to the right at some wildlife, caribou perhaps? We stopped anyway, as one does in these circumstances to ensure that we don’t miss something. After a while Roger pointed out a black blob in the undergrowth of the verge where the trees had been cut down for the road. It was difficult to make out quite what it was until a brown snout and little piggy eyes attached to the black mass emerged from behind a bush, a big black bear foraging for grubs in the undergrowth, totally oblivious to the adjacent humans on 4 wheels! Not content with ignoring us, it’s mate trundled along as well!DSCN1587IMAG1142 We couldn’t believe it. Our little convoy escorted them along the roadside for I don’t know how long, we were mesmerised. They were travelling in a definite direction and we were 4th car back so never quite got a good view of anything other than their bottoms, which was still pretty exciting. Eventually I persuaded Roger, being much more polite than me, to overtake and stop up the road, past the other vehicles and wait for the bears to come to us which he and they duly did. We managed to get some wonderful views of them and took lots of poor pictures in the excitement. My phone storage was nearly full from all the super photos I’d taken so we had to use Roger’s camera again. It also has a better zoom which quickly became redundant! We have deleted many of the 70+ photos we took as some were not very good content, some were quute out of focus and in some the bears managed to hind behind a twig!IMAG1144IMAG1143

A wildlife tour bus pulled in front of us, driven by the park gate keeper’s brother! This, presumably, was a good sign. There ensued a game of leapfrog for the remains of the hour or approximately 2 mile stretch of road. It was so compelling we couldn’t draw ourselves away. We kept vieing for position with the other cars and the tour bus as it was so amazing to see these magnificent creatures at such close quarters in their ‘natural’ habitat. Locals would beg to differ. DSCN1629DSCN1599DSCN1633DSCN1619The dexterity they exhibited with their huge claws was quite surprising. Despite their size and reputation they were searching for bugs under rocks and stones, not flesh and blood. Their worst misdemeanour was to create minor landslides from their discarded hard core or even dislodging rubble with their own mass.DSCN1602DSCN1604DSCN1610DSCN1611

Their progress was sure and steady but there was a river ahead, would they just disappear into the woods? The bus waited at the start of the bridge, apparently aware that the bears wouldn’t disappear down into the valley. Roger was aware of this movement (or lack of) and felt sure that familiarity meant that the bears would come over the road bridge. If he was right, the bridge was empty, so the best spot may be on the other side but still on the road so we took the chance and advanced to our outpost. Nothing happened for a while but the other vehicles didn’t move either so the bears must still have been around. Eventually our gamble paid off, onto the road emerged the first bear and it started to cross the bridge, lumbering along without any heed to the apt watchers, particularly us to whom it was heading. We were tense with excitement, our main question being which side of the Jeep it would pass, driver’s on this occasion. We had a full, uninterrupted and close up view of our visual prey as he/she passed us by before disappearing back into the shrubbery.DSCN1635DSCN1637

Wow! But where there is one bear their must can’t be far behind and, as if on cue the second bear emerged on the far side of the bridge. They ambled across the road, apparently undecided which side of the Jeep to pass. Much to my excitement it came between me and the bridge side which was quite a little squeeze. I had my window wound down where I had been bravely enduring mosquito bites in order to see clearly and take photos. As the bear approached I was troubled with the dilemma of whether to wind up the window as it was extremely close, I could hear its breathing, or sinking my fingers into the beautiful thick black enticing fur coat passing within my reach out the window. In the end I did neither, just held my breath. As this beast disappeared into the undergrowth to join its mate, we looked at each other in pure excitement and awe, how lucky were we!DSCN1638

We decided this was the epitome so wrenched ourselves away and continued our drive back towards Medicine Lake and the setting sun.DSCN1639 The fish were rising all over the water yet there were no fishermen. I then noticed that the density of rising was increasing, quite rapidly. What an amazing amount of fish but it transpired to be raining! This couldn’t dampen our spirits nor the fact that we had probably missed our evening meal but it was a small price to pay.

If we got a move on we may be able to get back in time for a take out meal. So on a totally euphoric high we drove down the mountain road. Around a bend we came across some parked cars where people were out with their cameras, must be something attractive but safe on the left hand side. We pulled up on the right but couldn’t see what was capturing the interest. I got out to have a look at the magnet. It didn’t take much for me to identify the black bundle behind the bushes, another black bear! But why were people out of their cars thrusting cameras at what is potentially a very dangerous animal? I got back into the Jeep pretty smartish. We were well back from the action and on the wrong side of the road so decided to advance and cross over to the active side of the road. As we passed the black bundle I was staggered and delighted to see a little cub!DSCN1643

We pulled in and watched behind to see if anything would emerge from the undergrowth. Meantime, people were out of their cars to photograph one of the most potentially dangerous bear situations, a mother with her cubs! I’m not sure if the length of their camera lenses was inversely proportional to their brain size but there were some very big cameras despite the close proximity of the animals. Even our little camera lens wasn’t required here. A little cub emerged from the bushes and proceeded forward as if to cross the road under the bumper of a parked car. Another car was approaching from the other side and would not be able to see the cub until it was possibly too late. Roger leapt out the Jeep to flag down the oncoming vehicle! I was rather concerned that the mummy might not appreciate his altruism! Fortunately the other car pulled up and he got back into the Jeep unscathed. We peered out the back window and watched 2 cubs and mum lollop across the road and disappear into the bushes. Another amazing viewing, we thought we were lucky before.

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We were definitely leaving it too late for a meal so headed back to the hotel cabins. As we approached our turning into the drive a car was stationary at the side of the road, what now? Merely a pair of elks which didn’t even justify stopping for after our evening experience however, when we pulled into the car park we had to actively encourage them to get out of the parking spaces. Whatever happened to ‘ do not approach the savages’? We shifted these rather beautiful creatures out of the way in a rather blase fashion. After all, we’d been on a bear hunt, and found not one but 3 and 2 babies!

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16. Jasper, 1st day

We left the ranch about 10am.  A bit later than scheduled as Roger had to take the Jeep in to Cache to get the spare tyre fixed, but only a slight delay. The weather was bright and warm so we donned shorts for our mini-break. We had a 2 hour drive ahead and settled into the journey quickly. What would we see when we arrived? There is so much and we were going to have very limited time so I scoured the assortment of brochures we’d procured from the tourist office. The tent we’d been offered hadn’t exactly materialised so we had no accommodation arranged. The local tourist office would be our first stop. We rounded a wide left hand bend and saw what we thought was a loose horse grazing the grass verge. As we approached it transpired to be a moose. I hadn’t photographed the previous one so jumped out to take this opportunity before it trundled off back into the woods. Only later did I see the advice to not get within 100yds of a moose, oops!IMAG1093

We turned right onto the main highway as we approached Hinton, where the bus had dropped us off, and faced the Rocky Mountains proper. We had merely been in the foothills at Ubar. The most striking factor about these mountains, besides their enormity, is that they are, um, well, rocky! I suppose the clue is in the name but I didn’t expect it to be quite so stark. There are tree covered slopes, changing instantly to rock, no grass, heath or moorland just trees then rock. Jagged, angular, vertiginous rock faces, vertical strata clearly demarcating the epochs.IMAG1147

We were greeted at the national park gate by Grizzly Adams’ son, although it could have been his brother judging by his age, with a park guide and invoice. We headed straight towards Jasper town, not that there was much alternative. The road appeared to divide a lake but they had different names on either side. Closer inspection revealed what must be different feeds as one was browny red whilst the other was turquoise green, both were crystal clear. IMAG1097IMAG1099IMAG1098There was a new range of wild flowers to grace the sides of the road including some individual bright orange lilies. I couldn’t obtain a decent photo of them when we stopped so resisted the urge to take a poor one as there would be plenty more opportunities, wouldn’t there? Actually no, the only other time I saw some was in semi darkness the following evening, their vibrancy piercing the twilight.

We made our way into the very attractive town of Jasper and called into the appropriately quaint tourist office, surrounded by colourful flowerbeds, not filled with the usual bark chippings but hundreds and hundreds of pine cones. A very helpful member of staff sorted us out with a few options for ‘cheap’ lodging, we only needed a bed for the night as we wouldn’t be staying around the accommodation long. However, the second cheapest was in a riverside cabin with our own bathroom just 5km out of town so that was sorted via the freephone at the back of the centre. We decided to grab some lunch before setting off and found a restaurant bar advertising poutine, which Bailey had encouraged us to try as a traditional Canadian dish. Whilst we were happy to oblige, the free wifi (and presumably one which worked properly) was also a big draw! So, with platefuls of chips, gravy and cheese topped with ground beef for Roger and chicken for me, we managed to get all the backlog of photos uploaded onto the website (but not onto all the pages yet).

We set off out of town on Highway 93 which starts in Jasper and finishes in Arizona; the north/south equivalent of Route 66. We eventually found our little cabin, not quite on the banks of the Athabasca River but a short walk to the waterside chairs and easy listening distance of the rapids. I was particularly pleased to see the clean hygienic flushing toilet and non-smelly shower. Although to give Ray his due, he informed us on Saturday morning that the shower and toilet in the top barn were now working, yippee! 2 minor drawbacks, the shower floor is still covered in cement, despite my scrubbing and they are located about 200yds away from our bedroom but its progress. So this little room was perfect.IMAG1103IMAG1102IMAG1101

Our next stop was Pyramid Lake to arrange our 1 hour boat trip courtesy of Kent, Bailey’s boyfriend, who had a voucher he insisted he wouldn’t use. We took the road through town and started our ascent, passing Lake Patricia first where we could enjoy a fabulous view of the imposing but unusually, multi-coloured Mount Pyramid. IMAG1104It is quite startling in its completeness which we later learnt was assisted by ‘being closed to all human use’! We continued on to the next lake, hoping that they would be able to fit us in as we hadn’t booked and were quite pushed for time to do all the things we wanted to; no problem.

We chose a Canadian canoe, the ones the Indians used in the old cowboy films. I knew that I would feel distinctly unstable, even without Roger tormenting me, so decided not to take my phone camera with its multi purpose functions and risked Roger’s camera which we hardly use now. Not that I was planning on falling in! These photos may take longer to arrive as the cable is back at the ranch with the poor internet but are now here! We paddled out into the middle of the lake, marvelled at the majestic Mt Pyramid, absorbed the magnificent vistas of the Rockies and savoured the peace and tranquillity.DSCN1575DSCN1579DSCN1580DSCN1582 There was a small island with a footbridge connection so we headed around the outside, as we neared the back we could see that the lake extended round a corner so that required exploring in our intrepid craft. There wasn’t much there and we’d been out over half an hour by now. We could cut the corner back by heading under the footbridge thus lessening the distance considerably which was significant as we were now heading into a persistent if not strong wind. My concern grew as we approached the bridge, the clearance looked to be a matter of inches. Roger assured me that we’d fit under; I wasn’t as confident. I was barely able to move in the canoe for fear of capsizing and had even taken the photos over my shoulder, I wasn’t going to be able to change positions for this tight squeeze. There had been people on the bridge as we approached but I was relieved that they had dispersed before witnessing our demise. My only option was to slip off the back of my seat and hope that I managed to retain some skin on my knees.DSCN1583DSCN1584 There transpired to be slightly more space than that although I brought my Standridge Tunnel skills into play by pulling us through by my hands on the underside of the bridge, knees intact. The only problem now was getting back onto my seat which was extremely ungainly but successful. The cox in the back kept my stroke count up as we worked our way back to the quay after a super and unexpected period. Thanks Kent.DSCN1585

Our next excursion was a 50km drive along a parallel valley following the Maligne River. The first stop was Maligne canyon where we parked up and prepared ourselves for the ’20-40 min’ short walk or further if we chose. It was already past 5pm. As we reached the first bridge for the short walk in less than 10 mins we realised that we may have a bit more time than we thought. We completed the middle walk as the views of the canyon and waterfall were very impressive although probably not given justice in the photos. On our route we did manage to spot the golden mantled ground squirrel and a poor little mite with a justified inferiority complex called the least chipmunk. But they were our wildlife of the day so far and both very cute.IMAG1125IMAG1124IMAG1116IMAG1114 Can you spot us (shadows)?

The road to our next destination was lined with a guard of honour of paintbrush plants, a profusion of reds, pinks and oranges. Despite all the new flora, these stalwarts seemed to absolutely thrive in these surrounds.IMAG1134 Medicine Lake was next on our list and we pulled into a fairly busy car park at the bottom end. A keen ornithologist had his camera, using it as a telescope, pointed at the nest of a bald eagle containing a couple of fledglings. I didn’t get the full story as I think they were German but picked up the gist. Reading the information boards, which I must say are plentiful and helpful but fairly brief, I found that the lake has an underwater drainage system of caves, so in winter it empties, almost dry despite having no obvious outlet and when all the other lakes are full, hence its name from prior to comprehending this anomaly. IMAG1105IMAG1133IMAG1129From this vantage point we could see the razor sharp edges of the Colin Range. A whole layer of the Earth’s crust seems to literally have been upended by 80-90 degrees giving very sheer smooth surfaces sliding straight down to the water. Avalanche warning signs are plentiful as little will hold the snow on these slippery slopes. I’m not sure if they are a climber’s Mecca or actually insurmountable.

Other signs instructed us that we should be careful about caribou as their numbers are dwindling severely. If I had realised just how fortunate we’d been to see one on our first morning I would have been more attentive. It is unlikely that we’ll see another. Interestingly there are also signs informing the masses that that it is illegal to appraoch or feed the wildlife. I knew it wasn’t recommended but didn’t realise it was illegal. All the signs and information are in French and English and I can’t help but smile seeing that ‘wildlife’ translates to ‘sauvage’ in French when thinking of the squirrel and least chipmunk.

We continued up the Maligne Valley from Medicine to Maligne Lake keeping our eyes peeled for more extensive wildlife. It was getting towards dusk so an appropriate feeding time. It was quite surprising how far into the trees you could actually see considering their density. I suppose it is the relative narrowness of the trunks that allows the view to penetrate when travelling at some, though not excessive, speed. We were ever watchful for the elusive bear, each tree trunk or upturned root system could have been a Paddington, Rupert or Winnie until another angle revealed their true identity. Everyone who comes to these parts as a tourist seems to be on a bear hunt, it is our holy grail. However, there is also that concern about what to do if one does meet a real bear as they are very big, strong and unpredictable.

We arrived at Mailgne Lake in the early dusk, midges were starting to come out in force which was a shame as at the bottom of the lake, where the river began tumbling down to the mighty Athabasca, there was the greatest profusion of birdlife we’ve come across since arrival. All sorts of winged beasts were swooping and diving by the bridge from which we viewed them, presuambly feeding on the bugs which were feeding on us and final drove us back into the Jeep!IMAG1137IMAG1136IMAG1128 I suggested we go back to the visitors centre to have a drink or coffee indoors to be able to appreciate the view up the lake under protection. The carpark was a little way through the trees so having deposited the vehicle we ran the gauntlet of the wooded area only to find that everything was shut. Perhaps these pesky midgies even have a significant effect on trade! Beating a retreat we got back into the car and headed down the road, hopefully in time to get a take-out pizza (yes, even gluten-free) from the hotel and download all the day’s photos on our super fast wifi!