Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Canada - Jasper National Park

Hi there, eh

September 1 we leave the states and enter Canada.  The border crossing went very smoothly.  It's not like we're entering a hostile country, quite the contrary, but there are issues like what food can you carry across, firearms, how much dog food do you have, alcohol and are your shots current. That also would be the dogs.  The border dude was very pleasant, asked a few questions, no pistol whipping and sent us on our way.

Our first stop is Clearwater, British Columbia.  This is primarily a layover for us waiting to get into Jasper National Park. Back in February my travel agent wasn't able to promptly get us a reservation. It is Labor Day weekend but still, good help is hard to find. The campground was fair. Far too many noisy campers for this crabby old man but it was situated on a nice lake. Cold and rainy sums up the weather.

A local highlight is Wells Gray Provincial Park which was just a few miles away. Zillions (1.4 million) of forested acres and robust rivers that produce some crashing waterfalls. The falls are accessible via some muddy trails.  I guess they're not muddy if it's not raining. Duh! We were prepared for the rain so the short hikes were fun. Pictures often fail to accurately depict a natural beauty. This will be true here so you'll just have to buy into my "picturesque" narrative.  We saw three different waterfalls.  Each caused us to pause followed by the mandatory "oh my gosh". Maybe what made these falls so spectacular was the volume of water.  A lacy trickle can be pretty but these suckers were pouring 100's of tons of water. Two raged from sharply carved gorges dropping dramatically.  They roared!
Helmcken Falls

Spahats Falls
The third is something close to a small Niagara.

Dawson Falls
All very impressive. So next time you're on your way to Jasper National Park set aside a day or two for Wells Gray Provincial Park.

September 4 we drive on to Jasper National Park.  You have now entered a wonderland of mountainous beauty.  We had the terrific pleasure of spending a week here. You just never tire of the stunning scenery.  It's enormous.  Maybe awe inspiring is appropriate.  It continually changes with the time of day, lighting and snow accumulation on the peaks. Our weather was not the best, a bit cloudy, rainy and something close to cold but we were not deterred.

Our first Jasper outing was an easy drive to Maligne Lake.  This is the largest glacier fed lake in Canada, the second largest in the world.

The glacier water departing the lake produces the Maligne River.  As this sparkling river races downhill it deeply carves the limestone bedrock creating Maligne Canyon.  The canyon is up to 50 meters (165 feet) deep (pay attention there may be a quiz) and narrow enough at some places for the squirrels to jump across. Some of the more unique rock formations are caused by spinning pebbles, that, after a million or two years creates perfectly symmetrical holes or hollowed out portions of the canyon wall.  All of this is easily observed via a gentle trail and a series of 6 bridges spanning the canyon. Starting from the top of the canyon the first 4 are within about a half mile area and provide views of some of the best that the canyon has to offer.  We did this one afternoon but returned another day and hiked the entire 4.5 mile route to see all six bridges and far fewer people. Very cool.

Now, if all this is not rewarding enough, as we leave the canyon area day one we stumble upon what was truly a spectacular rainbow. Stunningly beautiful. Yes, we're convinced we have, in fact, found that pot of gold.

Labor Day we made our way to Mount Edith Cavell, 11,033 feet tall and you can stand at the base looking up.  The truth is we went there two different days trying to get a full view of what is described as the "most distinctive and impressive in the park".  The weather never fully cooperated but it was still way cool. It's not just the peak but the glaciers, glacier lake, waterfall and the adjacent beauty that justifies multiple visits.

On another day, it's really not important which day, we spent much of a day driving the Icefields Parkway that runs through the southern portion of Jasper National Park.

The ultimate destination is the Columbia Icefield.  Even if there wasn't an icefield the drive would be time very well spent. "Nothing special", just more endlessly beautiful scenery.  An hour or more at the Icefield Centre is also worth while. The icefields (glaciers) are right there.

For something like $80 a head you can ride a bus over to the glacier then board some form of super duper, lets call it a monstrous atv and ride onto the glacier.  We passed which might have been our loss but we're content.

Almost immediately upon leaving the area, we enjoyed our first Canada wildlife sighting - a mountain goat high on the cliffs.

On the way north, heading home, we stopped at Sunwapta Falls.  Now here's the deal. I hear myself saying things like one never tires of hummingbirds, deer and now let's add waterfalls. Canada does waterfalls better then most.  My scientific observation is that they often include enormous quantities of water. They rarely seem to be a trickle, they're a daggone deluge.  Great energy.  What a delight.

September 9 we take a gondola ride up The Whistlers, a mountain just outside of Jasper with a summit of 8100 feet.  The ride, 3280 feet up the face of the mountain was pleasant.  But the fun is just beginning.

Once you get off the gondola there's a wooden boardwalk that launches you further up the mountain.

This route quickly becomes a very steep, slippery earthen trail that continues up the mountain.  After a "summit" or two you really do reach the real summit.

I feel safe in saying that I'm at least a fair hiker.  Nothing world class or death defying but at least capable.  So I'm hear to tell you that the trail was truly one steep, slippery humdinger.  If you fell you wouldn't die but you might roll some and at least get more muddy then you'd prefer.  I had to watch my footing carefully as did Debbie who is particularly uncomfortable with these conditions. Up, and more so down, was challenging.  The length of the entire trail might have only been maybe a mile.  But the effort was a reasonable investment with a substantial return.  How's that?  The views were maybe some of the best we've seen on our trip. We stayed on top for a couple hours.  As time passed the clouds and sun changed continuously giving us a kaleidoscope of views.  Forgive me, I'm on a roll. Seriously, it was a great great experience.

Overlooking downtown Jasper

Our campsite in Jasper National Park was quite nice.  Nothing fancy, the roads needed some work but the sites were spaciously wooded.

More importantly, we often had visitors.  They just moseyed around like they own the place.  In fact, they acted like we were the intruders.  We'd look out the door and these "folks" would just be hanging out.   This darn youth!  So we "let" them have their space and everybody minded their own business.

While in greater Jasper we also spent time riding around (this just landed on my head, lets call it vehicular frolicking) looking at lesser known lakes, mountains too numerous to name, and beautiful scenery with that alpine flavor.  Jasper is quite a small town so it was easy to get the lay of the land and on a few occasions we just walked around town. So that was our week.  We're already imagining a return trip but for now it's time to move on to Banff.

See you there!