We left Dawson Creek and the lovely Northern Lights RV park (I highly recommend them) and overnighted at a Harvest Host – a farm outside of Grande Prairie run by a friendly German couple. It gave us a sense of what we would be looking for in France but on a smaller scale. They showed us around the farm as their boy and two dogs frolicked in the fields – it was such a bucolic evening.
We headed through more agricultural areas on our way to Hinton – just outside of Jasper National Park. We went through a few rain storms but could see the Canadian Rockies emerge as we approached the RV Park (Jasper KOA). Then the thunderstorms let loose – mon deiu!! – thunder and lightning that went on for a few hours.
We were a bit worried about the weather but it cleared up nicely for a hike in Maligne Canyon – and due to the rain it was pretty muddy! The canyon and waterfall were accompanied by the heady smell of balsam, otherwise the weather gods were being kind to us this day. We stopped at the top of the trail for a cuppa where there was a convenient visitor center and restaurant.
After doffing our muddy clothes we headed to Jasper and finally found some indigenous art that we had difficulty finding elsewhere – not sure why this was so difficult but this is Canada and not the U.S. So I got my fix and glad that proceeds were going back to the First Nations artist.
On the way back the sky cleared up enough for us to see the peaks. One looked as though Yosemite’s El Capitan had been put on a pedestal – there were these unusual half dome clefts instead of peaks. That was just a teaser for what was to come.
The next day we headed out to the Icefields Parkway. The weather was inclement; while we could see much of the dramatic landscape the tops of many of the mountains were clouded over.
We swung by the Athabasca Waterfall which was in high drama with all the torrential storms that had been pushing down the valley. We hoped we wouldn’t experience what had been happening in Yellowstone as the weather apps had been posting flood warnings.
The sky cleared and we stopped to have a traditional English “cream tea.” I made the scones from a mix that morning and we had a jar of clotted cream along with strawberry jam. We enjoyed the view while indulging in these delicacies. These stops are part of planned experiences that make these journey even more memorable.
After our posey respite, we soon we spotted our first icefields, solidified to rock faces while hanging precipitously off the sheer cliffs. We counted three glaciers – massive in scale, somehow defying gravity.
We soon stopped at the Columbia Ice Fields Visitor Center where you can conveniently boondock your RV – they have an entire parking lot right across from the Ice Fields and we settled in for the rest of the day; I had a view of the Athabasca Glacier from my window!
We decided to hike up to the glacier, navigating what we called the “Hillary Step” from Everest fame. It was a steep, snow covered embankment that was part of the trail; we had witnessed a few people tumble, taking others down with them, as they slid down the slope – we were determined not to suffer the same fate. I took my poles with me for good measure and was thankful for their support. When we got closer to the”toe” of the glacier we realized we couldn’t actually hike onto it without a guide due to crevasses. We were a bit disappointed, though weren’t really interested in the tour as it seems everything is becoming so over-touristed; we settled for a close up view and a good workout. They had educational posts along the route marking the years the glacier had receded; the advantage of walking from the visitor parking lot as everyone who drove to the trailhead never stopped to read the history.
The rain began falling hard (thank your North Face, Columbia and Adidas for such great gear!) and we headed back. Later in the evening the sky cleared and I could see low clouds rolling across the icefields which gave the atmosphere a sense of the mystical.
With the tours done for the day the glacier seemed lonely; we slide across her skin, the wind betrays her inhospitable existence, phantasms of mist cloak her slopes like a silkscreen. And still she recedes, shrinking into the vaulted mountains and their impenetrable secrets. Despite her slow death, she will outlive us all.
We woke to blinding sunlight and a chilly thirty-one degrees as the Columbia Icefield burst forth in all of its glory and we were excited for the next leg of the journey to Banff.
Back on the Icefields Parkway we were soon met with unsurpassed beauty, it was as though the mountain spirits had used a cleaver instead of a palette knife; vertical columns were scarred with horizontal serrations, sharp and turbulent with contradicting themes, ice flows clung to massive buttresses while escarpments wept along this indefatigable geography – all this chaos somehow sculpted into a magnificent panorama.
Reality set back in as we approached Lake Louise….the road to Moraine Lake was blocked as the parking was full. We arrived at Lake Louise with the same message but ignored it and voila! They were letting in RVs. Even though it wasn’t even the high season yet the waterfront was pretty crowded and if we thought it was bad now, it would be getting worse as the season advanced. Trying to get a picture amongst the usual selfie madness was a bit of a challenge as people muscle into your shot. This unfortunately is true everywhere that is popular in the world now. While this rendition gives a sense of calm and beauty – it is not – except for maybe at dawn.
I found myself taking iPhone Panos as I hadn’t brought along my wide angle lens for my Nikon – silly me!
We found a shuttle that would take us to Moraine Lake and decided to pay the $25.00 per head – we most likely wouldn’t be back to this region and the day was still young and the weather was cooperating. They weren’t kidding about the parking lot, it was small and RVs were not allowed.
We decided to hike up the “rock pile” that wasn’t overly crowded as it was fifteen minutes up a vertical cliff with some pretty large steps – a good hike to get your “stairs” in for the day. Moraine Lake was beautiful, and we had seen similar landscape at Muncho Lake further up north (see reference earlier in the blog). The glacial powder seeps into the water giving it that effervescent blue.
By this time we were getting tired – can you get exhausted by so much beauty or was it the disruption of somewhat unruly crowds that impinged on my fantasy of serenity in this incomparable landscape. I think it was a combination of the two.
We set up camp at the Tunnel Mountain Village II site and crashed for the evening. The timing was good as it began to rain and that lulled me to sleep. Tunnel Mountain Village II isn’t a place you really spend the day unless you are up by Tunnel Mountain Road – the Canadians have these spots figured out as they are more private and surrounded by trees with insane backdrops – otherwise you are basically parked on a paved road, opposite and parallel to other RVs. Some spots have fire pits but it’s not the same experience as camping in the deep woods. But they have free shuttle transportation, large shower and bathroom facilities. And the views are astounding.
We ventured into Banff the next day (they have a free shuttle into town and it only cost a Canadian Toonie to get back) and walked along a lovely path that runs next to the Bow River just on the edge of town. The river was also very swollen with the path partially flooded.
We browsed in what seemed like an endless stream of stores, so many of them with the same stuff with some galleries and big box chains thrown in. But the day was beautiful and the backdrops were breathtaking. We dove into a restaurant for some local Indian curry; there is a large population of East Indians here and the food was so good, the place was quiet and we were the only white people dining which is a good sign that you are getting an authentic experience. We decided to leave the crowds behind and head back to the camp, hugged by sunshine and encased by sheer peaks.
We spent our final day in the Canadian Rockies at Fairmont Hotsprings, a perfect ending to our six week walk-about through Canada and Alaska. The resort is a civilized respite set amongst the wild, the RV sites are well manicured surrounded by rivers, forests and of course mountains. We snagged a spot on the far side and there were no RVs next to us and the park wasn’t full. Here we had a perfect fusion of the outback and structure lingering in the quietude, shaded by the fragrant incense of lilacs and pine.
Besides the hotsprings pool that is part of the resort there is a “secret” natural hotsprings down by the creek that you can hike into – at your own risk – as there are signs warning of bears and landslides, though the hike wasn’t that difficult.
What an amazing journey it has been, words and pictures cannot even begin to reflect what you experience here – we will not soon forget the avalanche of beauty and geological wonders that permeate every facet of the Canadian Rockies