Huge apologies for the large hiatus on the report! Had some stuff come up, but I'm back to it now.
Our big stop was at the Icefields Discovery Centre next to Athabasca Glacier, on what is one of the most scenic sections of the Icefields Parkway. We wanted to get set up for the next day's activities, so we had to take the Icefields Parkway up north. After a little chat, we opted to forego driving up the Trunk Road to Hinton, as it would require us to backtrack and lose time. I'm content though, since between these two trips we have finished the route.
Picking up the Parkway at Saskatchewan Crossing, we filed north, in awe of the landscape that rose around us. On our last trip through this area, the air was hazy and smoky from fires burning in Glacier and Waterton. This time though, it was crystal clear, and absolutely stunning! We stopped near the Bow River to have a little lunch, take in the landscape, and prepare for the epic road ahead.
Shortly afterward, the road climbs and the scenery (somehow) becomes even more incredible. As you come over the pass that wraps around Parker Ridge, the landscape goes from boreal forest to sweeping alpine tundra. The trees thin, the landscape becomes rugged and craggy, and the views continue on for miles. We made a stop near Parker Ridge to take an often-seen shot.
From there, we continued north, driving up the valley towards The Icefield Centre. This route just beggars belief, especially once you come to the Centre itself. You'd swear you took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Nepal or Tibet. Before too long, we hit the Icefield Centre and tried to find a parking space. Much to our dismay, we arrived around lunch time, and the entire place was completely jam-packed. Literally thousands of people were milling around and taking in the sights. Remaining calm, we searched for a little while and were eventually able to procure a parking spot. We gathered our stuff and walked into the Icefield Centre lobby, where we had to wait in line to get our passes for the next day's adventures. Luckily, the staff there is awesome, and handled the crowds with great efficiency. Shortly after getting in line, we had our passes and decided to ditch the crowds here and push north to Jasper and our next sightseeing stop.
Hopping back on the Icefields Parkway, we thundered our way into Jasper, ready to get to our hotel and unload our fully-packed truck. We drove to the hotel only to find our room wasn't quite ready yet, so we took about an hour to wander the streets of downtown Jasper, which turned out to be a wonderful little town. We stopped in at a few on the millions of different trinket and t-shirt shops, picked up a few things, and started eyeing restaurants for dinner. Checking my watch, I found that our room should be ready, and we headed off back to the hotel.
Happily, our room was ready to go and we unloaded some things and rested for a few minutes, examining the local guidebooks and pondering what to do. It was going mid afternoon now, and we decided it would be a good time to check out Maligne Lake and Maligne Canyon. So we hopped back in the truck and made our way to one of the many stops at Maligne Canyon, which was, to our surprise, pretty free of people. Bringing minimal stuff, we took off on the walk down the Canyon.
Maligne Canyon is a beautiful place. The Maligne River, so named by a French voyageur in the 1800s who attempted to cross it and was nearly drowned ("maligne" is the French word for malignant, evil, or wicked), flows out of Maligne Lake and makes it's way down to the valley floor, eventually dumping into the Athabasca River. Along the way, the river passes over limestone rock. As such, the river has eroded it's way through the limestone, in some places only a foot or so deep, down to a maximum depth of about 160 feet. The Maligne Canyon Trail features several bridges one can cross over to see the depths of the canyon. It's a fun and easy trail that is very rewarding. The views are awesome too.
As we worked our way down the trail and down the canyon, the water cut deeper and deeper through the limestone, forming fantastic shapes and graceful curves.
My favorite overlook is like something out of a Tolkein novel.
After taking our time and breathing in this fantastic place, we hiked up and out, stopping at the nearby gift shop for a few bottles of water before going back to the truck.
Taking back to the road, we drove farther up the Maligne River, passing Medicine Lake along the way. About halfway past Medicine Lake, we had a small traffic jam where a group of Bighorn Sheep were on the road. It would have been a really cool sight, but for the Chinese tourists who had gotten out of their cars and were feeding them!
I pulled to a stop, rolled down my window, and calmly explained that they shouldn't do that. The tourists gave me a blank expression, turned away, and continued what they were doing. At which point I tapped the horn a few times, causing most of the sheep to scatter off the road. The tourists eyed me with annoyance as we continued rolling on towards Maligne Lake.
When we arrived, we found a parking spot and decided to walk the lakeshore a bit. We particularly enjoyed taking in the sights near the boathouse. We lingered for quite a while, relaxing in this wonderful place and just enjoying our time together in such an amazing landscape.
Next time we're here, a boat tour of Maligne Lake is 100% on the list. With the shadows going long, we walked back to the truck. Even the views from the parking lot were great, so I had to stop to snap this one.
With that, we drove back into Jasper.
Arriving back in town, we selected the local Indian buffet for dinner. We savored the exotic flavors and the downtown scene for a little while. This was turning out to be quite the amazing journey. With the temperature dropping, we decided to turn in early and get some extra sleep in our awesome hotel suite. The next day would hold some truly unforgettable adventures.
We woke up around 7 AM the next morning to clear skies and calm winds, foreshadowing what would turn out to be a great day of exploring. Our destination this morning was the Columbia Icefield Centre, where we would be participating in a few awesome activities. The drive was mostly clear and we made good time. We arrived rather surprised to find almost no one there, so we killed a little time by checking out the gift shop and looking at the sights. Before long, it was time to catch our bus. We lined up and boarded your ordinary coach bus, which drove us across the highway and up a dirt road to something decidedly un-ordinary. Stopping at an intermediate station, we disembarked and boarded a massive Brewster Icefield Bus, sitting in 40-inch tires and sporting six-wheel drive. This bus would take us along the lateral moraine of the Athabasca Glacier before dropping down and driving us out onto the Glacier itself.
The drive to get there is an interesting one. The bus starts off by going up a minor hill while the passengers are introduced to some basic glacier information by the driver. Ours was excellent, and provided some great info that we didn't know. Then, there is a sudden right and the driver stops to engage the ultra-low range. Yep, that's right. From there, the bus drives down one of the world's steepest commercial roads, dropping down onto the glacier. The realization hit us that we were actually driving on a living, moving glacier. What a cool feeling! Before long, we reached the stopping point and hopped off the bus to spend some time on the glacier itself.
As you can probably see here, my right foot is wet. Why, you ask? Well, I found a hole in the glacier. I stepped in it and fell up to my thigh in the glacier, drenching my foot and my lower leg. My advice: don't do this. Your foot will be wet for hours, and it's kind of cold out there.
Here is the aforementioned hole, now marked by one of the tour guides.
Aside from that minor mishap, the views were amazing and the experience is one that will stay with me forever.
Some cool things to note. This isn't dirt.
This is actually pure carbon. The glacier is a natural collecting place for it from pollutants in the air, mostly the diesel exhaust from the glacier buses. Interesting.
This the Andromeda Glacier and Mount Andromeda, one of the taller peaks in the Canadian Rockies, standing at 11,320 feet. To give you an idea of scale, the glacier we are standing on sits at 7,300 feet, so standing at the base of it is exhilarating.
This is the Athabasca Icefall. Beyond that is the Columbia Icefield, which is sending ice over the icefall to feed the Athabasca Glacier. It moves at about 1-2cm per day.
The beautiful glacier water here is so pure and clean. And actually, it's totally safe and very healthy to drink. I filled my water bottle with it and was drinking from it for the rest of the day.
After about half an hour, it was time to get back on the bus and go to our next destination. Both Beret and I were sad to leave this amazing place, but ready for what was next. We boarded the massive bus and ogled the landscape as we lumbered back to what seemed like a tiny coach.
These are the buses. Quite a cool piece of engineering, these. Massive tires, 6x6 drive, and a dual range transfer case.
And this is the steep drop down to the glacier. Being avid offroaders, Beret and I weren't really affected by the angle the bus had to drive at to get up and down, but many of the other passengers were pretty alarmed.
Shortly thereafter, we arrived back at the intermediate station and got back on the coach, which would take us to a place that was sure to get our hearts pumping.
To be continued....