Canadian Adventures 5: Jasper National Park Maligne Lake Road

So, this blog is getting written before the end of 2017! This is good news.

We left off at the beautiful Pyramid Island in Jasper National Park. After admiring our beautiful surroundings (our main pastime on this trip), we drove on to find our campsite for the night. The campsite was quite out of the way, but didn’t take too long to get to. The last road before the campsite was partially unsealed and suddenly changed from sealed to unsealed with a sickening thump of the tyres, even if I drove very slowly.

At the campsite, we made dinner, which was, as usual, adequate. We decided to make some noodles, despite worries that we would run out of gas. I kept the gas low to make sure we didn’t use it all, so we had some left for our very important morning coffee (ground coffee brewed in cafetiere – we might have been living in a car, but we didn’t become complete savages)! Because of my conservative cooking method, it took what is technically known as f*cking ages for the noodles to cook. Meaning that when I accidentally knocked the pan off the tiny stove and spilled the finally-cooked noodles onto the floor, it was especially devastating.

Life goes on.

We made up for this loss by drinking some Kracken rum. See – not total savages!

In the morning, we did some more cold water hair washing. This never got less horrible. This was the day that we decided to drive down the gorgeous, winding Maligne Lake Road (we affectionately pronounced Maligne as “Ma-ligg-nee, apologies to my French/ French appreciating readers). Maligne Lake Road is such a perfect drive, with lots to see and do along its length – a must do for Jasper National Park.

Our first stop was Lake Edith, where we found yet another set of red chairs and did a “colour quest” from our Xplorers booklet. The idea was to find things of various colours. Eva and I decided we should only choose natural things, that made it much more difficult to find anything red.

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The softies at the Lake Edith red chairs

Our second stop was Maligne Canyon. The canyon was very beautiful, carved out of a moody grey rock. There were many bridges crossing the canyon, with bigger and bigger drops to the river below. We also found some fossils – another Xplorers task – but nowhere near as many as the booklet suggested. After our walk in the canyon, we did a quick tour of the gift shop, where I bought a large bottle of maple syrup in a maple leaf shaped bottle.

We carried on along the road. I was really enjoying the drive and thoroughly used to driving on the right. We stopped off at a random layby to find another set of red chairs located next to the river, which were harder to find than expected as they were hidden by a mass of foliage.

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Eva at the chairs

One of the most atmospheric stops on our journey along Maligne Lake Road was Medicine Lake, whose surrounding area was devastated by fire in 2015, meaning that there are hundreds of blackened trees lining most of the hills surrounding the lake. There were signs there about the Caribou, which are very rare to find in the park.

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Medicine Lake

After Medicine Lake, we continued on to Maligne Lake, stopping on the way for a quick look at a black bear close to the road. These bears are becoming habituated and aren’t scared enough of humans. This means they are more likely to scavenge and become “problem bears” which means they will likely have to be killed before they hurt any humans. The recommendation is to just drive past them or stop briefly to look or take a photo while remaining in the car.

Sadly, we saw many tourists approaching the wildlife to take photos, not understanding the impact they are having.

We saw two more bears down a bank further round Medicine Lake, potentially one was a grizzly, but we couldn’t stop to look as it was on an awkward bend.

We carried on, keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife, driving slowly and having lots of cars overtake us. I couldn’t really understand why people wanted to drive so fast – it’s a stunning drive to be enjoyed.

Eventually, we spotted two cars pulling over just ahead of us, so slowed down to look for the animal they were stopping for, Eva readying her camera excitedly. As we slowed, one of the men, who had got out of his car began waving his arms like a runaway windmill and shouting “there’s nothing here!”. It was then that we realised that they had simply stopped to pee.

And that’s how Eva nearly took a picture of a random man peeing.

We carried on to Maligne Lake and saw a mule deer. We parked up carefully and headed into the visitor centre to get a map of the hikes in the area. Our Xplorers booklet asked us to hike the Mary Schaffer Trail and find various types of pretty lichens. The walk followed the edge of the beautiful lake and had great views.

We realised pretty soon after starting the walk that it was sleeting. In June. It was really odd, but likely due to the high altitude of where we were.

After our walk we headed into the cafe at the visitor centre for drinks. There was a man doing a talk about the wildlife of the national park and how humans fit in with it. He had furs and skulls to show people and told a few stories, including some that sounded a bit unlikely. He explained that bear bells are useless and you should only give them to people you don’t like.

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View from the trail

We drove back along the wonderful road to Jasper. At one point,  we turned a corner and there was a bear in the road! Luckily I was doing the speed limit, which is set quite low in case of such encounters, so I was easily able to avoid the bear.

As we neared Jasper, we saw another wildlife jam. The cars had all stopped because there was a small herd of elk hanging out by the road, some with babies! It was great to see them, but again we were dissapointed by the number of people who had got out of their cars to take photos.

In Jasper we went to a tasty buffet curry place for dinner, which was good, but not like British curry houses. We are lots! After curry, Eva wanted ice cream, so we found a pot of mango pineapple sorbetto and took it back to the campsite with us. We had to eat the whole thing, else it would melt by morning. We almost managed it. As we stuffed our faces with copious amounts of sorbetto, we watched a group of friends on the pitch in front of us, the one man dancing very camply on the roof of one of their cars.

In the morning, I got Eva to drive us to the front of the campsite to fill up our water. She hadn’t driven before, but this was an automatic, so there wasn’t much teaching involved. She did well, but underestimated (as most people do) how sensitive the pedals would be. We jerkily approached the tap and pulled up next to some Parcs Canada rangers.

Eva decided we should pretend she just hadn’t driven for a while, so we made conversation to that effect as we went to fill our water.

We drove into Jasper to fuel up and pick up some more camping gas, then went into the visitor centre to finish our tasks and hand in our Xplorers booklet for a prize. We had to swear an oath to protect Canada and the world, which seemed like a bit of a responsibility, but we got some pretty dog tags saying we had Xplorer Jasper National Park.

We then headed through the national park to visit Miette Hot Springs. The drive up was again rather stunning, with beautiful water and incredible mountains.

The hot springs were quite cheap to go in, only $6 or so and had two large hot pools and two smaller cold pools. We spent an hour or so dipping in and out. It was a lovely place to be, but got swarmed by teenagers on a school trip.

As we were having a decadent afternoon, we decided to go to a proper campsite and pay to stay the night! We drove in and set up for the night. It was very swanky, with actual warm water! We had soup and kale for our adequate dinner and tidied the car.

After much chatting, laughing and run drinks, we went to bed in our comfy car home.

Our Jasper adventure was at an end and we were very sad to leave the next day for Edmonton, but excited by the prospect of beds and showers.

The drive went smoothly and mostly long straight flat roads through countryside. It was nice, but a far cry from the beautiful mountain roads of BC and the Canadian Rockies.

We stopped at subway for lunch and eventually reached Edmonton. Eva’s expert navigation got us to our hostel where we grabbed a free tofu-dog, watched TV and did washing – our exciting Edmonton adventure!

Soon I will write a blog about our adventures in Calgary as well as Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National Parks.

By soon, I mean sometime within the next month.

 

 

 

Canadian Adventures 4: Jasper National Park Glaciers and Bears

We drove into Jasper town, arriving in the afternoon. We parked in a back road, then walked back to the main high street to go to Tim Hortons for coffee and wifi. We visited the information centre and picked up loads of leaflets, including one called “Xplorers” which was full of fun activities (this would become our main way of exploring the national parks – you get tags when you complete the booklets).

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Our first national park!

We drove south towards the ice-field parkway – a wonderful road that runs through most of Jasper and Banff National Parks. I had a sore throat and felt a bit tired, so we didn’t want to drive too far. We stopped at the Athabasca Falls on route. They are very powerful and beautiful and lead down a twisty canyon to a pretty lake.

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The Athabasca Falls
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Where the Athabasca river exits the canyon
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The beautiful canyon

We went on until we found a campsite called honeymoon lake, which is by a pretty lake with dramatic mountains.

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Honeymoon Lake

We had been having trouble with can openers. We bought one in Vancouver for cheap, but it was rubbish and flaked off fragments of metal every time we used it. We tried to but some more, but they seemed to be bottle openers, which was strange because the packet said can openers. They were completely useless anyway. We had to borrow one from the Germans in the next pitch across.

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Buck Lake – our breakfast spot

The next morning I felt a lot better we drove to the next lake along to have breakfast, which is where I had an unfortunate incident with a pit loo. Pit loos are basically a long drop to a tank full of waste – they smell bad and they often have flies in them. This loo was probably rarely used because it was by a tiny lake that hardly anyone visited. I needed to go for a longer visit, which is fine, I don’t need luxury toilets for this, but what happened was truely traumatic. I received a large amount of splash-back. Splash-back not just of water, like in the toilet at home, but of waste filled water. Shudder.

After the incident and a suitable chance to get over it, we drove on to see the Sunwapta Falls, another falls inside a canyon. They were also very pretty. We began a walk in the forest, which was lovely, but increasingly scary as we hadn’t brought our bear spray. We eventually turned back and returned to the car park for lunch.

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The Sunwapta Falls

The drive on from there became more and more scenic as we neared the ice-field parkway. More mountains rose up between the trees, now sporting glaciers. There were open glacial plains, with thin turquoise waters flowing through in winding ribbons.

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Distant Glaciers

We stopped at yet another waterfall, that cascaded down the mountain and was guided under the road. It is called Tangle Creek. Everyone was parking on the roadside just past it because, like us, they drove past, saw it and had to stop because it was surprisingly spectacular.

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The break-pounding beauty of Tangle Creek

We expected the ice-field parkway to be covered in ice and snow. Apparently this is just in winter. In summer the snow has melted and the ice is reduced to just the glaciers high up on the mountains. When you reach the visitor centre there, you are at quite a high altitude already, but still below the glaciers.

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The view from the visitor centre

We decided at this point that we wanted to walk on one of the glaciers. The Athabasca glacier, we found out, is the same one our Grandma visited quite a few years previously on her trip to Canada. We had booked to walk on the glacier and had to wait for our bus up the mountain. After an hour of browsing the gift shop, we queued up and got on the bus that took us into the alpine zone of the mountain.

We transferred onto a special vehicle called an “Ice Explorer” driven by a very young guy called Jack. The ice explorers cost 1.3 million dollars each and there are only 23 of them in existence, with one in Antarctica and the other 22 serving the tourists on the Athabasca glacier! The drive up was really cool, especially when the very large and very HEAVY ice explorer went down a 32% gradient slope – scary, but these vehicles are built to cope with it without rolling or sliding.

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That slope.

When we reached the top, we were allowed out onto a small, safe section on the ice. It was very cold. We had 30 minutes to enjoy the experience, which Eva and I made full use of – tentatively wandering around, taking photos and enjoying the view. Eva borrowed a bottle off a random man to drink some of the fast flowing glacial-melt water and I decided to lie down on the glacier. This was quite chilly.

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These are big vehicles!

Eventually we had to return to the not-so-icey ground. We got back to our car and drove to a lovely big campsite for the night. We had dinner, then Eva went on a mission to find a bin and took so long that I went to find her, thinking she’d been eaten by a bear. Of course, she got back to the car before I did and thought I’d been eaten by a bear. I had not.

We settled down in the car and slept. It was one of the colder nights, likely due to the increased altitude.

The next morning, Eva experienced the joys of being poor and living in a car, by washing her hair in cold water!

When she had defrosted, we began to pack the car, when I scared her by shouting “behind you!”. This was because there was a ground squirrel behind her, not a bear! Cue Eva whipping out her camera and taking several hundred photos – see her instagram for the result!

We also had a minor incident where I was filling our large water container from a tap that suggested you didn’t take too much water and a campervan came, causing Eva to shout “campervan”, for some reason, I heard this as “rangers” and panicked, thinking I would get in trouble and ran back towards the car with the now very heavy water container and overbalanced and fell over. Well done me.

Once I had gotten over my embarrassment, we decided to tackle one of the challenges in our Xplorers booklet – find the red chairs. The national parks of Canada have wonderful scattering of red chairs throughout them, at various viewpoints. The first one that Eva and I chose to find was on Wilcox Pass, a popular hiking route starting directly by our campsite.

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We hiked up the hill, as the trees thinned out and the wind ripped by. We met several much fitter hikers on our route up, but the views were pretty stunning by the time we emerged from the trees. The red chairs weren’t all that much further. We took a few photos on the chairs then headed out of the howling wind.

We drove back up towards Jasper village. The drive was lovely as the roads were clear and the views were good. We eventually reached our second red chair destination: the valley of the five lakes! This valley is creatively named after the number of lakes it has in it. The lakes are given the vastly imaginative names of first lake, second lake, third lake, fourth lake and fifth lake. Eva and I theorised a man must have named them.

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One of the five lakes

The lakes were lovely – all different shades of blue. Sadly it began to rain while we were hiking, but we found the chairs and began to make our way back to the car.

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The weather turned…

On our way back, I was walking maybe 5m ahead of Eva and we weren’t talking as it was raining quite heavily. As we walked along the empty path, around 5m in front of me a BEAR ran across! It was an adult black bear, going very quickly. I immediately stopped and went “There’s a bear, there’s a bear, that’s a bear, oh my god Eva a bear!”

Eva got ready to use the bear spray as she couldn’t see due to rainy glasses. The bear had luckily already ran on through the trees and out of sight.

The adrenaline rush was like nothing I had felt before and I jumped out of a plane and off a bridge earlier this year. This was a positive bear sighting – safe but also stunning. Being so close to such an incredible animal in the wild is a truely awesome experience.

Once we had recovered from our bear encounter, we headed back into Jasper and found a cute vegan cafe and got hot chocolates and a ginger cookie. We managed to get some wifi at Tim Hortons to talk to mum and dad and stocked up on some more food.

Our next destination was Pyramid Lake, another of the many beautiful lakes in Jasper National Park. I saw an elk on the drive in and there were warnings about dangerous elk as it is the time of year when they have calves. We found another red chair, which was not too long a walk, with nice views back over the lake.

 

We headed back down and walked onto the very pretty Pyramid Island which was accessible by a long foot-bridge. We hoped to see loons there, but no such luck.

Loons, for those who don’t know, are a lovely Canadian bird that is featured on the $1 coin. Not Eva and myself.

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The view from Pyramid Island

The second installment of our adventures in Jasper National Park will eventually get written, hopefully before the end of 2017!