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).
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.
We went on until we found a campsite called honeymoon lake, which is by a pretty lake with dramatic mountains.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The second installment of our adventures in Jasper National Park will eventually get written, hopefully before the end of 2017!