Curiosity takes me to the Icefields Parkway
With gorgeous weather forecast for this past Friday and Saturday (and relatively warm temperatures overnight), I decided to try camping in the van. High winds were forecast for east and south of Calgary so the mountains won for a destination. Wanting to try a different route, I chose Jasper as I have only really driven through and it was a long time ago. My partner hadn’t been in a while either so decided to tag along.
One thing to note in the off-season, there is no gas between Lake Louise and Jasper – of course they place the sign after you turn off Highway 1 – so I was definitely checking the gauge.
The first stop was Bow Summit which has a beautiful view of Peyto Lake. At 2,088 metres, this is the highest point on the drive from Banff to Jasper, and the highest elevation crossed by a public road in Canada. The road to the lookout is closed but you can walk up to awesome views.
We continued up to the summit as you can see up and down the valley. There was still a ton of snow (up to my hip when I stepped off the packed pathway), but it was warm enough to be in a t-shirt. The climb to the top was steep too, and luckily Chester (our bichon-shitzu) is light so he stayed on top of the snow and I didn’t have to carry him.
I’ve been in the west for 16 years and I still don’t tire of the mountains. They are often described as brooding, but I think they are spectacular. Just before the entrance to Jasper National Park is Big Bend and Big Hill (not creative names, but descriptive of the hairpin turn and the amazing view from the top). I would not want to cycle up that hill!
View from Big Hill
Next we stopped at the Columbia Icefield. The only time I have been here it was raining, cold and windy. This time it was just windy – poor Chester was not impressed! It still amazes me that the ice can scrape the mountain like this.
We got to Jasper and had dinner at The Jasper Brewing Company. I am not a beer drinker but had a sip of Rockhopper IPA – not bad after a day of driving and small hikes in the sun! Jasper has a nice feel to it – smaller than Banff and somehow less “touristy”.
Jasper Two Brothers Totem
I really like the totem pole in Jasper, particularly as the description on the Parks Canada website includes the word curiosity!
The Two Brothers Totem Pole now stands as a story pole and tells of two Haida brothers who, out of curiosity and a spirit of adventure, traveled long ago from Haida Gwaii to the Rocky Mountains. The tradition of oral story telling is integral to Haida culture and this particular story was told to Jaalen and Gwaai by their nanaay Diane Brown.
Much to my partner’s dismay (he is a backcountry camping kind of guy), we stayed in the Wapiti Winter Campground. I am planning on doing more travelling on my own if he can’t come and feel safer in a campground. It was great as it wasn’t busy and we got to have a nice campfire. We managed fairly well, and Chester was comfy wrapped in a sleeping bag as it got down to +1C overnight (I am wimpy). We had a yummy breakfast and headed to Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia, about an hour east of Jasper (Mount Robson is a peak which my partner wants to climb and is the highest in the Rockies – I think I will pass on that one!!). The information centre was closed and sadly the top of the mountain was shrouded in clouds, but it is still imposing.
Heading back to Jasper, we stopped at Overlander Falls – named for a group of 175 men and one woman who traveled in 1862 from Ontario to the goldfields of British Columbia. The goldfields were typically reached by boat travelling around South America; however, this brave woman (and the 175 men) traveled across Canada. We saw some brave kayakers going over the falls (10m high!) and they sounded like they were having a blast. I have heard that BC stands for “bring cash”, but I think it means “big cedars”. I love the smell of cedars and they are plentiful in BC.
We checked out both Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls on the way south of Jasper. Both are beautiful but I think I liked Sunwapta better. We hiked to the lower falls, which was equally scenic. Lunch was at a random pullover beside the river. We cooked up pad thai – dehydrated food has come a long way from the freeze-dried pork chops that I remember eating while canoeing in Ontario as a kid!
It was getting late, and we still had a long drive ahead of us (for those not familiar with Alberta, Jasper is 412 km from Calgary and it takes about five hours if you don’t stop (lots of 70 km zones for animal crossings). We made one last stop at Bow Lake to enjoy the sunset. I definitely have to come back when the lakes are thawed, more services are open (after mid-April seems to be a better time) and there is more wildlife to see!