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Marci and I have just returned from our annual visit to Jasper National Park. This year we stayed for five nights, arriving on Sunday July 24th and leaving on Friday 29th. For the first time in I don’t know how many years we played hookey from church on Sunday, leaving Edmonton around 9.30 in the morning and arriving at the Jasper town site at about 1.45 p.m. The weather was warm but quite cloudy over the tops of the mountains. After a stop at the visitor centre and a bit of shopping we went out to Whistler’s Campground and set up camp. Whistler’s, the largest of the campgrounds in Jasper National Park, is just south of the town of Jasper and is situated right under Whistler’s Mountain (so called because of the whistles of the marmots who live there).
In the evening we drove a few miles out of town up to Pyramid Lake; we parked at the parking lot by Pyramid Lake resort and then walked the mile or so by the shore of the lake up to Pyramid Island, where we wandered for a while. Pyramid Lake is named after Pyramid Mountain which is indeed shaped like a pyramid; it is a beautiful little lake with great views of the mountain ranges all around and especially of Mount Edith Cavell, always snow-covered at its peak, off to the south-east. Pyramid Island is close to the shore of the lake and connected by a wooden footbridge. The weather was still cloudy and windy when we were at the island. Looking across with my binoculars toward Pyramid Mountain I saw a female loon and two young ones on the opposite side of the lake; we would see them more closely the next day.
Monday we were a bit slow getting going in the morning. It was a glorious clear day and it would have been perfect weather for a hike on one of the high mountain trails such as Wilcox Pass or Edith Cavell Meadows, but neither of us had done this sort of thing for a while and we reluctantly decided to try a couple of days of less strenuous hikes first. The Valley of the Five Lakes is just a few miles south of Jasper; as the name suggests, it is a valley with five lakes in it, and the hiking trail leads roughly east between the fourth and fifth lakes, then north along the eastern shores of the first four lakes before turning south and coming back down the other side. All in all it’s about an eleven-kilometer hike. It’s not a mountain trail, but there are a few ridges to climb and for out of shape couch potatoes like us it was a good workout. We were hardly bothered at all by mosquitoes, which was a pleasant surprise, given that we were hiking through very marshy country. There weren’t very many other hikers on the trail but there were a few cyclists.
We were done by about two o’clock; we ate our sandwiches in the trailhead parking lot, then drove to Lake Annette, one of three lakes near Jasper Park Lodge and the most popular swimming destination in the park. It’s also one of the few lakes in the park not fed by glaciers, so, although it’s cold, it isn’t as cold as some of the others! The weather was still sunny and warm and the water, although very cold, was refreshing; it was tough getting in, but once we were in and moving around it was very enjoyable. After getting dried off, we went into town for a coffee at our favourite Jasper coffee shop, the Bear’s Paw Bakery.
In the evening we went back up to Pyramid Lake and took a canoe out onto the lake for
an hour. The weather was still holding and the lake was very calm; we took our canoe across to the far shore, found the loons and watched them for a while. Eventually we went back to the dock and then went up to the restaurant at Pyramid Lake Resort for coffee. Tourist warning: $3.25 a cup, very mediocre coffee!
On Tuesday we drove a bit further from town, up the Maligne Canyon and to the end of Medicine Lake where the Beaver Creek runs into the lake. The Beaver runs down between two mountain ranges, the Colin Range and the Queen Elizabeth Range, and the trail up along it runs past four lakes – Beaver Lake, the two Summit Lakes, and Jacques Lake. It’s about 13 kilometers up to Jacques Lake, a bit much for a return trip, but we decided to go as far as the first Summit Lake and maybe the second if we were feeling up to it. The weather had clouded over and from time to time it drizzled a bit, but not enough to make hiking uncomfortable. The trail doesn’t climb very much – only about 100 meters of elevation by the time you get to Jacques Lake and we weren’t even going half way. It leads through woodland and beside lakes and a creek – perfect country for bear and moose, so we took care to talk a lot and walk loudly so as to avoid startling any of the locals!
Beaver Lake is quite long, with the Queen Elizabeth Range behind it to the east, soaring up past the tree line to stark grey ridges. The trail led past the lake through the wooded valley, each side a riot of different shades of green, with trees, bushes, moss and wildflowers. We reached the south shore of the first Summit Lake around 12.45 and had a break on a rock by the shore, drinking some water and eating a granola bar, before pushing on along the trail by
the eastern shore of the lake. Up until this point the trail had been wide and easy, but now it narrowed and became just a track leading through the woods, with here and there a fallen tree to climb over, and all the time you were thinking about the possibility of the presence of animals. At one point we did spot a cow moose and her calf travelling fast along the opposite shore of the lake; too fast for us to get a picture though the trees, in fact. Eventually, rather tired by now, we turned back and ate our sandwiches on the same spot we had stopped earlier on the south shore of the lake before heading back to the parking lot. Again, we had done about eleven kilometers.
After a short break at the parking lot we drove on to Maligne Lake, another very beautiful and famous lake surrounded by mountain ranges. This lake is very long and there are regular boat tours out to Spirit Island (one of the most famous picture-postcard views of Jasper is a picture of Spirit Island), but we contented ourselves with wandering around the lakeshore for a while, taking a few photographs, before enjoying a cup of coffee at the restaurant (much better coffee than at the Pyramid Lake Resort!). We then drove back to Jasper along the long and winding Maligne Lake road (at one point we stopped to take some photos of bighorn sheep beside the road). The weather had continued cloudy all day with drizzle on and off.
In the evening we had a lovely visit with some friends from Edmonton who were visiting the park at the same time as us.
There was a brief shower Wednesday morning around 5.30 a.m. (you hear these things in a tent!); we were a bit undecided as to what to do that day, but eventually decided that the cloud around Mount Edith Cavell didn’t look too permanent so we would try one of our old favourites, the Edith Cavell Meadows trail. This trail does not actually climb Mount Edith Cavell; rather, it climbs a ridge across a glacial valley from the mountain, snaking up over glacial morraine and then up through trees to alpine meadows before reaching the rock and shale at the top. The total distance is 7.9 kms and the elevation gain is 523 meters from the parking lot up to the official top of the Meadows trail. Mount Edith Cavell itself has three glaciers, the Cavell, the Angel, and the Ghost Glaciers, and there is a glacial lake in the valley between the mountain and the ridge. The views are truly spectacular and it is one of the most popular climbs in Jasper; this would be our fourth time up it in the past six years.
When we got to the parking lot it was quite cool, with cloud down on top of the mountain, and even though I started out in my short sleeve shirt, drizzle soon forced me to put my jacket on. Drizzle on and off, and cool winds, were a feature of this climb – unlike earlier occasions on this trail when we had enjoyed wonderful weather – but in fact we enjoyed the cloudscapes and the trail was quieter with fewer people on it. We left the parking lot around 11.00, climbed up through the moraine and the forest and into the alpine meadows, and got up to the Second Lookout (which has the best views of the Angel Glacier) at about 12.30. We didn’t wait long there, fifteen minutes or so, before setting out again, and we got to the top at about 1.40 or so, pretty good speed for two sedentary middle-aged folks like us, but slow for some of the youngsters! Along the way Marci got some lovely photos of rock ptarmigan and marmots. At the top it was very cool and windy; I had a nice chat with a young man from Switzerland who told us that although the Alps were beautiful ‘there’s a gondola on the top of every mountain’, so he really liked the Rockies. The cloud was blowing in and it was threatening a more serious rain, so we didn’t wait around at the top for long. We got back to the parking lot about 3.15 or so, after a little side trip to see the Glacial Lake at the foot of the mountain. We both felt really good about this climb, always our favourite despite the difficulty.
On Thursday we decided to make a longer trip across the BC border to Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. It was promising to be the same sort of cloudy day and we knew we probably wouldn’t see the top of the mountain, but we had not been to Robson for some years and had never done any hiking around there. It was a beautiful drive of about 90 kms; the mountains on the B.C. side of the Great Divide seem to me to be less rocky, more tree-clad, and the valleys seem somehow wider and more spacious. Also, the trees seem a little taller on average and of course there is more rainfall on the western side of the Great Divide, so it may well be true.
After a brief stop at the Mount Robson visitor centre we shouldered our packs and set out to Kinney Lake, which is the first stop on a long 21 km hike to Berg Lake. There are walk-in campsites along the route but we were only doing a day hike so we didn’t need to pack any camping gear with us. The trail seemed very different from a Jasper Park trail; the trees are taller, the undergrowth more lush – moss, lichens, and many other types of plants that I couldn’t identify. The Robson River is a constant companion, rushing noisily along to the right of the trail; we took many photographs of its beauty! There were a few others on the trail, some obviously planning to camp, others just day hikers like ourselves.
It is 4.5 kilometers to Kinney Lake, a beautiful clear mountain lake with light blue water and steep mountain slopes all around. Before you get to it, the Robson River runs under a bridge giving wonderful views up and down stream. There are a couple of picnic tables and camping pads by the lake shore, and we met a very nice couple from Milwaukee who we chatted with for a while. Eventually they took our picture by the lake and we took theirs, after which they went on while we sat for half an hour, ate our sandwiches and enjoyed the peace and the beauty all around. Then we shouldered our packs and walked the 4.5 kms back.
After a bit of browsing in the visitor centre, we drove east a couple of miles and took a brief walk down to Overlander Falls, a lovely set of falls and rapids on the Fraser River. This is the final barrier for salmon swimming up the Fraser to spawn; none of them have made it past this spot. By now our legs were very tired, so we drove home, stopping along the way to sit on the shore of Moose Lake for a few minutes.
Thursday evening, for the first time, we got rain heavy enough to force us to take refuge in our tent and read for a couple of hours before going to sleep. It was then, talking to our daughter on the phone, that I first heard the news of John Stott’s death the previous day.
Friday was our last day in the park and the weather was quite pleasant. We had been to bed and sleep early so got up early too; we were dressed, packed and had broken camp by about 8.15 a.m. We then went in and had a leisurely breakfast at the Bear’s Paw Bakery before driving north-east almost to the park gate, then off to the right to take the long and winding road (speed limit rarely above 50 km/h) to Miette Hot Springs. This is a spectacular natural hot spring with gorgeous mountain views all around it; the water comes out of the ground at 54ºC, but they cool it to about 40 before putting it into the pool. There are also two smaller pools, one at 21ºC and one at 12ºC. We both had sore muscles after four days of hiking so were looking forward to an hour in the water. We enjoyed all of the pools but the hot one the most, of course. Then, after a coffee in the café, we finally drove back to the main road and set off for home after five wonderful days in Jasper National Park.