Apart from the forward planning and a little bit of cost management, the first few weeks have been like a small hiking and driving holiday. I am sure that everyone reading the blog will soon be tired of reading about day after day of rock, alpine meadows and treelines so I am wrapping up our final few days in Jasper Park and the drive down to Banff in one blog.
If anyone has any adjectives or adverbs that might add to my limited vocabulary please send me ideas. Otherwise I might have to dip into alliteration and onomatopoeia to keep your (and my) attention.
Making plans for Nigel - Nigel this Nigel that (23 August 2011)
We drove down Highway 93 for over 100 km to a small parking stop about 10 minutes past the Columbia Icefields Centre. This was the trailhead for a 15 km return trip to Nigel's pass.
As with most of our walks the direction was up as we ran parallel with the path of Nigel Creek that ran alongside Nigel Mountain. We passed through the usual stands of firs and crossed small breaks in the trees where heathers, alpine flowers and grasses covered the ground. The views were amazing and the mountains very peaceful.
The two variations that I noticed on this walk were the many streams (some starting to be fairly active) that we had to ford and large areas of what can only be described as wild shrubberies. No, there were no killer rabbits or Knights that say "Ni" but there were lots of squirrels and hikers that say "nein".
After a few hours we reached our destination, a small river ford that marked the boundary between Jasper and Banff parks - we had actually started our walk in Banff Park. As we headed back down the trail (much quicker than we had hiked up) we noticed the views of glaciers on the top of Mount Saskatchewan and the southern edge of Mount Athabasca - one of my favourite views so far. Check out the pictures.
Waterfalls - Athabasca Falls (23 August 2011)
On the way back from Nigel Pass we stopped off at Athabasca Falls - a popular stop for tourists.
The falls are impressive but the thing that struck me most about the geology of the place was the features called "pot holes". These are not the annoying gaps in the road that we have been moaning about in the UK since the last fall of snow but rather huge goldfish bowl shaped holes in the rocks that had been carved by the power of the falls over many centuries.
Skinhead moon stomp - Bald Hills (24 August 2011)
I don't know why but I was drawn to this walk.
A gradual incline at the start of the walk (from a parking lot at Maligne Lake) soon gave way to a tough up-hill slog. Our goal was some 500 m higher and 5.2 km away from the lakeside.
The route followed a fire road and was fairly uneventful until (after a few false stops) we neared the top and I took us off on the wrong route (the one with the dodgy high view on a ledge overlooking cliffs). I could not take that route so we backtracked to the easier route and made our way up some scree to a cairn topped peak.
This afforded us some great views up Lake Maligne to the point where the Lake narrowed before opening up to a further expanse of water behind distant hills and peaks. We could see almost 360 degrees to peaks that varied in shape, texture and colour.
Whilst we were only some 30 or so metres from the very top of the walk (some 2200 metres above sea level) I could proceed no further - the final 500 metres would mean going almost to the point where I had chickened out before.
We quickly returned to the Lakeside where we sat on a bench on the viewing decks that overlook the pleasure cruiser marina. After a quick drink we headed back to Jasper to freshen up and have dinner. The big-horn sheep were across the road as we drove back but this time they had stopped a car in front before proceeding to nibble away at its tyres. We passed the by now surrounded car and soon arrived back home.
After dinner we finished the day off at in O'Sheas, a local pub/hotel. Whilst I drank Molson lager and Karen a very reasonably priced house white, we marvelled at the people using the 20 or so gaming machines or playing online bingo (a new game seemed to be being played every 20 minutes using lottery type tickets available at the bar). A friendly group of locals were drinking round after round of beer and chasers. After an hour or so, the group had shrunk but was still going strong as we headed back to our accommodation for one final night.
I can see for miles - leaving Jasper (25 August 2011)
Banff is some 290 km from Jasper. After saying goodbye to our hosts, we programmed the Satnav with our destination to be promptly told that, after pulling out onto the road we should "proceed 286km south to turn right on Norquay Road". And that is what I did.
The views on the road are incredible. Some of the highest peaks in the Canadian Rockies are past but not before they fill your windscreen with crystal clear panoramas. The lakes you pass are turquoise blue, the rivers are wide and flowing strongly and the trees grow in unbelievable places on the sides of almost sheer cliffs. I was oohing and aahing most of the way. Karen slept for large parts.
Towards Banff we started to see numerous wild bridges being built across the highway to allow animals to travel in safety. Apparently Caribou and Bear take 5 years to get used to these bridges before they will use them but Elk start to use them even whilst they are being built.
I did not drop below the speed limit during the Journey but still it seemed that every car with an Alberta plate was tailgating me. Some of the overtaking was nuts and I am very surprised that we did not see anyone down the side of a mountain during the drive.
We arrived in Banff after about 4 hours driving. Banff is much busier than Jasper and more commercial (as everyone in Jasper told us when we told them we were going to Banff) but our first meal out (at the Elk and Oarsmen) was reasonable, tasty and served in a lively atmosphere. I recommend the Bison and Blue burger and if you go on Thursdays there are deals on the local brew.
Spirit of the radio
"Begin the day with a friendly voice, undemanding, unobtrusive"
We have tuned into a national US radio station in the car - "I'm Kim Ashley. This is Serious XM, the Pulse. Commercial free radio". The play list is even more limited than Radio One and seems to consist primarily of generic rock/alt-country acts and Adele.
There are the occasional gems (Coldplay, Radiohead, Foo Fighters etc.) and some good songs amongst the mix but they have an annoying habit of telling what they are going to be playing in "about 20 minutes" rather than let you know at the time.
Most of the women acts sing about dumping their boyfriend for a new model and the men about not getting over breaking up. One particular song tells a story about the pick-up breaking down when a guy's trying to get back to his girl to say sorry for an argument. Rather than phone the AA he starts to run. The trailer park can't be very far away can it?
My favourite song though is a J Geils band type bluesy number that rhymes San Francisco with Disco and Calypso. It's about a guy who is travelling the US (but in a very illogical order) and needs to get home to his girl. All I can say is I hope his pick-up is better than the other blokes.
I am very unnerved by the padded seat and lid on the toilet in our bathroom here at the Banff YWCA. At first I thought this was a good idea and would be handy for reading the Sunday papers but it lets out a strange noise as you sit down so I have decided that I am against this design.
If I could talk to the animals …
.. I would say pull your finger out and show yourself Mr Bear.
Whilst I didn't want to meet a bear, I wanted to see one in the wild. It did not matter what angle it was seen from (the front, the sides or even from behind) as long as I did see one. Up to arriving in Banff, the only bear behind I had seen was Karen's when she has been caught short on our woodland adventures.
All that was about to change - as Karen will tell you in words AND IN PICTURES. Stay tuned for the next instalment.