Higher and higher (Mount Edith Cavell 21 August 2011)
Two mountains catch your attention in Jasper, Pyramid Mountain, a huge slab of rock that dominates the town and further away amongst other peaks, Mount Edith Cavell. We have walked to the base of the former from Jasper Town and now ventured to the latter for a nice, short Sunday afternoon stroll.
If you look from Jasper, you see many mountains but the one that draws the eye more than most is Mount Edith Cavell. Unlike Pyramid, which is bare, rust coloured and slightly smooth edged, Edith Cavell is ragged, snow topped and black grey, even in full sunshine.
The drive to the mountain is short in distance but interesting. You head south on Highways 93 and 93A before taking a right turn signposted Mount Edith Cavell. The road heads upwards round tight bends, past a few interesting drops and some incredible views. Crash barriers do not exist and even the most confident of drivers seem to keep tight to the line in the middle of the road. I must admit that I am constantly keeping to the middle lines as I still have not worked out the width of the car and Karen has a much better appreciation of how close to the ditch, marker posts and kerbs I have been getting.
We, along with half the tourists in Alberta, parked at the top of the road. This is a busy place. We had our lunch (having arrived after 1pm) and set off left on the first part of the Path of the Glacier Loop trail. About half a kilometre on we turned off this route and headed up the Cavell Meadows Trail - a longer route that takes you up to alpine meadows opposite the Mountain. The views of the Mountain, its two glaciers and lake are considered to be amongst the best on day hikes in the Park.
We left behind the mounds of angular rock that had been carved and dragged by the now receded glaciers and headed into the treeline. As we did so, we encountered chipmunks (see the one posing for the camera in our photo's), squirrels and a small mammal known as a Pika.
The Pika is related to rabbits (second cousins I think) but looks more like a cross between a chinchilla and a large vole. Apparently it is common in Asia and may be how Pikachu got its name in Pokomon (do some research kids).
The next hour or so was murder - so much for a Sunday afternoon stroll. We went up, then up right followed by up left and then more up. There was a fork in the path and we made a very bad choice by opting for the left hand one. This route meant more direct up (as opposed to the gentle up of the right route) and as we reached the top of that stretch of up we discovered additional up and finished that of with up.
The early part of the walk took us through pine forest and small glades with beautiful flowers. The views back to the mountain and down the valley we had driven up were spectacular and made excellent excuses for stopping to catch breath.
The tree line gradually gave way to full alpine meadow and the temperature dropped noticeably. Hollows full of the last vestiges of the previous winters snow fall appeared on the slope as the meadows gave way to scree and rock.
The path ahead bore round to the right but there was a short hike up steep scree covered slopes to a viewing point. The loss of the tree line suddenly got to me and half way up I decided I could go no further. I admitted this to Karen (who womanfully went on) but took out my binoculars to pretend that I was protecting my fellow travellers by scanning for bears. My shame was complete when I looked at the guide I was following to see the walk illustrated by the picture of a 4 year old girl standing at the viewing point I was too scared to reach.
Even from my viewpoint, the view across the valley was incredible. Mount Edith Cavell has cliffs that are a mile high. On the side facing us was the Angel Glacier, clinging some 2200 metres up to a large bowl like feature on the mountain and hanging over the edge directly above the lake below. At the foot of the cliffs is Cavell Glacier. This feeds icebergs into Lake Cavell as it recedes every summer and we saw one drop into the water towards the end of our walk.
A fellow hiker spotted Caribou on top of the ridge forming the peak of the next mountain along. Karen captured a snap and I saw the impressive beast in silhouette through my binoculars as it fed on the exposed mountain top.
Karen quickly returned from her solo expedition but not before she had taken a picture of me as evidence of my failure to go any higher. We descended down a different, much easier route - one that afforded excellent views of the lake and the Cavell Glacier. We quickly reached the point where we had forked left and made our way back into the twisting forest above the valley floor.
We encountered many people, happy Canadian families, miserable European tourists (Brits among them) and mainly contented fellow hikers. Two individuals had stopped for a fag break halfway up the forested section. They looked flat on their feet as they puffed on roll-ups. The guy looked like Shaggy (Scooby-Doo not the West Indian singer) and as I approached he asked me, in a thick Aussie accent, if there was much more to go. I gleefully told them that there was miles more to go and that it was all up. Helpfully we did mention the right hand fork option but then failed to say that it was still up. Upon hearing the details of the ascent, the other member of this healthy duo (who looked a little like Germaine Greer after a very heavy night out) said "Aw, s***" in an even broader accent. We walked on.
We reached the point where we had left the Path of the Glacier Loop and turned onto that trail to complete that route before returning to our car. At this point we were on the valley floor - a strange almost desert-like landscape. Apparently it was only just starting to see plant growth following the recession of the Glacier.
We sat by the lake edge for a while and admired the close up view of the lake and Cavell Glacier. As I mentioned earlier, whilst we were sitting there a large piece of ice sheered away from the Glacier and dropped into the lake. The noise and wave created were immense. In the distance on the shore opposite where the ice had broken away we could see people scurry to higher ground as the ice cold water surged up the rock covered banks.
We made our way back to the car (via the lowest path on the walk) past busloads of aged Americans who had just enjoyed educational talks at the lakeside. They seemed happy and despite the lung busting very short 500m ascent we had recently completed, so were we.
We drove back home for a well-earned meal and an evening with our hosts (more later)
We took some amazing pictures during the walk - check them out.