Day 32, Jasper to Banff
We did what we did yesterday in reverse.
A few of us rose early to take an early morning drive to Jasper to go wildlife spotting and collect three newbies. Almost instantly we saw an Elk by the roadside (except that I got over excited and thought it was a bear and received a stern telling off!) We saw a couple of baby Elk running through the trees a little way back from the road. It was worth it and great to be out and about at the quietest time of day.
We returned to the hostel to collect the sleepyheads and our luggage and we crossed the road to Athabasca Waterfalls. These are another series of falls within a canyon but not as deep as the ones we visited yesterday and so the volume of water was more spectacular. There were also some places where the rocks proved greater than the water and so splitting the path to create a series of falls, pretty awesome! There Awas much more mist created by the water and this on top of a grey start to the day left a couple of us wishing we hadn't dressed in shorts that morning (although we were pleased we had later. Read on to see why).
Ten minutes further down the road we stopped to view the Columbian Icefield. At 325 square kilometres, it is three times the size of Greater Vancouver and is the largest icefield south of the Arctic Circle. It was seriously impressive and we were in awe. This feature gives it's name to the Icefield Parkway Highway, which is said to be one of the most scenic drives in the world. Dan can vouch for this as he spent most of the drive sat at the front of the bus with John snapping away whilst learning more about the surroundings.
Another of John's half hour later's (ie ten minutes) we came across a gorgeous waterfall that was quite dainty and very high. This set the scene for the first death slide / scramble of the day. John led the way up a makeshift path that literally had us rock climbing and scrambling through tree roots, however it really was worth it seeing the views across the valley of the glaciers on the mountains opposite - stunning! It was also pretty cool standing on top of a waterfall. We slid back to the bottom, where I had an impromptu shower underneath the waterfall to make up for the lack of water at the hostel.
Next we undertook a proper hike up Parker Ridge, which boasted some pretty amazing views of the Saskatchewan Glacier and the valley below. It was a 2.5 km walk to the peak and definitely worth it. I'm pleased to report I was seventh to the top of the final 12 that made it, not so unfit afterall :) There were some beautiful flowers on the way and vast amounts of greenery everywhere you looked as well as sheer rock faces and ridges, a world of dramatic contrasts! At the bottom you could see where the glacier ended and the river began carving it's way through the valley below. It was one of the best walks possible.
In almost no time at all the bus pulled over at another waterfall. By this time most of the group were tired and cranky from the early start and lack of food as we hadn't actually stopped for lunch as yet and it was gone PM. We could see the waterfall from where the bus was parked and it wasn't anything like as spectacular as the other two we had seen that morning. This meant only three people got off the bus to go and see the waterfall (Dan, David <UK> and Chris) the rest of us set about getting some lunch or staying with the bus not wanting to leave it unlocked with all our possessions on board. I eventually got board and went to try and find the boys and ended up half way down a rather steep cliff in what I was sure was bear country, with no one to be found. I ended up talking to myself just in case there was a bear nearby and retraced my steps as quickly as it was safe to. Once i got back to the top I came face to face with something much worse, a very miffed John, who was not impressed only three people had followed him to the waterfall. A much larger group followed him as he led the way a second time. I became confused as we were walking away from the rather miserable waterfall that we could see opposite and walked along the cliff top into the undergrowth. Suddenly I could hear the rushing of water (and alot of it) and I turned a corner to come across a huge rock obstructing the path. Hugging this rock I manoeuvred round it to find a small cave which went underneath and behind a truly staggering, awesome waterfall. I looked at John who was so smug, wearing an "I told you so" face and looked back at this amazing piece of nature with awe and fear. The water fell several hundred feet before crashing into a pool of water below and the path we were stood on could not be more than ten feet wide. It was exceptional, but truly scary and I was glad to make our way back to terra firma. Except, we didn't go the conventional way to the top, oh no! A short way along the path John stopped at some rocks and said we were taking a shortcut (why oh why weren't the alarm bells ringing??) so we climbed up on to these rocks to come up against an almost vertical slope, seriously at about a 50 degree angle. Not really knowing what I was letting myself in for I set off walking up to be reduced to all fours quite quickly. The terrain was loose with no firm foot holds and I be came quite stuck. I'm not one to suffer from panic attacks but I certainly started to panic then. A couple of the group (who were now in full view at the top of this slope) started to laugh but stopped quite quickly when they saw my face, and subsequently Zoe's who had stupidly followed. Dan came across and rescued me and pulled me up to somewhere where I felt more confident to continue on my own and then went back for Zoe. I eventually made it to Simon's reach and he pulled me to safety. Dan continued to help Zoe and I turned to find Sarah slithering down the slope. John set off after her and helped her back down to the path where she walked round to the top.
And the time is now 2pm, are you still with me? You might understand why this was our favourite day?
Just a couple of miles down the road we stopped again beside another beautiful lake. More silly jumps and photo poses were taken, the atmosphere slowly returning to it's light jestful self.
On we travelled a short way before stopping yet again (although the group had become much quieter and put up no resistance). john told us this would be the biggest regret of our lives if we did not participate in this short hike and that it was compulsory. We walked for about fifteen minutes along flat (but firm) ground with strict instructions not to look right. When we reached our destination and turned to look I though I had stumbled upon paradise. I was looking at Peyton Lake. It is the lake I have seen numerous pictures of, an aerial photo of an emerald green lake surrounded by trees and not much else, it was exquisitely beautiful. I just stood and looked and looked and looked. I was speechless. As we walked back to the car park some time and a million photos later Simon told me he wanted ashes scattered there and I was inclined to agree with him. As you can see the group was bonding more and more and we were sharing a great deal more with each other than our loved ones would know.
No, we still haven't arrived in Banff! Our last stop was at Morraine Lake, yet another emerald green glacier lake (but trust me, you really don't get sick of seeing these!) By now the grey skies brought rain and it was cold (yes cold, a word I haven't used very often). As the bus pulled in to the car park I was itching to go for a swim but not sure if I should. Jo said a possible maybe but most people thought I was joking, and then John and Simon both say they would buy me a drink if I got in. Those who know me will know the outcome to this story, not only did I get in the freezing cold arctic water I jumped in without a sound and swam back to the deck and then proceeded to swim back out again before my brain thawed and screamed "Get me out of here now" and I was lifted from the water. There was a video and it is hilarious. I will try and get Zoe to forward it to me so I can post it on here. My name is not Elles, it is "The Crazy Chick"!
Finally we drove for about an hour to Banff. We were late arriving so we headed straight to dinner and then walked down to the activity centre where eight of us booked to go White Water Rafting the next day. After a quick shower Dan, Zoe and I joined Chris, David, Joe and John in the bar for a couple of quiet drinks whilst Simon and the Swiss girls hit the clubs and Izzy, Sarah, Meaghan, Phillip and the kids all got an early night. We weren't far behind them as it had been a very eventful day!
Surely it can't get any better than this .... can it?? (or have I said that before??)