Our final train journey in Canada took us, over a distance of 1,670 km, 2 more provinces (Saskatchewan and Alberta), one more timezone and 2 nights to our first sight of real mountains. Located in the Jasper National Park the eponymous town is quite possibly one of the most attractive towns in Canada, many of the properties designed in an alpine style and the town is home to the Rocky Mountaineer, a specially designed train which conveys tourists in style through some of the best parts of the area. There are a number of national parks in the area, all part of the huge Rocky Mountains.
On exploring the town we discovered 2 laundrettes combined with other shops, a printers and a cafe..genius!
Then we found a red chair…
Our first excursion was to Lac Beauvert, location of Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, famed for having hosted luminaries such as Marilyn Monroe back in the day.
After receiving the obligatory warnings about elk (very dangerous when they have young) and grizzlies (shout and make lots of noise and they’ll leave you alone) we walked round the lake totally unharrassed by any wildlife other than a few bugs. As we walked the skies slowly cleared to reveal the majesty of the mountains.
The next day Paula from Walks n’ Talks took us to Mount Edith Cavell, named after the famous English nurse shot by the Germans in World War 1. Edith never went to Canada but the English asked the Canadians if they’d rename one of their mountains in her honour. This replaced the original name “ghost mountain” used by the local tribes as the 3 glaciers on the mountain meant, in contrast to all the other surrounding mountains, it remained white throughout the summer.
To convey the scale of this place is impossible but the videos gives some perspective..
If anyone doubts the globe is warming them this mountain showcases glacial retreat in action. There were 3 glaciers on the mountain, now there are 2 as the ghost glacier fell off the mountain into the lake back in 2012, causing a tsunami which destroyed all the tourist facilities downstream. The other glaciers, the aptly named angel glacier and cavell glacier adjacent to the lake (which has only been in existence since the 1960s), used to be joined up and filled the valley below our vantage point.
Activities in Jasper were limited by the absence of rental cars, so organised tours were the only way to see stuff, or not, as it happened. That evening we embarked on a “wildlife tour” of the area in a small bus driven by our guide. He took us to a lake to see Bald eagle and Osprey, a supposed Coyote den, miles of back roads and finally, a campsite which hosted 3 elk. Two of which we’d seen wandering around the town the previous day.
Three stories are worth retelling from that trip, however, as despite not seeing anything, our guide could talk! Constantly for over 3 hours, with just one bathroom break. Firstly, elk give birth in the spring and choose inaccessible places to do this as the baby elks are very vulnerable to bears and wolves. In the past the safest places have been near human habitations but latterly, the grizzlies in particular, have worked this out and June recorded the highest ever number of grizzly sightings in and around Jasper. In the summer bears are putting on fat as preparation for hibernation and 1 baby elk represents a major time-saving in this respect when compared with weeks of eating berries and grass.
Secondly, if you want to trap a Black bear, use a dead beaver. Finally, as we entered a car park at the start of the many walks in the area, we were met by 2 police squad cars following up on an “incident” involving a bear. Diligent google searching found a piece in the local newspaper describing a man who entered the park with a 20 bore shotgun, met a bear and the inevitable happened. He now faces charges relating to illegal possession of a shotgun in a national park. The interesting thing is that in such a circumstance the presumption will always be that the bear was not at fault as routine measures to avoid such confrontations were not followed (so claiming self-defence is not valid).
Moving on we caught a bus from Jasper to Banff, conveniently down the Icefields Parkway, 232 km of what must be one of the most dramatic roads in North America (see below). On 3 occasions the bus slowed so we could see Black bears feeding by the side of the road, capitalising on the ripening fruit.
Banff was hot and very busy. To escape the former we took the gondola to the top of Sulfur Mountain.
From Banff another bus was required to get to Calgary airport, the nearest place we could reserve a hire car. We then set off to tick a few tourist bucket list entries starting with Lake Louise, arguably the most famous and definitely the busiest place in the Rockies. The lake itself is stunning with the mountain backdrop, complete with glacier. On the opposite bank is the famous Fairmont Chateau Louise, rooms not available even at the bargain price of CAN$1000 upwards per night (approx £650). Parking at the lake wasn’t cheap but to fully complete the triple whammy of experiencing the full beauty of the lake and being fleeced what better than hiring a boat to potter round for an hour or so? Tick. We moved on..
Accommodation is scarce along the Icefields Parkway but we found a room at the evocatively-named Saskatchewan Crossing, our imaginations filled with visions of heroic attempts to cross the raging torrents in the face of ferocious storms and hostile indians. In reality it is a bridge. With a modern motel set in the most incredible circle of mountains. Our problems had only just started as internet was only available in the on-site pub..
The Icefields Parkway is truly a route of amazing beauty and the best way to experience the scale and mostly unspoiled grandeur of the Rockies. It would be much improved without the constant procession of tour buses and tourists …
The most famous site has to be the Columbia Icefield, an immense conglomeration of glaciers which drain into the Bering sea and the Arctic & Pacific oceans. It is close to the road and has spawned a tourist operation of epic scale..a hotel, a walkway and the opportunity to walk on the glacier itself are all offered as options to those visiting the site. We stopped, took photos and moved on. Tick
There are numerous stopping places, an infinite number of beautiful vistas to admire.
Our time in the Rockies had come to a close. Next stop, Yukon..