The Icefields Parkway and Jasper

Trip Start Oct 08, 2005
Trip End Oct 06, 2006

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The last three days have been amazing. When I decided that I wanted to come to Canada and see the Rockies, to be honest I hadn't done much research and wasn't really sure what there would be to see, or what to expect in terms of scenery. I'd seen a few pictures in books, and thought "Yeah, that looks nice" but that was about it. Well, let me tell you, its nothing like the pictures - its about 1000 times better, and I have done nothing but stare and go "wow". I would almost go so far as to say the scenery beats New Zealand's South Island for sheer beauty. Its a close call.

So I left Lake Louise and headed north on the 230km stretch of road called the Icefields Parkway that goes up to Jasper right through the mountains. I took 3 days to get to Jasper so that I could see lots of things along the way, and I'm so glad I did as this journey shouldn't be rushed. (Although one guy did it on a unicycle a few years back, I think thats taking a little TOO slow!) Stops on the first day were the Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Glacier and Bow Lake (stunning, definitely a place that appears in the travel brochures), and one of the most incredibly beautiful places ever - Mistaya Canyon. Here the water gushes down through the mountains in the most amazing scene, and has carved a narrow snake into the rock. I think its up there with Milford Sound and Lake Wanaka as my favourite view. First night I stayed in a little rustic hostel - rustic being the operative word, it was in the middle of nowhere, no running water and no flush toilets, and we had a big lecture on putting stuff away so the bears don't come. (Although I've still not seen a black bear, was tempted to leave a bit of steak and beer out so one would be tempted in!)

The second leg of the journey up to Jasper was on a boiling hot, cloudless day, and the scenery was even more perfect if that was possible. I walked up onto Athabasca Glacier and watched avalanches come down off the surrounding mountains. That was pretty frightening - there is a huge rumble that sounds like thunder, then all of a sudden this snow comes tumbling down and you have no idea how much there is going to be or how far it is going to travel. Still, no-one started running, so I just stood and watched. I wore my England shirt that day, and celebrated our victory over Ecuador on the glacier - bet not many people can say that eh?! Next stop was Horseshoe Lake where I did some cliff jumping into freezing water (its all glacier fed), but it was welcome on a hot day. Cliff jumping is pretty scary though! The stop that night was at Mount Edith Cavell, one of the highest points in the Rockies, just outside Jasper. Again we had a rustic hostel, even more basic than the previous night (thank God I'd been in the lake, I hadn't showered in 2 days and it was 35 degrees, nice...), but such a lovely location high up in the mountains. For some strange reason though, most people that stay up there report having nightmares that night, mainly about bears, and I was no exception! Must be the altitude!

Took a walk on Edith (as she's known) the next day and watched more avalanches, stopped at Medicine Lake (which disappears down plugholes in the winter interestingly), and then Maligne Lake. Again, a definite contender for Most Scenic Spot in the World. Then on to Jasper, a touristy town once again, but not on the scale of Banff in terms of numbers or crappy shops. Its really small actually, not a lot to do there. I was determined that I was going to have a rest, not do any walking, but there really isn't a lot else to do, so I walked. For seven hours. I have no idea how many kilometres I covered but it was a hell of a long way. Thank goodness for a full iPod battery to keep me company.

The Icefields Parkway really is one of the most beautiful drives in the world, if the Canadian Rockies isn't on your list of things to see before you die, then it should be. And I have the return trip to look forward to in a few days!
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