From Banff, we departed early in the morning and headed to Jasper. We stopped by at the Columbia Icefield along the way. Although the drive from Banff to the icefield took about 2.5 hours and an additional 1.5 hours to reach Jasper from the icefield, we made several wonderful stops along the Icefields Parkway, considered one of the most spectacular drives in the world.
The Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains, feeds 8 major glaciers and Athabasca Glacier is the most accessible one from the Icefields Parkway. Equipped with our winter gears and the provided crampons, we did a 3-hour guided ice walk on Athabasca Glacier because it allowed us to freely explore the glacier without taking the crowded snow coaches.The hike was rather leisure and we learned a lot about pressure cracks, crevasses, moraines, mounds and crystallized ice, and most importantly, the effects of climate change on glaciers.
We spent half day visiting Mt Robson Provincial Park, which is located on the west of Jasper National Park. Unbeknownst to us, this area observes Pacific Time Zone. So, after arriving at the park at 7:30AM, we technically arrived at 6:30AM… and since it rained heavily in the morning, we took a short nap in our hamster car outside the visitor center. At 12972 ft, Mt Robson is the highest point in the Canadian Rockies. It is the second oldest provincial park in British Columbia. We did a 6-mile round trip hike to Kinney Lake in the rain where part of the trails along the lake were flooded. During the drive back to Jasper, we experienced weather system malfunction at the mountain area. Heavy rain, sun, cold wind, cloudy, near zero visibility due to clouds on the road… all in the matter of minutes.
Jasper National Park is the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. It has also one of the highest concentrated black and brown bear populations in Canada. We spent the entire day in the Maligne Valley and we were very fortunate to see some black bears. Maligne Lake is the second largest glacier-fed lake in the world. We did a 2-hour boat tour to the Spirit Island, made famous by Kodak early advertising of color film in the 40s. We initially planned to hike Edith Cavell Meadows Trail (5.3 miles), but due to road closure to Mt Edith Cavell until August, we ended up spending a day hiking Sulphur Skyline Trail (4.8 miles) on the north side of the park… not a bad alternative plan because we got to soak ourselves in the Miette Hot Springs pool at the end of the hike. During our drive back to Calgary, we visited Athabasca Falls and Sunwapta Falls to do some short hikes in the morning.
An interesting tidbit… we were supposed to visit the Jasper Skytram, the longest and highest guided aerial tramway in Canada, on late Monday afternoon but decided to swap our plans around with other day. That night, we found out the strong wind gust caused a power surge that shut down the tram system, stranding 160 people on the top of Whistlers Mountain. 110 people were ferried down by helicopters until late night and the remaining folks had to stay overnight in the restaurant at the summit. We didn’t get to do the tram ride because it was closed for the next 2 days for maintenance and to investigate the problems. However, we visited the base and enjoyed some beautiful views of the townsite. That said, it’s probably not a bad idea to get stranded on top to enjoy the best views of Jasper National Park.
A couple of observations…
- Jasper National Park is probably our most favorite national park among the 4 national parks we visited. It is not as crowded as Banff National Park, hence, it was quieter, more peaceful and much more laid back.
- We were blessed with one blue sky day in Jasper and we decided to make an unscheduled visit to the Valley of the Five Lakes in one late afternoon to fully enjoy the beautiful day. This place has some of the most impressive and insanely beautiful lakes we have ever seen.
- The landscape in Jasper National Park is a little different than Banff National Park. While Banff National Park has lots of big snow-capped mountains, Jasper National Park seems to be surrounded by thick lodgepole pine forest with beautiful milky green curvy rivers. We had initial unfounded fears that the scenic views in Jasper would look identical to Banff.
- We gained much appreciation on how glaciers work and how much they have receded over the past decades. At the same time, we continue to be baffled how some powerful people in the world still think climate change is a hoax because they struggle to understand the difference between “weather” and “climate”.