Jasper: Summer Gold

Monday, August 24, 2009

In spite of the fact that I live only six or seven hours from Jasper, I have never spent any time in this national park. I drove through it once upon a time on the scenic road to Victoria, I think in 1995 or 1996. I remember wanting to drive because everybody was tired except me. But that’s irrelevant. Dan and I were here, now, and it was our plan to explore the park thoroughly. After stopping at the park ranger’s office for tips, we decided to hike Geraldine Lakes. We drove south towards them, the weather growing increasingly cloudy as we made our way there. After climbing a windy logging road, we set off but did not get very far before the rain started. We’d reached the first lake, about 3 km and decided to press on. With every step, the rain grew heavier, the rocks more slippery, but still we trudged. There was a loud crack and lightning lit the sky and that’s when it happened.

We decided to turn back. I hate to turn back, to give up, but it made little sense to continue. We could see up to the area we’d be climbing to reach the second and supposedly more beautiful Geraldine Lake and it appeared to be the epicentre of this storm. We turned around and hiked the other 3km back to the car. Nature: 1. Man: 0. Looking north towards Jasper town, the sky appeared clearer, so we backtracked to Mt. Edith Cavell, which was a pair of glaciers, one melting with icebergs in the melt pool, the other dripping more traditionally from countless pores into small streams, waterfalls, and rivers. We hiked the trail down to the melt pool and took a look around before we decided to scale the massive scree pile and see what we could see. Now, on a nice day this would be a great vantage point. All we could see was the storm clouds we’d outrun earlier come hunting like Black Riders in Hobbiton, sneaking but determined up the valley, shrieking with every lightning bolt at our prior escape. We got back to the car just as the rain began.

At this point we gave up on hiking for a day and wandered the streets of Jasper. While Dan was talking to a friend on Skype, I wandered around a bit, settling on an old steam train set up outside the train station. It was pristine and had that certain mechanical romance that only the more simple machines of that era can hold and nearby there was an interview going on. When I got home, I discovered that my grandpa had been the engineer for this train, at least for a time, and that was just sort of a surreal discovery. Eventually Dan finished on the phone and another restaurant meal was not in the cards. We popped by the grocery store and picked up a whole chicken and threw it into a stew with corn, beans, rice, and potatoes. It was hearty, hot, and declicious and we only managed to finish half of it which meant we’d have a nice lunch for tomorrow.

That next day was a monumental day. First of all, I discovered why people often rate Jasper higher than Banff. The weather was better and there were too many options to count for outdoor activity. We drove to Maligne Canyon, itself a beautiful drive, and that brings me to the second reason the day was monumental. I spotted my first bear in the wild. Sort of. It felt like a bit of a cop out to see it along the road, but we came across a cub foraging and chowing down on berries along the Maligne River. It was safely distant but we were on the lookout for a mama bear nonetheless. And finally, the canyon itself was pretty nice, though touristy, but using Dan’s tripod I got a pretty cool shot of these two waterfalls within it. We also drove to Maligne Lake, which drains underground into the canyon, and this late in the year, had almost entirely drained itself.

The Malignes (French for wicked, by the way) were nice enough, but they didn’t compare to other things we’d seen. Then we drove south again, stopping first north of Jasper at Pyramid Lake, which was actually very nice, and then at Five Lakes. We hiked in and came across a slough where, according to the map (which in typical Parks Canada fashion was terrible), there was supposed to be one of the five lakes. We climbed a hill and no other lakes were there to be found. So we backtracked away, assuming that like Maligne they’d dried up, though deep down we both felt it quite possible we were wrong and hadn’t reached them yet. We considered telling a family walking down with fishing rods that there was none to be done but thought better of it. We may be wrong, there may have been lakes, and we also faced the danger of bursting out laughing.

The last stop for the day was the lovely Horseshoe Lake, seemingly abandoned except for some locals, this pristine lake has great spots for cliff jumping and all around was a pretty nice place to hang out. We weren’t prepared for the cliff jumping but we did hang out and watch others and with the sun beaming down it was a nice spot. Certainly, if Five Lakes had been anything like this we would have probably stayed there. But we weren’t going to be staying anywhere for too long. After all, I had to be home for the beginning of September, a Franz Ferdinand concert, and my birthday. It was my last one in the 20’s after all. So the next day, Dan and I set off south towards Banff. This is no routine drive, it is regularly rated one of the best drives in the world and you can see why. Next time, on The Life of I.

Jasper Photos

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