When we had gassed up in town, we fled north, through mist and drizzle and occasional sun breaks.
Unlike the US Rockies, these Canadian rockies don't really seem to have foothills. The interstate (or is that inter-provincial highways?) ran at about 3000 feet from sea level right at the foot of up to 13,000 foot peaks. The US Rockies get up to 14,000 feet, but that's from bases that run 7500 to 11,000 feet from sea level. The foothills halt and break up the line from the road up to the peaks, so these mountains seemed so much bigger from where we drove.
Many of the mountain tops were still in the clouds while we fled north, but the imposing mass of them from where the road was inescapable. I slept for most of the way up to Jasper, but once we entered the Park there was the Columbia Ice Field and the Athabasca Glacier, right at the south end of the park.
We decided to do the hike up from the parking lot on the other side of the highway to look more closely at the Athabasca Glacier, but not to pay to go walking on it, or to take the trams that could drive across the ice. There were other expeditions as well, including a walk onto glass over a different glacier, or a crampon hike up into the ice fields. We didn't want to spend that much time on the glacier, and with the on-again, off-again sprinkles it seemed like it could get very cold very quickly.
There were a series of markers for where the glacier had stretched to back in 1885, when it was first discovered was in the parking lot of the new center. The markers nearer the parking lot now designated for the glacial viewing area were by the 1942 markers, and John had been here 42 years ago, with his parents, and the glacier had been much closer to the parking lot. It has been receding steadily, and more swiftly in the last 10 years than before. There were estimates that it would be gone in less than a hundred years, melted all the way up to the Columbia Ice Fields, that were cradled amid multiple mountain tops and from which at least four visible glaciers flowed into the valley in front of the visitors' center. Another vanishing thing.
We stopped for two waterfalls, which were very different in nature.
The first was the Sunwapta Falls, which were right next to the parking lot. There was a path to the top of the falls, a very short path to a bridge across the falls, and then there were fences in the woods all around the falls. And this was all because the "falls" had actually cut a very narrow gorge straight down from where the parking lot was. The bridge didn't allow a very good view, as it ran right over where the water was falling. The fences along the edge of the cut down to the water allowed a view down if you followed them all the way to the source. There was a fence up at the top of a cliff opposite the cut and water, where if you went out to the edge of the cliff, you could see some of the flying water.
It was a trick to actually get a good view of the falls, though the falls were so easy to find.
The walkways were better positioned, running through the layered stone gorge and giving a good view of the falling water. The cliffs on either side were what fascinated me. The stones had moss on them, baby fir trees, lots of black patches, and were carved in beautiful columns of stone that gracefully curved with the flow of the waters. The whole gorge dripped with water from the sprays and they were curved and scooped out. They were really beautiful, and I think I took more pictures of the rocks than I did of the water.
There's more pictures on Flickr than here, just click on any of the pictures and you can see the others.
That's in stark contrast to Colorado, which, by Mother's Day, the weather has warmed up enough to have no more freezing but at exactly the same time, it's likely to be in the 80's half the days. So we'd been having mostly summer for a month and a half, already, and I'd forgotten what it was like this far north. I was a little worried about the fact that I hadn't packed any more than I had, but we'd been camping in much worse before, so we decided to do what we could do and go all the way north to the campsite we'd found at the visitor's center.
It was a beautiful site. The whole of the camp ground bordered the Athabasca River, in all it's silt green glory, and our site was right next to the restrooms and not all that far away was what they called a "Kitchen Shelter", which I boggled a little about. *laughs* Only in the North would you find a shelter for cooking and eating your food when you're camping, and I'd never seen the like in any US campground, ever.
But there it was on the camp map. And of course, the first thing I did on arrival was check out the bathrooms and it was luxurious, with flush toilets, plenty of TP, lots of towels, and even soap for all the sinks! It was amazing.... and the beauty of all the Canadian campsites was that with your fire permit, you also got all the free, local wood you could burn. It made it a moot point for anyone to bring wood in from outside, so there weren't the imported pest controls that brought the pine beetle in to kill so much of the Coloradan Rocky pines.
It was perfect for us, since the Eurovan doesn't really have a kitchen area, or a roofed area for cooking in under the rain. We've mostly just done it in the rain, keeping things in the van until they had to come out for use; but this was so much nicer, and I could see it being really useful for tent campers, too. We do have a covered shelter for preparing food in (one of those with the mosquito netting on all sides and a roof and pegs and legs and all that, but we hadn't brought it with us on this trip. We were trying to go light.
It was so nice to just eat in the dry while we heard the sound of the rain all around us, the ripple of the river, and the sigh of the wind through the trees.
I felt utterly homesick, though, for a Northwest that I only remember from nearly 17 years ago. It feels still so much a part of me to be in this kind of weather, the slow fall of light rain, covering everything, but not so wet as to be annoying or drenching. I just put on my river hat and was pretty much protected. We used to play soccer in this weather, go for walks in this, hike, bike, and just go out in it because there was nothing about that that should have stopped us.
*laughs* And we both started talking about moving back again... Jet's out of the nest permanently sooner rather than later, and we'll be free to disregard school districts, having other kids in neighboring houses, or all the connections that seem necessary for raising a child with the kind of help that really needs to be there. We won't have to stay stable to make it easier for him to be courageous.
We made up the bed in the back of the Eurovan, and went to sleep to the sound of rain.