Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

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1350 Miles - Lots of Drizzle in Jasper

So after our night in Banff, we headed north along the diagonal highway that goes through Banff and Jasper National parks. When we arrived at the park last night, John bought a pass for five nights, and the lady at the booth said that we could add on a night any time we wanted if we needed to do so. The hotel had a hot tub, which we happily used, and then served us a full pancake, bacon, sausage, scrambled egg, and toast breakfast, so we ate our fill.

Close Up Deer
Before I was even up... John got this shot of a buck with the felt still on his antlers. That was a cool thing for him to find. On the way out of Banff, we bought some lunch items, including a four-pack of Fentiman's Rose Lemonaide for what I thought was an extremely extravagant price of 10 dollars Canadian. It turned out to be a bargain... which was nice. We also stocked up on quick camping dinner items, spaghetti, sauce, and a pre-made salad. The little grocery store in Banff charged a premium for those items, but it was still less than going to a restaurant.

When we had gassed up in town, we fled north, through mist and drizzle and occasional sun breaks.

The mountains surrounded us on all sides. They were omnipresent and changed every few miles in character, shape, and structure. More and more of them gradually carried greater and greater mantles of snow and glaciers like thick frosting on giant backs.

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.

The Visitor's Center
There was also a huge visitor's center with four sets of women's bathrooms, a restaurant, and a small exclusive hotel on the very top floor. We used the restrooms, tried to figure out what we could get in Jasper, and John reserved a camp site for us at Wapiti camp, which was just a tiny bit south of Jasper the town. So our night was set, and that made a difference for us.

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.

Glacier under Sky
As it was, the steep hike up to the glacier was able to warm me up pretty well, and some parts of it were slippery. There was a very intrepid lady on crutches with a knee injury. She was making it very slowly up the steepest part. We encouraged her, and kept going. The look out onto the edge of the glacier had a lot of signs about the dangers of hidden crevices and how children could fall into them. *laughs* There was plenty of discouragement for the idea of hopping the barriers that were carefully placed all around.

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 had lunch in the parking lot, just cheese and crackers and salami with an apple at the end, and plenty of cold water from the visitor's center. We packed up and headed further North.

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.

Top of the Falls
The second falls were the Athabasca Falls. They were made by the river that formed from the water melting off the glacier of the very same name. So they came in silt green and fell at level with the walkways coming into the viewing area.

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.

Most of the Day
On the most part, the day was like this. Wet, drizzling pretty constantly, and many of the mountains were just covered in clouds. I kept regretting the fact that I'd packed in 103 degree weather, and couldn't even think of the fact that in Seattle, it never gets to really be summer until after the 4th of July. That the warmth just doesn't ever seem to come until then.

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.

Our Camping Spot G3
And it was a good thing that we did, too.

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.

Our Utinsils
We went for a walk by the river, and then when we came back, we brought all our kitchen stuff to the shelter, only to find that the only silverware we'd brought with us were these steel chopsticks. I'd thrown them in at the last minute, thinking they might be useful, but it turned out that we hadn't packed any other utensils! Luckily, they turned out to be perfectly suited to salad and spaghetti.

Kitchen Shelter
This is the whole of the inside of the kitchen shelter. It's ridiculously large, with a huge wood burning stove right there in the middle. John says it isn't really for use, but I could totally see it being solid enough for anyone to use. Instead, we put our gas stove on it and it provided an excellent fireproof surface for cooking on.

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.

A Fire
And when we were full and happier, and hungry for s'mores, we went out and John built a very nice fire, and we sat out in the woods with the flicker and crackle of the flames. It drizzled, still, but by then it just felt nostalgic. We could move under the trees, which were still sheltering dry ground, and it worked out beautifully.

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.
Tags: camping, travel

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