Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

On A Clear Day...

... you really can see forever.

If you get high enough.

The Bear's Paw Bakery

On the 26th of June, we awoke to a clear day. We'd set alarms so that we could be up by 7:30, out of the campground by 8, and then off to breakfast at the Bear's Paw bakery, one of the breakfast places we'd scoped out the night before. John wasn't in the mood for a sit down meal because we had to get to the tramway's parking lot early to beat the crowds.

The variety and quality of what they had was amazing, and we each got two things. John got a pineapple and ham scone and their signature cinnamon bear's paw. I got a sticky cinnamon roll with pecans all over it and a banana muffin. Their coffee urns were nearly empty, so I just mixed them all in my cup and the resulting brew was tasty enough. They actually had their own coffee blends, so I figured it would be all right. The cinnamon roll was chewy, gooey, and had wonderful structure, they knew what they were doing with yeast bread at altitude. So I was really grateful that we'd gone there. It's always a good sign when they're crowded that early in the morning.

Heading UpMid-way?
The tramway parking lot was nearly empty when we got there a bit before 9. It turned out that just two days ago, they'd expanded their hours, opening at 8 am instead of 9 am. When we bought our tickets we only had enough time to glance through all the photos they had in their little museum before the tram car came to the glass door and we were ushered into our ride up to the top. There were only a dozen people, and given that the trams said that they could hold up to 30 people, I was glad it wasn't that crowded.

The ride up was smooth and beautiful. We got to see the whole northern range and see Jasper grow gradually smaller as we headed up and up. The only bump was at the mid-way tower, where the two tramsway cars pass each other. The operator had a smooth script that he spouted cheerfully as we glided up, and it includes the fact that the whole northern range was named after people who'd earned the Victoria Cross, including one Australian. So, of course, it was called the Victoria Cross Ranges.

*laughs* No, we haven't quite worked out why the plural, but so it is.

Top Station
The station at the top had the usual gift shop, coffee shop, and viewpoint. It also had a wooden broadwalk that lead to a pretty well defined path that went up to the summit of Whistlers Peak. The views around the station were beautiful already, but a lot of people were headed up. We hadn't known there was a walk at the top, but since we'd already gotten this far, it seemed like a shame not to take advantage of it, and get the best view we could.

It was pretty steep.

But the day was just beautiful, and given that we could see even further if we went higher, I thought we should just do it and started walking up the path. That amused John. It's not that often that I voluntarily start hiking uphill.

Jasper and Lakes
Looking back, we could see Jasper with the lakes that we'd explored the day before all spread around it. I think the valley is called something like Five Lakes Valley or something like that. You can see both Lake Edith and Lake Annette in the upper right, they're nearly back to back to each other.

Seeing it all spread out underneath us was magical, and we could only see more as we went higher.

The path was really steep, and there were a lot of people on it, and most of us were stopping as we headed up. Going straight up seemed the most efficient method, but there were also dozens of switchbacks more to the edge of the cliffs that offered amazing views of the valley to the east of the mountain. We figured that the switchbacks would be better on my knee when we were coming down, so we just endured the straight up ascent.

I did pretty well. The summit was only about 8000 feet up, so oxygen wasn't really a problem for me, even given my lung condition, and I found myself in no dire lack of air. That was really reassuring. It was just about how much I could get out of my legs.

There were some wet, slippery bits that took a lot of concentration to get through, and sometimes around, but at the top of the trail, it leveled off. And we could catch a glimpse of what it was that we'd come up here for.

It was the ranges to the south, with Mt. Edith Cavell more prominent in the distance. I liked that most of the mountains named after men were only named with their last names or family names, and Ms. Edith Cavell got to have her whole name on that mountain with the stripes of rock and snow slanting diagonally along with the uplift of the stone itself.

There was the usual tundra growth up here, tiny lichen, brave bitty wild flowers, and the occasional chipmunk that lived way up here in the cold. There was another couple, Canadian, that kind of paced us as we went up, and we talked along the way while we stopped panting for a breather now and again.

Range at the Top

It was worth it.

The climb was totally worth it. *laughs* Everyone that made it up there agreed. And this is most of the view going all around but for the hill that makes up both ends. The range we could see up there included the Edith Cavell peak, along with ranges on both sides.

There was another group of Chinese tourists, and all three groups helped each other take pictures at the top. It was a nice moment, where we'd all made it up and were able to share the moment. Then, I waited there until everyone got all the pictures and their fill of the view, and left.

So I could get this series of pictures. I was glad I just was patient and waited.

Resting on the way Down
Then we made our gradual way down again.

I made use of a lot of the switchbacks, trading more walking length with less of a thump on my knees while we headed down. Mostly. *laughs*

I also took the time to take rests and enjoy the views before us, and it was fun to just know that we had all the time in the world. We didn't have to be anywhere today. We had planned mostly to just go back south to somewhere around Lake Louise, find some kind of housing and food down there, and get to Lake Louise first thing in the morning as well. So the rest of our day wasn't planned for, and we could take what time we liked getting down.

What I Saw on the way Down
The only problem with the way less traveled was that it was also a little less well marked.... and most of the mountain was shale, lots and lots of thin layers of rock all pressed together.

But where it had broken loose...

Well, it was pretty much a shale scree field. Small, of course, but right where the side trail looked like it led down, straighter down than I liked; but I decided to go ahead with it and took one sliding step after another.

Sideways. I decided that to make it easier on my knees I pretty much did it sideways, and learned later, from my massage therapist, that that was probably the best way to have done it. It made me a little more sure of my footing, was easier on my knees, and doing it sideways felt like I could more easily fall to the mountain side if I needed to or if my footing slid completely out from under me. I never needed to, thank goodness, but it just felt more stable.

It was kind of funny, but halfway down, I was thinking, I don't know if I can make it all the way down....

and then, Well, there really isn't any other way down, so I'm going to have to do it this way.

Out For The Shot
We made it back. No problems, and took advantage of the views at the station at the top for a while. Then we got into the line for going back down and went with the next cabin load. It was a bit more crowded than coming up, but not a lot, and the ride was as smooth as ever.

And when we reached the base, it was a complete zoo. At nearly noon, there were people everywhere, and the proclaimed waiting time was more than thirty minutes until there would be a tram that would be empty enough for the people buying tickets at that time. People were eating their lunches on the patio, buying drinks from the store, and the gift shop was packed. John managed to squeeze in and get the sticker he wanted for the Eurovan. There are now stickers from nearly everywhere we've been and want to remember all over the back right windows. And now there's one from Jasper.

I got a special treat down on the patio.

There were these gorgeous purple flowers, lacy and intricate, and there were huge bumblebees dancing among them. I managed to photograph two of the big fuzzy gals in their respective flowers, busily drinking nectar and gathering pollen. I've never seen flowers like these before, and I loved getting them. I think I want to paint them with their respective fuzzy visitors sometime.

Glacier Stop
Knowing that we had to get south to be near Lake Louise, we took the Icefields Parkway south. We'd stopped at most of the sites on the way up, so only snapped a few shots of various mountains that we hadn't seen because they'd been covered in clouds while on our way down.

We ended up at the Athabasca Glacier center again, and it was full of people of all sorts. I wanted to explore a little further than just the bottom most floor. I found a gift shop, restaurant, a cafeteria and a this large patio area for everyone eating there who wanted to enjoy the view of the glacier. The very top floor was a hotel where people could stay for a few nights right there in the midst of the whole thing. That was very cool to see.

winning plate!
We got water from the visitor's center, and then ate out lunch out in our car in the parking lot. There were enough people there that people started asking when we were going to leave; but we just waved them off. One of the fun things we found in the parking lot there was this Cayman plate. It was the one plate from the furthest place we could see. John found it there, and he had to take a picture of it. xD

Lake PeytoLake Peyto
We headed back South, and there were a lot more mountains now that there weren't the clouds and rain. The places we'd seen on the way up we didn't stop at on the way down; but this was one of the places we hadn't stopped to see on the way up. Lake Peyto. We had to walk a little ways down a path to the viewing area, and it was utterly packed with people. *laughs*

For good reason, too, it seems. The water was exactly the amazing shade it is in the picture. John really wanted to stop there because he had pictures of it when he'd been there when he was little. And the mountains and the lake were nearly exactly the same. The viewing areas were rougher, smaller, and gravel paved, but pretty much in the same area.

It was amazing to see it all in the clear, too, and there was so much to see that it was great. We stopped at another lake and another glacier on the way, and those pictures are up on Flickr. Just click any picture and it'll take you to that particular picture in the overall album.

Kicking Horse Tunnel
We stopped at the Lake Louise visitor's center and found that there weren't really any hotels that were nearby that were particularly affordable; but they had several campsites open at Kicking Horse Pass, about a 15 minute drive from the center. The Ranger told us that it as a first-come, first-served area, and she was able to call the site and tell us that there were still 22 slots open at the time. So we decided to drive there first thing, and get our campsite.

On the way, though, we ran into the Spiral Tunnels at Kicking Horse Pass, which were tunnels because the trains had to pick up or lose so much altitude, they couldn't do it with normal track. They dug tunnels into the mountain so that the track could loop around on itself and lose a great deal of altitude in the loop. So trains going through these spiral tunnels often would have the head coming out the other end, under or over its own tail.

We managed to get to the camping ground and get a site, but it was a lot more smaller than the site we'd had been in Jasper and the bathroom was a good hike away. Still, it was good to have a place, and the ranger who took our money for our site said that there were shower houses right off the entrance and by the pile of firewood. So John took the bathroom box in with him and showered, and then he left me with my stuff and started hauling firewood to the site while I got clean.

The shower house was really nice. Lots of hot water, private booths for each shower, and a dressing booth in front of the shower that was also curtained. So three very private baths. I loved my first hot shower in three days...

Dinner Stop
We went back into Lake Louise's little shopping center to find dinner at The Mountain Stop. And it was pretty clear that it got its name from the windows that were all facing the mountain view. There were only enough people in the restaurant to fill nearly all the window tables. I got a local pop for my drink and the menu was simple pub food on the most part, with a few reaches into Asian food (with rice available with every meal instead of the starch) and it turned out that it was for good reason, as a tableful of Chinese people asked for rice with their steak and fried chicken.

John and I, on the other hand, decided it was just time for a burger, and they had a special burger with bacon and BBQ sauce and veg and cheese and other stuff on it. We both got that, and John went for a salad with his while I looked closely at the menu and found that the fries could come with an aioli (mayonnaise) or gravy!

With Gravy
Gravy. Only in Canada. So I had to get the gravy, and it was a good, brown gravy with plenty of body to it. I really loved it, and ate all my fries with it.

After dinner we wandered around the mall, bought an ice cream cone and tried to figure out breakfast. The little tiny grocery store had boxes of cereal for ten more more dollars a box. The milk was five dollars a quart, and the fruit was nearly as pricey. John ended up buying an apple and one banana for himself, and we decided it would be cheaper to just hit one of the three bakeries in the same tiny mall, since it was on the way up to the head of the trail to the Plain of the Six Glaciers teahouse.

We'd heard of the two tea houses near Lake Louise, and that the Plain of the Six Glaciers one was further, but with far better vistas, and a very steep hike at the end. When we had been at the Visitor's Center, the ranger and two hikers who had done both hikes told us that the Plain of the Six Glaciers was the better hike with more spectacular views. It was more work, too, but worth it.

After figuring all that out, we went to huddle by the door of the visitor's center with about a dozen other people, all mooching the free WI Fi from there. We even got a quick letter from Jet, and answer to John's quick query about how things were going. Jet was doing fine, having great adventures, and thoughtful enough to write us a pretty substantial letter about how thing were going. That was amazingly cool to get.

We went back to the campground, which was in the shadow of a mountain to our West, so with its shading bulk, the campground got a lot darker a lot sooner than it had the night before, and we slept really really well.
Tags: camping, travel

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