If you get high enough.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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!
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.