– Jasper National Park –

Today was our Jasper hiking day. We walked ourselves into exhaustion. Okay, maybe not quite that bad, but I am pretty tired. We really did do a lot of stuff today, and we definitely had a lot of fun. Even Ripley is worn out, and that’s not an easy feat to accomplish. I bet she’d still zoom around a dog park, though.

We were up and on the move right at 5am this morning for our run. Mark had read that our first stop, Athabasca Glacier, was better before 11am, and we wanted to make sure we had time to make it out there and do our hike before then, so we were in a bit of a rush to get everything done in time. We did the same run in Jasper again this morning. The weather was a little nicer, so we weren’t as cold, and didn’t near our gloves or ear covers to stay warm.

Bundled up hikers at the bottom of the glacier walk

Once we’d finished our run, we showered and had breakfast in the hotel room. Yesterday at the grocery store we bought some bananas, orange juice, plain yogurt, and some jam, enough to last a couple of mornings here in Jasper, so we didn’t have to go out again, since this hotel doesn’t offer complimentary breakfast. The jam we bought is gooseberry, which neither of us had ever had before. It tastes fine, and you only need like a teaspoon to flavor yogurt, but the texture is a little weird. Gooseberries are a little bitter, but the jam was sweetened to make up for it. I wonder if we will ever finish it when we take it home.

We were on the road by 7:30 after packing the day’s essentials into the truck. We dressed for warmth this morning in pants, hiking shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and sweaters. We also took our rain jackets and gloves for hiking up to the toe of Athabasca Glacier. It was nicer in the town of Jasper this morning, so it felt a little weird leaving on a nice morning with so many clothes, but we knew it would be freezing up at the Columbia Ice Field. It never got this cold in Alaska except on cruises.

Athabasca Glacier with melt water

We arrived at the Icefield Discovery Centre around 8:30, where we stopped for a bathroom break before driving over to the parking lot at the base of the glacier hike. It turns out you can actually take guided hikes that go up onto the glacier, but we wouldn’t end up getting that close. They offer bus rides up to the sides of the glacier as well, but of course Ripley can’t tag along for those. I think I mentioned this the other day, when we were first here, but you can also take an off-road ice truck up onto the glacier. I know there’s more of it than is visible at the bottom, especially since today was a bit foggy and cloudy, so we couldn’t see over the top of the glacier to see how far back it went.

The hike to the top of Athabasca Glacier isn’t particularly long, but it is a little challenging. The first section is basically a very steep hill climb on loose rocks, which we overheard a guide telling his ice climbers was the worst part of the trail. If even the ice climb is easier than that hill, you can imagine it can be a little difficult to navigate. If you are in the right hiking shoes and in shape, the hill is incredibly easy. If not, you’ll likely have some trouble getting up. It’s not impossible, it is just more difficult than the distance would suggest.

So tired of our shit

Once we were all bundled up down in the parking lot, including Miss Ripley in her Ruffwear sweater, we started our hike. The park was actually quite empty this early in the morning, which makes sense, given that it was early on a Sunday and the temperature was only around 40°F, which is especially unpleasant when you step into the katabatic winds coming down off the glacier. This is worse when you make it to the top of the hill. At the bottom, the wind is blocked and it is a little warmer.

All along the path, the park has placed signs where the glacier used to be, but has now melted away. The parking lot and all of the hiking trail were once beneath the glacier, and the remnants now are part of the glacial moraine, which is the debris left behind after a glacier moves through an area. Basically, imagine the damage tons and tons of ice does as it moves across the rocks, and what would be left in the aftermath of such a movement. That’s what a moraine is.

Toting the princess over the wire bridge

The landscape of the moraine feels a little otherworldly. It reminds me in some ways of the tops of some of the volcanoes we’ve visited, like Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Both are rocky and treeless, and the color of the rock (red and black in Hawaii, gray and black here) makes the are feel unwelcoming and somehow unfriendly. I do like these barren landscapes, though. It’s so different from what we usually see.

The signs on the hike up to the glacier denoting where the glacier used to be can be pretty depressing, especially the one from 2006, since you can see how much has gone in such a short amount of time. Some of the other signs, which give other facts about glaciers and the Athabasca Glacier in particular, are more interesting and helpful than other signs we’ve seen in some of Canada’s parks. So far, a lot of their signage has contained information that is totally tangential, and not really the kind of thing you’d like to know while staring at whatever the sign is describing. At that Skunk Cabbage place in Mount Revelstoke, for instance, they had signs about birds and boardwalks, but literally zero signs indicating what skunk cabbage might look like. Google had to tell me.

Indian food for lunch

We stomped around in front of the glacier taking pictures and looking around for a good thirty minutes. It was sprinkling a bit on us, but nothing too serious. The rain kept some of the tourists away, I think, as well as the early hour, so we were largely alone, or at least as alone as we could’ve expected to be, given how very popular Jasper and Banff are. It would’ve been much worse later in the day, especially since the sun came out in the late afternoon.

It was cold enough at the top this morning that while Ripley and I were waiting for Mark to take some of his analog photos of the glacier, Ripley would cuddle up between my legs, trying to steal some warmth. I tried to dress her for the weather, but I don’t think her sweater did much against the wind. She was shivering a little, so I did what I could to keep her warm. Maybe I’ll replace the bandana next time with a dog snood. I bet she’d hate that.

The ankle-braking trail

Ripley did get a little bored as well as cold, and when we were taking her picture, she yawned in our faces a couple of times to remind us that we weren’t entertaining her sufficiently by standing still. How could she smell everything when we made her sit still? I had been hoping for a photo of both she and I touching the glacier, but the path was roped off for guided tours only, so we couldn’t get close enough to touch it. It feels a little sketchy that you have to pay for something so ridiculous. The toe of the glacier is only another short walk away, and they could restrict the path. It already costs a fortune just to get inside the park. I’m not sure why they feel the need to monetize things like that and that skywalk thing a little further down the road, which is just a highway pull-out with a glass-bottomed bridge that you can take photos from. That thing costs $26 per person. It’s insane.

The walk back down was actually a little worse than the walk up to the glacier. While the hill is easy enough if you are in shape going up, coming back down, it seems pretty steep. I’m not a huge fan of steep inclines, so Mark had to take Ripley’s leash for the steepest bits. She can pull me off balance. She can’t pull him off balance very easily. He’s a lot bigger than both of us. I had carried her across a wire-grate bridge on the way up to the trail, and I scooped her up to take her back across when we were finishing up. Mark raced ahead to get our photo this time, and you can see how much trust she puts into you when you carry her around. She just totally relaxes and gives you her whole body weight, without trying to brace herself up or anything. It’s kind of cute.

Maligne River

After our hike, we bundled Ripley up in her seat and went back into the Icefield Centre to see if we wanted any T-shirts or anything, and just to warm up a little. They had a gallery open, which Mark was excited about, but it only had about 15 photos on a single wall, and most of them were not high enough quality to be blown up as large as they were. I always wonder how the people doing the decorating don’t notice stuff like that. I notice immediately, and then I wonder if hanging around Mark for so long was accidentally turned me into some photo guru when I wasn’t paying attention. I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t know what “F-stop” and “sunny 16” meant if we’d never met. The same could be said of him and “snaffle bits,” but I digress.

It was around 10:30 when we were back in the Icefield Centre, and we were only in there for a little while. We bought a sticker for ourselves and two post cards for Ana, who’s baby-sitting our pool (Thanks, Ana!). They didn’t have any shirts we wanted, so we decided we were done and headed back out onto the road and back to Jasper. Our other adventure for the day was on the other side of the town.

You know he’s concentrating when you can see his tongue between his teeth

We made it back around 11:45, and decided to have lunch at one of the local Indian restaurants. It was a buffet, which usually isn’t my favorite thing (I have low confidence in the ability of heating lamps to prevent food poisoning), but this one was clearly clean and moved through food quickly, so I wasn’t as concerned as I might’ve been otherwise. The food turned out to be good, too, which isn’t uncommon with Indian restaurants. I love Indian food. I’ve probably said this in a blog post before, but it is a toss-up between Indian and Thai for my favorite cuisine. I’ve mastered cooking Indian food myself, but Thai eludes me. Too many special ingredients to buy, I guess.

After lunch, we dropped briefly by our hotel room to drop off a bit our our cold-weather gear, as it was T-shirt weather in Jasper by now. We contemplated changing into shorts, but decided against it, since it had been quite cold at Maligne Canyon, our next hiking destination, the last time we visited. This would prove to be a mistake, as it was very warm indeed out there.

Tiny fan-like waterfall

The drive to the Maligne Canyon hike Mark had selected didn’t take long. The first parts of the slot canyon are only about fifteen minutes out of the town of Jasper. The hike was somewhere between five and seven kilometers, depending on where we went and when we stopped. I tend to think we did closer to five, but I won’t swear it. It could’ve been a little longer.

We started out in sweaters, crossing the bridge over to the hiking side of the canyon from the parking lot. By the time we’d turned onto the correct trail, we were already shedding them. The sun was starting to peep out of the clouds even more than usual, and I started to wish I’d worn my hat. Luckily it was shady for most of the way, though there were definite portions where I would’ve loved my sun hat. Mark and I try to be like vampires and avoid the sunshine, but my skin doesn’t seem to agree with my caution. If the sun touches me, I start to turn brown. I get the most ridiculous tan lines that way.

Is that water coming from a cave? Oh yes.

The hiking trail we selected follows the Maligne Canyon, through which flows the Maligne River, as it narrows and goes through a tight slot canyon, surrounded by underground caves. I know I mentioned this when we talked about Medicine Lake, but just to give you a little reminder: during winter, most of the water that fills Medicine Lake (which is on the drive up to Maligne Lake) drains down into the caves beneath the lake as the water that feeds the lake slows as it freezes.

The whole area is peppered with underground caves though which the river flows, which makes for some stunning sights in the canyon. There are multiple places along the hike we took where you can see water seeping out of holes and caves to join the rest of the river. It’s never really clear where the water came from and where the cave might go, which makes it all the more fascinating.

Toting the princess across the mud

Portions of this trail were incredibly wet, with mud covering whole segments, and other areas were pock-marked with holes. In fact, the first segment of trail we traversed, which we shall refer to as the Ankle Breakers, was so badly pitted that you couldn’t look anywhere but at your feet to walk across it. One wrong step and you were likely to twist your ankle in any number of holes the size of bowling balls. I would’ve assumed such trail damage was from rain and water, but oddly none of the holes were filled with water, despite the recent rain. Maybe it is all from snow or just from so many people walking? I couldn’t say.

One area was so muddy that you couldn’t cross without stomping through several feet of the thick, goopy stuff, so some enterprising person had set up two young trees over the mud hole to serve as a bridge across. Once again, Princess Ripley elected to be toted across, though this time her crossing wasn’t as accomplished with as much grace. I couldn’t carry her and keep my balance, so Mark had to do it. Ripley got one hand, and the fence got the other. I was really impressed with Mark’s mud-hole crossing skills. He managed not to drop Ripley and not to fall in, both of which I would’ve done if I’d been the one carrying her. Do you think he learned those skills in all his years of Boy Scouts, or do they just come naturally?

Close-up of the river in the Maligne Canyon

As we continued up the trail, we started to see more people, and the canyon narrowed considerably. That’s the really fascinating thing about this canyon. The walls are so narrow and the water is rushing and churning through the little gap at incredible speeds. It got to be one of the coolest rivers I’ve ever seen. I have seen some similar to it before, but none nearly as long. The Chasm just outside Milford Sound in New Zealand is one of the others we’ve visited. The one I really want to see is the Bolton Strid, which is similar to these canyons, but you can walk right up the edge of the river instead of looking down at it int he bottom of a canyon. This makes it incredibly dangerous, as it doesn’t seem to be moving as quickly as something like the Maligne River, and it doesn’t seem as deep as it is. It just looks so unassuming.

In any event, the Maligne River is full of small waterfalls, and there are at least seven bridges over the river in Jasper National Park. We saw four of them today, and two more the other day. I think we only missed number 3, but I’m not 100% that’s the right one. They do start to blend together after a while. At the last bridge we cross, Mark took some photos of Ripley and me a little back from the bridge. If you look in the direction we are looking in the photograph, there’s a pillar of ice back in the canyon, reaching from the surface of the river to almost half-way up the canyon wall. It’s the only one we saw of its kind, and it was a little funny to spot the thing back there, considering it looks pretty blue in the light. It makes you wonder why they might’ve planted a blue pole in the water before you really realize what it is.

Ripley and Kristy on the bridge

It did start to get a little colder in the area that we turned around, but by the time we were retracing our steps back to the truck, the temperature had jumped. The sun was out by then in full force, and when we came out from under the trees, we even got hot. The weather here is mean like that. One day you aren’t wearing enough clothes, and the next day, you have on too many. It took a little less time to get back to the truck than it did to get to our stopping point, since we were no longer taking as many photos. Mark still performed admirably on his return trip across the mud pit, and Ripley was once again safe from filthy toes. She did still get a toe bath when we got back to the hotel, which she seemed to resent, but since the bedding in the hotel room is white, better safe than sorry.

In the final leg of our trip back, I finally figured out what the pretty pink flowers Mark had been taking of photos were. All over the place around here, we have seen signs calling Alberta “Wild Rose Country,” and I was just sure we hadn’t seen any wild roses, and I had no idea what they might look like. Then, I happened upon a plant that still had closed rosebuds, and realized immediately that Mark’s pretty pink flowers were Alberta’s wild roses. It seems obvious now, but the realization had me freezing in the middle of the trail and Mark wondering if I was crazy. So now we know. We’ve been seeing wild roses everywhere. No wonder Alberta’s slogan talks about them. Maybe if one of their many signs had just mentioned it somewhere…

Can you spot the ice?

By now, it was around 3:30pm. At the hotel, we changed into shorts and then drove back into town to go and look for some Jasper souvenirs, since none of the park visitor centers have had anything we’ve really wanted. Unfortunately, a lot of the shops carried the same or very similar shirts, none of which we liked. Most of them said “Jasper, Canada” and not “Jasper National Park,” which is what we wanted. It took us about an hour to finally find a shirt for each of us that we liked. By the end, we were pretty tired of souvenir shops. We aren’t great shoppers the best of times. We did discover a Jamaican sandwich shop that I think we will visit tomorrow, though. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had Jamaican food before, and they had a few vegetarian options.

For dinner, we went back to our hotel and ate from the cooler. I’m so proud of how well we’ve been doing that on this trip. It feels like we are spending more than usual on trip groceries, but we are definitely spending less eating out, and I think we are coming out ahead. It turns out we are more willing to eat from the cooler at dinner than we are at lunch. It’s just so much easier once you are already in the hotel.

Alberta: Wild Rose Country (on every sign and license plate)

Tomorrow is our last day in Jasper. Mark’s a little sad, but we’ve explored the park pretty thoroughly, and aside from doing a ton more hiking, there’s not much left to see after we finish out our list tomorrow. We will get up and run in the morning, then head out to do a mountain and some lakes around town. It’s starting to feel like our vacation is winding down, though we still get to visit two provinces we haven’t visited together before things really end and we start to head home. Saskatchewan and Manitoba, here we come.

– Trip Total : 3,343 miles

Athabasca Glacier

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