We arrived at the airport this morning to learn that our flight was delayed (they “lost” the whereabouts of the incoming crew), and just to keep with the theme, we were to miss the last connection of the day back to Newark. The good news- both our parents live in the MSP area, so things were to be much more comfortable than spending the night in EWR.
Marks parents picked us up, and we all enjoyed a dinner before crashing. A change in plans, but a welcome one.
After yesterday’s little snafu, we were a bit slow in getting moving this morning. We took our time grabbing some breakfast and walking over to the post office to ship our camping stove home (much easier than shipping a bike it turns out).
Before leaving the hotel, at Jen’s request, Mark got online to find a hotel in Calgary. He put in 4-stars and without any hope of getting it at such a low price, bid $80 for a room. The priceline website accepted the bid and put us in the Calgary Westin. Mark did a satisfied karate chop as he told Jen the good news. William Shattner would be proud (note: priceline “name your own price” rocks!).
By noon, we were on the road to Calgary. On the way, we stopped for the afternoon at the Olympic Park- where the 1988 winter Olympic ski jump, bobsleigh, and luge were held. The park had various thrill seeker activities available, such as the ability to try to luge, and one of the world’s highest ziplines which goes from the top to the bottom of the large 90-meter ski jump. We signed up for both.
The luge was a bit disappointing- when Mark was here 15-years ago, visitors were able to luge the final third of the Olympic track (which Mark fondly remembers doing to this day). Due to the cost of cooling the track in the summer, this has been reduced to a tiny 50-foot section of track in a building. After the 5-second ride Jen jumped up on the Olympic podium for her victory pose.
The zipline, on the other hand was a very thrilling and awesome experience, and well worth the price of admission. Jen had been talking about wanting to do a zip line the entire trip, and boy was this a big leap!
We started by getting some instruction, and donning funny looking harnesses which were originally used for hang-gliding. There were a total of three zip lines we’d be flying down. The first was a short (50-foot) line where we learned the proper “flying” and “breaking” positions. Even on this short line, Jen seemed to be having a blast!
After taking a chairlift to the top of the hill (Jen- a very interesting experience in the summer) and an elevator to the observation deck of the ski-jump, we were standing at the top of the line called “The Monster.”
After watching a few people scream down the line (figuratively and literaly), we found ourselves strapped in and ready for takeoff. There are two parallel ziplines, so we were able to go at the same time. We were looking down the same track that the Olympic ski-jumpers hurl themselves down without any safety harness- quite sobering indeed.
After our zip line ride, we toured the Olympic museum. While it was small, it was packed with winter Olympic history.
To end our day, we finished our drive to Calgary and checked into the Westin. As it was the opening day of the Bejing olympics we picked up some Chinese take-out, a bottle of wine, and enjoyed the opening ceremony. It was a great way to wind down at the end of our adventure.
Today’s plan was simple really… Drive to Jasper, have some breakfast, pick up the now-boxed bikes from the bike shop, and spend the day making our way from Jasper to Banff, stopping at some of the overlooks/short hikes we had skipped on the way up.
The drive from the lodge to Jasper went great, and the breakfast (again at Papa George’s) was superb. It wasn’t until we arrived at the bike shop, that our best-laid plans came to a screeching halt.
The first issue? The bike boxes used were slightly larger then expected, and were a few inches too large to fit in the car. No problem- the shop had assured us over the previous months they could have the bikes shipped home from their shop, and that they knew all of the procedures for shipping to the states.
That is until we actually needed to take them up on this- suddenly they knew nothing of the customs or shipping paperwork that needed to be filled out, and let us know we’d need to handle all of the shipping ourselves.
We spent several hours on the phone with various shipping companies, each time getting a different answer on what forms we’d need to fill out, etc… (In many cases we’d get 3 different answers from the same company). There were several warnings that we’d need to pay tarrifs, duty, and customs brokerage fees- with estimates ranging from hundreds, to a thousand dollars (though not a single shipping company could give us any concrete number).
Finally, at about 6pm, we decided it would be best to simply take the bikes with us on the plane, loaded the bikes into the car (sans boxes, as the boxes wouldn’t fit) and set off for Banff, 8-hours later than planned. (note: in the end, the bike shop refunded the boxing fee, as they had given us misinformation about being able to ship to the states.)
On the road, Jen saw a black bear, and we caught the most beautiful sunset either of us had seen at Peyote Lake. We arrived at the Driftwood Inn in Banff quite late, but were greeted with a nice surprise- our room had been upgraded to their higher-end hotel, the Ptarmigan Inn. Banff Tip: the people who run the Ptarmigan Inn, Driftwood Inn, and Arrowhead motel are Great! Their hotels are clean, and the Driftwood is a great bang-for-the-buck in the area.
Today was a classic example of the old saying: “when we make plans, God laughs.” (special thanks to Jennifer and Erik from CA for reminding us of this)
After our elk encounter last night, we cautiously peered out of the tent this morning… Fortunately there were no critters waiting to greet us. Today was Mark’s birthday, and Jen had some (secret) plans, so we quickly went through the morning routine, packed up camp, and headed into the town of Jasper.
At Papa George’s, we had a wonderful, reasonably priced and hearty breakfast. The skillet breakfasts are huge but delicious! After breakfast, we strolled around town and just took it easy. At about noon, Mark decided a beer sounded good, so we bellied up to the bar at the Jasper Brewery. Mark said their stout was among the best he had ever tasted! We chatted with the bartender and brewmaster for about an hour, then headed out to Mark’s first surprise- a full body massage at a local day spa.
While Mark was having all of his stress rubbed away, Jen chilled out by the pool, soaked in a hot tub, and sweat it out a bit in a sauna. It was a very theraputic hour for both of us, and a great break from the more primitive lifestyle we’ve experienced over the past couple weeks.
When the pampering was done (it went by way too fast), we loaded back into the car, and Jen drove us to the Overlander Lodge, about 15 minutes north of the park. There, the second surprise for Mark awaited- a night in a warm and comfy hotel room.
Soon after arriving, a cheese and fruit plate was delivered, and we enjoyed a bottle of wine we had picked up on the way. At 6:30, Jen mentioned the final surprise- a nice dinner at the restaraunt, provided by Mark’s parents, aunt Kim, and uncle John. The meal was fantastic (as were the views of the setting sun). (Mark: Thank you so much Mom, Dad, Aunt Kim and Uncle John!!!)
After finishing dinner, we sat out on the beautiful back deck, where we met James and Sharon, a very nice couple from Manitoba. We swapped stories of our travels as the sun set- it was a wonderful evening.
After a cold but peaceful night, we woke up, packed our camp, and said a sad farewell to our great campsite. We drove north to Mt. Edith Cavell, about an hour and a half away. Much of the road was poor condition, narrow, and steep which made for a harrowing drive.
We arrived at the trailhead and made a pot of maple-honey oatmeal, which was devoured quickly. The back-to-back days of steep vertical hiking was starting to take it’s toll. On the way up, we were passed by a woman who had recently had her knee replaced (though she hadn’t just biked 200-miles through the Rockies ).
After making our way up and over a glacial moraine, we hiked through a low
alpine forest. We soon found ourselves in a wildflower filled alpine meadow, overlooking a bright green glacial pond, filled with iceburgs. Occasionally, we would hear the loud pop and crackle (though no snapping) of ice breaking away from the glacier. Mark took many pictures.
An hour of climbing later we found ourselves at the top of another ridge, offering a beautiful vista.
On the descent we saw a very large hoary marmot. Our knees were grateful for the flat parking lot.
We were greeted in the town of Jasper by the visitors center. There we learned of the best local eateries, but more important, the location of the loundromat.
The fact that we had to clean the clothes we were wearing presented a bit of a challenge. To remedy this, we changed into the only clean clothes we had left- our cycling gear (sans helmet). We received some funny looks while waiting for the dryer to finish.
We dropped our bikes off at Freewheel Cyclery to have them boxed, then grabbed a bite to eat at Something Else, a great little Greek place. The quantities seemed to satisfy our endless appetite.
Upon entering the Whistler Campground, we made our way directly to the first shower we have had in days. After cleaning up, we made camp. While loading the tent, a very large elk decided to graze directly through our site, walking just feet from the tent. This was a pleasant surprise.
A slow hike day, magnificent views, a hot shower, clean clothes, filling meal, and a close encounter with an elk- another fulfilling day!
Although our site at Columbia Icefields was beautiful it was too cold to make a warm breakfast. The hot breakfast at the visitors center was too good to pass up.
After updating the blog we ventured off to Parker’s Ridge- a hike highly recommended by several people. The hike started out in a meadow of wildflowers then quickly climbed 1,500 feet. Fortyfive minutes later we were in the high alpine just like a scene from The Sound of Music- but we overlooked the Saskatchewan Glacier and the valley it carved out over thousands of years. At the toe of the glacier we clearly saw a turquoise glacial run-off pond from which flowed a winding river. At our feet we noticed that nearly every rock we stepped over contained fossils of various underwater flora. Turns out they were telling the truth that this area was at the bottom of an ocean long long ago.
As we followed the ridge line south a brilliant waterfall came into view as well as an emerald colored pond. Then we climbed north to the highest point of the ridge. From here we had clear views of smaller glaciers clinging to the tops of mountains. Words can’t do this hike’s views justice so check out the photo.
We returned to camp and made our originally designated emergency meals – freeze dried lasange and beef strofanof. Surprisingly they tasted great.
A fellow camper and tour guide recommended a unnamed hike that started directly out of our campsite. Supposedly, big horn sheep could be seen on this short hour and a half hike. After our tasty meal we set out in search of our hooved friends. Once again the trail quickly climbed out of the valley at times so steep we had to scramble. Our treking poles came in very handy. The setting sun illuminated this mountain side and meadow, accentuating a breadth of green hues. We reached our turnaround point without seeing the sheep. However as we turned around we clearly saw the silhouettes of a small herd of big horn sheep grazing on a distant ridge. Magnificient. Mark wished he had his mega zoom lens.
After a hairy descent back to camp we had another quiet and peaceful night’s sleep.
Parker’s Ridge seemed to encapsulate the best of Jasper National Park and the evening hike offered a pleasant surprise.
We’ve been reflecting on our experience. In Pincher Creek, Krista and Darcy (car dealership), the girl at Greyhound desk, Lloyd (Greyhound driver), and the Greyhound Courier guy – they all showed us incredible thoughtfulness, genuine kindness and generosity. We arrive in that town in a state of fear and were determined and desperate to safely get to Banff. Without hesitation they each thought creatively to do what they could to help us.
We try to help people in our daily lives but had never needed assistance like this ourselves. It was humbling and refreshing to first hand experience the kindness of strangers. This is a very important lesson that we will take with us and will always smile when we think of the folks in windy Pincher Creek.
We’ve met so many delightful people along this journey. We shared meals, hikes, summits, descents, laughs and tears of pain and joy. It has restored our faith in humanity and has made this entire adventure more than worth the challenges.
It just goes to show it’s all about the journey NOT the destination.
After great local coffee and bagel sandwiches we drove on the Icefields Parkway as the sun rose. It was a picturesque drive where we saw elk and mule deer on their morning stroll.
The Icefield Visitor Center is placed at the base of Athebasca Glacier. We talked with the park staff and got some great hike suggestions as well as a referred campground.
We met our Glacier Walk guide and set out on what would be an amazing 6-hour adventure. The walk started on the latest intermediate moraine at the base of the glacier. Our guide with ice-axe in hand was sharing that the terrain changes daily. Just yesterday there was an avalanche which completely changed the formation and flow of a glacier river. We felt the smooth mineral soil left by the moving ice. Soon we found ourselves stepping onto the toe of the glacier. Surprisingly the ice provided more than enough traction to walk without crampons. A few minutes after the ascent began we came upon a crevasse. Our guide, Graham, would hold our arm and allow us to peer over the edge of the 75-foot deep crack. The deep blue color at the bottom of the crack glowed. Graham explained that many of these cracks have snow bridges covering them, which will collapse under the weight of a person. This makes traversing the glacier dangerous to the uninitiated. We felt like safe explorers with our knowledgeable guide.
There were many other crevasses and millwells (deep vertical shafts carved into the glacier by water) which we passed and safely peered into on our way up the glacier. After a few hours we found ourselves at the base of the icefall near the top of the glacier. This was spectacular. Pillars of ice – white and aqua-blue – stood as tall as office buildings and boulders were the size of mansions. We had never seen anything like this before. There was a halo around the sun which is somewhat common site when mountain climbing – almost an angelic view.
We walked over rushing streams of melting glacial ice – carefully watching every step. We could hear the rivers churning beneath our feet. Soon we started climbing making our way between the pillars of ice. It felt like we were on another world. We saw other climbers across the glacier who looked like ants. The perspective on the glacier is hard to describe. What looks like a small chunk of snow turns out to be a 50-foot tall boulder of ice. As we turned back and looked down the glacier the road where we started was barely visible.
Then, we spent the next two hours navigating our way between crevasses and around millwells – crossing an extraordinary highway of thousands of year old ice as we descended.
We welcomed firm ground but felt a sense of sadness as we left this incredible place. We have a completely different appreciation for “ice” than we had when we started this. Our guide shared with us the dynamic forces and geology of this glacier. Turns out that this glacier is part of the larger Columbia Icefields which feeds three oceans. We would highly recommend this tour to anyone who visits Jasper.
After we got to the parking lot, our guide shared with us that in recent years there have been three unsuccessful rescue attempts of adults and children who ventured onto this glacier without guidance. We turned around and saw many people and strollers haphazardly walking on the glacier. All we could do is hope they are safe.
The weather was perfect for today’s glacial adventure. Back to our primitive campsite by a rushing non-glacial stream.
What a spectacular day.
We embarked on a new day of fun filled hikes – this being said after a late café breakfast with many refills of coffee.
Our first mission was to escape “Protection” campground. We shared our night’s events with the wardens at the Lake Louise Visitor’s Center. They empathized with us and let us know that the wardens have responsibility but no authority. Therefore, they could empathize but couldn’t fix the campground violation of quiet hours. What they could do for us was place us at – the premiere – Lake Louise campground. We gladly accepted this offer and Mark waited in line for an hour to secure the new site while Jen found much needed supplies, food and caffeine.
At the café we ran into the same cycling tour group we had met in Many Glacier. We laughed and they empathized as we told them our journey since we last saw them (I think they found more appreciation for their supported tour). They wishes us luck and we parted ways.
We started a hike in Lake Louise – up to the Little Beehive and then up to the Large Beehive. The Large Beehive was spectacular. It was situated 1200 feet above the beautiful Lake Louise. There were steep switch-backs and exposed ledges which made the top even more satisfying. When we approached the top of the Beehive, we saw that we actually came to an old abandoned climbers hut (a site which we thought was out of reach when we saw it from 1000 feet below). While the day started cloudy, we were greeted at the summit with beautiful blue skies filled with cotton ball clouds. Mark was in heaven with this photographic setting.
After spending a delightful hour plus at the summit, we descended on the other side of the mountain. This side was entirely different than the other side. We literally felt the temperature increase in steps and noticed the difference in alpine zones (vegetation) on the north face of this mountain. The smells and sights were incredibly refreshing and made the events of the night before fade away with each step and inhale of fresh mountain air.
A side effect of this kind of hike is that hunger for a meal comes on really quickly. When we got to the bottom we asked locals where they eat. This brought us to a quaint and somewhat hidden from the main strip pub. Here we had a very lively, fun and delicious meal and conversation with Californians Erik and Jennifer. We shared stories, our adventure thus far and laughed and laughed. At the end of sharing our epic story, they exclaimed “No way!” numerous times. Without intending this to sound awkward, they kindly offered a clean shower if we needed one. This we all laughed at but had we not had our premiere Lake Louise campground which had showers, we probably would have taken them up on the offer.
This new campground was wonderfully peaceful and quiet – only the train could be slightly heard in the distance. Note: this campground was surrounded by electric fencing to protect people from interested critters.
We had a very restful night’s sleep in Lake Louise campground.