With the hunk o junk back under our command, we trudged through Banff NP via the Trans Canada and clunked into the Lake Louise Overflow “campground”. These overflows are dotted throughout both Banff and Jasper NPs, essentially serving as an overnight parking location for the poor unfortunates/lazy bastards who didn’t manage/couldn’t be bothered securing a reservation at one of the actual campgrounds within the parks. The parks are so giant that it really doesn’t make sense to drive all the way back out if you can’t get into a campground. Anyways, in theory you’re required to self-register and pay around $15 for the night at these overflows, but this in our opinion is a bit ridiculous for a shitty parking lot, so 2 times out of 4 we elected not to pay the fee and take the risk. Living on the edge, over here.
Next morning, we began the slow ascent up the Icefields Parkway – a wondrous drive through some of the tallest mountains in the world, if you’ve got an auto with sufficient power; but a stressful, curse-riddled ride through hell’s gates if you drive one particular RV. Needless to say, the drive was a slow and arduous one, but an extremely picturesque one nonetheless – glaciers around every corner, bears, goats and bighorn along the roadside, and towering mountains in all directions. After crawling up one of the worst hills imaginable, we reached the top of the highest point on the road – the hunk o junk, laden with 3 bikes, one kayak, copiuous amounts of food, waayyyy too much clothing, and 2-3 people, had climbed well over 2000 metres and lived to tell the tale. Riding on a glorious cloud only partly composed of misplaced engine fumes, we coasted down the mountain and into Jasper National Park (on the way checking out the Columbia Icefield, the Athabasca Glacier, and the rather impressive Athabasca Falls).
Our accommodations at Whistler Campground, a short drive outside of the village of Jasper, were considerably better than those in Lake Louise. We were told that bears were roaming throughout the campground, however by now we (I) had become somewhat desensitized to the notion of getting our (my) face eaten off by a bear, so this was no great news. While setting up at our campsite, we saw our first of many elk casually taking a nap around 15 metres from the RV. This elk, and the many others that were to follow, was so used to humans that you could almost walk up to it and give it a companionable pat or make small talk about the weather and such.
Over the next few days, we began to unwind and enjoy the awesomeness of Jasper, including:
– Maligne Canyon, so named by a grumpy Portugese Priest who supposedly tried to get his horse to cross the river and was unceremoniously dumped from the saddle: this was very cool, and essentially presented a range of pathways which wound through the canyon (technically a gorge, but we’ll let that one slide) of the Maligne River, with bridges spanning the gorge at regular intervals and offering impressive views of the river far below.
– Valley of the 5 Lakes: a surprisingly long walk which offered good views of the lakes, all of which were connected and each of which was a different shade of blue. The highlight: watching a hilarious family of squirrels racing around and through a tree for well over half an hour, and apparently unconcerned with us standing less than a metre away.
– Annette, Edith, and Pyramid Lakes: all of which offered some good walking and riding opportunities, purportedly good fishing (a great big lie, if you ask me), paddle boarding and boating.
– Maligne Lake: the largest lake in the Canadian Rockies and somewhat reminiscent of New Zealand’s Lake Wakatipu or Lake Te Anau. Unfortunately we were forced to drive even further up into the mountains for this, but the RV performed adequately and we passed through some interesting areas on the way, including Medicine Lake – a large lake which only exists during the Spring/Summer months and completely disappears underground for the rest of the year. Medicine Lake bore signs of the very recent forest fires which plagued Alberta and BC. We essentially conquered Maligne Lake by kayaking a goodly portion of it’s length, but in return I was forced to sacrifice around $40 of lures bought at the Jasper tackle store. This essentially put an end to my horrific fishing jaunt in Jasper.
– Mount Edith Cavell: A fairly strenuous semi-vertical climb up a mountainside but with awesome views of the Angel Glacier and Mt Edith herself, ending on the summit of an adjacent mountain with panoramic views of the Jasper valley and beyond. Very cool, but the next day was a bit of a write-off.
– Jasper Village: a cool little alpine town, somewhat reminiscent of Queenstown or Wanaka, NZ, but somehow a little more easygoing. We attempted to re-civilise ourselves a little here, laundering mountains of washing, posting various nick-nacks back to Ontario, and enjoying an excellent meal at Evil Dave’s restaurant.
– General Wildlife Observations: Black bears, Grizzlies, Mule Deer, Elk – around almost every corner, we received an eyeful of big mammalians.
We enjoyed Jasper a lot more than Banff NP, and were seriously considering sticking around for a few more weeks, but decided it was time to start moving south towards the States – a decision made in equal part due to the fact that summer was swiftly moving by and I was, after quitting my job and thus ending my work permit, technically an illegal resident of Canada. We fired up the RV and headed back along the Icefields Parkway towards Banff.