Monday 17 June 2013

Along the Icefields Parkway

It was yet another day without breakfast as we woke early to a sparkling morning again. We were picked up by Sue of SunDog Tours who spent the day driving us to Jasper. Not that it’s so far from Banff – it’s just that the route is along the Icefields Parkway, which Nat Geo has placed fourth on its list of the world’s best 10 alpine drives, and it's not for rushing. I don’t think I could cope with the other three: it was hard enough today gawping at the peaks and the glaciers, marvelling at the brilliant blue of the lakes and rivers, trying to do justice to photos of waterfalls, and keeping a close watch out for the wildlife, from roadside to cliff to treetops.

We did see plenty of animals today – a grizzly in the trees, big horn sheep and mountain goats by the road, ground squirrels at our lunch stop and elk and chipmunks here at Jasper Park Lodge where we’re cosily tucked up in a log cabin just along from where the Queen stayed in 2005. Mostly, though, it was the mountains and their thick caps of glaciers that took centre stage, especially the Columbia Icefield where we were driven up onto the Athabasca Glacier.

It had clouded over by the time we got there and the top was a white-out, but we ground up to the glacier anyway, first in a bus and then the snowcoach with huge tyres and a powerful engine, able to cope with 1:15 gradient on ice. We stepped out gingerly onto the ice, but it wasn’t slippery and, even better, there was a patch of blue above the top step of the glacier. Soon the sky was clear again, the ice was dazzling, and the water running from it was eerily blue (and delicious, once it had warmed up a bit – glacier ice may be ancient and pure, but it’ll give you brain-freeze if you drink it straight off). It was well worth being fodder in a large and efficient tourism operation to get up there.

Back on the road there were mighty waterfalls and lots of peering into the tops of aspen trees for black bears, and a fair bit of bumping on tarmac that has to cope with -30 degrees in the winter, but finally we arrived in Jasper. We won’t see much of the place at all as we’re out of town at this lovely log-cabin resort where chipmunks scoot under the tables on the terrace and there’s apparently a resident grizzly on the golf course. Makes a mockery of calling a sand pit a hazard, I reckon.

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