The Rockies Part One - 5 to 10 August 2014

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September 10th 2014
Published: September 10th 2014
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We left our lovely B&B in Clearwater and immediately missed the solitude and comfort. We had a good journey though and stopped for lunch by a river - a pleasant spot to sit and enjoy the scenery. We continued on and finally moved out of British Columbia and into Alberta. The roads were really quiet and easy to travel along with no mountainous passes and scary bends so we just sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the scenery and it was not long before we reached our next destination - Jasper National Park.

Jasper is the largest National Park in Alberta, a ski resort in winter that turns into a wonderful hiking area in the summer and we were looking forward to some serious hiking.

We were staying at the Mount Robson Inn which was OK but not what we had expected for the price. Everywhere here is expensive but it was near the town and it only took about 10 minutes to walk into the centre. We called into the Visitor Centre to chat about trails and picked up a Hiking Trails Map.

Our first hike in Jasper was the Old Fort Point, a fairly steep hike to the top of the hill (Paul choose it) that overlooked the town and the Athabasca River. The views at the top though were so worth it. We even did a couple of additional side routes from the trail and in the end were hiking for about three hours before we arrived back at the riverside where we had started.

We sat by the river and had lunch watching several rafts trying to manoeuvre into the side of the river which was no easy task with the rapid flow - they finally made the shoreline though. We decided not to walk directly back to our lodge but to continue on via yet another hike! This took us around several large lakes; Beauvert, Edith and Annette which were really scenic with the river behind us and the lakes in front. It was probably the wrong thing to do though as we could not get back across the river and had to continue on until we found a bridge. In the end we walked all day and covered over 10 miles so were quite exhausted by the time we arrived ‘home’. We had not seen much in the way of wildlife on the way apart from some cheeky Red Squirrels and of course lots of Canadian Geese (but I suppose we are in Canada)!

As we arrived back in Jasper we could see the stunning outline of Pyramid Mountain - shining in the evening sun a vivid orange colour, the result of iron minerals. It was such a lovely backdrop reigning over the skyline above the town.

After our long hike we were really hungry so stopped at ‘The Other Paw’ an offshoot of ‘The Bear’s Paw’ a larger cafe around the corner. The menus of these two delicious bakeries is amazing and as recommended yet again by Lonely Planet we choose the Raspberry Scones - these were absolutely delicious and so we went back a couple more times for more over the next few days!!! The queues at these cafe/bakeries were always so long - but oh so worth the wait.

One day we headed out to Maligne Canyon stopping at a day hike along the walls of the canyon - it was our baby daughter’s birthday - Kerry how can you be in your 40s!!!! We are sure you and Cliff will celebrate in style but so wish we could be with you. Birthday greetings should reach you by email long before I publish this blog…..

At the Canyon we enjoyed a really scenic hike following the deep cut gorge for about three miles - we started off climbing uphill before descending drastically until we met the canyon where the river had gorged a passage through the limestone rocks You got a good perspective of how the river had worked its way down through the different strata and formed this massive gorge. In some cases, the canyon is only a about six feet wide, but as much as 160 feet deep.

Along the hike there were plenty of interesting rock formations and view points to watch the fast flowing waters but no way to cross. There were a couple of bridge crossings though and we were hoping to return via the Fifth Bridge but this was closed so we had to walk to the Sixth Bridge to be able to loop back along the trail rather than go back the way we had come. In the end it turned out to be a really fascinating hike with plenty to see as you walked along - at several places you could scramble down a bank to the fast flowing river and we stopped and had a break watching this mighty river make its way down the gorge. Making sure we did not get too near as you would not have stood a chance in this raging flow.

After our hike we had coffee in a small cafe and continued on along the Maligne Lake Road stopping at Medicine Lake, a huge body of water. Noticeboards explained that in summer, glacier melt water cuts through Maligne Canyon and reaches Medicine Lake, to the point of overflowing the lake but by the autumn, the water nearly all disappears! This strange phenomenon has mystified people for thousands of years. In fact Medicine Lake earned its name from the Native Indians who believed its ebb and flow was magical - just like Medicine. Experts think that the water disappears through a drainage network of hidden underground caves - these massive sinkholes swiftly swallowing up the water. Like a large bathtub with the plug pulled - if you add water fast enough, the tub will fill with water despite the water running down the drain but when the water slows it will seep away. The cave drainage system beneath Medicine Lake resurfaces below Maligne Canyon, more than 11 miles downstream. This qualifies it as the longest underground drainage system in the country.

Medicine Lake’s quiet waters teem with Trout. These fish were originally stocked in 1927, and since then have thrived. Prior to this, there were no fish at all in the lake — after all, how would they have gotten there! With its underground drainage system, Medicine Lake has no above ground outlet to allow fish to migrate upstream as it is formed strictly from glacial runoff.

On the Maligne Road we spotted a large herd of Big Horn Sheep - we had so wanted to see these huge sheep up close and really got the opportunity here as they seemed to be ‘tourist friendly’ - obviously had been fed by tourists in the past as they came up really close to the cars parked by with their camera’s flashing. The bighorn sheep is the larger, wild relative of the domesticated sheep. The males have long spiral horns which can weigh up to 30 pounds and I thought they looked like giant sea shells. The female sheep has shorter, spike-like horns. The coat on both is short, coarse and typically brown with white areas on the muzzle, the back of the legs and around the rump. Once a year, the sheep will shed their hair to reveal a new coat underneath without having to go to the hairdresser! We stayed and watched two massive males run off into the undergrowth whilst the females and young wandered up to the road to see what tourists they could attract. It is such a shame that these beautiful animals were doing something that was not at all natural to them … … …

And so we finally arrived at Maligne Lake with its scenic boathouse on the edge of the shore. The road comes to an abrupt end in this scenic spot but what a place to end……… The historic Curly Phillips Boathouse at the edge of the lake was built in 1928 by pioneer, Donald ‘Curly’ Phillips. The Boathouse is the last remaining building of Curly's backcountry camp at Maligne Lake and one of few remaining structures of similar vintage in Alberta.

Maligne Lake is one of the most picturesque spots in the Canadian Rockies. Nestled between Leah Peak, Samson Peak and Mount Paul on the left, and Mounts Charlton, Unwin, Mary Vaux and Llysfran Peak to the right - everywhere you looked people had their cameras out taking shot after shot there must be thousands of photos all taken from the same spot of the same scene.

The lake was created when a landslide off the surrounding Opal Hills released so much material into the lower valley causing a natural dam which formed the present lake. We walked for a little while along the shoreline and ran into Dave and Pauline from the UK who we had met at Clearwater Spring Ranch and chatted to them for a while - its a small world. The area really was very picturesque but also had an abundance of hiking trails so we thought we would come back when we had a little more time.

The next day we awoke to a thunderstorm and really cloudy skies so the return trip to the lake was out. Instead we travelled to Patricia Lake which was much closer. We walked over a bridge to Pyramid Island on the lake but it kept raining so we walked really quickly around its perimeter. There was a picnic area and wooden seats looking out over the water - but there was no view today. During the winter months the snow covered recreation trails in this region become cross country ski routes and the frozen lake transforms into a giant skating rink.

People visit the area to fish mainly for trout and whitefish. However scuba divers also visit to explore the remains of a WW2 ‘ice ship’. A ship made of ice was a project of Winston Churchill's called ‘Project Habbakuk’. The previous discovery that glacial ice was virtually indestructible gave Geoffrey Pyke, an advisor to Lord Mountbatten the idea to build floating airfields of ice and so a scale model constructed of wood, refrigeration pipes, tar and of course ice was built on Patricia Lake, chosen for its isolated location and to keep the project top secret.

The rain did not let up so we crossed back over the bridge where we met a couple who asked us if we had seen any ‘Red Chairs’ on the island! We said the only chairs we had seen were very wet wooden benches. Apparently it was some sort of on-line contest to find these red chairs - we were intrigued and would see what we could find out.

Later that day we had a really long chat on ‘Skype’ with our daughters, Sharon and Kerry and granddaughter Maisie. Sharon and Maisie were on holiday in the UK from Dubai where they live and they were both happy to be ‘home’ for a while. Maisie was really disappointed though as she was hoping for rain and the sun had been shining brightly ever since they arrived. They had been driving around in my Colt with the roof down enjoying themselves in the sun yet still wishing for rain - we told them that we had plenty of rain here in Canada that they could share!!

However the weather brightened up for us in the afternoon and we hiked The Five Lakes walk. As soon as we set off we heard a noise in the bush and a Canadian (Spruce) Grouse came towards us trying to chase us away - probably from its nest. What a colourful bird this was with its bright red eyebrows which were so noticeable in the dark undergrowth!

We walked through a thick forested area before the lakes started to appear. Some were deep blue whilst others were jade and emerald green and each of the five were totally different. At one of the lakes we spotted a couple of Red Chairs in a very scenic spot. This we thought must have some connections with what the couple we met at Patricia Lake were looking for (more on these in a later blog).

We walked along the crest of a hill above the last lake which was very long and narrow before descending into a valley where we crossed a small stream before climbing back up a steep gorge on the other side. We were just ascending the hill when we heard thunder in the distance which was gradually getting nearer. There was no open area to get away from the tree line so we literally tried to ‘out run the storm’. We did not fancy being surrounded by trees if lightening was going to strike, plus we had forgot to carry our rain gear with us!! We must have hiked back twice as quick as we had hiked in - luckily we were not too far from the car before the rain started.

The next day the weather improved and we set off for Maligne Lake again. We did several hikes starting with the Mary Schaffer Loop Trail which follows the lake for a while before cutting through a sub-alpine forest. This trail’s namesake was the first non-native woman to travel and explore much of Jasper and Banff National Parks. She was also a writer, photographer and artist and we would come across her name many times on our visit to the area. Mary declared that ‘Lake Louise’ is a pearl but Lake Maligne is a whole string of pearls’. We have not seen Lake Louise yet but Lake Maligne is truly a string of pearls …

It was a pleasant walk and we saw lots of Whiskey Jack birds. The official name of this is Grey Jay and it is also known as a Canadian Jay but we think that Whiskey Jack sounds so much nicer.

We still had some spare energy so decided to hike to Lorraine and Mona Lakes which was a pleasant hike through lodgepole pine forests to these two small ‘kettle’ lakes. The trail climbed ‘gently’ through the forest for a few kilometres at which point a short spur road led to Lorraine Lake. We continued on though and took another spur trail to Mona Lake which we had all to ourselves. A scenic lake with no sign of wildlife until we sat and had our lunch and a beautiful Great Northern Loon swam passed us. Known as the Common Loon in North America the bird is really well known in Canada as it appears on the one dollar ‘loonie’ coin and is also on some $20 notes. The breeding adults have a black head, white underparts and a checkered black and white mantle. The reflection of the loon's colours on the lake was beautiful.

We were not alone for long before we were joined by a family from the Midlands, UK and we chatted for a while before heading back to take the spur track to Lorraine Lake. We were going to continue on to circle the route back to Lake Maligne but the trail had not been maintained and we lost the route really quickly so retraced our steps back to our original route - did not want to get lost in the vast forest.

Later we took a short trail out to Moose Lake not expecting to see any moose though! The trail follows the forested valley bottom with some really uneven ground the result of an ancient landslide. Thousands of years ago a half a billon cubic metres of rock fell from the ridge on the other side, blocking the valley and enlarging the lake to its current size. Everywhere we looked mossy, lichen encrusted boulders left over from those years dotted the forest.

We arrived at the lake with its scenic mountain backdrop and chatted to a chap that had actually seen a Moose that morning. He was making a documentary film and was sitting patiently for more to arrive! We decided not to wait and continued back to Maligne Lake where we sat and watched the world go by whilst resting our legs after so much hiking. We were going to have ‘afternoon tea’ at Maligne Lake Chalet but at $34 per person we thought this was a little bit steep - you can get a scrummy cream tea in Dorset for a third of that price and it would include clotted cream too!

On our way back to Jasper town we encountered some more Big Horn Sheep grazing near the lake. Back in town we stopped at Jasper Pizza (recommended in Lonely Planet) and had a really nice supper sitting above the Railway Station with a stunning backdrop of the mountains and watched a train pull out of the station. The station is served by Via Rails, The Canadian and the Prince Rupert as well as Rocky Mountaineer.

Our plan for Jasper National Park had been to do lots of hiking which we have really fulfilled and we are both feeling much fitter for it. We have enjoyed a variety of hikes over different terrain with some beautiful scenery and stunning flora. What really surprised us was how busy this area was, we knew it was the busiest time of year but some of the places were ‘swamped’ with us tourists!!!!! However once you started hiking then within a few minutes you were usually quite alone … … … We had also expected to see much more wildlife and were disappointed that we did not get to see a Bear, a Moose or an Elk but the Big Horn Sheep were a real bonus. Tomorrow we leave Jasper town and travel along the Icefield Parkway to Lake Louise hoping to do some more hikes and maybe see more wildlife - see you there.

Additional photos below
Photos: 29, Displayed: 29


10th September 2014
Another of the Five Lakes

that water!
Is so clear! it looks beautiful, could you see fish swimming?
10th September 2014
Another of the Five Lakes

Lots of little ones ....
11th September 2014

You've captured some beauty here.
11th September 2014

I remember walking through fields of these in Wiltshire, England as a child - such a delicate flower.

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