Friday, 24 July 2015

Ice Age Wonders and Modern Disappointments

Location: Icefields Parkway, Jasper, AB T0E 1E0, Canada
We started the day lazily, we didn't have far to ride to get to Honeymoon Lake and the weather report had said it would be wet in the morning then getting better so why rush? We chatted with Greg and Brandon over breakfast and slowly got our stuff together. The guys left to go canoeing and we continued packing. We were almost sorted when Tom realised we were missing the GoPro. We'd borrowed Brittany & Greg's backpack for our hike up the mountain, not unpacked it and then Brittany had taken it for work. So after a call to the Skytram where she was working that day we arranged to meet in town to retrieve our camera. After the successful hand-off we spoke briefly to a Japanese cycle tourer who's seen northern lights a few nights before whilst he was north of Grande Cache. I was super jealous, but since there's so little night time you actually have to be awake and outside at 2-3am which is when we're sound asleep so I can't really be envious as I don't want to be up and about then. I haven't even seen the stars for weeks, maybe even months, which has been really weird. I miss the night sky.

We rode out of Jasper past mountains newly sprinkled with fresh snow very aware that we were in mountain country and that meant the weather could turn on us as had happened in Utah and Wyoming. Our first sightseeing stop was Athabasca Falls where we had late lunch. Our break was brightened by a couple of different Americans asking about our trip and how we managed to keep cheese and salami cold on a bike tour (answer is we don't, it just gets a bit sweaty). With nowhere to lock the bikes we didn't want to stroll too far so we just took in the thunderous falls along with the other tourists and continued on our way.

We arrived at Honeymoon Lake, checked out the campground, and chose a suitable site near the picnic shelter and food caches. After getting set up and eating we had a wander to the lake's edge. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Perfect, mirror-like lake reflecting the majestic peaks around it and barely anyone around.

We'd planned to get up early to get to the Icefields Centre by lunch and hike in the afternoon but we awoke to the sound of rain and decided to sleep a bit longer in the hopes it would clear up and allow the tent to dry a bit. After all we were trying to be more 'holiday' about this section so a lie-in seemed a good idea. After rolling out the campsite at about 11am we stopped for a look at Sunwapta Falls; another good waterfall with massive amounts of meltwater bursting through a winding canyon.

We had a pretty decent climb after this and breathing hard with the effort of the hill plus the altitude caused me quite a lot of rib discomfort. Nearing the top we stopped at Stutfield Glacier for lunch rather than keep pushing on to the Icefields Centre. Again, more friendly Americans asked about the trip and offered encouragement.

We got to the Icefields Centre mid-afternoon. To the west of the Parkway lies the Athabasca and Snow Dome glaciers fed by the Columbia Icefield. To the east of the road is the info centre. Normally these places are pretty good and we were looking forward to displays on glaciers and the Icefield and hoping for a film like they had at the U.S. National Parks. We were utterly disappointed. No exhibition. No film. Just a swirling, chaotic mass of tourists jostling for tickets to the various 'tours' and a totally over-priced cafe. It was awful. We had considered paying to go on the 'Snocoach' tour, but witnessing it from the carpark we knew it wasn't for us. $55 each to ride a special bus that takes you up onto the glacier where you can get out onto what is essentially a parking lot on ice. We didn't even go to the toe of the glacier, which was also teeming with people as we thought we might find it too depressing.

Instead we opted to ride on the couple of miles to our campsite, Wilcox Creek, and after getting the tent up walked up towards Wilcox Pass. It was a lovely, easy little hike, recommended by Sue in Hinton, that afforded us beautiful views over the glaciers, mountains and the intriguing Columbia Icefield peeking over the tops. It was a wonderful end to our second day on the Icefields Parkway.

We wandered back to our tent and I made one of the best camp dinners yet - a tomato-ey, fishy pasta sauce with fettucine made out of dehydrated mixed veg, a tin of sardines in tomato sauce, a few sundried tomatoes, some onion and garlic.  It was surprisingly good and one we're looking forward to making again.

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