The 180 mile road from Lake Louise north up to Jasper is the Icefields Parkway and it goes over 2000m and passes through long-term icefields such as Columbia and Athabasca.
On any measure it is majestic and arresting. We drove it with the smoke covering most of western Canada – could we see anything?
To backtrack, we spent two lovely days in Jasper after a 11 hour drive direct from Whistler which was notable for being the first time in 35 years than the author has been properly carsick. That my children had to spectate made this a low moment, but perhaps being able to see their parents (ample) fallibility will be healthy. Just don’t make any jokes about Lucy’s driving.
The back country route is very twisty until it calms down and from there the roads through the mountains are impressive – endless wide straight concrete tracks with the poor cyclists suffering on the hard shoulder. [Note to the cyclists: the Icefields Parkway is a famous cycling destination but the volume of fast and heavy traffic makes it less attractive in my view.]
Jasper is the quieter, less brash cousin to Banff. It is a fairly small village surrounded by mountains (apparently, we couldn’t really see them) and stuck in the middle of nowhere. The town was overflowing, eg queues to park in any car park, the restaurants are booked up and it is 20 minutes of queuing to get a coffee. We’ll survive, we’re tough, just remember that August in western Canada = peak peak season. Try to come another time – May is best for Bears and September is best for the lakes as they are warmest.
We did a few missions around Jasper and loved it – fast flowing canyons, turquoise lakes to swim in and hike around. We hit one rite of passage – we bought our first Bear Spray. The idea is if you get charged by a bear, when it is within 4 metres you spray it with pepper spray which discombobulates the bear in 90% of instances. Don’t ask about the other 10% and don’t ask about how you keep your nerve when a charging bear is only 3 metres away. It is $45 a bottle and lasts until 2021. It remains unused as bears are proving very elusive in Canada.
The Icefields Parkway
We took a day over it and stopped three times. The smoke cleared as we climbed in altitude from 1000 metres (Jasper) to 2000 metres. The glaciers are awe-inspiring and the day unleased all manner of geo-explanations: how canyons are formed, how glaciers move, why they retreat, how it links to global warming, the water cycle etc.
I took loads of photos and plan to give some of them to Lola’s geography teacher – the Rockies are one big endless geography field trip. The walls of steep rock on each side of the road last for most of the 180 miles. The best thing was the girls’ excitement – they genuinely loved the mountains and seeing the deadly waterfalls up close. (The adjective is ‘deadly’ as Athabasca Falls has a sign saying ‘Every couple of years a tourist gets a bit clever, goes outside the guard rail, slips on the rock and is killed as they fall into the surging water. You’ll die of hypothermia if you are not smashed into pieces by the rocks. Please don’t try it.’ Indeed, there was a bench in memorial to a chap who slipped in 2012 aged 24. Sobering.)
The worst accommodation of our trip.
The day was beautiful and memorable and 300km later we arrived at our cabin in Golden. Now, ‘cabin in Golden’ sounds romantic and oh so Canadian, but in fact this was a lo-fi, low rent portable home stuck in some woods outside the very functional town of Golden.
It was the sort of ‘cabin’ in which you might imagine an axe murderer arrives at midnight to pick off tourists or a posse of snakes goes to digest the small children they have eaten. We ate our salmon with pesto pasta and watched back to back movies in an attempt to bludgeon ourselves to sleep. As the night wore on the carpet was covered with strange little beetles. This was comfortably – pun intended – the worst night of the trip