After 2 days of bright and sunny weather, we were greeted by clouds in Jasper. However as it was our last day in the town, the plan had been to leave Jasper and head towards Lake Louise via the Icefields Parkway. In the Canadian Rockies, the Parkway is one of the main attractions, with several well known waterfalls, lakes and the largest non-polar ice cap accessible from the Parkway. As seen from the Top of the The Whistlers, the Icefields Parkway is flanked by majestic mountains, most of which are capped with snow year round, and hence the name of the Parkway. The parkway also had abundant wildlife and one can expect to see bears, moose, elks and the likes along the highway. It was just our luck to spot one such bear and a bunch of elks grazing near the Jasper Townsite along the railway tracks on our way to Jasper for breakfast.
Breakfast was served at the Bear’s Paw Bakery in Jasper, perhaps the only bakery in town as well. Not weird considering Jasper is a town of less than 10,000 inhabitants, though much more tourists in the peak season. While in the townsite, we popped by Jasper’s train station which had a heritage status, considering its importance in the linking of western Canada to the capital and the industrial eastern end of the country. It is also amazing to see how human infrastructure works within a national park. Did you know that up to 20 bears are killed per annum due to being hit by trains? The reason is that bears usually search around railway tracks for berry shrubs.
After the walk around the railway station, we decided to have an early lunch since the western breakfast at Bear’s Paw wasn’t much to Mum’s liking. And since we had a good Korean meal yesterday and there wasn’t much Asian choices in terms of food, we went back to the same old restaurant for more Gahl-Bi and Kimchi Hotpot! This decision will prove to be a good one as throughout the Icefields Parkway, there isn’t a petrol kiosk and any restaurants or eateries until halfway across at the Saskatchewan River Crossing. Thus we had to ensure our petrol tank was also filled up at Jasper!
With no longer the need to worry about food and petrol, we then safely ventured into the Icefields Parkway, with a stop planned at the Athabasca Falls. The flow of the water in the Athabasca Falls is the most powerful within the National Park and it has to be one of the most scenic as well with majestic mountains around it.
There’s a short walk around the Falls allowing us to obtain a better view from a bridge crossing the canyon. There is also a beautiful scenery to be had of the canyon carved by the flowing river of the Athabasca.
From the Athabasca Falls, a less famous waterfall known as Sunwapta Falls is about an additional 15 minutes drive away. Though less famous, the Sunwapta Falls is still spectacular, with the waters of the Sunwapta flowing down a limestone gorge. A small island is also carved behind the falls by the Sunwapta River.
From Sunwapta Falls, we headed towards the highlight of the day – Athabasca Glacier of the Columbia Icefield. The Columbia Icefield area is one of the largest nonpolar ice cap in the world, with melted water flowing into the Columbia, Athabasca and North Saskatchewan River. In fact the Columbia Icefield is larger than Singapore as it has an area of 325 square kilometres. And at its greatest depth, the Icefield is estimated to be as deep as 365 m (which is taller than Eiffel Tower in Paris). Such is the size of the icefield that the water locked within it could fill billions and billions of bathtub, and that is also why the Icefield is well protected as it is the source of water for much of western Canada’s needs.
While we won’t be exploring the whole Columbia Icefield, we would get the chance to take a ‘sno-coach’ ride on the Athabasca Glacier, one of the Glaciers that is part of the Icefield. The Icefield Explorer is one of 23 such vehicles custom built to be able to drive across glaciers. 22 of such vehicles are under the management of the Brewster’s Company for the sole purpose of ferrying tourists onto the Glacier while 1 is in Antarctica serving the scientific community there. Word of caution for visitors into the Glacier, prepare yourself with gloves, scarves and thick padded winter clothing as the winds and temperature of the weather is really cold. While we were there in end of May, it was still up to -5 degree celcius. It is said that in winter, the temperature around the icefield can hit as low as -40 degree celcius. Naturally the Glacier and Visitor centre is closed during that time! The experience of walking on a glacier and feeling the force of ice, blizzard and nature is unforgettable and perhaps once-in-a-lifetime unless of course, you work in Antarctica.
Another interesting point I discovered was how fast the weather changes in the Alpine region. We are of course in the Alpine region in Icefields Parkway as much of the snow here never melts throughout the year. In fact spring and summer months are as short as 90 days which explains the lack of vegetation and the barren state of the land in these region. As we come to discover, sun and clouds come and go as they please in matters of minutes…
After the ride, the was some exhibits on the Columbia Icefield within the Visitor’s Centre as well as a cafe and restaurant at the top level. The cafe served very good french fries which filled our nearly empty stomachs on account of our early lunch. With that, we headed south towards the direction of Lake Louise, passing by Saskatchewan River Crossing, a point where 3 rivers converge and where drivers could get refreshments and fuel. From the crossing, it is another 37 km into the trail that will lead us into Peyto Lake, a famous lake in the Canadian Rockies that looks like a wolf’s head from the viewpoint. However, upon reaching the start of the trail, we discovered that the area was still covered under a thick blanket of snow. Since we didn’t have snow boots on, we decided against venturing further into the trail. Another 6 km from Peyto Lake we would reach Bow Lake and Crowfoot Glacier after passing Bow Pass, the highest road pass in all 4 mountain parks and at Canada at 2088 m above sea level. Bow Lake, as expected is still frozen and it is worth noting that the Bow Lake and the Crowfoot Glacier forms the source of the Bow River which leads all the way into Banff and Calgary. The Crowfoot Glacier is so named due to the resemblance of 3 tiers of glaciers looking like the ‘3 toes’ of a crow’s foot, but it has been a few years since the lowest toe has disappeared showing the extent of greenhouse warming on Earth.
Passing by Crowfoot Glacier, it was just another half an hour’s of drive into Lake Louise. For lodging in the next 2 nights there is only one obvious choice in the Chateau Lake Louise, fronting the Lake. Upon reaching the hotel, we opted for valet parking since there is no complimentary self parking. Throughout our journey, this was perhaps the best room of all! The reason being was that we were upgraded to a 2 bedroom suite that faces the Lake in the Chateau. Their 2-bedroom suites is actually a total of 3 rooms with a private walkway! Inside the centre room is the living area with a table and an armoire where a bed could be pulled out from and an attached powder room. There is a connection from here to the master bedroom, which is a 2nd room with an attached bathroom. The 3rd room is a room with 2 queen-sized beds. It makes for a comfortable 2 nights during our stay at Lake Louise. In fact we didn’t even have to use the bed in the living room.
With some time admiring our suite, we had meant to drive towards Lake Louise Station in the village for dinner, but it was closed and thus we had to head back towards the Chateau for dinner. We decided on having our dinner at the Glacier Saloon which overlooks the lake. The food was average and nothing special to brag about. The food we ordered was a dozen Wings in Prairie Fire and Honey Garlic Sauce (the Honey Garlic marinade was better), seafood chowder, open fired ribs, baked chipotle & honey crusted salmon and rib eye steak. The ambience of the place is more like a bar as it opens till midnight. After wrapping up our dinner, we headed back to the suite for a night’s of good sleep!