Wilcox Pass

Friday, August 4

We decided it was pointless to backtrack and try to find a site at Kicking Horse Campground in Yoho National Park. Our chances were just too slim. So we broke camp at the Herbert Creek picnic area and headed north on the Icefields Parkway to see if we could snag a site at Mosquito Creek Campground. When we arrived there was only one site available so we took it and felt lucky to get it. The coming Monday was a holiday in Canada so the long weekend meant campsites would be impossible to get. The fact that we got the last available site I took as a sign that we were meant to stay in the area (last night we had been debating whether we should head for Montana or Idaho or something). It was pretty windy the previous night and that seemed to clear out the smoke.

Mosquito Creek Campground

An alcohol ban notice was posted at the campground registration kiosk. I said to Greg that it was probably a situation where a few bad apples ruined it for everyone once and now this ban has been put in place. When I got home and looked it up, sure enough, that’s what happened (Noisy campers mar long weekend). What’s weird is that it only applies to some campgrounds in the parks, not every single one of them.

IMG_8159

We headed north, crossed into Jasper National Park, and briefly stopped at the Columbia Icefield Center for a weather report. It had been mostly sunny at the campground but gotten increasingly cloudy as we drove north. The weather for Jasper called for a 30% chance of rain, but we decided to do the Wilcox Pass hike anyway.

The first stretch of trail was eroded with many exposed roots, although we would come to learn that this was NOTHING compared to later hikes on this trip.

Wilcox Pass Hike

Wilcox Pass Hike

We broke out of the trees and started getting views down to the highway below and across to the mountains on the other side:

Wilcox Pass Hike

Wilcox Pass Hike

Wilcox Pass Hike

From here on out the trail stayed out in the open:

Wilcox Pass Hike

Wilcox Pass Hike

Red chairs at a viewpoint:

Wilcox Pass Hike

From the red chairs we could see the Athabasca Glacier and the Icefield Center, although later we’d get even better views of it.

Wilcox Pass Hike

We saw MANY columbian ground squirrels. We also saw lots of golden mantled ground squirrels like this one:

Wilcox Pass Hike

The trail traversed meadows that felt like the Scottish moors, especially under the cloudy skies:

Wilcox Pass Hike

Wilcox Pass Hike

Wilcox Pass Hike

We crossed a lovely gurgling creek:

Wilcox Pass Hike

Then the trail turned abruptly left and headed to the viewpoint overlooking the Athabasa Glacier. From here the trail was clearly defined, but was nevertheless marked by wire-enclosed cairns that were put in place by the park. Unfortunately people had felt the need to pile onto these cairns with rocks of their own. What the hell? This one was particularly bad, with rocks piled up in front of the yellow diamond that make these cairns visible in cloudy or dark conditions.

Wilcox Pass Hike

Looking back at our route, with Nigel Peak on the left:

Wilcox Pass Hike

Admiring the view:

Wilcox Pass Hike

There weren’t a ton of wildflowers, but we saw some:

Wilcox Pass Hike

Approaching the viewpoint, with the Athabasca Glacier beyond:

Wilcox Pass Hike

From the viewpoint we could see the Columbia Icefield Center below us and the Athabasca Glacier beyond:

Wilcox Pass Hike

Looking south from the viewpoint, down the Icefields Parkway:

Wilcox Pass Hike

View of Dome Glacier. Part of the Athabasca Glacier is visible on the left:

Wilcox Pass Hike

Wilcox Peak:

Wilcox Pass Hike

A panorama encompassing west to north, with the Athabasca Glacier on the left and Wilcox Peak on the right:

Wilcox Pass Hike

Hiking back down, with Mt. Athabasca beyond:

Wilcox Pass Hike

This was a good starting hike for our trip: six miles round-trip with 1300′ elevation gain! Although it was cloudy for the whole hike, it only sprinkled a few times.

Back at the campground we found sunny skies again. Such a relief to be free of the smoke! We weren’t free of mosquitoes, though. They weren’t terrible, but they were present. We had a nice view of Mt. Hector from our campsite:

Mosquito Creek Campground

Mosquito Creek runs along the edge of the campground:

Mosquito Creek Campground

<< Day 1: Smoky Vacation | Day 3: Bow Summit >>

Canadian Rockies Day 4: Icefields Parkway

July 30, 2016

This morning we packed up and headed south out of Jasper National Park, making several stops along the way as drove the Icefields Parkway towards Banff. The weather was cloudy and rainy today, which was disappointing. But at least today wasn’t a hiking day.

Our first stop was Leach Lake, which was calm and deserted on this cloudy morning.

Leach Lake

Athabasca Falls was thunderously impressive. What you can’t see in this photo are the hoards of people and the plethora of awful selfie sticks.

We stopped at Sunwapta Falls, which was a tad less crowded.

We stopped at this neat roadside pullout called Bubbling Springs on the map, but it was totally unsigned from the road. There’s a picnic area and a little natural pool of quicksand. Super cool!

We pulled over at the Mushroom Peak viewpoint along the Sunwapta River. It was a beautiful spot although in terms of photography the light was dreadful. This is Tangle Peak to the south:

Tangle Falls is right alongside the road:

And of course we had to stop to see the Athabasca Glacier, the premier attraction along the Icefields Parkway. This glacier flows from the Columbia Icefield almost right down to the highway. Back in the day the toe of the glacier was indeed very close to the highway. But the glacier is retreating and melting. You can take a short hike very close to the edge of the glacier:

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

Dark ominous clouds were gathering to the north and they looked to be headed our way.

Hail is coming

So as soon as we were done checking out the glacier we retreated to the Columbia Icefield Centre across the highway where we bought an overpriced lunch and through some minor miracle managed to snag a little table by the window.

Icefield Center

As we sat there eating and admiring the view, the storm arrived and it was a doozy. It was a hail storm like I’ve never experienced before. The hail was pouring off the roof and through the downspouts, piling up everywhere like snow. It was crazy!

Hail

The hail ended after about 10 minutes, but it was still raining and I had left my rain jacket in the car. Greg ran to the far end of the parking lot to get the car while I waited at the building entrance for him. While standing there, a guy from Hawaii who had just arrived asked if all the white stuff everywhere was hail or snow. Then a woman asked me if it was safe to drive with all the hail everywhere.

We stopped at Mistaya Lake. Unfortunately the weather and the light were both pretty terrible :

Bow Lake

Our final stop before connecting up with Highway 1 was Hector Lake:

Hector Lake

We checked into our hotel in Canmore, went out for dinner, then Played Mr. Jack at the hotel room before turning in for the night:

Another pounding rain storm passed through around 10:30 that night.

<< Day 3: Sulphur Skyline | Day 5: Bow Valley Provincial Park >>

Canadian Rockies Day 3: Sulphur Skyline

July 29, 2016

We got up early and drove out to Patricia Lake, which is just a few miles outside of the town of Jasper. The road goes right past it, and there was a nice pullout where we could get out and see the lake reflecting Pyramid Mountain in one direction, and a range of mountains in the other direction.

Patricia Lake

Patricia Lake

A little ways down the road is Pyramid Lake, which is equally as beautiful, and has the bonus of a lovely little island with a footbridge leading to it. We were fortunate to be here early before the crowds arrived. It’s a very popular stop with the tour buses, and indeed one arrived with a huge load of people right as we were leaving.

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake

We drove out to Miette Hot Springs, which also serves as the trailhead for Sulphur Skyline. We started hiking and started gaining significant elevation. Finally we got high enough that we had some views. We could see down the valley towards Miette Hot Springs, the little white blob down there in the trees.

Sulphur Skyline Hike

Not even to the summit yet and we feel like we’re on top of the world.

Sulphur Skyline Hike

After a steep final push to the summit we were surrounded by stunning 360-degree views. Our beautiful clear morning had turned into a cloudy and windy afternoon, but the views were still stunning. Holy crap!

Fiddle River

Sulphur Skyline Hike

Sulphur Skyline Hike

Sulphur Skyline Hike

Sulphur Skyline Hike

After hiking back down of course we had to go for a soak at Miette Hot Springs. The weather had turned quite cool and cloudy, with even a threat of rain, so the hot soak felt GREAT.

Miette Hot Springs

The setting is pretty awesome too.


travelalberta.com

From the top of Sulphur Skyline we had been able to see a “fin” of rock to the north called Ashlar Ridge. There’s a roadside viewpoint right below it, so we stopped to check it out on the drive out.

Ashlar Ridge

From there we could also see up to the summit of Sulphur Skyline where we had been earlier.

Sulphur Skyline

What a gorgeous scenery-filled day!

<< Day 2: Cavell Meadows | Day 4: Icefields Parkway >>

Canadian Rockies Day 2: Cavell Meadows

July 28, 2016

On our way to hike Cavell Meadows today we stopped at Cavell Lake, a lovely little lake that you can’t see from the road and that most people probably drive right past. (By the way, we read that “Cavell” pronounced to rhyme with “gravel” which is not how we were pronouncing it at first.) Just a short ways down the trail brought us to a bridge over the outlet creek and this wonderful view. We were lucky to have good conditions here because an hour later it was overcast.

Cavell Lake

Back to the car and a little bit further up the road we parked at the Cavell Meadows trailhead and started hiking at 9:30 along with dozens of other people. This is one of the most popular hikes in the park.

Cavell Meadows Hike

Cavell Meadows Hike

We first hiked out to a viewpoint that looks down on the pond below Angel Glacier. You used to be able to take a trail down to the pond, but after a flood event in 2012 (part of the Ghost Glacier fell off into the pond, sending a wave of water and debris downstream) you can’t do that anymore. Nevertheless, despite numerous signs, we saw many people hiking down there.

Cavell Meadows Hike

Cavell Meadows Hike

Then we headed up to the meadows, surrounded by mountain vistas and increasingly better views of the Angel Glacier.

Cavell Meadows Hike

Cavell Meadows Hike

Cavell Meadows Hike

Cavell Meadows Hike

When we passed a rockslide by the trail Greg caught sight of a cute little pika and got several great shots of the adorable little guy.

We also saw marmot along the way.

Cavell Meadows Hike

The wildflowers were awesome!

Cavell Meadows Hike

A little side trail to a viewpoint provides a nice view of Mt. Edith Cavell and the Angel Glacier.

Cavell Meadows Hike

At the viewpoint this funny marmot ambled up and started posing on this rock. I know I shouldn’t anthropomorphize, but it really did look like he was posing! He even changed positions several times, as if to say, “make sure you get all my angles.”

Marmot

The shot above is one I took. I had my wide angle lens on the camera. Below are some much better shots that Greg got on his camera.

Another side trail leads to the highest viewpoint along the loop. It was a doozy, a very stiff climb up an open rocky slope. You can see the trail on the right in the picture below, although it looks pretty tame compared to real life!

Cavell Meadows Hike

I would definitely not want to do this on a hot sunny day. We had the opposite weather, with dark clouds coming our way. And then it started to rain while we were up there. Drat. I had neither my pack cover nor my rain jacket, so I got pretty wet. Greg stayed on top while I started hiking down. Of course 10 minutes later the rain stopped just as quickly as it started.

We passed through more wildflower meadows as we finished the loop back to the car. Glorious!

Cavell Meadows Hike

Also on the way back down we saw a family with young kids sitting in the fragile meadow off the trail. The kids were running around like kids do and the parents were oblivious. It was just one of many displays of appalling behavior we saw from other park visitors during our time in the Rockies.

We arrived back at the car at 3:00 and headed back to Jasper for some post-hike food. Yum!

<< Day 1: Opal Hills and Maligne Canyon | Day 3: Sulphur Skyline >>

Canadian Rockies Day 1: Opal Hills and Maligne Canyon

July 27, 2016

On Tuesday we left Vancouver and made the LONG drive across the province to Jasper National Park to kick off the Canadian Rockies portion of our trip. It was a beautiful drive almost the entire way, especially towards the end as we drove into the Rockies. Although we didn’t have time to spend in Mount Robson Provincial Park, we got a picture of the namesake mountain as we drove through the park on our way to Jasper.

Mt. Robson

We stayed at a nice place south of the town of Jasper called Jasper House Bungalows. It had a nice little living area, kitchenette, bathroom, and bedroom.

Our cabin

And right outside our door was this. Awesome!

Reading spot

We couldn’t see the full sunset from where we were, but we could see some of the clouds turning colors. Welcome to the Rockies!

Sunset

Sunset

On Wednesday we drove down to Maligne Lake. We got there early before the crowds arrived and it was beautiful and peaceful. Photography was challenging due to the clouds (we would see A LOT of clouds on our trip), but it was still lovely.

Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake

On the way back to the car we saw a deer having breakfast in the forest.

Deer

After admiring the lake we started off on the trail to Opal Hills. It is the steepest trail in the park, according to the sign at the trailhead. As ever, the steepness is not properly conveyed in photos.

Opal Hills Hike

Opal Hills Hike

We tried to keep up with a group that was ahead of us, wanting to stay close to their noise since this is bear country. But they shot up the hill like it was flat ground and we soon fell behind. It didn’t help that we were hiking from about 5,500′ to 7,000′, an elevation we’re just not used to. Most hikes in Oregon top out at 4,000′ or 5,000′. The trail finally reached the meadows and we had a bit of a mountain view. This is a pano from my iPhone.

Opal Hills

The trail travels through this lovely basin with green meadows and wildflowers. It was quite pretty!

Opal Hills Hike

Wildflowers

Opal Hills Hike

Bumblebee

Our hiking book said “climb to the first knoll on the left for the best view of Maligne Lake.” We poked around, but didn’t see any knoll, just a big hill with a very steep slope, which you can see the bottom part of on the left side of the photo below.

Opal Hills Hike

I actually think there may be a typo in the book and that the author meant to say “right” instead of “left.” There WAS a bootpath up a little hill when we first hit the meadows, but it was on the right so we didn’t think that was it. This track on everytrail.com shows the side trip and a photo from the top:

When we got to the northwest end of the meadow we were greeted with this  lovely view of the mountains.

Opal Hills Hike

Admiring the view

Then the trail dropped back into the trees and we descended steeply back to the trailhead. We had planned to do the nearby Bald Hills hike after this one but since it took us five hours to do the four-mile Opal Hills loop, we didn’t have time (or energy).

On the drive back up the Maligne Road we stopped at Medicine Lake, which is an unusual place. From the sign there:

The bedrock in this part of the Maligne Valley fractured severely during uplift. Rainwater and snowmelt entered cracks and slowly dissolved a network of underground passages.

The upper Maligne River sinks into this passages through many openings in the valley floor. In summer, meltwater from snow and glaciers swells the river, exceeding what the underground system can carry. The surplus water, dammed by a massive rock slide to the north, floods the basin and forms Medicine Lake.

At the onset of cooler weather in late August, the inflow is less than the drainage into the caves. The lake level drops, exposing the lake bottom until the cycle begins again the following summer.

Medicine Lake

We then made a stop at Maligne Canyon. This is SUPER popular with tourists and was crazy busy, even though it was now early evening. The Maligne River travels through a super narrow limestone canyon here and there are bridges and trails that allow you to get a good look.

Maligne Canyon

Maligne Canyon

Maligne Canyon

As we were driving back to town we saw a car pulled over, which usually means wildlife is around. Sure enough there was a black bear having a roadside snack. Greg got a few quick pics on his iPhone before we moved along.

Black bear

Black bear

We stopped at Jasper Brewing for a delicious dinner. Our waitress told us that the town’s population swelled from 4,500 to 25,000 in the summer. Yikes! Then we went to the grocery store so we could eat in the next few nights. What a surreal experience. All the shoppers were clearly tourists. I wonder if the locals ever shop there?

Day 2: Cavell Meadows >>