Onto the Athabasca glacier
On Wednesday 29th June we crossed into Alberta and entered the Banff National Park. All around us were the Rocky Mountains and you might think ‘the Rockies’ a fairly unimaginative name for a mountain range until you see them and they really are very… rocky…. and dark and moody and quite different to any other mountains you’ve ever seen before. We took quite a lot of photos…
Then before we knew it the road had us at the famous blue-green Lake Louise and there we were taking photos of its prettiness too (us and crowds of other tourists…). It was a bit late in the day so we didn’t set out on one of the busy local hikes but there was still enough time for Mark and h to get in a canoe and paddle around the not-so-busy blue-green water a few times. The guide book was right – that’s a horrible great Disneyesque hotel they’ve put up alongside the beautiful lake – but at least the hotel organises the canoes very well.
From Lake Louise we drove very slightly south-east to Banff to stay the night. Some people had said that Banff was lovely and others that it was horrible and full of tourists but I would say it was more the former than the latter. We had a nice room at the edge of things with a view of a rocky mountain and whilst there were a lot of people around in the town it seemed to be accommodating the large numbers of incomers in as pleasant a way as possible. We slept.
On June 30th we drove the short distance to the Banff hot springs and took a dip in the hot waters with the mountains all around. Then we grabbed lunch in town and visited the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies where they had an exhibition about Women Adventurers in the Rockies (very interesting). After this we set off north on the 1 and then the 93 (the ‘Icefields Parkway’).
Early on the 93 we entered the Jasper National Park. Before long we stopped by Hector Lake and saw a (small) crowd staring in one direction. On the roads in the Rockies this can only mean one thing – wildlife – and in this case it was a grazing black bear just on the other side of the road. We stopped again by Bow Lake for a cup of something and a break and it was very beautiful and peaceful there (in between the coach tours… ). Then we drove through some very varied weather (even a touch of sleet up high) to our stop for the night. But first here are our photos of Alberta and the Rockies up to this point:
Our hotel for the night of the 30th June was right opposite the Athabasca Glacier (part of the Columbia Icefield). The hotel got bad reviews on Expedia and, perhaps because of this, it wasn’t hugely expensive but it was one of our very favourite overnight choices. We liked it mainly because once the day-tourists had moved off there was really just us and the glacier left up there and it was so still and unusual – like another world. We had a lovely room with a separate little loft bit for h and a stunning view of the glacier. The staff were really friendly too (the staff for the Icefield Centre, hotel and Icefield Experience trips all stay very nearby but not actually in the centre). The food wasn’t cheap (one of the bad reviews main grievances) but it was good and brought to us by a very friendly young man from Indonesia who knew an awful lot about Leeds United’s mid-to-late ‘90s soccer team. Plus we shared two meals between three of us so it worked out OK.
It snowed a little during the night (and it was pretty cold out there) but we woke on July 1st (Canada Day) to the sight of a bright blue sky and a dazzling glacier. Sadly there were not grizzly bears to be seen outside (apparently one was seen a couple of weeks back but this was unusual up there) but apart from that it was perfect. Before the crowds and coach tours arrived we bought our tickets for the Icefield Experience and got on the 10.15 bus over to the ice and to the special red purpose-built vehicles that drive you onto the glacier itself. Our guide for the ice journey was yet another Australian (Whistler, Banff… all full of them!) and very good he was too (as a driver and a tour guide). None of us three had ever seen (or stood on) a glacier before so it was a first for all of us. It was fascinating, exciting and, in the dazzling morning light, really very beautiful.
After this we looked at the information displays in the Icefield Centre and then drove on up the 93 towards Jasper (seeing mountain goats, sheep and another black bear or two on the way). We stopped at the Athabasca Falls (impressive but, on a National holiday, pretty busy) and then drove on towards Jasper (a small place with a lot of people going through it). We’d missed their Canada Day parade but there were still a lot of flags waving and we did visit their Canada Day activities event a few streets behind the main drag (face-painting, games, music, food etc.). It was all pretty low-key but easy-going and laid-back. Then we got back in the car and pretty soon left the Rockies behind… which was weird (one minute so rocky, next minute so flat…). Our photos of the rest of our short Rockies visit are here:
Next time Alberta’s big cities – Edmonton and Calgary.