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22 August

The stunning drive up the Icefields Parkway (click for map)

At first we were disappointed to see that the weather forecast was bright and sunny. It seemed a bit of a waste to spend this on driving 150 miles. Wrong! The sun and the clear were just right for seeing this at its best. The lakes were the deepest blue, the glaciers sparkled. It was breath-taking. This is one of the great road journeys of the world.

The leaves Highway 1 (which turns west into British Columbia) and continues up the Bow Valley. There is Herbert Lake (deep blue with stunning reflections of the hills) followed by Bow Lake, the headwaters of the Bow River overlooked by Crowfoot Glacier. 

We had our first stop just after we left the Bow Valley. This was at Peyto Lake which has a milky blue colour that looks unreal on photographs but is quite genuine. The trail there goes through alpine meadows dominated by Indian Paintbrush; this comes in various colours which is in the leaves rather than the flower. The red-orange variety is spectacular.

On to Saskatchewan Crossing. As the name indicates the road crosses the North Saskatchewan River. There were elk lazing between the road and the river and they were attracting all the attention. I think that I was the only one who saw a large bird appear. It had wings like a buzzard but seemed bigger; it was also following the course of the river which didn't seem like buzzard behaviour. Alas it was away before I could get a better fix on it.

Onwards and upwards through the Sunset Pass pausing to look at the Bridal Veil Falls. Then we crossed over from Banff National Park into the Jasper National Park shortly before our major stop for the day, the Icefields Centre. The parkway and the centre both take their name from the Columbia Icefield, the massive glacier which straddles the Great Divide of the Rockies. The Centre (which is distinctly like a better motorway service station in character) has an excellent display on the Icefield but more significantly it is the base for trips out on to the Athabasca Glacier. You can walk out there; with a guide otherwise you're in danger of disappearing down a crevasse. We went for the lazy option of taking one of the tour buses on to the ice.

Athabasca Glacier Snowcoach

These buses are specially adapted vehicles made by Canadian Bluebird. There are twenty-odd in the world and all but one are here; the other is a US government vehicle in Antarctica. It's a slick operation with a normal bus to the edge of the glacier, swap places with a returning party to get on to the special bus and then out to the top of the glacier for a walk round. Then do the opposite in return. The driver was entertaining and knowledgeable. For example; who would have suspected that the inconspicuous hill to the north of the glacier, Snowdome, is one of only two in the world than is the source of rivers flowing into three oceans. The other is in central Russia.

The icefield is very beautiful with Mount Athabasca and Andromeda next to it being really lovely peaks. You have to be careful on the ice. It has been surveyed so you know that there are no crevasses. But it does have a tendency to open up in smaller holes which can get your footwear pretty wet.

Continuing our journey we stopped at both the Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls. They are smaller drops but with very powerful surges of water. We also had a brief look at Goat Lick where the mountain goats assemble to lick the mineral from the rock.

It was getting on for 6 pm when we arrived in Jasper, our stopping place. We were staying at the Patricia Lake Bungalows. This was much the nicest place we stayed, at least for its setting. It comprises individual chalets set in woodland on the edge of the lake. We were lucky; there was only one between us and the lake. Opposite is the Victoria Cross range of mountains; all the peaks bar one are named after holders of the Victoria Cross. The exception is the highest, Pyramid Mountain. The is the classic upturned V-shape (rather like Great Gable but much bigger). It looks stunning as you see it reflected in the lake with the evening sun behind it. This was a very relaxing place to stay.


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