Arrived in Jasper 30 minutes late. That meant still another two hours before the shuttle to the hostel. I found the grocery store TPG, suggested to me by people who have been to Jasper. The selection is limited, a little pricier than what I would spend in Victoria. I managed to spend about $20.00 to buy extra supplies. (The two chicken breasts I bought were rather dry when I finally used them for two meals.)
With the knowledge the temperature was already at -17 C I walked back to the train station and caught a taxi. At minus 17 C only the foolhardy would walk the 7km, mainly uphill road to the hostel. It is up the mountain after all.
HI-Jasper price quoted, and confirmed on booking.com was for Hostel International members only. I thought that had been dealt with for when I checked in at the hostel. Nope. Total for two nights in a 28 bed dorm; I used my debit card rather than be left short of cash. I would have paid the membership fee if I had explored where other HI accommodations are.
The hostel is well set up for the guests to cook even some gourmet meals if they so desired. A mish mash of plates, pots, frying pans, mugs, bowls and some baking items. Well set up for more than one person to cook at a time. Makes me think of commune life without everyone pitching in for the good of all.
I purchased some stuffed pasta and two small, baked chicken breasts. I had the foresight to chop mushrooms and a red pepper before leaving home A little oil, cook up he vegetables, cook the pasta, add some garlic dip and voila – traveller’s gourmet dinner.
I ate at a picture window, it became my go to spot when at the hostel, watching the mountains and snow darken into the night. A large fireplace snapped and crackled in the room. All I needed was marshmallows.
Breakfast and Morning View
Woke up with a cramp, no fun with a flight of stairs to get to the female washrooms. Other than that I did have a relatively decent sleep, once I had finally stopped swaying as though still on the train.
Coffee of course. I am making full use of my travel French Press.
Fresh fruit, left over from what I bought in Victoria – pineapple, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries
One tea egg (my pandas were eyeing that)
Toasted bagel with garlic cream cheese
Two small, soft wedges of Laughing Cow Cheese
Very small pot of yogurt
I took my time to eat, good thing as that was far more than I usually eat. Watching the day wake up into its shivery morning provided me with two hours of entertainment and photo opportunities.
I already knew my only full day might be all from inside looking out. At 6:00AM it was -21 C feeling like -26. I was quite content to sit at the window watching the sun come up, paint the snow capped mountain in layers of pink hues, that slowly seeped down the mountainsides, buried forever in the white purity of the snow. A clear, winter blue sky emerged. The bare trees across the road were frozen sentinels, awaiting the first touches of spring before easing their outstretched icicle and snow laden branches. If there were not cars sitting out front I could easily have believed I was in a hidden cabin.
I asked about activities that did not include skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or any other winter sport. One possibility was the Maligne Canyon ice walk. About three hours with a guide, $65.00. Then, as I was preparing to tidy things up to have a shower, a young man asked if I wanted to join him. He was planning a similar walk, had all his gear in his car if I should need anything. Not wanting to slow him down I did explain I am nearly 60 to his 34. However, I accepted and around 10:00 we set off, with the idea the temperature might be a little warmer for what ended up being four hours in the cold – time to test my new cold weather base tops, second hand coat, mittens crocheted by my daughter and my choice of toque. I was grateful I grabbed my leopard print face mask I bought in Beijing.
Brad turned out to be an excellent, knowledgeable guide, he visits Jasper as often as possible to take advantage of the skiing opportunities and knows the area. As some of the slopes were closed down he had the day free and I was the fortunate one for it. We first walked along the lower canyon. This is only possible during winter when the river is frozen solid. I felt privileged to see, when stopped in its tracks, just how powerful flowing water can be. Walking in the canyon is somewhat of an illusion – by summer it will be filled with water roaring through. There is a trail along the sides of the gorge, but everyone ignores these for the thrill of walking on the ice.
Behind the ice curtain.
Looking up at the striated limestone cliffs was overwhelming with the solid walls of ice halted in mid pour. The cliff walls where water rushes past are like raw silk, smooth, cold, with a slight roughness to them. Blue, white, translucent waterfalls hang like chandeliers and curtains. How often is it possible to peek behind an ice curtain? When the holes and red marker ropes for ice climbers were pointed out I was astonished to learn this is a sport. All I could think of was the scene from Phantom of the Opera. We walked upon, at times slightly slushy, green-blue river ice, no idea how thick it was below us, but a slight tingling of fear added to the cold with the knowledge of what lay below would soon melt and be set free!
A rare photo of me.
My private guide then asked if I was up to walking along the top of the canyon. Absolutely! He commented that I was indeed in great shape – hurray! The views overlooking the frozen river bed were dizzying. The river is 50 metres below. We had been stopped at one point below at a wall of ice I did not think I could handle. Seen from above it was clear this was as far as anyone could go.
Parks Canada built an interpretative trail along the canyon with signs describing the geological history of the area. There are four bridges across the gorge, each with a fabulous view.
One image from above was just how much of a force nature can be, we saw where something had hit the ice below with such an impact the ice floor had been cracked asunder, only to seal up again with fractures stretching from the impact point. There were not any loose rocks around, all being sealed within the limestone walls; however, it might have been a heavy tree branch, or a small tree – whatever it was had been swallowed.
Fortunately there are also handrails because the places with steps were covered in snow and ice. This is another walk best made with someone if heading out in the dead of winter. We saw two sets of fat wheels that we could only surmise were made by ice bikes – I have never heard of them. Perhaps they were Fat Bikes. Whatever the type they should not have been ridden on the trails.
After our lower and upper tours of the canyons, and some photos of mule deer at a frozen picnic site, a wildlife tour was added. Guaranteed elk and mountain sheep sightings I was not about to say no! Off we went, my guide knows where the animals hang out. The elk were not very cooperative, even with the car engine shut off. I did manage to get some decent shots.
Then off to see the mountain sheep. Such magnificent horns on two of the males. While I took pictures my new friend kept a close eye on the largest of the males who had been watching what we were planning. If drivers must stop do not get out of the vehicle! I have known this lesson since I was ten and am always shocked when parents actually place their children in the frame of a photo with a wild beast. Those horns are there for a reason.
Then to a local laundromat that serves the best coffee, or so I had been told, in town. It really was very good. A tiring, wonderful day at a pace set by me, but not completely alone. Back to the dorm for some much needed downtime, dinner and reading. Even the excited gaggle of girl guides who had arrived did not interfere with my quiet. Fortunately, until the second cramp in my two nights, I slept well.