Turning this cold streak into a post streak! I would say it's starting to warm up but nah just less cold. Don't judge there is a difference, you don't know until you have experienced it. Remember when I said at these temperatures, nothing works? We became a statistic lol! the extreme cold messed with pressure sensor and deflated the tires. Good news is, we are not in the Rockies yet better here in the city than 2 hours drive into the middle of nowhere with no cell reception. That universe I tell ya...
Semi frozen Athabasca River. This is taken from a far location safe on shore with a tele-lens. I see many daring and going near the open ice, don't be a dum-dum, stay off open or thin ice.
That brings me to my next topic before exploring too far, being prepared. During the last few days, Edmonton has over 37 000 calls for roadside assistance for cold related struggles with up to 48 hour wait because of unusual call volume. We just waited close to 20 hours and counting. Everything is cool we get to wait at home but what if that were to happen in the middle of a National Park? Because of resource availability and remote location, could take even longer especially with no cell reception. You are at the mercy of the next passer-by to go drive towards the closest cell tower to call for help if anything happens on the road. If you stick to activities in the valley close to the town, you don't have to worry as much. Any road or trail conditions, closures and safety precautions are updated regularly on the park's website. Make it your new bff for the rest of your trip.
Pyramid Island, connected by a bridge, don't miss this short but unforgettable scenic hike at Pyramid Bench. The small wooden bridge takes you across to the island for a different view great place to photograph active birds and small wildlife.
Now what? where do we go? What do we do? If you are new to the Rockies best to learn what to expect in safe locations rather than the wilderness, perhaps a nice recreational area to get acclimatized to new surroundings and learn how warm to dress in extended exposure to the cold. Learn your tolerances. Places like Pyramid Bench offer an array of trails perfect for photography, free or low cost outdoor activities like skating, & hockey on the lake, cross country skiing, various equipment rental along with pricier unique experiences like a dogsled or a cozy horse sleigh ride with the comfort of having a restaurant, cafe at location to warm up when required.
The niche tours may require advanced booking (a day or 2 ahead should be sufficient for most tours) to guarantee a spot at your preferred time but you can also book on location if there is availability left, that can be a gamble. Insider tip, on the really cold days they get many cancellations, going first thing in the morning there is less visitors and run the chance they might have some openings. When booking a tour keep in mind travel time, getting there is still a long enough drive up the mountain via Pyramid Lake Road with plenty of scenery like Patricia Lake and other pit stops along the way with a good possibility of wildlife obstructions at any given time. Rule of thumb, if you are there for photography the earlier the better before crowds arrive. An afternoon will go by quickly, if you can still brave the cold, explore downtown Jasper's unique shops or local craft beer paired with live entertainment. Near the visitor center is a hot spot for a local herd of Elk.
Maligne Lake Road has multiple sights and experiences, certainly another must if going to Jasper, still located near town but with a long drive especially if you plan on going all the way to Maligne lake. The tours and buildings are all closed and locked up, don't plan on getting anywhere near Spirit Island, it's only accessible by boat in summer. The road is generally open and maintained unless it's stormy, trails are open and the view is magnificent. The coveted boathouse view is near the parking lot, who knows you may have the place to yourself. On the way, keep an eye out for Jasper's bathtub aka Medicine Lake and the eagle's nest, they are marked and visible along the road no need to look too hard. Truthfully, there isn't much to do all the way to the lake this time of year aside for the view and the sake of exploring.
If that's too far, exploring all the way to Maligne Canyon(Both Lake and Canyon can be done on the same day getting started early in the morning), same road and river system but lower on the mountain easily accessible year round both for self guided tours or better yet, now the ice is frozen, there is guided tours into the canyon, frozen waterfall climbing demos/courses(requires advanced booking). The walk on the top ridge of the canyon can easily be self guided.
I personally plan on taking the guided tour the first time going on the ice because I'm unsure how to spot the additional hazards (hollow ice, hidden cave systems, potential for overhead falling icebergs) I suppose I'll let you know the official verdict in the near future. On the ice requires additional safety gear like ice cleats, hiking poles all additional gear provided with the tour. If you plan on doing some winter hiking on your own, I recommend having the above mentioned anyway, it's way easier to move around in cleats. Pay close attention while driving this stretch, it's a mecca for wildlife of all shapes and sizes. I would be surprised if you came this way and didn't see at least a few Elk also the home of the rare and elusive Caribou, the currently hibernating Grizzly (in the summer, it's a good place to spot them).
Gorgeous ice walls in the link above isn't it!! That will be our big ticket item for the trip (hopefully). This river is pretty turbulent, Maligne is French for wicked it lives up to it's reputation. This page is pretty much an A-Z guide of all the popular spots, more than I even know. The point of this post is not to dictate a vacation but show you the tools I use and how to maximize day use and sight seeing for specific area rather than jump here and there without a plan, the best treasures are buried deep but doing one section per day, you can see quite a bit in a short time, multiple lakes per day easy whith minimal stress. Everything is connected and taking the time to read the interactive signs around the park and along the trails is eye opening as to how complex it all is. A piece of advice, nature decides, be open to last minute change of plans, conditions deteriorate quickly and some places may become temporarily inaccessible.
Are the over-priced tours worth it? Over the years, I have been disappointed by overpaying for tours I could have done myself for free but I have also been to others that were informative, fun and well worth the lofty price tag. Depends what you really want to see and experience prioritize from there. Jasper has so much to offer year round in terms of festivals and experiences, you can't possible do them all in one trip. Just like steemitland, everyone's got something to sell, doesn't mean all of it is good. Many prized photogenic locations can only be accessed safely and easily from a guided tour meanwhile other worthy landscapes are literally nothing more than a scenic pull-over on the side of the highway. If you learn to pick the right ones, some of these guides are pretty knowledgeable and it's fun to pick their brains while others, well...just leave it at that. Brewster Company is pretty established and recommended, most of the tourism in Jasper is attributed to Mr. Brewster and the dream legacy he left behind for the world that all started at Maligne Lake.
You ABSOLUTELY CAN'T come to Jasper and not take a leisurely drive down the Icefield Parkway for the afternoon that would be a sin. Deemed by various well know travelers and magazines like National Geographic as the most beautiful highway in the world for a reason ... No doubt ... This slice of heaven will make you want to stop at every road side turnoff to take a zillion pictures as you get deeper into the forest up and down around the mountain passes along the Athabasca river that hardly ever freeze completely. I don't care how many times I have done it, not enough!
This road as the name suggests leads to the Columbia Icefield, but not before you drive pass the most popular waterfall in the park, Athabasca Falls and sister fall Sunwapta Falls. You go see one, go to the other the frozen beauties are close driving distance from each other, the most coveted view is the easy view almost walking out of the parking lot. Both locations have a network of trails to explore, easily spend an hour or more especially Athabasca falls. In the winter, if the ice is thick enough, it's possible to go on a short self-guided tour down into the canyon and view the fall from below. This place gets crowded any time of year at any temperature, patience and courtesy is required!
Generally speaking, when traveling the Rockies pick a direction and keep driving as far as you want, there are hidden trails all along the road for short hikes to other amazing features. There is something for everyone and all level of fitness, no need to be the super fit backpacker to get in on some fun. Personally I don't go on too many long winter hikes in the back country because of the avalanche risk but they are still there for the brave souls. I think my dad falling in a hollow spot covered in snow in the Appalachians while snowshoeing when I was a mini scarred me for life! don't worry he got out ok and wasn't hurt just took time and I was like 4 or 5 years old. I turned around and my dad wasn't there anymore, then I heard cussin from a hole in the snow. All that caused by a little stream running under the snowbank caused it to collapse. Things happen fast with all the hidden dangers, be vigilant and aware of your surroundings at all times the Rockies are merciless. It's easy to get hurt and hard to get rescued.
So many things I wish I could include, even more I have yet to see, do some research before coming and while you are here. This is really just a short list. Jasper is famous for it's ski resort, dark sky preserve and the mobile observatory & Aurora borealis dome projection, scenic train tours to Dunster and back(A view of Mount Robson). Many interactive night time tours available to some of the locations above. Local kitchens and the dining atmosphere, the town is full of life after dark. Now you understand when I say if you try to see too much you end up missing out even more. If you were to spend 2 weeks or more it's worth traveling in both Banff and Jasper, for a week best stay with one or the other.
If Lake Louise is an absolute must on your bucket list, It's a couple of hours drive on the main highway, spending a day exploring the area is reasonably possible. It's a must on our upcoming trip. The "Ice Magic" carving festival and competition is about to kickoff if it hasn't already started. Only 3 international ice carving competition in Canada, one of the other is "Ice on Whyte" in Edmonton...Go Alberta! Can't wait to see what kind of pictures I bring back from the ice sculptures and castle, they are highly skilled carvers check it out if you can. If you can't... cheat, the last link I provided has a constant live webcam view of several Banff/Lake Louise tourist attractions.
There you have it, another gallery from my favorites frozen places now that we are about to go on our first trip of a new decade...after the tires are fixed, obviously.
All images were taken with Nikon D7000.
Cheers my friends! xox