Tag Archives: Rocky Mountains

Jasper, Much Maligne’d

Saturday 10 September 2022 – In declaring yesterday’s rest day to be the End of Part II of our grand odyssey, it turns out I was a bit previous; we still had a little bit of Rocky Mountain-style business (i.e. lakes, waterfalls, that kind of thing) to attend to. Also, since we had failed to visit Jasper, we thought we should at least go in and see what was the state of affairs there.

Accordingly, we set out towards Jasper. As we drove the short distance in, we saw something a little out of the ordinary:

a helicopter carrying a bucket. There was no smoke visible, but we guessed that this was attending to some wildfire business or other – see later. We also saw a temporary roadside sign on the highway which said “Power out In Jasper. Do Not Stop”, but we ignored that.

We went in to the town, wondering whether there was any power to any of the infrastructure. Having parked the car, we discovered that at least the parking meters had power – of course they bloody would – and spent a few minutes negotiating with one. It looked like we’d chosen the station car park.

There were plenty of cars parked in the car park, but the roads were very quiet for a Saturday morning.

Some of the shops seemed to have the lights on, so we popped in to one of them, a tourist gift-type shop, and pretended to look as if we were going to buy something in order to ask the shopkeeper for his assessment of the situation. He said that most businesses now had their own generators and were open, with the main exception being some hotels and restaurants, which had not re-opened; we made a mental note of this to update Brendan later.

Jasper is an attractive place;

the downtown has some nice buildings and some street art on display, too.

It did seem that many businesses were operational, but there was a variety of generator solutions on display and a pervasive hum

and not every business was open.

However, there were a few people about in the attractive downtown area.

Seeing the Tim Hortons, a Canadian coffee shop chain, we thought we’d try out the experience.

It’s a perfectly decent way of getting a coffee (and any manner of cake), but is workmanlike rather than classy. Whilst we were there, we did see evidence that there really was a town shuttle bus,

despite its non-appearance the previous day. Having reassured ourselves that Jasper was gradually getting back into the swing, we headed back to the car, past a streetcar that was handsome, but looked somewhere between faded and disused.

(We saw it in operation later in the day, so it’s not disused, at any rate.)

Right: onward to the last bit of Rocky Mountain stuff, then. There’s a road out of Jasper which leads past two lakes, Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake; both of which are fed by the Maligne River, which in turn feeds into the Athabasca River. Going along this road brings you first, though, to Maligne Canyon, which was therefore our first stop. As you drive the road towards it, there are signs off to “Sixth Bridge” and “Fifth Bridge”, and this starts to make sense once you see the trail map in the canyon car park,

although not much sense; it has to be said that this trail map is somewhat confusing. We saw a signpost to “Second Bridge”, so we thought we’d better start somewhere. We walked from Second Bridge to Fourth (which did need repainting, actually) and back, and then, because it would have taken too much time to go further, back up to First.

We covered a couple of miles, which was much more than I’d expected – I’d thought it would be something like the Mistaya Falls we’d seen on our Icefield Parkway drive. The idea was the same – a torturously twisted canyon carved out by a fast river – but this was much bigger. I’ve tried to condense the trail from start to Fourth Bridge in a video:

it’s an engaging hike, unsurprisingly quite popular.

Next up: Medicine Lake. As we approached, we passed an area which had clearly been affected by wildfires.

Medicine Lake has a viewpoint at its north end

and close examination of everything on the right bank from that viewpoint showed that it had been severely burnt and fairly recently, as there was little evidence of regrowth. Looking back up the lake from the other end

showed that there had been some fire damage to the other bank, too.

We pressed on to Maligne lake, and it became clear that things were, erm, not clear; the visibility was very poor, and we assume that this is because of smoke from the fire that has affected Jasper so badly.

When visibility is good, Maligne Lake looks to be a wonderful place to visit – see my brother Chris’s blog post that includes their visit here – but there was nothing really to see here, and time was beginning to press, so we headed back to the main road that would take us to Edmonton, our next stop. We spotted the same bald eagle’s nest that Chris had

and also some roadside wildlife in the form of bighorn sheep which were wandering about, eating some of the scenery.

That really did conclude the Rocky Mountain section of our holiday. As we motored on towards Edmonton, the scenery changed. Interestingly, though, there was still the danger of wildfires and smoke – signs by the roadside warned of the possibility; and we even saw a wildfire in progress in the distance

and the knock-on effects of the smoke.

Soon, though, the scenery flattened out and we just motored on relatively flat roads towards Edmonton. The main interest in the drive for me was my gaming the Lane Assist function available on our rental car so that it didn’t realise I only had two fingers on the steering wheel, and trying to move into the overtaking lane before the adaptive cruise control slowed us down. I know how to have fun at the wheel of a car.

There were a couple of possible digressions on the route, but we ended up diverting only to one of them, the intriguingly-named “Beaver Boardwalk” in Hinton. It actually does what it says on the tin; there’s boardwalk and it leads past the evidence of beavers, erm, beavering: a dam;

and a lodge (we think).

The place is quite a nice diversion

but it seems that it needs some TLC – some of the boardwalks were closed, and others needed some attention. It borders on other terrain in the Maxwell Lake area, and this is obviously a place where people can walk and bike around, and where there is significant wildlife. I found it amusing that somewhere that tells you what to do when attacked by a cougar

or a bear

could, erm, bear this name:

So, refuelling aside, our next stop was to be Edmonton. We were a bit disconcerted to see this sign

as we thought we’d left Jasper far behind.*

In Edmonton, we encountered a slight issue that one doesn’t come across so much whilst driving in the UK these days.

Despite these slight visibility problems, and with help from the satnav, we found our hotel, the impressive edifice that is the Fairmont Macdonald (pictures tomorrow). It was past 7pm by this stage and so we forsook any actual unpacking or such domestic admin to head straight down to the restaurant which featured a patio. This was lovely.

We were expertly served by Tyler, who was clearly a seasoned campaigner (emphasis on the “camp”, but assured, courteous and expert), after which we tried for some after-dark photos in the hotel’s garden.


The hotel has a nice view over a suspension bridge which is illuminated. There was a low, full moon of a beautifully muted hue, which I tried to capture on both my mobile phone and my Big Camera. The difference between the two is striking:

The top was my mobile phone, the bottom the Nikon. The mobile phone photo is a nicer scene, although it’s much noisier; but unless you need a technically high quality image, the mobile won this round.


That was it for the day. We have nothing planned for the morrow, so wandering about will be the order of the day. Come back and see what we found, won’t you?

* English comedian reference. Sorry.

Ice and No Fire

Thursday 8 September 2022 – I hope you like photos of scenery, glaciers and waterfalls, coz there’s rather a lot of them here.  If so, please read on…..

As far as we could find out, there was no reason for us to avoid going to Jasper.  The news was that the entire town of Jasper was without power, but the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, we were assured, has its own generators, and the Icefield Parkway was, according to the Park’s Facebook site, still open.  So off we set.

Well, there was one thing we had to deal with first – sunrise photography.  I awoke at around 0630 without the necessity for an alarm call, and peeped out of the window to see whether conditions were going to favour mucking about with photography that morning.

That was an encouraging sight, so in between the various parts of getting up and packing ready to leave, I occasionally took a photo as the light developed.

At about 0715, a tiny breeze ruffled the surface of the lake

and I decided that I should hasten down to the shore to get a different viewpoint, preferably one without a bloody tree in the way (so Rocky Mountains, that) before the reflections dissipated.  I was down and by the lake in five minutes, by which time the scene had changed dramatically.


Having zoomed in to take the shot above, I noticed that my camera was making some odd choices about the light.  This is the colouring it saw

which was greatly different from what my eyes were registering.  Its decision about colour balance (a very low colour temperature of around 4,500K) was different, in that zoomed-in shot, than it had been a moment earlier for the wider scene (around 10,500K).  I tinkered for a while with setting a different white balance on the camera, but settings of Sunshine and Cloud made no difference. In the end, I put the camera back on auto White Balance and adjusted the colour balance when processing the RAW image(s) in order to get nearer what the human eye (or at least my human eye) was seeing.  This is another reason for shooting in RAW – it permits adjustment of colour balance without losing any image data, which is not the case for jpegs.


By 0735, the light had developed to this

and I started looking around for different framings, such as a little foreground interest,

and then the breeze, which you can see ruffling the water in the distance in the above image, rose just enough to eliminate reflections, signalling the end for me (and the dozen or so photo diehards who were also there; the idiots shooting selfies carried on prancing and posing because the truth is that they don’t give a stuff about the beauty of the image).

We left the hotel at about 0930, with a general intention to drive the Icefield Parkway and a specific objective to arrive at the Icefield Discovery Centre at about 1300, as we had booked An Adventure!  The Parkway is billed as a hugely scenic drive, and it is – it is gated and you have to buy a permit in order to drive it (CAD 18 for us two seniors).  I was driving, and while our rental car’s Lane Assist function would have allowed me to take photos from behind the steering wheel, I thought it best to leave Jane to spot and take images whilst we were actually under way.  The scenery is, indeed, truly immense.

Every so often there is Something To See that’s off the road itself, and so we joined the stream of people stopping, leaping out of their cars, taking photos (even occasionally without themselves in them) and then leaping back behind the wheel and zooming off to the next Thing To See.  I’m being sardonic, here, but the sights are lovely, even if the photos are, by definition clichéd. For example, Bow Lake gives plenty of scope for photos conveniently near parking places.

In the above photo, you’ll notice a red-roofed building.  It turns out to have the endearing name of Num-Ti-Jah Lodge

and nearby there are several more nice views.

Further on is Peyto Lake, which offers some more wonderful views.

Like many of these roadside stops, it has toilets; these are basic unplumbed cabins with a stool and not much else. But the Peyto Lake ones had rather fetchingly been decorated.

More Big Scenery ensued

on the way to our next stop, the Mistaya Falls.  As well as being attractive, as most decent-sized waterfalls are,

these are unusual in the shape of the channel that the water has carved out for itself, which is very twisty.

The viewpoint also provides a morning workout on the walk back up to the car.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that the Big Scenery continued to wow us as we moved on

and it became clear that we were coming into Glacier Country.  There was the occasional distraction on the road,

but we made it unscathed to our Adventure!, which was hosted by the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre.

We boarded a coach which took us a little way down the road, where we boarded a “snowbus”, (to, for, by, with or from snow) with Murray as our driver/guide.

These snowbuses are very specialised vehicles; there are only 25 in the world and 22 of them are here at the Columbia Icefield. (Since you ask, two of the others are in Churchill on Hudson Bay and the final one is in the Antarctic.) The terrain we would cover was not something any conventional vehicle could cross, so he bade us fasten our seatbelts and not stand up whilst he was driving, even though the typical speed was about 4 kph.  The designers were parsimonious in the extreme with the legroom allocated to each seat, so I was jammed in with no risk being dislodged by anything short of the sort of explosion which would have done for us all anyway; but I buckled up, as did everyone else; and we headed on to an actual glacier.  Looking out of the bus windows, we could just make out some figures on the ice

(see the little dots by that boulder?), and soon enough we trundled (slowly!) out onto the Athabasca Glacier, where we were allowed to step out on to the ice.

We were joined by other snowbuses from the centre

and pretty soon the bounded area we were permitted to roam was quite crowded.

Photo opportunities, unsurprisingly, abounded: close-ups of the Athabasca glacier higher up

displaying that wonderful blue colour that glaciers show (among all the dirt and rock they collect as they move); photos back to the Discovery Centre at the foot of the opposite side of the valley

where, incidentally, the Athabasca Glacier once reached, giving a clear insight into how much and how fast it is receding; and photos of various other glaciers

all of which are fed by the vast area of the Columbia Icefield – the largest area (200 sq.km) of glacial ice in the Canadian Rockies, the edge of which is visible as a layer in the above photo, and which extends back over the tops of the mountains.  An icefield, we learned, is different from a glacier – an icefield is stationary and the snow falling on it and being compressed under its own weight, feeds the glaciers, which move. The Columbia Icefield feeds five glaciers and meltwater from those glaciers feeds into three oceans – the Pacific, the Arctic and (if you include Hudson Bay as part of it) the Atlantic.

The Athabasca glacier is pretty swift. It moves 30 metres a year, apparently; but its replenishment is only 25 metres’ worth of glacier, so it is thinning and receding, as is almost every glacier in the northern hemisphere.

Having spent our 30 minutes on the glacier (including a very suspiciously-coloured patch of ice among the blue)

we got back into the snowbus and thence transferred to a coach that took us to the Skywalk

which I found a bit difficult to understand until I saw the meat of it:

a walkway jutting out from the cliff face – a remarkable feat of engineering.  The trail leading to it has some nice artistic touches

and enables views of the valley below

(that’s the Athabasca River, by the way). One then gets to walk out on to the glass floor of the Skywalk

after being careful to follow instructions.  It’s a sturdy glass floor

and the Skywalk offers some great views of the valley and some of the glaciers.

The Skywalk itself is pretty neat.

In the middle, back to camera and wearing a woolly hat, was a chap who was offering to take photos of people for them.  I think that was his job; if he was a professional photographer, he may well have been wondering what it was he did in a previous life that condemned him to such a role; but it gives people joy, so (through gritted teeth) good luck to them.

We were bussed back to the Discovery Centre, where we had a coffee and a last look at the glaciers in the surrounding area.

Above is the Snowdome; you can see the thick layer of ice on top of it, which goes to feed the glaciers.  We had a good view of the glacier we’d been on.

There, if you look carefully,

you can just make out the snowbus and its people.

It was as we queued for our coffee that we learned of the death of our Queen. Having generally kept up with developments, we’d known that this was not unexpected; but it was still sad news and we paused for a moment of reflection and respect.

As we drove on, there was – goodness me! – more Big Scenery. By this stage we had only two more planned stops, both waterfalls.  The first was the Sunwapta Falls

which, like the Mistaya Falls, were splendid without being spectacular, and finally the Athabasca Falls

which were a great deal bigger; something even an Icelander might make a foss about.

That was the final official Thing To See of the day as we made our way towards Jasper, but there was still some Big Scenery on view as we neared the town.

Our hotel was the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, a large and pleasant resort, with many attractive, if well-used, cabins spread across a wide area.  It was well after the cocktail hour by this stage, so we didn’t stop to take any photos of what looks like a very photogenic place; more in my next post.  Once we’d conquered the navigation of the site to find our room, we simply headed for the main lodge and a welcome drink and evening meal.  We had a small surprise on our walk back to our room, though:

A. Elk, who may or may not have a theory which is hers*

In fact there were four of them – two adult female elk and two younger ones – calmly helping themselves to the grass and shrubbery on offer.

On that interesting note, we ended the day.  It’s been a long one with a huge amount of fascinating things to see – with, fortunately, good weather and no smoke from the fires which are still affecting the area. So; since you appear to have made it this far, thank you for reading about it.  We may well have a quieter day tomorrow; please come back later and find out.

*  Monty Python sketch from the early 70s

Taking a dim view of things

Wednesday 7 September 2022 – Today’s main adventure (booked ages ago as we thought it might otherwise not be available) was to visit the nearby Moraine Lake at sunrise.  One of the (many) reasons I’m not a better landscape photographer than I am is my reluctance to inconvenience myself greatly, e.g. getting up in the middle of the sodding night just to get a photo.  However, having heard that the Moraine Lake thing is A Thing, and having seen wonderful images such as this one as an incentive

(image credit: Cat & Joe, https://www.walkmyworld.com/posts/moraine-lake-sunrise-vs-sunset)

and bearing in mind that I would be in the immediate environs, I decided that we should invest time and money in this.  Oh, yes, it wasn’t free, you know; it’s so popular that the car park is full even before 5am when they close the car park to stop vehicular chaos; so the hotel organise a shuttle bus to take you over and bring you back, with a breakfast voucher thrown in, at a mere CAD90 per head. And we would have to get up at 0500 to be on that shuttle.

We made it to the shuttle and, once at Moraine Lake, headed for the Rockpile, which is a popular site for taking photos – not the best, but we weren’t in a position to spend time researching where we should rather be.  It’s a good morning workout to get to the top of the Rockpile, where my dream of getting some decent elbow room to set up a tripod in peace and quiet were subject to a rude awakening.

A measured, carefully set-up photograph was clearly not going to be an option; but actually it seemed that a handheld operation would be fine; we even managed to get a spot where we could stand without upsetting anyone else.  The trouble here is the same as everywhere scenic we’ve been thus far – the bloody trees get in the way. This was my initial, pre-sunrise, image.

Now, compare that carefully with the one from Cat and Joe, and you can see (a) what I mean about the bloody trees and (b) why I was not exactly overjoyed with the prospects for the morning.  There was a stiff breeze which ruffled the surface of the lake, so reflections were not going to be a part of the final image; and the visibility was merely OK; not the sort of clarity one would like for having got up at such a horrid hour.

However, there we were, and the bus to take us back wasn’t going to be there for over an hour, so there we stayed. I tried various angles to improve the composition of the image. Nope.  I possessed my soul in patience, hoping for the breeze to drop. Nope.

I’d like to say that eventually the sun hit the distant mountains.  But it didn’t. It landed on them with a gentle but distinctly soggy thud

and thereafter hardly made any bleeding effort to improve my day.  This was the best image I can manage, and that’s with all of the clarifying and beautifying powers of software at my immediate disposal.

Not bad, I suppose, but not worth getting up at five o’ bleeding clock in the bleeding morning for, frankly.  We had a diversion in the form of a visit from a Steller’s Jay, of which neither Jane nor I managed to get a really satisfactory image

and then it was time to stumble down the path to catch the bus back to the hotel. Where the early morning image captured from our bedroom window was, frankly, vastly better.

Our consolation was a splendidly unhealthy breakfast at the hotel, and our penance for the dietary lapse of that breakfast was to take ourselves off for a walk around the other, southern side of Lake Louise.  A suspiciously enthusiastic chap behind the concierge desk had recommended the short hike to the Fairview Lookout – about 45 minutes, he said. this is Google Maps’s rather amusing understanding of the route.

Not quite sure if this is a remarkable standing broad jump across the lake, or whether Google’s assessment of my ability to walk on water exceeds even my own.

The concierge warned us that it was quite steep. He was right. Bloody hell, it was steep.

I realise that conveying steepness is not easy in a photo, so let me try a different vehicle.

I hope this conveys the message.  The trail is less than a mile long, but in half of that distance, it climbs 500 feet in a single, relentless gradient. That’s one in five, or in technical terms as used by 70 year old Walkers, “Fucking Steep”. However, we made it to the top, passing several groups of younger people who had stopped “to check that they were on the right path”; yes, for a rest, actually.  As we passed them, I muttered through gritted teeth, “I bloody hope this is worth it”, which tended to lift their spirits a bit. Yes, it did.

And it was worth it.

Although, it has to be said, there was a message in the wider photo I took from the same spot.

The message was of reducing visibility and the prospect of indifferent weather. See later.

We stumbled smugly down the hill back to the hotel and looked back to where we could just see the Lookout among the trees in the hillside.

Here it is in the context of the whole hill; you can just about make it out if you look carefully.

We then embarked in the third task of the day – to ride the Lake Louise Gondola, used during the winter to transport skiers and during the summer

for sightseeing – the Summer Gondola. The hotel is a shuttle bus ride from the gondola and we caught the 11.40 shuttle, which got us to the gondola at about midday. On arrival, we chatted to the chap who was in charge of booking return shuttle rides; he told us that people spent an hour or an hour and a half at the top normally; so we booked a return at 2.10, went in and bought tickets for the gondola and headed out to ride up.

A few drops of rain were coming down at this point. And there was a bit of a breeze. One has the option of either riding an open chair or a closed gondola cage.  We took the cage option, just encased.

On the way up, we saw a couple of mule deer

and began to realise the extent of the poor visibility that was bedevilling our sightseeing efforts. In theory, you can see Lake Louise and our hotel from the lift.  In practice

it was a challenge.  The conditions were so challenging that even my beloved PhotoLab software is defeated.

We got to the top, which was now being lashed by a fairly stiff wind, and headed for the observation deck.  Jane got this photo

with its lovely play of light (but crap visibility) and I got this

to illustrate the stark chasm between what we might have been able to see in good conditions and what was actually on offer.

At this point it started raining so we decided to head back down again – in a closed cage – and try for an early shuttle bus back to the hotel. In that, we succeeded, but not before the chap with whom we’d booked the return shuttle – and who permitted us to ride an earlier one back – spent an unconscionable amount of time chatting to the driver of the shuttle whilst we waited – patiently, of course – for the driver to open the bloody doors to let us in from the rain.

I’m not normally one to moan about the cost of things, but it has to be said that we’d spent around two hundred quid to fail to get decent views.  Of course one has no right to expect perfection and one has no control over the weather, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel aggrieved.

So, we got an afternoon off, which at least enabled me to catch up with the blog.  Having tried and failed to book somewhere for dinner in the hotel (it’s full and everything gets booked up) we wandered back into the Lakeview Lounge at about 4pm, when it was simply first come, first served; no reservation needed.  We had a great lunch and, because we were sitting outside on the patio (under space heaters, I should add), were entertained by a couple of chipmunks who were scampering about looking for food.  I can proudly announce that I now have a photo of a chipmunk eating a chip.

We leave the hotel tomorrow and head for Jasper up a section of road called the Icefield Parkway, reportedly one of the 10 best scenic drives in the world.  The anticipation we feel for this is tempered by knowledge of what may well have been responsible for the poor visibility today, and even the rain, which was not in anyone’s forecast for the day:

(image credit: Jasper National Park Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/JasperNP

huge wildfires near Jasper. At this stage (9pm Wednesday evening), the Parkway is open and our hotel in Jasper (another Fairmont) has its own generator, so isn’t affected by the power outages that are plaguing the area. As things stand, we can go ahead with our current itinerary. Tomorrow, who knows? Check back in and find out!