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Banff and Jasper National Parks

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Oct 2nd, 2010, 01:09 PM
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Banff and Jasper National Parks

I have just returned from my first trip across the Atlantic. My beloved had a conference in Banff, Alberta and we took advantage of her paid for flight to take a 10 day vacation. My thanks to all those on the Canada board who were so helpful in my planning of the trip. I could (and probably will) write pages, but as this is a report back and thank you message, I will try a relatively short summary.

My wife was already in Banff, so I flew in solo. Heathrow to Calgary on Air Canada. I have seen Air Canada get a lot of flak on various boards, but I can honestly say that my outbound flight was the most pleasant long haul flight I have made. That the plane was half empty probably had a lot to do with it (two seats to myself !) but I found the crew to be exceptionally helpful and friendly . This was not friendly in the “check box – have I smiled yet” kind of way, but genuine interest and interaction. Obviously having an empty flight helped because they had more time to spend with passengers, but the Canadian tourist board should give these people medals, because as an introduction to the country they were a superb advert.

This was the first time I had encountered in numbers, the phenomenon that would colour this whole trip – The Nice Canadian. I enjoy travelling, and meeting people. I like most of the nationalities I meet, but I was overwhelmed by the kindness and helpfulness of the vast majority of Canadians.

I travelled from Calgary airport to Banff via Canmore with Banff airporter. It was a comfortable enough trip despite the hours delay in traffic in Calgary. I was absolutely stunned by the beauty of the mountains around Canmore. The fresh overnight snow had covered the peaks and they looked glorious in the late evening sun. Had I been forced to go home at that point, I would happily raved about the Rockies just from that glimpse.

I spent a week in Banff, in an apartment that I’d found on VRBO. It also operates as a B&B. http://www.bbcanada.com/3095.html . It was an excellent apartment, close to everything and well appointed.

I may get around to writing a more detailed report, but We spent the first few days walking around Banff. Hiked to top of the Tunnel Mountain for the views (stunning), spent the Sunday walking along the Bow River – up to the falls, Encountered a Large Elk and his harem, strolled around the area of the Fairmont hotel and generally loafed. Monday it was raining again, so although I picked up the hire car, I left it parked at the B&B and we hiked to Cave and Basin, and then out to Sundance Canyon (very scenic).

Monday night brought snow – and we woke up to about 3-4 inches where we were, but up to 7 inches above us on the Tunnel Mountain road. We did a circular walk, staying on roads, avoiding being squished by the snowplow, and playing in the snow and taking far too many photographs (we don’t see much snow at home, and when we do, it cripples the country) I did not think it prudent to drive a hire car, on the wrong side of the road, in snow – so for the second day it stood outside the B&B.
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Oct 2nd, 2010, 01:13 PM
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Wednesday had excellent and weather forecast, so we set off relatively early for Lake Louise. We decided to visit Moraine Lake, but were not hoping for much as it was heavily overcast all through the drive. As we got to the parking lot, the clouds lifted and the views were stunning.

We looked at the various hikes available and were trying to work out what to do. I had struggled on some sections of Tunnel Mountain even though it was graded Easy. I wanted to gain some height, but all the climbs seemed to be moderate or difficult. While we were trying to decide, we met Ginny and Bill. They are Americans, from New Jersey who have an apartment in Canmore and spend time each year in the Rockies.

They advised us that we would probably be OK hiking to Larch Valley as it was a good path, and most of the steepness came early. They invited us to join them as we needed to be in parties of four because of bear warnings. http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/ab/banff/activ/activ1/c.aspx

It was an incredible hike – once past the lower paths the views were just incredible (a problem with the Rockies – I ran out of superlatives very quickly) . Once up among the larches, the hike became easier even though there was a fair amount of snow on the ground. Bill and Ginny suggested that as we were going well, we might want to try Sentinel pass (graded difficult) – another 3km, and 250m elevation. I was sceptical, but assured that I had made it so far, and would be fine It was absolutely worth it – some of the best views and sense of achievement I have experienced.

I meant to exchange Emails will Bill and Ginny , but never got around to it. If by chance they ever get to read this, you havemine and Jenny’s undying gratitude for getting us to do what is probably the best days hiking I have ever done. For making us start, for keeping us going, for the help, advice and companionship, and for letting us steal your water and granola bars – thanks.

Thursday was our last day in Banff before travelling onward. We decided that we wanted to do the Lake Louise Ski lift/gondola up into the ski areas as we had been assured that “there are lots of bears there”. It was very pleasant and the views awesome but we couldn’t walk far as there were bear warnings. We descended and thought we might do a gentle stroll around Lake Louise itself.
As happens with this sort of thing, it got out of hand and we ended up doing the tearoom, mirror lake, Lake Agnes and the Big Beehive. Climbing up to the big beehive, through the compacted snow was certainly an unforgettable experience. My beloved preferred this hike to Sentinel pass, and it was very beautiful – but for sheer spectacular the earlier hike wins for me.

This summary has become a little long - I need to write up the Icefields parkway and Jasper , but will do so later.

I have a few photos if anybody is interested. (I took well over 2000, but here are a few)
http://picasaweb.google.com/williamstj/Banff#
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Oct 2nd, 2010, 01:31 PM
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Willit

What a wonderful trip report (I too have trouble coming up with superlatives at times too)! I remember your helping me when I planned my trip to southern England last year and I'm
glad you've made it over here to the left side of the pond. I'm happy that Canadians and Canada seem to have left a good first impression on both a personal level and in terms of scenery. The Canadian Rockies are indeed spectacular, a treasure in the country that many Canadians and US citizens only "dream of seeing one day". I hope this first foray into North America has whetted your appetite for more, as there's plenty more scenic beauty (and some quite unique in my experience) on this side of the Atlantic.

I don't find your report too long at all... keep going, very enjoyable!

Daniel
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Oct 4th, 2010, 09:59 AM
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Willit: Those are some beautiful shots of the Rockies and an interesting trip report.
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Oct 4th, 2010, 11:17 AM
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Frank, Thank you

As a poster on another thread said, it is almost impossible not to take good pictures in the Rockies.

I do plan to complete the trip report later this week.
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Oct 20th, 2010, 11:30 AM
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Apologies for lateness, I really had intended to finish thie before now. I hope it doesn't bore too many.

Ice Field Parkway and Jasper
We left Banff on the fairly early on Friday morning heading up towards Jasper.

Initially we took the old road between Banff and Lake Louise, stopping off at Johnston’s Canyon as it was recommended in so many guides. We walked up to the upper falls along the easy paths, and walkways suspended over the canyon and the multiple falls. The canyon itself is very beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Coming back down was something else altogether: Three tourist buses had arrived and the paths were full of Japanese teenagers. It wasn’t so much the Japanese part that was a problem, but the teenager. The formed a huge throng, flirting with each other, sharing Ipods, standing in the middle of all the paths and seining completely oblivious to their surroundings or the existence of other people. I suppose this is always going to be the problem with popular tourist sites – one cannot expect to have them to oneself.


Carrying on we soon reached Lake Louise, and the Icefields Parkway itself. I had read that the Icefield Parkway is one of the most spectacular roads anywhere, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Although not very far in terms of pure mileage, the drive took forever because we stopped every few miles to see yet more great scenery.

I have driven part of the North Queensland coastal road, and the Garden Route , Chapmans Peak and Cape Point in South Africa Although these were all superb scenic routes, they paled into insignificance beside the A93.

We stopping briefly to look at the Crowfoot Glacier, and again at Both Bow Lake and Peyto Lake (very beautiful but maybe I should have seen it before Moraine Lake). Every few miles there was another stop when we saw a suitable place to pull over and took more photographs. Heading towards Saskatchewan crossing, the clouds started closing in, and for parts of the journey the rain was quite heavy.

Not wanting to get caught in the dark before arriving in Jasper, we decided to skip the scenery, and make just one more stop at the Icefield Centre.

The Glacier itself was almost hidden from view by the low cloud, but a bitter wind was funnelling down and the small ice particles it carried with it made for unpleasant walking. As Jenny was now cold and miserable , we decided to give the Glacier excursions a miss, hoping to return in better weather.

If possible, we were suffering from “scenery fatigue” and as it was now evening we postponed visiting any of the sights from then on, and pressed onward to Jasper itself. Where the sun broke through the clouds we were stunned by the sight of the bright yellow aspen trees among the conifers (and again were forced to stop and take pictures).
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Oct 20th, 2010, 11:31 AM
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We found our B&B in Jasper without problem. Smaller than the place in Banff, but cozy and comfortable (http://www.bbcanada.com/aajasper)


I liked Jasper, and the three nights we spent here really weren’t enough to do it justice. From the local maps there seemed so many interesting walks around the area, but we just never got around to exploring them.


Saturday morning we set out for Maligne lake. Although no longer on the A93, the scenery didn’t become any less beautiful. Medicine lake on the Maligne river was one of my favourite scenic spots on the trip. We stood at the end of the lake just gazing at the views for a good hour before moving on.

Maligne lake itself was attractive, but we probably needed to go out on a boat to fully appreciate it. The water was quite choppy in the wind, and I chickened out. Despite this the short walk along the lakeside and back up through the woods was extremely pleasant.


On the way back past Medicine lake, there were many cars parked on the side (and in the middle) of the road. The attraction appeared to be a flock of Mountain sheep who were a little too tame and obviously very used to humans. While waiting for the traffic to pass I spotted a Hoary Marmot sunning itself – oblivious to anybody around.

At the end of the lake we moved past a wedding party in a huge pickup truck. Bridesmaids and Best men very smart, if unconventional in black and red. Not your traditional wedding, but the photos would have been spectacular.
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Oct 20th, 2010, 11:35 AM
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Sunday was warm (18C) but wet. Low clouds covered most of the mountains. We just walked around town for a while. On the way back I saw an advert for a trip to the Angel glacier on Mount Edith Cavell. Jenny wasn’t keen so we headed back home, but she persuaded me to go on my own.

The Trip cost a little more than I had expected, but the guide was friendly and knowledgeable, and it was just me and a Scottish couple. The weather did not improve as we drove out, and we arrived on site in torrential rain, and poor visibility. Strangely this added to the atmosphere and the first sight of the Angel glacier was as it appeared through the mist and rain.

I was assured that I hadn’t seen anything yet, and as we got to the top of the hill, the Edith Cavell Glacier lay in front of us – Bluish white with stripes like some sort of cake. In front was a small lake and surrounding it small “icebergs” that had calved off the glacier and floated across onto the rocks. Some of these were 6-8 feet tall and reflected as a blue colour.


The rain and warmth had another effect. High above us on the mountain we heard rumblings like thunder. Occasionally veils of snow would pour from the slopes like a waterfall. As we watched, one of the higher “fields” of snow started to fold and slide as another avalanche started. From our safe distance it was absolutely exhilarating.

I was so impressed with the site, that when I got back to Jasper at around 4:30, I immediately went back to the B&B, and persuaded Jenny to come out with me to see it again.
Monday morning early we set off back to Banff – we both would have liked to have stayed longer. On the road back we stopped at the confluence of the Athabasca and Whirlpool rivers, then onto the Athabasca falls themselves. Thereafter we stopped at the Sunwupta falls. Both were spectacular and I regret not having more time to hike some of the adjacent trails.


Parking near the Athabasca Glacier, I walked across the path left by the receeding ice, and then up the embankment of debris to the toe . There is now a lake under the ice, with water rapidly flowing away from the ice itself. For this reason it is no longer possible to approach closer than about 20 metres unless you sign up with a guided ice walk. Despite the warm weather in Jasper (expected high of 24C) the wind from the Glacier was bitter and very strong – I was battling to maintain my footing, and I am not particularly small.

We arrived back in Banff in late afternoon, returned the car and booked into the Caribou Lodge. As a last view of Banff we decided to take the Sulphur Mountain Gondola to the viewpoint overlooking the town. With the cloud mostly clear, it was a superb end to the trip with views over the mountains for as far as we could see.
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Oct 20th, 2010, 11:40 AM
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In summary, I rather liked Canada (is there a "smiley" for understatement) and wish to return as soon as possible. The people were marvellous, the scenery beautiful beyond any words or photographs, the hiking fantastic.

I did find it very pricey - far more so than e.g Italy which has a reputation for expensive. I realise that we were in prime tourist areas, and that costs are always going to be higher here. I shall just have to save harder before I come back again.
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Oct 20th, 2010, 03:44 PM
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Having just received my credit card bill from our trip to Vancouver/Banff, I agree with your "pricey" category. But I think the memories of the sights will be remembered long after the CC bills are paid.
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Oct 21st, 2010, 08:53 AM
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i just got back from a similar trip so enjoyed reading your report. i think angel glacier/mt edith cavell was my favorite in a trip packed with superlatives, glad you got to see it.
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Oct 21st, 2010, 02:43 PM
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OMG, you guys, you keep adding places I must see (I never even heard of Mt. Edith Clavell or Angel Glacier before, and now that I've looked at the pictures, I MUST GO!!!!)
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Oct 21st, 2010, 11:21 PM
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willit, just found your report - I'm so glad you had a great trip. Your itinerary has given me lots of ideas for my next trip to the Rockies, whenever that will be!

I comPLETEly concur with your observations about the niceness of Canadians. As a group, I've never met such friendly and welcoming people. And your pictures are gorgeous! Maybe my next trip should be in the fall - it's amazing how much of a difference two months can make (we were there in August).
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Oct 22nd, 2010, 08:04 AM
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Great report willet!

A question or two about Jasper and the place you stayed at there (we will be in Jasper next Spring for two nights):

Was the accommodation a B&B (did it include breakfast)?

Which of their two rooms would you recommend?

Were the rooms quiet?

How close are they to the Jasper train station?

Is there easy parking?

Thx for any answers!
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Oct 22nd, 2010, 08:34 AM
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Was the accommodation a B&B (did it include breakfast)?
No, breakfast not included (I found this a strange concept, but it seemed the majority of B&Bs in Banff and Jasper work this way.

Which of their two rooms would you recommend?
I think the top floor apartments would be roomier.

Were the rooms quiet? Very

How close are they to the Jasper train station? Maybe half a mile. The Railway itself is just a couple of hundred yards or so away from the front of the house, butwe heard nothing.

Is there easy parking? yes - they have dedicated parking at the back of the house.
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