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Category: Canada (2005, world trip)
In the Rockies

We woke to a white morning and snow covered grounds in Hinton but also to clear blue skies and our first glimpses of the Rockies. Yesterday’s snow storm worked in our favour. If it had not snowed we would have carried on to Jasper in the dark but today we got our first views of the Rockies on a beautiful sunny morning. It was still cold though, about minus 5C when we left Hinton and not rising above zero for much of the day.

The snow was crisp and crunchy underfoot having been frozen overnight. Beneath it was hidden a layer of ice and I was secretly glad that Stef was driving the first stretch today. That meant that he had to navigate the frozen car park and get us onto the road, which was clear by the time we left. A few kilometres out of town the police were out stopping people from turning north as the road there was blocked.

A few more kilometres further on and we were in the Jasper National Park. Here Parks Canada seem to manage the roads (all the signs on the roads and in Jasper itself are yellow on brown backgrounds) and snow ploughs were out clearing any snow and ice. But how can you sum up the Rockies and put them into words. As we found in South America it is impossible to do. Our photos will paint a better picture but even they will not be able to portray the intakes of breath that follow you around different bends in the road.

Views of the Rockies were on our left and right as well as ahead. To our left the mountains were close by and were sheltering the landscape from the wind. Here ponds of green/blue glacial water shimmered in the morning sun. To our right, there was a valley river plain between us and the Rockies. On this open land the effect of the wind could be seen as the streams and ponds along the way were all frozen solid, a very bright white ice.

Speed limits are lower in the national park than on the main highways and are even lower still in areas frequented by wildlife. It was not long before we had pulled up on the side of the road with our camera at the ready. A small group of horned sheep were grazing alongside the road. They seemed totally oblivious of the traffic passing by and were just happily munching away. Unfortunately we were a bit past them before we stopped so the photos are mainly of rear ends!

Jasper itself is a small village which has a sleepy feel to it in the current off season period. At the Parks Canada information centre, a not particularly helpful man gave us various leaflets about the local area in between eating his lunch. We did a quick tour of hotels in town before settling for the Whistler’s Inn, where we got a free upgrade because we went back there having first discounted it.

Elk in Jasper

In the afternoon we headed out for a short, acclimatising walk around Lake Annette. The acclimatising was more to do with the temperature than anything else as even in the afternoon it was still below zero. Out of the wind the temperature is fine but the wind chill factor is pretty icy. The walk was a flat two and a half kilometres round loop. The lake itself is a small glacial pool and the water was totally clear. At the lake edge it was totally clear and then changed to icy blue and green as the water deepened.

Around the lake is an easy path which takes you past a small beach and then up and through the woods. We met a few other people along the way but it was really quiet. At one point we saw a huge tree still dripping and oozing gum. The gum itself looked frozen and was hanging in orangey yellow icicles.

From the lake we carried on along the river to The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, another in the chain of hotels built by the railway. There is a main lodge building with smaller separate lodges dotted around the lake. Inside the main lodge was a cavernous entrance hall with a lounge and separate restaurants leading off it. We had gone to the hotel because there was Christmas in November this weekend. We thought it would be a Christmas fair but no.

People book to come on an all inclusive weekend that is in effect Christmas with Santa, decorations and the full blown meals to go with it. They run activities during the day that seem to be famous chef’s coming to demonstrate the latest Christmas dishes. The weekend is so popular they run it a few times around Christmas. We tried to find a nice little lounge to have afternoon tea but failed. The main lounge was being cleared to get ready for this evening’s welcome drinks party. The other alternative was the night club tucked away at a corner of the basement. Coming out of the hotel a small herd of elk were grazing along the side of the road.

Back in Jasper we did find a little coffee shop that was still open, just. Everything here seems to shut down pretty early, I suppose mainly because it is out of season. We stopped off at the local supermarket to buy bits for a picnic lunch for tomorrow and then chilled out (or rather warmed up) in our room for a while before going out for dinner. We ate at Fiddle River, a restaurant with typical Canadian food that has a good reputation for fish. Neither of us had fish. Stef had Caribou Pepper Pot, a casserole, while I had duck with bacon and beans. Both of us loved the food and we would go back there if we were in Jasper again.