Knee deep in snow is not how I imagined my birthday weekend would turn out. A year ago today I was on Haeundae Beach in Busan, South Korea. Today, I am cursing the ice and snow in Jasper National Park that threatens my weekend ambitions and abolishes any plans of hiking the trail today.
I watched the weather for weeks prior to my first trip to the Rockies. I took out books from the library so I could make educated decisions about which trails to hike, what restaurants to celebrate at following a long day in the mountains, and how my itinerary could maximize the long, Victoria Day weekend. I should never plan things. I always overlook certain important details, like my preferred trails having a cover of several feet of snow at the end of May.
I’ve heard it said that Jasper is Banff’s hippy brother. It might be a little rougher around the edges and not quite as popular, but it definitely has an appeal all its own. Established as a park in 1907, around 2 million visitors a year mean that it definitely has its draws.
My plan was to do some hiking, driving, and general sight-seeing. We even rented a car for the first time. The drive out from Jasper town to the Miette Hot Springs (about an hour) was one of anticipation—would I see some wildlife? A black bear? I was equally terrified of seeing one on the trails as I was of not seeing one at all. This fear was quickly squelched when the Sulphur Skyline trail was impassable. But we circled back and decided to make the most of things by making the short trip to the old hotel ruins on the Utopia Pass, which ended up being as far as we would get on the trail—beyond the ruins we found more snow.
We decided to head out to Maligne Lake to see the pristine waters that are supposed to be dramatic and clear, serene in the foreground of mountainous peaks. No boat rides today, the lake lay beneath a sheet of ice. We did get a bit of a walk in here before meeting another wall of snow.
On to the Maligne Canyon, and a bit more success. We got a bit more of a hike in here and saw some not-so-timid deer. The trail was packed at first but soon thinned out. My disposition against heights kept me from fully appreciating some of the sheer drops we neared. But, the trail offered some relaxed hiking and impressive sites aside from the canyon.
After a day of making the best of things, we had an evening out of expensive (but tasty) Korean food at the Kimchi House, and some fantastic native beers at the packed and rowdy Jasper Brewing Company (I can recommend the Jasper the Bear Ale, with its honey and coriander flavours. Although, my initial choice was sold out, the BlackEye Blueberry Vanilla Ale, with a touch of blueberry and vanilla flavour).
The following morning we headed to the ever-popular Bear’s Paw Bakery for some sickly sweet and delicious cinnamon rolls before taking off for the Icefields Parkway—a stretch of highway from Jasper town down to the Athabasca Glacier and into Banff National Park. Finally, my fears of not seeing a bear were absolved, I saw five along the road, even a couple that ran directly in front of our parked car. I decided not to join in with some groups that decided to get out and crowd around taking photos. For some reason, I always thought approaching bears was a bad idea. Along the way we managed to see more wildlife—a wolf and more deer.
Finally, our last destination for our journey was the Athabasca Glacier. As we wound our way through the mountains, trees grew layers on fresh snow on their branches, and icy rock expanded toward us. The glacier itself was pure white, covered with a layer of the fresh snow. I stayed for a few long minutes, feeling that somehow I would soak in more the longer I looked at this white slab of ice in the distance. Wanting to somehow expand the experience and make the two-hour drive worthwhile. Finally, I turned back. I wasn’t dressed for winter weather in May. I wasn’t prepared for a lot this weekend, and maybe the problem was preparing too much. But, whether everything went according to plan, or all to hell, I was happy about it all the same.