Saturday, 23 June 2012

Jasper to Banff

Woke up really early this morning for some reason, and was completely packed up and showered by 7.30 am.  It was dry but overcast, and I decided to head south to see Lake Louise and then on down to Banff as, although we had been there 35 years ago, the weather was so bad that we essentially saw nothing.  If I remember correctly Damien was 1, so that dates it !!!    Anyway, got going with the roof off and fingers crossed, but not 15 miles into it, the rain started, so I stopped and put the roof up.  And from then on it was regular showers and low cloud all day, although the drive down through the Columbia Icefield was pretty stunning.   Would love to see it on a fine day !

First stop was the Athabasca Falls, and what an amazing sight they are !! The wide Athabasca River is forced down a narrow gorge that in places isn’t much more than 20 ft across, and the power and the noise that results is just indescribable.  I get a kick when a big rocket takes off on November 5th, when all the power of that gunpowder is focussed on shooting the rocket into the sky.  I got a similar thrill watching the water funnelling down into the narrow gorge – It is just an unstoppable force.  And with all the snow melt and rain water that is around at the moment, the falls are probably as big as you are ever going to see them.  And old channels that are now not used by the river are made into stairways so you can see the erosion of the rock by the river.  So pretty special – I thought so anyway, and left there feeling totally in awe, and in a great mood.

 After the falls, the rain started in earnest, and from then on it was stop start rain all day.  Some moments you would see glimpses of blue sky, or sun shining on the snow on a mountain, and the next the clouds would come down and for a while you would see very little. But never boring, that’s for sure.

Next was the gradual lead up to the Columbia Icefield.  The last drive up the hill to the main base and coach stop is stunning, even with low clouds, and the glaciers of all shapes and sizes on the west side of the road are just amazing.  Once again, I am afraid my camera just does not capture their true grandeur.  While I was there, I saw the big coach they use for glacier tours, and I just had to get a picture beside it – It really is a massive vehicle – I couldn’t quite get under it, but I can assure you there was only an inch or to preventing me !!

After the glaciers, the weather closed in for a while, and then cleared up a bit for this most incredible glaciated valley that you drop down into.  My map is too small a scale to give me all the details, but it certainly was a fun drive, while the shear size of the valley is pretty awe inspiring while you drive through it !  When you see glaciers at work, and then realise that these valleys were all formed by them over the many years, it makes one feel very small and humble.

Dropping into the valley we passed the Weeping Wall, and because of the current snow melt and the recent rains as well, it was probably in as good a rate of flow now as it ever will be, with multiple falls down the face of the rock.  Quite stunning to watch.

 We then drove on down through Banff National Park, with mountains appearing out of the cloud one minute, and disappearing almost as quickly sometimes.  You could see the tops of some mountains, but not the lower parts, as the low cloud was like a necklace around them.  As we got closer and closer to Lake Louise, the rivers and Lakes beside the road started to show that very blue-green colour caused by the sediment from the glaciers being carried in the water, and reflecting the light.  And in the meantime, there were still glaciers visible all the way south, mostly quite high up in the mountains.   My altimeter seems to have slipped under or down beside a seat somewhere as I couldn’t find it today, so I didn’t have a reference for how much we were climbing or descending.

And so into Lake Louise.  It didn’t help that as soon as you turned off the highway, it was gridlocked traffic.  It probably took 30 minutes of stop start traffic to get up into the car park for the lake.  But once there, although the sun was not out so the colour was quite muted, it still is a stunning sight, there is no doubt about it. The Lake is surprisingly small – and hemmed in by steep  mountains on three sides – and by the Fairmont hotel on the 4th side !!   But dramatic as it may be, it lost a lot of its attraction for me because of the huge numbers of tourists there (Yes, myself included !!!) – You almost have to push yourself through to the water’s edge in order to get a photo with no people in it !!  After the isolation and lack of crowds up north,  one has to ensure that you go to more accessible places like this in the early mornings or at other times when the crowds might be smaller and less intrusive.  I am sure that if you hire a caoe and go out onto the lake, or hike or even ride a horse around the lake, you would get some peace and quiet, and also some stunning views looking back towards the Fairmont.  Next time…….!!!

 In the meantime, in to Banff.  Interesting little place - Like Jasper, it has the feel of a ski village, with lots of motels and hotels and retaurants.  And a lot of people crowdng the streets.   A quick cup of coffee and check of the internet at Starbuck’s, and then it was over to the information centre to check on camp sites.  It had been dry for a while although the sky was still very overcast, so I decided to go for the camping in the hope of a clear morning tomorrow.  But by the time I got in the car and filled up with gas, the skies had opened and it poured really heavily.  I did drive up past the camp site, and there was water running out of the driveway onto the road !!!  And at that point I thought NO !!!   So I decided to head into Calgary which I want to have a quick look at, and hope that by the time I come back into Banff it might clear up a little.  So I drove out of town, and just 5 miles down the road found a reasonable motel in Canmore, and will get up and on the road early in the morning to have a look at Calgary, before I head west.

Interesting day – Not the best weather, but great scenery and great driving - although I have to say that the road through the central glacier section was probably the worst I have encountered all trip, with joins in the road every couple of yards, it was almost like driving over corrugations in a dirt road – Might be OK in a softly sprung American vehicle, but in the Elise I felt every single one of those bumps for an hour or so !!