The Icefield Parkway and Jasper

The sun comes up early this time of year, and we took full advantage of it. Mornings dawned about 5:30a and about 48-500F. Layering attire was really important, as the sun’s warmth would “normally” show up during the day.

We packed our bags for a couple of nights in Jasper, at the northern end of the Icefield Parkway and we were off! The care for wildlife preservation is evident across the region, including the passageways built across the TransCanada Highway 1.

With miles & miles of fencing and strategically located crossings,
the wildlife injuries are minimized (hopefully)

One of our first stops (other than just about every scenic overlook we could hit) was Peyto Lake. Our friends, Ray & Linda Stadnick, had discovered this beautiful site on their trip a few years ago and said that we should NOT miss it. And, oh, were they correct!

The turquoise color comes from the “rock flour” created by the moving glaciers grinding the rock beneath it into a powder-like consistency, which is then washed away as the glacier melt each spring/summer fills all these glorious lakes and rivers.

The Weeping Wall

The Columbia Skywalk at the Columbia Icefield was an amazing structure and extremely popular. While we thought we came prepared for cooler weather that day, they warned us that the temperatures on the Skywalk would be 100F cooler than the already blustery day. This gave us the “excuse” to acquire one of only two “souvenirs” of the trip so far – heavier sweatshirts! You will see them return again and again in the coming days.

The Skywalk is a 1 kilometer walkway, suspended over the Sunwapta River Valley 918 ‘ below. Completed in 2014, its construction is truly mind-boggling. There are 34 high-strength steel rods sent 52’ into the cliff. Each of these rods, when put into tension, are strong enough to support 400K lbs! The glass floor is more than a bit disconcerting as you gaze at the canyon below.

The Athabasca Falls are absolutely spectacular – one of our “top sites” during this amazing week. We took literally hundreds of pictures and are so thankful for digital technology that let’s us click away and then review/delete without having to wait and then pay for film developing LOL!

The Athabasca River falls a total drop of 79′ and a width of 151′. It is a roaring magical waterfall with an average waterflow of 4,000 cubic feet per second!

We reached our northern destination of Jasper in the late afternoon. It was a quaint chalet along the banks of the Athabasca River.

The next morning we headed out to Maligne (Ma-LEEN) Canyon and Maligne Lake. We made a quick swing through the Jasper Park Lodge, another “destination hotel” built by the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Not the majesty of Banff Springs and, therefore, it was more in line with what we would choose, if we didn’t have Contessa.

The swirling, churning water of the Maligne River has worn a canyon that is as narrow as 6.5′ wide in places and a depth of over 165′. Parks Canada has done an amazing job in making this natural marvel safely accessible for visitors to enjoy.

Then we were off to the magic of Maligne Lake and a scenic boat tour – imagine that Captain Bill would want to do that!

This beautiful, spirit-filled haven, the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies, became part of the Jasper National Park in 1907 as the fifth park in the Canadian National Park System. Once established as a National Park, the Canadian government began forcibly removing all indigenous people and tribes from the Park. Many of the children were separated from their families and placed into the Indian Residential School System, a network of boarding schools. Funded by the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs, the system was created to isolate indigenous children from the influence of their own native culture and religion in order to assimilate them into the dominant Canadian Culture.

These schools operated from 1894 until 1947 and it is estimated that upwards of 30% of native children were removed to these schools. In recent years, as the buildings housing these Residential Schools have been demolished, hundreds of unmarked graves of indigenous children have been found – reports are upwards of 10,000 graves have been uncovered. Since the beginning of time, people have done horrendous acts against others. It is never something to be proud of but to be acknowledged, understood and diligently exposed so that forgiveness and healing can occur. Pope Francis actually arrived today in Edmonton to formally recognize and apologize for the actions of the Church Missionaries.

On July 9, 2015, the Excelsior wildfire began near Medicine Lake. Over the next 13 days, over 5,000 acres of lodgepole pines burned as a Class 6 fire. This is the hottest of fires which eliminates any possibility of boots-on-the-ground firefighting. The fire was so hot that the buckets of water and fire-retardant that were dropped on the fire by airplane or helicopter evaporated before it could ever get to the fire.

After the fire was ultimately extinguished (thanks to cooler temperatures, higher humidity and reduced winds), members of the Stony Tribe reached out to Parks Canada. They were one of the tribes forcibly removed in the early 1900’s but had always maintained a love for their native lands and Spirit Island, specifically, which lies within Maligne Lake. They heard of the damage at Maligne Lake and requested that they might return to Maligne Lake and Spirit Island to hold healing ceremonies for the land. They have returned every year since to honor the land. In 2021, after the discovery of the horrific actions at the Residential Schools, they held a ceremony of mourning. Through all of this, bonds of understanding, forgiveness and healing have begun to take root.

Spirit Island with Coronet Glacier in the background

The only way to see Spirit Island is via the boat we took from the other end of the lake. Jack (Australia) was a superb tour guide as well as Mate on the boat. His sharing of the history of indigenous people’s removal from these waters was truly heart-felt. Emily (Edmonton) was a capable captain – Captain Bill did not feel the need (although certainly the desire) to take over control of the vessel!

We finally pulled ourselves away from this very special place and set our sites on the banks of the Maligne River for a lovely picnic.

We made our way back to Jasper to enjoy this lovely mountain town, time by the river at our chalet and then a lovely dinner to finish the day. Tomorrow we’ll make our way back south on the Icefield Parkway, stopping at any and every viewpoint!

Author: Contessa & The Toad Get Hitched

After years traveling this beautiful country by boat, the Captain and the Admiral are bound for land adventures. Whenever Contessa (the motorcoach) and the Toad (Jeep Grand Cherokee) get hitched (towing the car) - we’ll post our adventures!

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