Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Day 11 - Tuesday, September 8 - Calgary to Banff/Jasper parks to Valemount, BC

Starting mileage: 3552 Starting time: 7:15 am

Ending mileage: 3890 Ending time: 7:45 pm
Travel mileage: 338 Travel time: 12:30

When we got up we were optimistic about the weather, cloudy but no rain and 35 degrees with a forecast of 60 and 10% of rain. Unfortunately, it rained on and off all day although it didn't stop us from enjoying the day.

Our first stop was the the historic resort town of Banff which largely grew from the Canadian Pacific Railroad which built a fancy resort hotel here to drive tourist business via the railroad. The town has building restrictions to keep it from looking tacky so everything is very tasteful - no golden arches for McDonalds. We stopped at the visitor center to get maps and information. One recommendation was for the Gypsy tour app for the cellphone which turned out to be exceptionally useful. All the information is downloaded so you don't need a cellular connection while using it. It tracks your phone's GPS location and at various points the narrator provides history, commentary and attractions not to miss - we would have missed one of the best spots on our trip which we wouldn't have known of otherwise.

After Banff, we drove to Lake Louise which is famous for its beautiful lake and spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains beyond. It is very popular and the gargantuan parking lot was nearly full despite the rainy weather and post Labor Day timing. This is also the site of the Chateau Lake Louise hotel which was also built by the CP railroad. When we were looking for hotel rooms, this was the only place with a vacancy - for $1200/night - needless to say, we looked elsewhere. The view was very pretty although would have been spectacular if we could have actually seen the mountains.

Our tour guide highly recommended the Peyto Lake viewpoint above the Bow Pass. A short but steep walk from the parking area takes one to a wooden deck overlooking the lake which is a bright blue-green color due to the rock dust from the glacier. One can see that the glacier has receded a long distance from the edge of the lake. Although I believe in global climate change, I think the shrinking glaciers has had more to do with the end of the "Little Ice Age" that ended in the 1850s.

The best part of our trip was a stop at the Columbia Icefield visitor center which looks our over the Athabasca glacier. This is one of the largest glaciers in the park even after receding 2km since 1844. The highlight was taking the special bus that drives over the moraine and right onto the glacier where we could get out to look around and take photos. The bus driver/guide gives information about the geology and history of the glacier which was quite valuable.  The ice where we were standing is several hundred feet deep. The area where tourists are allowed is maintained to provide safety by blocking off crevices and direct surface glacial melt away. It was a bit chilly under cloudy skies with blowing freezing rain but it was worth it.

From there we traveled to Jasper for dinner and then to the Super 8 motel in Valemount for the night. There were no vacancies in Jasper and if there had been, the starting rates are around $250.

Day 11 route

Peyto Lake Overlook

Athabasca Glacier

 Walking on the glacier