It’s 6.00am in Jasper and its minus 10 degrees celcius, the tears from your eyes freeze on your face as you walk. We were heading to Banff today and wanted to get some pastries for the trip and luckily enough the Bear Claw bakery was open at 6.00am.
However it was about 4 blocks from the motel, not enough for a cab but slightly too far in the cold to walk. So walk we did and by the time we got there we were extremely cold to say the least. Being first up in the morning we were hungry and the selections of scones and pastries was delicious so we bought heaps.
Back to the motel with our bag of goodies to wait for the bus. Dieter from Sundog Tours picked us up in a Ford Transit van as there were only 5 of us going south. Dieter, who has lived in Jasper for 31 years, was full of interesting comments along the trip. Oh and by the way he is 65 and still camps, hikes and skis the mountains in all seasons.
It was still dark as we headed out of Jasper along the Icefields highway and the road was covered with a light fall of snow and solid ice. There was no wildlife on the outskirts of town but the meadow is frequented by moose throughout the year.
Stretching 232km (144mi.) through the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, this world-class journey offers access to a vast wilderness of pristine mountain lakes, ancient glaciers and broad sweeping valleys. This special travel route winds its way through two national parks, boasting a unique and irreplaceable landscape rich in history and natural beauty second to none.
The first section is about 104km ending at the Columbian Icefields and takes in the Athabasca Falls as a main attraction. Here the Rockies are very close to the road and their magnitude is hard to describe. One of those mind pictures that you take and remember forever.
With any luck you will see the endangered Caribou along the stretch of the gravel flats of the frozen Sunwapta river. The overall impression of this first section is mountains and snow, everywhere.
The next section is the Columbian Icefields with the stunning and famous Athabasca Glacier. Tours are suspended in winter and please dont try to walk on the glacier by yourself, the chances of coming back are slim. The roadhouse and visitor centre is shut from October to May so you have to be self sufficient in food and petrol (gas).
This section goes through to Weeping Wall which is a sheer wall full of ice in winter and weeping water in springa and summer. It is very popular with climbers in all seasons.
Be carefull in this section and descent as it is prone to avelanches and in fact a few days before we travelled, the road was in fact cut off under metres of snow that had fallen from up high.
From here you descend into the Saskatchewan Crossing area. More stunning scenery, frozen lakes and pine trees lining the road, branches heavy with fresh snow. At times it looks like you are driving straight into the mountains as the road matches perfectly with the valleys.
Towards the far end of the Waterfowl Lakes area, standing guard over 3000 metres above Lower Waterfowl Lake, is the massive peak of Mount Chephren, known as “The Black Pyramid” for its distinctive shape. The peak looked as if it was billowing clouds as they closed around the bald peak.
From the crossing its another 40km to Lake Louise where the Parkway ends. Along the way you will pass Lake Peyto, Crowfoot Glacier and Mt Victoria Glacier before you turn off to the stunning Lake Louise.
Framed by mountains and the Chateau, Lake Louise derives its colour from the glacial ice that melts into the lake and reflects in the sun. In winter its a frozen wonderland that depicts the typical Canadian beauty showcased on postcards.
From there you head along the Trans-National Highway which travels all the way across Canada, the remaining 35km to Banff. We are staying a couple of days in Banff so stay tuned for the update.
This is but a quick overview of one of the worlds most spectacular drives, that has a unique charm in winter. Having done the drive previously in spring I was overwhelmed by the beauty in winter. Yes you do miss out on a lot of the attractions, but to see such snow more than made up for it. A trip along the highway that was ranked one of the world’s most picturesque highway truely is something not to miss out on.