We left the Clearwater area behind after an eventful day and finally made our way to the Rockies. I had dreamed of seeing the Rocky Mountains ever since I was first in Canada in 2009 and now it was finally happening!
We stayed in Jasper the first night and after checking in at the motel we pondered on what to do with the rest of the afternoon. We had a few hours of daylight left but struggled to commit to more driving and walking as we were pretty tired by the journey. In the end we did decide for a larger route down to Maligne Lake. Little did we know it would become one of the most memorable evenings of the whole tour!
First stop was Maligne Canyon, a hugely impressive sight!
As we went on driving and passed Medicine Lake we noticed a few cars parked on the side. By now we had gathered that was a clear sign for wildlife sightings and amazingly, a few hundred metres away in a cluster of trees on the banks of the lake there was a bear with her cub snuggled close!
We would have squealed if we hadn’t had to keep quiet not to disturb them. Right about this time I started really kicking myself mentally for not bringing my big zoom lens. I had left it at home because it’s just too heavy to lug around all day. If I’d known we could see wildlife from the car I’d have packed it. Always, always pack your big lenses going to Canada! There were even more black bears just beyond the trees, feeding on a big patch of grass land.
Please note that both these photos are cropped out of a larger photo, so we were quite a distance away really. With our tiredness blown away successfully by the thrills of seeing the bears we made our way to beautiful Maligne Lake and more wildlife sightings.
Isn’t he (or she?) pretty! As it was growing late (and we were scared of bear encounters) we couldn’t take the walk around the lake but turned back down the road. We had seen quite enough for one day, we told ourselves. Passing Medicine Lake on our way back we looked to see if any of the bears were still around and amazingly, one single black bear was prowling the shores of the lake, completely ignoring any watching tourists and just going its way with a lazy elegance.
I think I realized then what felt so odd about these bear encounters – usually animals you “meet” in the wild are quick on their feet, darting here and there, always on the look out for predators and danger. The bears however seemed not to have a care in the world, completely ignoring their surroundings in their search for food. The behavior of an animal with no natural enemies.
So much had happened within a few short hours! We found out the next morning at the Visitor Center that an unsually large number of bears had been frequenting the area. Driven lower down by a harsh winter and lack of food for themselves and their cubs they had decided the Jasper area was the place to be in mating season, causing quite a few incidents with grizzlies. A lot of trails were closed because of this and as we were not particularly keen on meeting an angry grizzly bear we chose populated trails and sights for the next day. Oh, and we splurged on a can of bear spray. Just in case.
The Valley of Five Lakes trail turned out to be a wonderful alternative to the trails directly around Jasper. We also drove up to Mount Edith Cavell that day, a complete change of scenery!
On the next day we set out to visit Athabasca Falls and walked along Beauty Creek and its eight waterfalls. A wonderful trail and highly recommended. If you don’t mind signs telling you not to stop for a stretch of the hike because of bears. Yikes.
After that it was on to the famous Columbia Icefield where you can walk right up to the Glacier. This was one of only two places in the Rockies that we found to be completely overrun by tourists. Still, you can’t tour the Rockies and not go see it!
A must-have stop on this leg of the journey was Lake Louise (I did mention two places overrun by tourists, no?) and a hike up to the somewhat quieter Lake Agnes. A lovely walk, leaving the stunningly turquoise Lake Louise below to pass beautiful Mirror Lake and finally arrive through snowy forest trails at Lake Agnes with chucks of ice still floating on it.
I have to admit of all the wildlife we saw on our tour the chipmunks were probably my favorite!
Phew, this is getting to be a very long post so I’ll close with two images of Moraine Lake, the last stop of our journey in the Rockies. The next day our route would take us deep into the prairies of Saskatchewan to visit friends and experience the real Canada far from the well trodden tourist routes.