Cold Days in Jasper

Jasper, Alberta

The weather has continued to be unseasonably cold here in the Canadian Rockies.  One morning we awoke to a temperature of 24 degrees!  That’s a little too cold to do much hiking so we took a few scenic rides around Jasper.  As we left Whistler Campground lamenting the cold waiting for the Jeep to warm up, we passed the two tourists pictured below.  OK, our complaining became a bit pathetic.

Great day for a bike ride

We first headed up Maligne Canyon Road to check out some mountain views.  But it’s difficult to enjoy “mountain views” under a thick covering of clouds.  Oh well, the snow on the pines provided some beautiful winter scenery (but it’s only the first week of September!).

Maligne Canyon Road

One of the reasons for driving up here was to check out Medicine Lake.  Summer visitors assume that Medicine Lake is a normal mountain lake, but it isn’t.  During the summer, glacier melt waters flood the lake, sometimes overflowing it.  In fall and winter the lake disappears, becoming a mudflat with scattered pools of water connected by a stream.  But there is no visible channel draining the lake – so where then does the water go?

The answer is, “out the bottom”, like a bathtub without a plug.  The Maligne River pours into the lake from the south and drains out through sinkholes in the bottom.  The water then streams through a cave system formed in the limestone rock, surfacing again in the area of Maligne Canyon 10 miles downstream.  This is one of the largest known sinking rivers in the Western Hemisphere and may be the largest inaccessible cave system anywhere in the world!

Medicine Lake

We hoped for many wildlife sightings along this road, but apparently animals don’t like late summer snow falls either and must have been home watching re-runs of Dr. Phil.  But we did spy the sheep pictured below feeding along the road.

On the trip back down the road we passed the sheep again, but this time they were enjoying some quality time blocking traffic.

The next (cold) day we drove south on the Icefield Parkway to see what we could see.  Our first stop was for a visit to Athabasca Falls.


Two cold foreign tourists by the Athabasca River above the falls

Athabasca Falls is not known so much for the height of the falls (75 feet), as it is known for its force due to the large quantity of water falling into the gorge.  Even on a cold morning in the fall, when river levels tend to be at their lowest, copious amounts of water flow over the falls.

The river ‘falls’ over a layer of hard quartzite and through the softer limestone below carving the short gorge and a number of potholes.

Over time the river has carved new channels through the rock and abandoned older channels.  One channel abandoned by the river is used as a walkway for views back up the falls.

Since it was cold and windy we decided to stay inside the Jeep and continue down the Icefields Parkway another 30 miles to visit the Columbia Icefields Discovery Center.

Columbia Icefields Discovery Center

The Icefields Interpretive Center stands across from the Athabasca Glacier.  It is used as a lodge and for ticket sales for sightseeing on the glacier.

Athabasca Glacier

Look real closely at the center of the picture above.  See that black spot on the glacier?  A zoom shot reveals that it is a cluster of the main mode of transportation onto the glacier.

Standard buses transport tourists from the Discovery Center to the glacier edge, where they board specially designed snow coaches for transport over the steep grades, snow and ice part way up the glacier.

Across from the Discovery Center is a road leading to a parking area at the base of the glacier.  From there you can hike up the hill for a close up view.  Along the road and then the hiking path are markers indicating the edge of the glacier in previous years.

The glacier currently recedes at a rate of about 16 ft. per year and has receded almost  a mile in the past 125 years, losing over half of its volume.

Just north of Athabasca Glacier on the Parkway is the Glacier Skywalk.  Similar to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, the Glacier Skywalk juts out over the edge of the cliff about 918 feet above the valley floor.  For $25/person you can spend an hour standing on the clear-bottomed walkway.  We passed on that great deal!

The weather people are predicting warming temperatures this week-end, so we hope to get out for a few hikes up into these beautiful mountains.  But for now we are stranded in a cold forest that is blocking our satellite dish.  Since we shut down our data plan in Canada we also are without any Internet!  Wow, we seem to be back in the 20th century.  So we are spending some quality time at the local Tim Horton’s Cafe and Bakery (free wifi) and checking out the local video rental store.

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18 Responses to Cold Days in Jasper

  1. Holly Ritger says:

    I love the photos from this hike, Pam. It won’t be long before this glacier is gone. Receding 16 feet per year is amazing! I sure hope you and John brought plenty of warm clothes on this trip. I am not ready for 24 degrees yet 😉

  2. That is one gorgeous gorge! I can’t wait to see what you get up to when you thaw out…this area looks wonderful! What a drag to be without BOTH internet and satellite at home!

  3. Brrrr…but it is so lovely! Glaciers are just amazing to watch especially when you imagined it receding at the rate they are going. Did you ride on those colorful buses? or just hiked up?
    If it had not been very cold there, you may not miss the internet and satellite as you would be more outside hiking and soaking in all the beautiful gorgeous scenery, right? 🙂

  4. Wow, now the crowds are really gone! This is a walk down memory lane – we passed on the clear bottomed walkway too. Isn’t the Athabasca glacier amazing – I can’t imagine it before. Say hello to Tim Horton’s for us! btw, here in Grand Teton NP the low was 16 last night, yesterday high was about 49 and tiny snow flurries fell – but today is clear and next few days it’s supposed to warm up.

  5. Isn’t Athabasca Falls spectacular?

    We, too, parked in the glacier parking lot and slogged our way up the hill to the glacier. That’s quite a climb, but a much more intimate experience than the snow coach.

    Weather reports we’ve seen do indicate the weather will warm up considerably next week. You are there at a really good time: crowds mostly gone, cool weather for hiking, and probably another few weeks before the cold really sinks its teeth in for fall.

  6. I’ve heard of rising rivers but not sinking ones. Interesting! I’d stay at Tim’s if I were you, drink coffee and eat cake til it warms up. 😉

  7. Love the snow pictures! Jasper is beautiful any time of year! Glad you found a place with internet. When we stayed there last year we tried to use the internet at the Visitor’s Center with no luck. Try to stay warm!

  8. pmbweaver says:

    The pine trees look so lovely with the snow.

    Oh how interesting about Medicine Lake. Looks like the mud hole is beginning to appear.

    Oh poor Athabasca Glacier. That is amazing how much it disappears each year.

    I will pass on the glass-bottom terror. I get enough white knuckled going over a bridge let alone stand on one way out of the deep.

  9. Janna says:

    I feel as if I am reliving our trip–we too passed on standing out over the canyon for $25! Athabasca Falls was spectacular–it was raining when we were there so I didn’t do much hiking. AH-HA–Tim Horton’s for wifi, now why didn’t we think of that???

  10. Jodee Gravel says:

    Love the Medicine Lake information – that’s quite the “system” for moving water down stream. The gorge at the falls is beautiful. I think the sheep were just trying to warm up by that Jeep’s engine :-)Even for free, the Sky Walks will never feel these feet! We are under extreme heat warning this weekend, with tomorrow likely to see 110 here just north of LA. That snow is looking pretty sweet 🙂

  11. Gay says:

    What a beautiful falls and gorge…love the color of the water and the layers of rocks…just beautiful!
    That’s very interesting about Medicine Lake too. We just watches a special on under water caves. Pretty scary stuff!
    Can’t wait to read about and see your hikes…

  12. Sherry says:

    Your pictures are fabulous! Thanks for going out of your way to post this. I admire your fortitude doing Jasper in the snow. Had no idea about Medicine Lake but I’d sure like to see it and that gorge is gorgeous! HA! Amazing to even think about an unexplored cave system. I thought the foot and hand of man had been everywhere on this planet. I was very surprised to see the size of the waterfall in September. I can’t even imagine it in spring.

  13. Anne says:

    Wow! the snow is beautiful but……. I imagine you are going to run into a lot of snow going over the Bow Pass. It was totally snow covered when we were there in late May – a very unseasonably cold year. Even for the Rockies. I hope it warms up a bit so you can get out and hike the park.

  14. libertatemamo says:

    I just cannot get over all that white stuff!! I’m loving the pics, but feeling the chill.

  15. allisonmohr says:

    It looks cold, really cold. People who do bicycle touring just impress the heck out of me with how tough they are. I would have called a cab when it got that cold.

  16. Laurel says:

    Those rock formations at Athabasca Falls are so beautiful and unique! You’re seeing some spectacular scenery, but the combination of cold temps plus wind is not at all fun for outdoor adventures. You guys look really cold!!! I think we’d be at Tim Horton’s for internet and perusing the video store, too.

  17. LuAnn says:

    What an interesting story about the Maligne River. Such spectacular scenery and would be so much more so without the cold temperatures and snow. Hopefully by now you are enjoying warming temps and getting out for some hikes. Beautiful images of the glacier. It is shocking to see just how quickly it is retreating.

  18. Pingback: Maligne Canyon Hike | Oh, the Places They Go!

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