...... previous day next day ......
Kamloops Lake Louise

2nd June 2010

Jasper: Maligne Canyon and Lake, Medicine Lake

Panoramic View of Maligne Lake      (please use scroll bar)

    It was a wet start to the day; how unusual. I also noted that the night had been cold; I had felt the chill in the van, but it was not enough to bother me. I got dressed, skipped breakfast, and headed down to the garage at the junction with the main highway. I walked in with my wash bag and towel and asked the attendant if I could use his washroom. "Sure thing, buddy", was the reply. The facilities over here are pretty good.
    Today was a moment of truth day. In front of me lay a 270 mile trek with not the best of terrain to cover. The heavens were emptying so I would need my wipers and headlights on continuously, and I had a battery charging circuit problem. There would be very few habitations along the way, mainly farmsteads and the odd hamlet. Indeed, after Blue River, about half way, the maps indicated nothing on the road. If something went wrong it would be one hell of a story to tell. Common sense would say don't do it. I am human and occasionally toss common sense aside. I took a deep breath and went for it.
    The route followed the North Thompson River. This river, like the Fraser River is one of the main arteries in British Columbia. Initially the drive was through a wide valley with pastures on either side. As the journey progressed the valley narrowed and pastures were few and far between. Huge power lines from the hydroelectric plants wove a web over the mountains. The road dropped down to single lane, widening to two on uphill stretches to allow slow moving trucks to be overtaken. Every so often I would spot a long freight train lumbering along on the opposite bank of the river, and I did observe a couple of passenger trains with observation decks. The rain continued to pour. The chap I met last night at the campsite said the reason he and his wife had come down from Jasper was because it had rained solidly for the last seven days. Every 40 miles or so I would come across a road works. Now in Canada and the USA, they don't deploy traffic lights at road works or obstructions, they use people power; a youth or senior citizen would stand at either end of the works with a board which said STOP on one side and GO SLOW on the other. Don's daughter had spent a stint on this mind expanding job when she was a student. Payment? $50 per hour. I tail gated a car for about 60 miles, keeping enough distance to avoid his spray, before he turned off into a forest. I just caught sight of a sign where he turned off saying "Fly Fishing". I passed through one large area where all the trees were black, stark, scorched skeletons. There had obviously been a forest fire here at one time. It was a sad sight to see. In a curious way it reminded me of the forest of black Iron Crosses I had seen in a German War Cemetery near Ypres.
Most Northerly Point of the Trip
    I eventually turned the corner at the top of my route, quite near Mount Robson, at 3954m the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. This was as far north as I would be traveling. The road dropped down over the next 30 miles or so to Jasper. During this last stage of today's trek, I departed from British Columbia to Alberta, with the necessary shifting of my watch forward an hour to Mountain Summer Time instead of the previous Pacific Summer Time. Shortly after entering Alberta, I was entering Jasper National Park. At the entry, I bought a three day pass to cover Jasper and Banff National Parks. I had to buy a similar pass for the Pacific Rim National Park. One point worthy of note here, throughout the parks, when I parked in a car park I didn't have to pay anything, the cost was taken care of by the pass. Often back home you'd find yourself scurrying around for change or wondering how long the hike would take. A nice idea I thought.
Ice (top) in Maligne Canyon
Maligne Canyon

    Once I reached Jasper it was sunny, so I headed straight to Maligne Canyon a few miles the other side of town. I parked up and headed down a fenced off trail. I hadn't walked far when I started to hear a deep rumble to my left. The sound was akin to that you hear when a London underground train is approaching a station from the depths of the tunnel. I could tell there was a narrow depression in the ground from which the sound emanated, but due to the distance from it, I had no concept of how deep it was. As I proceeded, the roar intensified and then I rounded a corner. It was as if the tube train had just noisily clattered into the station. But the sight that presented itself was amazing. Before me a narrow abyss disappeared into the depths of the earth. 50m below a river flowed, having carved, over the last umpteen millennia, exquisite rock formations stemming from whirlpools of a bygone age. I was just stunned by the spectacle. The trail wound down alongside the canyon, occasionally crossing over via bridges. Each corner brought yet another marvelous vista. Lower down the trail I came across large ice formations clinging to the sides of the canyon; the sun never reached here. One possessed a vivid blue sheen, I had never seen ice so blue before. I continued down the trail until the canyon petered out and I was just following a river. It would have been good to carry on the hike, but I hadn't brought my walking gear down with me, and the long 6 hour drive had taken its toll.
Red Squirrel
    I retraced my steps and met a couple who were watching a red squirrel perched on a branch eating a nut, with a 50m drop below him. They came from a place two hours outside Brisbane. "Have you seen much wildlife?", asked the bloke. I told them about the raccoons, whales and bald eagles I had seen. On my way across to Jasper I had seen numerous signs instructing drivers to be aware of elk, moose and bears in the area, but sad to say I hadn't. The couple had, in fact one black bear had galloped out across the road as he was doing about 90Km/hr, and he just managed to stop short of it. The bear took one look, and just carried on. Perhaps I have passed animals and not spotted them. I find it pays to keep your eyes on the road when driving.
Medicine Lake
    After Maligne Canyon, I headed off towards Maligne Lake. Medicine Lake was half way, another photo opportunity. In summer, Medicine Lake looks like any other lake in Jasper National Park. But by October, the lake vanishes, replaced until spring by a shallow stream winding away sluggishly across mudflats to a few small pools. The water's depth varies by as much as 20m through the year. Much of the time, the lake has no visible outlet.
    Indians believed the disappearance of the lake was by "big medicine" or magic, and they feared it. The magic is caused by a network of underground passages. In summer, melt water from the snow and glacier swells the river feeding the lake, exceeding what the underground system can carry. The surplus water floods the lake. In late August, the inflow is less than the drainage into the caves causing the lake level to drop.
Grey Jay
    Maligne Lake was pure picture postcard material. The lake was snuggled between precipitous snow covered peaks. The vista was absolutely stunning, the silence almost touchable. I walked a while along the lake side before sitting on a log to just soak up the magnificent atmosphere. If Medicine Lake had been regarded by the Indians as magical, I can't imagine what they would have made of this lake. I sat and sat, and a small bird came and joined me for a while before darting off to see his pals. I think it might have been a Grey Jay; can't say I've seen one in the UK. The Australian couple were hoping to have a cruise on the lake, but that had been cancelled because of ice at one end of the lake. I could see ice at the end I was sitting at. The temperature here was a tad cooler than where I'd been before.
Grand Old Steam Locomotive
    I would have liked to have tarried, but I had things to do. I needed to return to Jasper to find a launderette, and it was the most expensive one I had come across; perhaps due to the fact that it is a resort. Not far from the launderette built for designer clothes only, I saw a smashing old steam locomotive standing in its own cordoned off area near Jasper's marshalling yards. It would have been a glorious sight in its heyday. Alas, no more, but it was pleasing to see that it had been preserved for those generations who never saw the age of steam.
    I took the Banff road out of town and picked up a campsite a few miles down the road. The attendant was very helpful, and gave me leaflets on bears and elk; apparently it was calving season, and it would be wise to give elks a wide berth. I said I hadn't seen any bears or elk yet. "Oh", she said. "There has been a bear and two cubs wandering around the southern side of the site, and a lady reported an elk just wandering through the middle of the site this morning". I wait with baited breath.
modern locomotive
Modern Counterpart
    I found the pitch allotted to me, the usual overkill space to park four cars, plus picnic table over engineered with 30 x 3 cm timbers; big enough for an army and its tank. I cooked, ate and swatted mosquitoes. It was after 11pm, and still light.
    The Gods smiled favorably on me today; not one hiccup with the van. My sleep would be sweeter.
...... previous day next day ......
Kamloops Lake Louise

Uploaded from Starbucks, Banff Avenue, Banff AB on 04/06/10 at 19:45

Last updated 7.6.2010