We stopped at McDonalds for breakfast;
the Egg McMuffins didn't hold a candle to Lois's cooking. We
were on the road back to Jasper by 8:15. It was another
lovely sunny day, and the scenery was stunning. When we
passed this way five days earlier it had been late evening and
starting to get dark; now we stopped at many of the same overlooks
to photograph the mountains and lakes in the morning light.
We saw a big buck by the side of
the road, and a couple of swans taking off from a lake.
We stopped at Horseshoe Lake and walked along a path beside
the water. We climbed
up onto a rock outcropping above the narrow U-shaped lake and
admired it's brilliant blue-green color.
There were minnows in the water near the shore.
Further on, we saw a sign
indicating a lookout where mountain goats might be spotted.
We stopped at the overlook, which had a beautiful view of
the river below, and the steep mountain slopes beyond it were
rocky and barren, perfect habitat for mountain goats.
We searched the slopes with our binoculars, but to no
after noon, we reached the Wilcox Pass carpark; the small lot was
full, so we parked on the side of the road behind several camper
vans. Once again we
had chosen a hike that Don't
Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies had
rated as Premiere - but
it seemed that quite a few others had the same idea.
We followed a path up
through a mature forest of large pine and fir trees. The
path was fairly steep, and crisscrossed by a weave of roots.
Walking quietly and watching for wildlife, we saw several
chipmunks, a ptarmigan, and a gray jay, scolding us from a
treetop. There were
small signs along the way to discourage people from hiking off the
trail and damaging the fragile ecosystem; a circle with a slash
through it was superimposed over a drawing of a booted foot coming
down on wildflowers.
Heading up Wilcox Pass
long we came out to openings in the trees where we could see the
mountains, crowned by icefields and glaciers.
Below us stretched the highway, and we could see the
buildings of the Columbia Icefield Center.
Looking across the valley, we had a great view of the
The higher we climbed the more expansive the views became;
soon we had a panorama of snowy peaks surrounding us.
We hiked up a steep slope past a gulch where a stream leapt
down the mountainside, and then the path leveled out to a more
gentle grade. We
passed a fair number of other hikers on the trail, but more of
them were coming down than going up.
from Wilcox Pass
were nearing the top of the slope and had just started across the
broad pass when we saw the sheep.
Half a dozen bighorn rams were grazing on the mountainside
across the big gulch. Their
brown coats blended in with the rocks, but their lighter
hindquarters stood out, spoiling their camouflage.
Further up the mountainside we could see several older
rams, their huge horns curling full circle.
They stood regally, watching over their domain.
watched the sheep through binoculars as they slowly moved down
toward the gulch. Furtively,
trying to avoid the attention of other hikers, we left the trail
and made our way across the tundra, trying to get closer to the
sheep without alarming them. Hiding
behind rock outcroppings, we crept out to a knoll with a good
vantage point. We
waited, and before long the sheep came quite close, traversing the
side of the cliff above the gulch.
They became aware of our presence, but seemed undisturbed
by it. Three of the
younger rams climbed up and down the rocky ledges, playfully
butting heads, practicing for the rut when they would fight in
earnest. After a while
they came down to the stream directly below us to drink, then
wandered back up the gully to the higher slopes. We
marveled at our good fortune.
continued on through the wide mountain pass, past the rock cairn
that marked the summit. There
most of the other hikers had turned back, so from then on we had
the mountain pretty much to ourselves.
We went on for several miles across an open expanse of
tundra and rock, flanked on either side by high ridges.
We followed a tiny footpath that meandered among the rocks
and small streams. A
Columbian ground squirrel marked our passage, sitting up by his
hole like a prairie dog and watching us curiously.
We sat on a rock outcropping on
the top of a large knoll and ate trail mix and apricots for lunch.
It was a very serene and peaceful spot, and totally
isolated . Moving on,
we crossed a snow field, where we stopped briefly for an impromptu
snowball fight. The
sheer ridges rose high on either side of us as the pass narrowed.
We lingered, taking our time, exploring the tundra.
Eventually the trail headed steeply downhill toward the
other end of the pass; it was time to turn around. The
only other person we encountered was a lone hiker, a young man
from England who easily outpaced us.
After stopping to chat a few minutes, he headed back across
the pass at a brisk purposeful pace, but we wandered slowly,
taking our time, talking to the squirrels and examining the
wildflowers. When next
we saw our British friend, he was far up a path that climbed the
steep mountainside off to our right.
It was after 6:30 p.m. by the time we started down the mountain,
and the trail was pretty much deserted.
We glimpsed the sheep again, now far in the distance.
We saw a marmot among the rocks, and a red squirrel scolded
us soundly for coming too near his tree.
As we stood looking across the
valley at the glacier on the opposite side, we were startled by a
sudden loud rumble of thunder. But
then to our delight we realized it wasn't thunder at all, but the
sound of a huge chunk breaking off of the glacier!
We watched in awe as an avalanche of ice and snow cascaded
down the mountainside like a waterfall.
I had the sudden sensation of
being watched. Turning,
we looked up to the high ridge behind us; silhouetted against the
skyline stood a single bighorn ram, still as a statue, looking
straight down at us as if to bid us farewell.
After a long moment that seemed frozen in time, he turned
and silently disappeared over the horizon.
It felt like something from a western movie; the refrain
from The Good, the Bad and
the Ugly played in
the path back down through the woods toward the trailhead, we
again passed the small graphic signs exhorting us to not tread on
the wildflowers. Jineen
decided she must have one of these signs for her flower garden at
home - she proceeded to pull one up, stake and all.
When we returned to the carpark,
it was completely empty except for our car, parked rather
incongruously in the road all by itself - the campers that had
been in front of it were long gone.
As we stowed our gear we heard an eerie raucous cawing;
looking up we saw half a dozen ravens watching us from a nearby
pine tree. Two of them
came down in search of handouts, boldly approaching the car in a
shuffling sideways gait, demanding food.
They were really quite creepy. Jineen
fed them crackers, which was strictly against the law.
Having finished illegally feeding
the wildlife and with Jineen's stolen contraband safely stowed
away, we pulled out of the parking lot, sipping wine from the last
bottle of Stoneleigh while driving without seatbelts, musing on
how many laws we could break at one time.
We were probably speeding, too.
headed south on the Icefields Parkway.
Unwilling to waste a single daylight hour, we planned to
drive around until dark, exploring and scouting for wildlife - but
we decided to locate our lodging for the night first.
We drove past the Columbia Icefields Center; remembering
our $4 cokes on day two, we gladly passed it by this time.
We had a room booked at the
Glacier View Inn, but we couldn't seem to find it.
Our directions said the inn was on the parkway just north
of the border between Banff and Jasper parks, but we couldn't
locate the border, much less the inn.
When we got to The
Crossing (where we had stayed earlier in the trip), we knew we
must have missed it. We
turned around and went all the way back past the Columbia
Icefields Center, but there was still no sign of our inn.
Our directions just didn't compute!
According to Googlemap we should already be at the Glacier
View Inn, but we had passed no side roads, no driveways, no
buildings at all, other than the Icefields Center itself.
A horrible thought dawned on us.
When we had hiked up Wilcox Pass earlier, we had seen a
monstrosity of a building just across from the Columbia Icefields
Center. At the time we
had thought it was part of the center itself, but now we realized
that the building we saw from the ridge might have been the
Glacier View Inn. We
were somewhat horrified to think we would be staying so close to
the Icefields Tourist Trap; the only thing that could be worse
would be staying at the Icefields Center itself!
We turned the car around again and went searching for the
But when we found it, there was a
sign stating Restricted
Area: Employee Housing. Whew,
so this wasn't the inn after all; but then where the hell was it?
We decided our only option was to go to the Icefields
Center itself and ask directions.
We pulled into the car park and
gazed up at the main building, reading the lettering on the outer
wall; then we realized the ugly truth.
The Glacier View Inn was
the Icefields Center, or at least the upper floor of it.
We were appalled. We
remembered pitying the poor schmucks who stayed here when we
passed by earlier in the trip; now those schmucks were us.
I suppose the name, Glacier
View, should have been a hint, but somehow when I had booked
the room on the internet I had envisioned a cozy little inn by a
lake, with a nice view of the mountains.
We dragged our tired bodies up
about 200 stairs, past the various tourist gift shops and displays
to the check-in desk. The
rather inefficient girl at the desk finally found our reservation,
but our room key was not ready.
She also informed us that the cafeteria was closed.
The fancy dining room was still open, but considering the
cost of the cokes, we decided to drive down to The
Crossing for dinner. This
was the stretch of road where we had seen the bear; maybe we would
see another. But The
Crossing proved to be further than we had thought, and by the time
we got there it was well after nine
o'clock. We had
a really bad pasta dinner in the cafeteria, and then headed back
to the Glacier View. No
animals along the way. We
finally made it to our room around eleven o'clock, and fell
exhausted into our beds.