Thursday 14 May 2015

Time for the travellers to roll onwards; not by train.  Asif our local guide (for whom we have to thank for the pointer towards Syrah last night) is in charge both of driving us to our next destination but also describing the places along the way.

Essentially today we are heading in a largely southerly direction along Highway 93 moving from Jasper to Banff taking in the sights along the way.  We will also revisit part of the route tomorrow on our Banff National Park tour.

As we leave Jasper we first past Whistler mountain which is on the edge of the town and then a little further along Mt Edith Cavell after the famous nurse who was killed in the first world war.

Our progress is soon halted by a sighting of a black bear and photos of all of the day’s activities can be found here.

Excitement marginally reduced we head on to our first stop at the Athabasca Falls where once again the power of the water cutting its way through the rock bed provides another illustration of the impact of 11,000 years of activity can achieve.

Moving a way down the road we reach the main Columbia Icefields where there is yet another tour highlight with a trip out onto the Athabasca Glacier and for which we had originally anticipated the need for warmer clothing.  I have put on a long sleeved shirt as my preparation for the day!  The pullover remains deep inside a suitcase.

The transit to the glacier is in two stages; a normal bus takes us over the main road to a staging point at which we climb aboard one of 22 special glacier vehicles.  There are 23 in the world – the odd one is somewhere in Antarctica.  They are of several generations and are not built by coach builders but by heavy equipment movers.  The whole operation is run by Brewsters who have been operating in this area for well over a century and seem to have control of much of the coach and other operations in both asper and Banff.

On the glacier itself is not actually incredibly cold (thanks to the sun) although it cools when we lose the sun behind some clouds.  Disappointingly in retrospect the photographs taken on the glacier do not record the area in the way that you see it.  No doubt it is true that everything is white and the photos cannot do justice to what we actually see, where refraction and other effects do make edges of the ice above appear blue to our eyes, adding subtle tone and shadow.

Underfoot of course the glacier is advancing slowly, but also retreating in that each year it reaches less further into the valley.  The last ice age was about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago and when the ice receded in this area the ground rose – providing these glorious mountain ranges.  Since then it would be fair to assume that the world has been steadily warming and of course this period covers much of the known human history, with civilisation appearing in Egypt around 5000 years ago.

Off the glacier and following a quick lunch we are heading south again to our next stop at Bow Lake and Glacier.  Bow Lake is largely frozen – the near edges are just liquid and so makes an interesting contrast to the lakes visited earlier.  Here as elsewhere the coffee stop facilities are not available as yet.  We are a little early in the season for these things but it matters little.  Indeed it means we return to our coach a little earlier and head off for Banff.

A quick town tour leaves me confused as to just where we are on the map at the hotel when we arrive.  Banff is clearly larger than Jasper and indeed there is a bus service to the town centre from the hotel, the Caribou Lodge, which in theory runs every 40 minutes.

Once settled in we visit the restaurant in the hotel and initially determine on a light meal – starting with some shared Nachos.  The delivered pile would have been a completely adequate meal (if a little unbalanced); we had however also ordered a salad each.  These came and the remaining Nachos departed – well they would hardly be good for breakfast would they?

The salads were also sizeable and although we both managed to eat the steak (Jackie) and seafood (me) on top of the salad leaves, the quantity of the latter defeated us.  Near the end of eating my plateful I found half an avocado which was waiting for attention and that was demolished.  Service this evening was provided by a girl from New Zealand but she had had to participate in a tour around the Banff National Park as part of the conditions for the job so that she could talk about the local sights and activities.  Someone around here really cares how their town comes across to visitors like us.

Jackie goes to bed and sleep whilst I do some catching up with the world.