This was an ambitious idea to say the least. Malcolm Watson and myself set out to run, hike, climb, and camp along one of the most beautiful stretches of road in Canada… all in a weekend.
Friday afternoon, we met up by the Bow River in Lake Louise, packed up the truck, organized our food, and made a quick cup of coffee on the tailgate before heading out. Our goal was to make it to Peyto Lake right off Bow Summit to catch the sunset. Driving past Bow Lake, we noticed the sun coming very close to dipping below the mountains. When we made it to the Peyto Lake parking lot, we grabbed our bags, threw on our running shoes, and made our way up Mount Jimmy Simpson. Due to the elevation of Bow Summit, there was much more snow than expected, and we found ourselves post-holing through the trees before making it on to solid-ground.
Going into this hike, we expected it to be a quick and easy one to catch the sunset on our first night up the Parkway. It turned out to be a little bit tougher than we had thought… albeit a relatively short hike. With every step our legs would go straight through the snow, and we’d end up waist deep… completely stuck. While working our way up this “quick and easy” hike, we noticed the sun was slowly setting behind the mountains, faster than we were gaining elevation. We started to push our speeds up, quickly getting back in to the sunlight, and trying to catch those last rays from atop the ridge. After a good 15 minutes of jogging and speed hiking, we found ourselves sitting atop the ridge… Watching the sun fade behind the adjacent mountain, and the valley lighting up in shades of bright orange with a hint of deep blue. If the trip had to end right at this moment, both of us would have been driving back with smiles on our face.
…lucky for us we still had two more days to go.
Saturday morning, woke up with sore legs from the whole post-holing ordeal the night before. Made some bacon and eggs on the tailgate, had a cup of coffee, took a few photos with the passing tourists as they were enamoured with our “kitchen”, and then hit the road, driving a few kilometres back to the Helen Lake trailhead, where we planned to make it up to a ridge just off Cirque Peak that looked to be mostly bare of snow.
After a mellow hike through the forests, we popped out of the trees and into the sunshine, and less appealing boulder fields that were scattered along the ridge. We took in the views from Bow Lake all the way to Lake Louise and to our right was Bow Summit and Mount Jimmy Simpson, which we had climbed the night before. On our way back down from Cirque Peak, Malcolm had a slightly more fun way of getting down, which resulted in hopping 5-10 feet to the next boulder. Let’s just say the way down was about 1/6 of the time it took us going up.
Saturday afternoon, we began driving North past the Saskatchewan Crossing toward the Sunset Pass trailhead, with the intention of making it to the Sunset Lookout, which offers unparalleled views of the confluence of the North Saskatchewan River and Alexandra River. Very similar to our Mount Jimmy Simpson hike the night before, we found ourselves with a few feet of snow, and the trail hidden below. We began making our own path for the rest of the hike, unsure of whether the trail went straight, right, or left. After a few kilometres we found a view point, whether it was the Sunset Lookout or not, it was beautiful, and we were the only ones out there. We ate some lunch, and began to make our way back to Norman Creek Waterfall to explore the deep canyon. One thing I love about this area is how vast it feels compared to any other part of the parkway. You have these magnificent peaks coming straight from the valley, and vast rivers and streams weaving their way through the land.
After completing two hikes on our checklist, we hopped back in the truck, and back on to the Parkway, looking for a nice place to park it for the night. We pulled into a site that let us back the truck right up to the North Saskatchewan River, set up the hammock, made some food, put some beer in the river, and iced the feet in the fresh glacier cold water.
Sunday morning, we packed up and drove North. Into Jasper National Park and onto the Columbia Icefields… a Canadian classic. We parked the truck at the toe of the Athabasca Glacier, with no objective planned we looked up at the surrounding peaks, looking to Nigel Peak which offers an incredible view across the valley to the Icefields, and Wilcox Peak. We ultimately decided to make our way up Boundary Peak, a sub-peak of Mt Athabasca. Heading up Boundary, we were certainly not alone, making our way up with groups of Big Horn Sheep that didn’t seem to mind us in the slightest. To dodge snow covered slopes we decided to stay on the top of the ridge, and have a short scramble to the top. Once at the top we were welcomed with a 360 degree view of Mt Athabasca, the Icefields, and down the valley to Jasper. While on the ridge we found a little outcrop that dropped straight down to the glacier. In a place like this you can’t help but feel small and insignificant. It was humbling to say the least.
Sunday afternoon, after getting off Boundary Peak and making it back to the truck, we had to make a tough call… it was either finish the Parkway going North to Jasper, or head back down to Lake Louise where the snow conditions seemed to be more so in our favour. After a brief discussion in the parking lot with a few skiers we met. We made the decision to head back down to Lake Louise, and back home on Highway 1. It was a tough call, but ultimately we came to the realization that a weekend on the Icefield Parkway just isn’t enough, going into this trip we knew that, but we wanted to give it our best shot in the time we had given to us.
The story didn’t quite end here though…
While heading back down South, we both looked out our window at Bow Lake, and couldn’t help but stop for a quick run around the edge of the lake. While packing our bags out the back of the truck, with no one in the parking lot but us and a father and son. A young Grizzly Bear strolled into the parking lot, and began to make his way over to us… After watching him for a minute or two he didn’t seem to be harmful, although as he came near us he began to walk around the front of the truck, as we were at the back, when we both realized we had food in the cab, and the doors were wide open. Bear spray in hand, we peaked around the side of the truck, just as he made his way around the front… He stopped for a moment, lifted his head, and stared right at us, as we stared back. He wasn’t bother by us, nor the food, and after a few seconds of looking at one another, he walked on his way, both of us perfectly okay with one another’s presence. After this we went on our run, made it back to the truck, ate some food, and got on our way. Malcolm and myself still thinking back to our encounter. Neither of us had ever seen a Grizzly before, and to be quite honest I had always been somewhat fearful knowing it could happen. All I can say is it was a humbling experience… just as the rest of the trip was, driving through this wild landscape with nothing but an open stretch of road and mountains as far as the eye can see…
We watched the sun set from a different mountain each night, saw the sun rise over a new river each morning, and drove off Highway 93 with less tread on our boots than when we started. If you ask me, I’d say we were more than successful in what we aimed to accomplish…
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