Jasper to the Yoho Valley 25th June to 5th July 2004

Athabascar Falls

Day 31 Friday June 25th Jasper

Last night at the end of our train journey we had spectacular views of the Rocky Mountains as we approached Jasper. The tandem and all our luggage was unloaded from the baggage car in first class condition. We bought supplies and headed for our first youth hostel in the foothills of the Whistler Mountains. Jasper is a pleasant small town by the peculiar standards of Canada. It also appears to be the mobile home capital of the world. That's a bit scary in itself. What is even more frightening is the drivers. Many look like refugees from an elderly care home. They are frequently lost and the fear in their eyes is something to behold. We have not seen anything like it since watching the equally decrepit drivers in Weymouth town centre. As usual we find it hard to understand why elderly motorists put themselves through such torture. After all there are perfectly good Saga buses for holidays, and taxis to go to town. And it would cost them less.

As we said before, on this tour the stoker booked every night's accommodation. As this means that the management has to get us there on the right day he built in some slack. So we now have several days in the Jasper area. Today we suffered a change from Pacific to Mountain Time. This resulted in getting up late because we had lost an hour's sleep. We were also tired from having done nothing on the train for two days. By the time we left the hostel it was gone eleven and we walked up the road to the cable car.

This rather antiquated ski type lift took us a couple of kilometres short of the summit of Whistler Mountain. This is not the same place as where the English go skiing. The cable car does however give superb views over Jasper and surrounding valleys. There is then an uphill walk to the summit at about 2500 metres. This excludes the obese and others lacking basic fitness. It was therefore pleasantly quiet once away from the cable car terminal. From the summit we had wonderful mountain views with peak after peak disappearing into the distance.

Unusually for a mountain of this height and at this latitude it was pleasantly warm. We were able to enjoy an extended mountain lunch in the sunshine. We were not the only ones doing this. The stoker spotted an animal sitting, or rather resting, on a nearby rock. It was a hoary marmot. The guide book says that these are remarkably lazy animals and so proved to be the case. We were able to get quite close to it and take photos before it bothered to move off. And we are talking about a fluffy thing about twice the size of a domestic cat. We also saw several little ground squirrels which were also not frightened of us. One of these stripy little things actually walked over the management's sandals. Possibly it is the only mammal in the world attracted by the truly skunk like smell of Shimano cycling sandals. Very odd.

By mid afternoon we came across a sign indicating a walk back to the hostel. Foolishly we started to descend the steep scree slope. After about ten minutes we met some up comers. We gave them the return halves of our lift pass tickets and the die was cast. It was a hard walk and the Weymouth Footsloggers would have been proud of the stoker. To cut a long and very rough story short we ended up back at the hostel at 7pm. We were both weary. At one time the stoker, deprived of her proper walking boots and high tech stick, was thinking of sitting down and crying. But with no practical alternative she carried on down gingerly on blistered feet. Sleep came easily.

Day 32 Saturday June 26th Jasper to Maligne Canyon

We were late leaving and we both had sore legs from yesterday's hike down the mountain. The stoker was perhaps worse and this was detectable by a slight reduction in her usual sunny disposition. Indeed the management would perhaps describe her as taciturn.

We rode back into Jasper and did some much needed shopping, mainly in preparation for the week to come. It is a very odd concept that even though we will be on well used roads there will be nowhere to buy food for several days. On the downside it is impossible to get freeze dried veggies in the supermarkets. On the upside we found a very well stocked organic food shop which had all types of pasta and pulses for sale by weight. So as long as we can get water we should not starve. But the stoker's performance could reduce without fruit and green veg in her blood.

After a lazy lunch and an even lazier ice cream we finally pedalled up the hill to the hostel at Maligne Canyon. This is a rustic hostel with no running water. Any body washing has to be done in the freezing cold snowmelt water of the river which flows nearby. It does though bring into question the Canadian meaning of the word "washroom". It is a polite euphemism for the word "toilet". But if they don't actually have a washroom they have real trouble with what to call the bog. Which is what it is here being a hole in the ground with a great big chimney coming out of it to take away the pong.

The hostel is laid out in two main cabins each with two six berth rooms. It also has another cabin which is a fully functioning cook house. Apart from a few mosquitoes it is a very pleasant place to be.

Day 33 Sunday June 27th at Maligne Canyon

We had a real mix of people. A single mum with her three nicely behaved young sons out on holiday from Edmonton. A serious mountain bike racer who also lives in Edmonton and her mum and dad who came from Ontario. A rather reclusive gentleman of about our age from Melbourne and a dental student from Montreal were also in and out. After breakfast most went the separate ways of travellers, bidding each other a good journey. These small basic hostels are usually friendly and enjoyable places to be.

We started our day with what was supposed to be a gentle walk down the Maligne Canyon. The stoker's legs were still a bit achy. She thought that a gentle walk at a visitor attraction would be just the thing to put her right. Rather than just another visitor attraction we were surprised at both the beauty and scale of the canyon. The small river plunged through a deep narrow steep sided gorge. Even though we are only at about a thousand metres high snow was still lying on some north facing walls. OK it was a bit touristy but most of the coach visitors don't get far and after that it was very pleasant. It was however hardly a rest cure and when we returned to the hostel for lunch the stoker decided to put her feet up for the afternoon.

The management, having planned his wild country menus for the coming week, set off alone on the tandem. This time he headed up the Maligne River to Medicine Lake. This was a spectacular ride of about 15km each way with superb views of the mountains which are very close. It was the longest ride the tandem has ever done solo. He said he had missed the stoker and he did. But sometimes on a trip like this it is nice to have your own space for a while.

Day 34 Monday June 28th Maligne Canyon to Athabascar Falls

We went to bed with the best of intentions of making an early start. This was to avoid cycling during the heat of the day. Fate however conspired to ruin all our efforts to do this. Expecting to wake early once we heard people about we did not set the alarm. This was our first mistake. Breakfast then takes longer with people to talk to. Finally, before we leave each day it is the stoker's duty to do a final check to see nothing is left. On this occasion she could not find the phone. It is a useless object here most of the time as the phone companies have not made the connection between mobile phone and mast. It is however both expensive and inconvenient to lose. Exceptionally, when it comes to lost things, the management gained a huge number of brownie points by finding it in the wash bag.

Having left late we then went down into Jasper for the last time to get supplies. Then it was out of town south into the Jasper National Park. Being a bicycle we expected to pass through the park gate without charge. This was not to be and the stoker forked out a hefty 89 dollars for a two week stay. That is the same amount as a highly polluting enormous RV. It just about sums up the lip service Canadians pay to green issues. Even though they make rudimentary attempts at recycling they pollute at a level which far exceeds even the mess we make in the UK. The stoker will try to get the 89 dollars back when she finds a more senior person at the Park Office.

Soon after passing the toll gate we turned right onto the old highway, 93A. For the first time since arriving in Canada we were on a road on which it was a pleasure to cycle. We think this was partly due to a phenomenon which the Farnham cyclists have always called "farmer's puddle". The farmer cultivates a great puddle at the entrance to a particularly nice route which puts off all but the determined. Here the RVs get a nasty shake at the start of 93A and hopefully turn round and go back onto the main road.

From here we were climbing. After the first climb to the ski area of Marmot Basin we descended back to the Athabascar river. Here we found a pleasant spot for lunch. Having carried out his duties of getting the tea going the management decided to take a bath. The river being mainly composed of melt water was at a temperature in stark contrast to that of the air. He stayed in just long enough to cool off from the climb and to restore at least a basic level of cleanliness. He followed the Beckham dress code by turning his jacket into a skirt while his underwear dried in the sun.

Another climb later and we arrived at Athabascar Falls. Even though it is touristy it was very well worth our visit. The sheer force of this large river falling through a canyon into the valley below shakes the ground and fills the air with spray. The stoker enjoyed attempting to photograph the rainbows.

We arrived at the rustic hostel nearby. This hostel specialises in groups of about 15 youngish people travelling by bus on organised tours, i.e. Saga for the young. Until they arrived it was very peaceful. Still we have a 12 bed dorm to ourselves. The management has decreed that our departure tomorrow will not be delayed by the need to wash and shower. He is also rather smug being semi clean after his encounter with the freezing river.

Day 35 Tuesday June 29th Athabascar Falls to Beauty Creek

We set the alarm for 7am in order to be away by 8am. We would be climbing all day and wanted to make an early start to avoid the heat of the day. The stoker normally likes to take her time in the mornings but in the absence of showering facilities an hour seemed long enough. We left about 8.15am in the end which was early enough to avoid the young Saga group.

It has to be said that once on the road the management was an absolute misery. He could see no point in cycling on this wide highway. Was it worse than Route 3 in Italy? At least there we could see the sea. All we have here are snow covered mountains and a succession of RVs. Once the first 20kms were done he began to cheer up and said his legs were going OK.

He finally came round. It was at least better than going to work in London. And it wasn't that long ago that the stoker could hardly walk to the end of the road let alone climb the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Even the wonderful Alpine views seemed to improve and much to our surprise we came to a cafe for elevenses.

This was a great bonus. We had not expected to be able to get any extra food for several days. They didn't have any groceries but we did buy some oranges. By coincidence we also met David and Lindy, the older couple we had travelled with on the train between Prince Rupert and Prince George. Chatting in the sun was not good for our progress up hill but was very pleasant.

Unfortunately the wide hard shoulder on the side of the road became very badly rutted for the rest of the day's ride. This is more serious than it may seem to a cyclist who has not been here. We are expected to ride on the hard shoulder unless it is not tarmac. Your average driver here expects to go along the carriageway without any kind of let or hindrance. A loaded tandem in their way seems to test their rather limited driving skills to the extreme. In consequence even the management was forced to relent in the interests of our safety. Mind you he was a bit disconcerted by the motorist who came slowly by filming us with a video camera. We were sometimes going bump bump bump along the hard shoulder and sometimes more serenely on the carriageway. Just another sign of the Park's lack of interest in cyclists.

After a pleasant lunch at a camping ground we went on to another rustic hostel at Beauty Creek. It has yet another different system of operation. The manager Diane and her husband Roger are from Quebec. They come each spring with their RV trailer and return in September. Their first job after we arrived was to prepare a hot shower for each of us. This was most welcome and unexpected as we knew they did not have running water or electricity. The hostel consists of three cabins with 22 beds. It is beside the river and best of all Roger provides a full pancake breakfast with maple syrup in the morning.

Day 36 Wednesday June 30th Beauty Creek to Rampart Creek

Breakfast definitely came up to expectations with good company and as many pancakes and maple syrup as we could eat. The other occupants included four 21 year old women from Korea. They were here on a university study trip and presented us with gifts and a Korean coin. We felt both surprised and flattered.

Even with all this eating and socialising we still managed to leave by 9am. Marcel from Switzerland, the other cyclist in the hostel, let us go first. Even though he is a little older than us we confidently expect to be overtaken. Not only are tandems slow on a climb of 500 metres in around 15km but he's one of those older cyclists who just looks as if he will keep on climbing until he reaches the sky. It was certainly hard going and not helped by the mosquitoes that pestered us as we laboured up at walking pace. Marcel did come past but mainly because we stopped to coat ourselves with citronella. It is not 100% effective but we prefer it to Deet. Deet is very effective but capable of dissolving almost anything with which it comes into contact including both skin and presumably mosquitoes. We have some for serious emergencies, though we have been told by locals that after enough bites one builds up a resistance to the little sods.

We arrived at the Columbia Icefield Centre just before we reached the top of the climb. The scenery all morning had been superb. As we gained height the snowcapped mountains closed in around us. The Centre is near to the Athabascar Glacier. This flows down from the huge icefield covering an enormous area in the mountains above us. Its toe is less than a kilometre from the Centre.

The Centre operates a popular shuttle bus service taking passengers onto the ice itself, or alternatively it is possible to walk up the toe of the glacier. The stoker felt she would like to see the glacier close up. The management, having spent several weeks of his life shuffling along glaciers on skis, stayed at the Centre to people watch.

The trip consisted of a shuttle bus to the edge of the glacier, then a ride on a snowcoach, a large six wheel drive vehicle specially designed for the purpose. The young drivers gave very interesting commentaries until arrival at a part of the glacier which was guaranteed not to have any crevasses to fall into. Then twenty minutes were allowed to walk on the ice.

Despite having arrived by a tour bus and not under her own steam the stoker was overwhelmed by the experience of being completely surrounded by centuries old ice deep enough to hold the Eiffel Tower. Although there were several coachloads of people on the ice, the 'safe' area was large enough for her to be able to wander off in peace. She took in the awe inspiring beauty of the glacier and surrounding mountains. She was reduced to silence, and almost to tears, by the experience.

It was mid afternoon by the time we started the final short climb to Sunwapta Pass, which according to the GPS was at 2084 metres. This did not agree with the Tourist Office map but generally the accuracy of the GPS contrasts sharply with the inaccuracy of Tourist Information everywhere. The descent was both long, steep and dodgy. So far on these wide smooth roads it has been safe enough just to let the tandem go and ride out the hill. The road here however was not that smooth and even had some bends in it. As we got to the top 70's kph and the descent was getting steeper the management lost his nerve and started to apply the brakes. In the absence of an emergency this has to be done very carefully. We have the very best rim brakes, so good that they will stop a loaded tandem on a toonie. But in the process they generate great heat and can explode the tyres. It is best if they explode after stopping but usually the reverse happens with disastrous consequences. We managed a controlled stop just in time and although we could not touch the rims no explosion took place.

Soon after the bottom of the descent we reached the rustic hostel and found Marcel already there. The hostel is in a lovely situation and consists of three cabins beside a fast running stream dominated by the mountains above. Again we had no running water and electricity for lights is from a solar panel. It does however have a sauna cabin with the fast running stream as the plunge pool. The fire was prepared for us. We abandoned our clothes and stayed in until we could stand the heat no longer. We then ran along the short path clothed just as nature had intended, and plunged into the freezing stream. It was refreshing and we did feel clean. There was also no way that we would have bathed naked in a freezing stream without the incentive of the sauna.

 BBQ at Beauty Creek

Day 37 Thursday July 1st - Canada Day Rampart Creek to Num-Ti-Jah

Last night we had the first really heavy rain since we have been in Canada. It was still raining on and off when we left. Marcel, our rather dour Swiss companion for the last couple of days, came to say goodbye. We were a bit later leaving and don't expect to see him again as he is on his way to California. There is little good to say about today's ride except that we managed to climb from about 1400 metres to 2064 metres without mishap or disagreement.

On the management's instructions re daily distances the stoker had prebooked the most expensive accommodation on this trip. This is at the Num-ti-jah Lodge just below Bow Pass and was a planning aberration. Mosquito Creek Youth Hostel, while further on than our usual day's ride, would have easily been possible as it was all downhill from the pass. For the price we paid one would have expected a first class hotel with every facility and service. What we got was one of those peculiar things that seems to appeal to North Americans. It had very similar facilities to a one star French hotel in a small village. That is, a first class restaurant and service and very basic en-suite rooms without even a tele or coffee maker. The other similarity was that the number of Canadian Dollars on the tariffs and the number of French Francs would be about the same. It was situated high up in the most spectacular scenery on the edge of Bow Lake. The building was very old for around here and constructed in timber and stone with red cedar roofing tiles. We had a delightful stay and an extremely good dinner. Expensive but worth it. For the evening entertainment the stoker was able to wave and speak by radio to some of the staff who had climbed a nearby peak to wave the flag on Canada Day.

Day 38 Friday July 2nd - Bow Pass to Lake Louise

With an easy day in prospect we took our time getting up. We enjoyed watching the morning mist clear from the surrounding peaks and then see their reflection in the emerald lake. As we left through the public car park several tourist buses had already arrived.

It was an easy morning. The highway is not quite so horrible going downhill. Lake Louise is a touristy place but has all we need. Lunch was a huge wrap. That is a pancake filled with our choice of items from the delicatessen counter.

We took the opportunity to speak to the National Park people and express our reservations about the road we had travelled from Jasper. It was just dreadful, being both dangerous and not cycle friendly. Interestingly she said that the Park does not encourage or promote road cycling on this route. She was not opposed to us making this clear to the CTC when we return home and agreed to answer our other questions by email. She also took in good part that when the Park publishes statistics, as they do about the animal road kills, they should also include the human road kill.

We checked in at the huge hostel. It is a ski lodge in winter and very similar to modern student accommodation in the UK. It served our purpose very well with its comfortable room and nearby facilities.

With us in the hostel was a contingent of 18 people from the Edmonton Bicycle Club. The paraphernalia these people needed to go cycling had to be seen to be believed. They had two vehicles which they call mini vans. Each was only a bit smaller than the Portland mini bus. They then had them loaded with ice boxes. No self respecting North American can go anywhere without a coffee cup in hand and an ice box nearby. Furthermore, being in close proximity to them serves to emphasise the inefficiency for which they are noted the world over. To avoid them in the kitchen seemed a good excuse to eat out.

Days 39,40,41 Saturday, Sunday, Monday July 3rd,4th,5th
Away for the weekend to the Yoho Valley (Whiskey Jack Hostel)

Having survived the chaos in the kitchen caused by the Edmonton Bicycle Club we cycled by their group briefing in the car park. We shouted bye folks, pleased that we were going in a different direction. We were also amused that they may think that because they don't catch us up, we are fit enough to stay in front of them all day.

We started the day with a long climb to reach the beginning of the Great Divide Trail. This is on the old highway to Kicking Horse Pass which was bypassed and then closed to motor vehicles in 2001. It was a pleasant ride in the morning sunshine. We cycled slowly and in silence for about an hour and a half. We did not see another person. We did however see a porcupine. This animal, the size and shape of a badger, was fully armed with pointed quills. It did not seem to fear us very much. Why should it in view of its protection? The stoker was able to take her time with the camera.

The next thing we came across caused the management in particular considerable amusement. It was a ghost tourist attraction. It had parking, pedestrian walkways, descriptive signs and even toilets which still functioned. The only thing it did not have was people. To get there they would have had to leave the new highway and walk about a kilometre. Obviously impossible for the driving classes.

The funny thing is that the attraction claims to be rather important. It is right on the border between Alberta and British Columbia at Kicking Horse Pass. The stream which flows through the area divides at a conveniently placed rock. One side drains into the Pacific and the other into the Atlantic Ocean. The pass itself enables East West Communications. Either the whole thing was codged up in the first place to attract tourists or its importance is secondary to traffic access. Either way it is highly amusing.

From here we were on the Trans Canada Highway. It wasn't actually any worse than the Icefield Parkway. Lorries replaced RVs but at least they seemed in the main to have competent drivers. We soon came to a newly established viewing point for the nearby spiral tunnels. The railway originally crossed the great divide on very steep tracks. This caused a great number of accidents. To avoid this tunnels were built to enable the trains to spiral up and down the pass. Combine this huge engineering achievement with trains over a mile long and it is well worth viewing. We watched a train travelling at walking pace and pulled by three engines go up. The rear part of the train was not only below the upper part but the engines were well out of the tunnel before the rear had even gone in. We wonder how many lorry loads such a train can carry. Maybe we in the UK could again use our railways.

Soon after this we turned off the highway onto the size of road we are familiar with in the UK. The stoker had been dreading this part of the ride because the road had "switchbacks". That is what the locals call hairpin bends. She need not have worried. We have climbed many roads far more difficult than this in the past. It did however stress the Canadian drivers. Heaven help them if they ever try driving in the European Alps or even in a multistorey car park. We spent an amusing time watching drivers fail to turn the steering wheel enough on their oversized four wheel drive vehicles. They then had to go backwards to get round the corners. That is, once they managed to select reverse. During this time another vehicle comes along adding to the confusion and chaos.

We arrived at the hostel in the rain. Bonice the warden made us at home even though she does not open till 5pm. It was nice to have a shower and get changed. We then had time to explore the waterfall which is very impressive. A river above straight from the glacier falls first into a sink hole about a third of the way down the cliff face. It then gushes outwards and falls directly to the cliff bottom. From a distance it is mesmerising, with so many combinations of shapes and patterns. Get within a couple of hundred metres of it and one gets wet.

The evening was very convivial. Rustic hostels are often like this but our four friends from South Korea turned up. And also Bonice is an excellent hostess.

Sunday was wet. Bonice let us have the run of the hostel which was nice. We got on with correspondence which had fallen a bit behind and then the rain cleared in the afternoon. We went out on the tandem to explore the Yoho Valley. We eventually came to a point where even the management had to admit a tandem could go no further. We then went on on foot. The stoker is unfortunately still prevented from doing long walks because she has a blister that won't heal. We did however reach the very pleasant Laughing Falls having seen a pine marten on the way. They look like skinny house cats. It didn't hang around long enough to be photographed.

On the return the management took to his bed with a mild migraine. The stoker on the other hand, in between solicitous calls to him, had a fine time in the kitchen. Here dinner was already cooked and she made merry with the others and a bottle of wine.

The management had recovered by morning and was grumbling that he had missed his dinner. After fond farewells we left to go down the valley in the rain. Good thing the stoker did photos on the way up. The ascent of Kicking Horse Pass to the Great Divide was better than expected. Truckers give us much more room than RVs which helps. Soon we were back on the closed road to Lake Louise and peace returned. We very soon came upon a brown bear with two cubs. She was eating grain on the nearby railway line. Unfortunately the main highway was on the other side of the line. Many vehicles had stopped to watch and the bear was looking harassed. Not wishing to be part of this sorry spectacle, or in the bear's escape path, we moved on quickly.

We had a long leisurely lunch in the sun at the ghost tourist attraction. Soon, perhaps too soon, we were back in the village of Lake Louise.