Thursday, August 27: Jasper
Today was a lot of unexpected things. I'm typing this semi-one-handed, but that part of the tale will come in a bit.
We got up at 8am, later than we have been used to. I don't know if it was because of getting to bed at midnight, or what, but for the first time on the trip, I had a fairly normal night's sleep. I woke up around 4am or perhaps 4:30, and I thought that the pattern was continuing, but I managed to fall asleep again. Amy got up briefly at 7am, and that woke me up. I didn't fall back asleep, but at least I had slept until 7.
The breakfast was similar to the previous day's, except that they had cheese omelets rather than scrambled eggs. Overall, I would rate the place serviceable, but nothing at all to write home about.
The valley had more smoke than the previous night, and that didn't bode well. We had tentatively planned to go up the tram to the top of the whistlers (reportedly named after the sound of marmots). We figured the view wouldn't be the greatest due to the smoke, but we couldn't think of any other activity. Amy wasn't interested in any significant hiking, and Michael wasn't interested in hiking or waterfalls. So we decided to try the tram.
In hindsight we planned horribly for the trip. That is to say that we didn't plan at all. I figured that it would be similar to Snowbird in Utah--we would take the tram up, walk around for about 15 minutes, lament the good views, and then go down.
Instead we found that we were most of the way up the mountain, but far from the summit. A number of trails crisscrossed the ridge leading from the tram station to the actual summit. The hike there was far from hard, but it was certainly non-trivial. It was about a mile one way, grinding upward most of the way, at a decent but not ridiculous altitude.
This is where the poor or lack of planning showed itself. Amy didn't have her hiking poles, and we hadn't brought any water or sun screen. Fortunately, they had a store there, so I could buy some sun screen. They had a restaurant, where I could buy some (expensive) bottled water.
The temperature was about perfect. When the sun was out, it was a bit warm (with a tee-shirt and fleece shirt), but when the sun went behind a cloud, it was a bit chilly, particularly with the wind. Amy wanted to try for the summit, so we set off. Amy had to go very slowly due to altitude. After a while, Michael was getting rather bored with the pace and with Amy's frequent stops for pictures, so we decided that Michael and I would head up, and Amy would follow separately.
I found that the altitude (7,000-8,088 feet) was clearly noticeable although not deadly. I kept up a slow steady pace. I could feel the altitude, but it was fine as long as one didn't hurry.
The story of the smoke was interesting. On one side of the ridge (where the main highway and Jasper were) there was plenty of smoke and haze. On the other side of the ridge, however, there was almost no smoke, and the views were pretty good.
We kept a lookout for marmots, but we didn't see any, just some pica and some Columbia ground squirrels and golden mantled ground squirrels. Along the way I saw an interesting cloud with the sun fighting its way through. It resulted in sort of a rainbow effect.
Eventually Michael and I ended up on the summit. The trail continued down the other side and out on another ridge. If it had just been me, I would have liked to have gone out there, but Michael had had enough, and I didn't think Amy would be that into it. I find that the alpine environment (near the top of the mountain, above the tree line) is one of my favorites. I could spend a lot of time hiking around up there.
I took a bunch of pictures. Michael had asked if I had brought my P&S camera, and I said that no, why would I bring my P&S if I had my DSLR. However at the summit, I realized that I wanted the P&S. I wanted to take a panorama picture of the view, and the P&S does it automatically. Part way down I mentioned this to Mike, and he suggested that my iPhone would take panoramas, so I took a few with that. Ironically, after I got down, I found that I had in fact put the P&S in my camera bag, so I did actually have it. Oh well.
We met Amy at a small flat area below the summit. We told her where the summit was, and she decided that where she was good enough. So we started down.
I found that the hike reminded me a lot of the Alps, but on a smaller scale. There was the taking of the tram partway up, then hiking up under a reduced atmosphere. Going up was a slow grind, but going down seemed effortless and was much faster. After just a short time I looked back and thought “we were way up there just a few minutes ago?”
We eventually got to the tram station. Amy and I wanted to wait until we got down to have lunch (where it was cheaper and there was a better selection), but Mike wanted food now. So he got a muffin and some chips, while I got a coffee.
I'm amazed how much train activity there is in Jasper. From the tram station, we could find a long train sitting on the tracks just outside of Jasper. It wasn't moving (that we could see), and it was long enough that we couldn't see the end of it.
We took the tram down, went into town, and had lunch at a Subway.
By that point in the day, the haze/smoke had diminished greatly, so we were getting some good views. Going up the tram was definitely the right thing to do at that time.
Michael had really liked the mountain biking we did the previous day. Earlier, when it had looked to be rather smoky, we had suggested that perhaps Mike and I could go on a longer bike ride. With the clearing views, I would have preferred something else, but we decided that we would stick with the existing plans.
We rented the bikes around 3:15 for a 3 hour rental. It was actually a 2:45 rental, as the place closed at 6. Mike wanted a smoother more level path than before. So I laid out a route through the center of town, along the river, across the river, and then along the river to Sixth Bridge (where I met Amy and Mike the previous day). I knew the part through town was smooth, and Mike reported that the path from 5th bridge to 6th was also smooth.
I was slightly concerned as the way out was more down than up (although not steep), so we would have the harder time returning. With a drop dead return time, I was concerned that we would go out for half the time, have a slower time returning, and then miss closing.
The trail got a bit rougher after we left the town. I had opted for the single suspension as we were going to be on “smoother” paths, but I should have gone for the dual suspensions. Then after we got across the river, the trail got even worse.
When we were most of the way to Sixth Bridge I had my accident. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but somehow I went over the handlebars. My main problem was that I somehow put my right hand out as I was landing, planted the palm, and then did a quasi-somersault as I was landing. Initially I was wondering if I had broken a finger or something, but I think I only strained/sprained my right hand, and in particular the base of my fingers. All I knew was that it really hurt, particularly if I tried flexing my fingers.
Of course, we were only about as far away from the bike shop as possible, and there was no way back except for biking. After a few minutes we headed back. Shifting with my right hand, or using the right hand brake was unpleasant to say the least.
The good news is that the long slog uphill never materialized. We ended up making almost as good of time back as on the way out, so we got back around 5:15. Michael called Amy to let her know we were back (she had driven to a local lake and was strolling around it while we were biking). Then we walked over to a local pharmacy, where I got some ibuprofen and some instant cold packs. We went back to the parking lot to wait for Amy, and I took some of the ibuprofen. I tried an ice pack, but it never got really that cold. Then we just waited for Amy.
She eventually showed up, and we left Jasper. We headed south to the Sunwapta Falls. We took some pictures of the upper falls, which was a really interesting experience due to my hand. Then we went to the resort there to check in. It looked a lot less resorty than we had expected. Fortunately, it was less of a dive than it first appeared. We got a free “upgrade” from a room to a cabin. I can't say if it was better, but we took the cabin.
We got cleaned up, then went to dinner at the resort restaurant. The prices were a bit on the high side, but the food was actually very good. Mike and I got a Hunter’s Pot Pie. It was filled with somewhat exotic animal meats such as elk, bison, and boar. They had some really nice pictures in a sort of gallery, with a lot of nice bear pictures. Unfortunately they wanted something like $500 for a print, so I didn't even think about buying one.
We unloaded the car and got settled in the cabin. I went out to take some moon/star pictures, but it wasn't a good night for stars. The almost full moon did not help.