There is some public land on the east side of Jasper National Park where the only activity restriction we could see was the ban on campfires. I like seeing the campfire ban signs because that means camping is okay. At least that is how I’m interpreting them. We pulled into this chunk of land in the dark, in the pouring rain and feeling somewhat depleted from the backpacking trip we had completed earlier that evening. We found a level-ish spot, called it good enough and deployed our rooftop tent for the night. When we woke in the morning I was feeling exceptionally grumpy. We were camped in a giant mud puddle, our home was in disarray as our packs were only halfway unpacked and put away, and I hadn’t had a legit shower in a week. There was a hot spring nearby that was managed by the National Park and it had showers (with soap) included in the price of admission. For only $7.05 each, we could be squeaky clean and sitting in a pool of hot water. I wanted to go straight there not passing go and not collecting $200. Scott, on the other hand, wanted to make coffee, organize and put away all of our backpacking gear, and clean out our refrigerator before tucking away our house and heading for the hot spring. This conflicting expectation of how the morning was going to flow coupled with my less than chipper attitude led to me being exiled to the cab of the truck with a cup of coffee and my phone not to come out until my outlook had improved. During my time in exile, Scott tidied up our lives, putting away the backpacking gear, readying our tent to be tucked away and prepping our second cups of coffee. My attitude improved just in time to start the siphon emptying the pool of water out of our refrigerator. And what exactly was a pool of water doing in our refrigerator? Well, you see, when we are not driving the fridge battery depends solely on solar power. Usually, we lay out a bank of solar panels when we are parked keeping the battery sufficiently charged to run the fridge. When we go backpacking we can’t leave them out for fear of theft and are limited to putting the solar panels in the front window of the cab and hoping to find a south facing parking spot. If the solar panels can’t keep up with the draw from the fridge and the battery voltage drops too far the fridge will shut off. Before we left this time, we turned the temperature up a smidge on the fridge and added a bag of ice so that it would not kick on, draining the battery for some time. It worked. When we returned from our backpacking trip the fridge was still running and the 12-volt battery had 11 and change volts. But the ice was melted. We had a fridge full of floating vegetables. At least they were cold floating vegetables.
Eventually, everything was put away in an orderly fashion and we were both ready to drive to the hot springs. As we pulled up to the highway what should be staring at us from across the road but a brewery! By this time, it was well after noon so we looked at each other with a grin, shrugged our shoulders and headed over. It was the Folding Mountain Brewery. They had a hip little joint going there. When we walked up to the door Andrew Bird was playing on the speakers welcoming us to this oasis of hoppy delight. We tried a couple of their ales and shared a delicious flatbread. We were very impressed with both the quality of the brewing and the food. Five out of five stars for Folding Mountain Brewery from us!
With happy bellies, we finally headed over to the Miette Hot Springs. These hot springs are not the idyllic wilderness type of hot springs. These are the public swimming pool type of hot springs. Complete with a full dose of chlorine, rowdy children, and a concession stand. The showers we were so excited about turned out to be an open-air locker room type shared shower in each of the changing rooms. The soap provided was a weird pink substance that would not lather. Whatever. I scrubbed myself as best I could whilst maintaining a modicum of modesty. I opted to save shaving my legs for another time. The pools felt like heaven. We spent most of our time in the hottest pool and periodically dipped into the cold pool for a bit of contrast therapy. Our time there provided for a complete reset of all of our woes. Our sore muscles were soaked, our core body temperatures were elevated, and we left smelling fresh as a spring morning.
By the time we left Miette the day was no longer young and we were feeling like pampered little jellyfish. Hungry pampered little jellyfish. We had an hour or more to drive to hopefully find an open campsite in Jasper National Park close to the trail we wanted to hike the next day. As we passed through the town of Jasper we were lured in by an all you can eat Indian curry buffet. Unfortunately, we did eat all we possibly could. It was passable on the delicious scale and we were so very hungry. With bursting bellies, we continued on south in search of a place to lie our heads for the night. We had no trouble finding an open campground. I think the combination of the smoky air and the lateness in the season worked in our favor. Unreservable campsites cost $15.70 in Jasper NP. They are pretty standard. Pit toilet, fire ring, and table. Jasper gets 5 out of 5 stars for their pit toilets though. They are lovely. Complete with skylights, hand sanitizer and four rolls of toilet paper that spin freely on their rod. Flat toilet paper rods that force one to painstakingly unwrap the paper from the roll are one of my pet peeves. Good job, Canada!
Anyhow, we awoke in a misty smoke or a smoky mist feeling chilled and excited to be heading for a good hike. Our destination for the day was Wilcox Pass. This hike was rated as premier (the highest rating) in my Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies guidebook. Plus, my brother married into a Wilcox family so you kind of have to hike your family’s hike! It was billed as 5 miles round trip, more if you take the spur at the top (we usually take a spur when presented with one). At the top views of the Columbia Icefield can be had. Weather permitting.
Before we made it to our trailhead we were derailed by a turnoff to visit the toe of the Athabasca Glacier. You could not get right up to the glacier, that was roped off but you could get about 50 feet from it and feel the biting wind. Or rather, feel the biting wind until it completely numbed your face and you couldn’t feel anything anymore. It was a stunning and short-lived side trip.
We were barely in the truck long enough to thaw our faces before we arrived at the trailhead to Wilcox Pass. It was packed. The guidebook had warned of that, it was a premier hike after all. We bundled ourselves up and packed snacks and raingear as the forecast was ominous for the day. I expected to be shedding layers as we hiked but never felt inclined. The hike started up through a 400-year-old forest that sheltered us from the wind.
That did not last long. Soon we were up on the side of the mountain watching the trees slowly shrink in stature as we ascended the pass. There were bright red Adirondack chairs calling to us to take a load off and look out at the surrounding mountains. Those chairs had about 20 people huddled around them waiting for their turn to sit for a photograph. We hiked right on by. We made the pass relatively quickly (moving fast to keep warm). The spur up Wilcox Ridge called our name and we headed up following cairns marked with yellow blazes. It led us about a half a mile to an overlook where we could see the toe of the Athabasca Glacier, cars driving the Icefields Parkway and the crazy visitor’s center. Somewhere behind the mist was the Columbia Icefield sending water out to eventually reach the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic Oceans. It was cool just to know it was out there. We had already decided that we would have to come back sometime earlier in the year before the fire season gets into full swing and see all of the beautiful sights. Once we had gotten our fill of the views we headed back down. Scott ran from the ridge to the pass. I walked. When I caught up with him he was hunkered behind a rock feverishly eating raisins. We headed downhill with a quickness. I went a little too quick at one point and managed my now famous faceplant and roll much to the astonishment of a nearby Japanese family. Scott executed a graceful leap to my aid (after catching the fall on video) and helped me to my feet. This time I escaped with merely a scraped knee and bruises on my shins and ego. I have got to stop falling down. Anyhow, we quickly plodded on with Scott ever so kindly pointing out each rock or root on the trail so that I might stay on my feet. Shortly we were back at the Adirondack chairs. They were empty now so we took a load off for a moment, snapped the obligatory selfies and then boogied down to the shelter of the forest.
Carefully. It really was a nice trail. The guidebook told me that this trail would make all other trails seem subpar for the rest of my life (or something like that). Maybe if the skies were clear. I am just feeling thankful that I didn’t ruin all of the rest of the hiking trails for the rest of my life.
That was pretty much our last hurrah in the park. We stopped at a couple of scenic overlooks and ogled some pretty lakes but it was cold and I wanted to head south in search of summer.
We left the park and sought out some free camping along a forest service road that led to White Swan Provincial Park. They were actively logging on the road and had all kinds of warnings about how to behave around the big trucks (get out of the way). We didn’t see any trucks but we would have gotten out of the way. A nice pull out in the woods caught our eye and we set up camp for the night. It was probably around 1:30 am when the logging trucks started running. They passed about every 15 minutes for the rest of the night and into the morning. Fast and loud. By the time we had packed up to go the trucks had stopped again. Which was good because we were headed further up the road to soak in Lussier Hot Springs. The road got really narrow with cliffside pullouts to allow the speeding trucks to pass. The hot springs were the polar opposite of what we had experienced at Miette. These were natural rock pools on the side of a beautiful clear river. It was crowded, but with a different crowd. This spring was occupied by a more local crowd sipping prohibited cocktails and bathing with their prohibited dogs. I must admit I was a bit wary of the husky mastiff cross that had recently been rescued from a life tied up in front of a crack house and has gotten so much better about attacking people. Luckily, there was enough room for everyone to have a soak in a pool with or without rescued pooches. With the dial on our body temperature settings back up to tropical we were ready to head further south and finally say goodbye to our first foreign country of this adventure. Thank you, Canada.