|Revisiting Jasper. It’s been a long time…|
The Reason. Right after completing my first year of university, I flew out to Jasper. My first year did not go so well and I left school with a sense of failure, as well as confusion about who I was and what I wanted to do. It sounds cliché to say that I wanted to find myself, but maybe that’s what I was doing. I found a job posting on the internet for a position at the Athabasca Hotel in Jasper, and after a quick phone interview, I was offered a job and I accepted. Shortly afterward, I boarded a plane to Edmonton, took a bus to Jasper, and lived in the dungeon… um… I mean staff quarters… provided by the hotel while working as part of the housekeeping staff. Needless to say, if I wanted to figure things out, this was not the solution. Although Jasper was gorgeous, and seeing the Rockies for the first time was breathtaking, I was definitely running away from things, and it didn’t take a long time before coming to this realization. After only a few enjoyable weeks, I flew back home humbled and ready to figure things out, repair some relationships, and get back to the positive person I knew I was. That was 10 years ago, in 2001, shortly before turning 20. This thought alone is overwhelming to me and puts into perspective how quickly time has flown. When I created my list of 30 before 30, “Go to Jasper, AB” was never about just going to Jasper. The significance of revisiting here is much more, and it has been the solo retreat that I needed before ringing in the big 3-0. When I decided to make the trip on the long weekend before my birthday, I called up the Athabasca Hotel and reserved a room for two nights. I figured this would be an interesting way to reflect on the last decade; to see what I remembered about Jasper and the hotel, and to think about how I’ve changed over the years. I guess in some way it feels like a journey through my twenties that has now come full circle. 2001 was one of the most difficult years for me personally. When I left Alberta then, little did I know I would end up living in Alberta 10 years later with so many opportunities to experience life and love in ways I couldn’t dream about at the time.
|Driving along the Icefields Parkway|
To Jasper. The plan was to drive to Jasper and back along the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) while stopping to complete some hikes and admire the natural landscape. I was very much looking forward to driving along the Icefields Parkway- 230 km of protected scenery between Lake Louise and Jasper, spanning both Banff and Jasper National Parks. It’s one of the most beautiful drives in the world. At 8:30 am Saturday morning, I set off for Jasper with a loaded car- clothes for 3 days, lots of food and snacks, hiking gear, coffee, and of course, Beyonce’s new album “4”. Yes, there is nothing like belting out a Beyonce song when it’s just you and the road. And for the number of times the album has been on repeat, you’d think I’d know all the words by now. Trust me- my loud singing in the car proves otherwise. On Saturday, the weather was predicted to be fantastic and sunny for the whole day, so I was looking forward to whatever came my way.
Peyto Lake. After a few hours of driving, the first stop was Peyto Lake, located about 40 km from Lake Louise along Hwy 93. In my brief research beforehand, I read that the view of the lake was pretty spectacular. I’m definitely glad I stopped. After about a 10 minute walk from the parking lot and a 30 metre elevation gain, I was at the viewing point. I’ve seen lakes this colour before, but their beauty never ceases to amaze me. It’s a pretty popular tourist stop and it was super busy. I can only take crowds for so long, so after admiring the lake for a few minutes, I was ready to hit the road. From there, the drive was pretty spectacular as I continued toward the Icefield Centre where I would attempt to hike Nigel Peak.
|View of the Athabasca Glacier from the Icefield Centre|
Wilcox Pass. I arrived at the Icefield Centre about 4 hours after leaving Calgary. I had hiked onto the Athabasca Glacier last year with some friends, and this time I would attempt to hike to Nigel Peak on the opposite side of the highway for some amazing views of the corridor and the Columbia Icefield. It was much later in the day than I thought it would be for the start of my hike, and after chatting with people at the information centre, I decided I would hike Wilcox Pass (a shorter hike) with the intention to summit Mount Wilcox. The peak is at an altitude of 2884 m, and the elevation gain for the hike is 900 m. There’s moderate scrambling via the southeast ridge, and the hike would take about 6 hours. I was a bit nervous for this hike, as it would be my first big solo hike, and you never know what could happen- breaking an ankle while scrambling, or being mauled by a bear. The latter outcome scares me the most, as running into bears is a definite possibility. An encounter with a grizzly bear while hiking solo is my nightmare, and if I survived it, I could only imagine how traumatic that would be! Another reason for hiking Wilcox Pass is that after a short hike through the forest you rise above the tree-line where the visibility is much better. The less time in the trees, the better my chances are for avoiding a bear! Luckily, I had borrowed some hiking poles and bear spray, so I was ready to go.
|Ascending to the pass|
|Admiring the view|
|Mount Wilcox: I will conquer you!|
The funny thing about life is that you never know who you’re going to meet or run into. After about 1.5 hours of hiking to the pass on my own, I decided to ascend and scramble to the peak. A lady told me she had never seen someone hike to the peak before, but lo and behold, I was not the only one attempting to summit Mount Wilcox that afternoon. In fact, I ended up joining a group of people, made up of groups of people, who were all trying to reach the top. Among them: a couple from Calgary, one of them working at the Foothills Hospital as a nurse, and one who grew up in Oakville; a guy from Denver travelling along the mountain range on his own; and another older guy from Peace River who is training to climb K2, which I learned is one of the most dangerous mountains to climb (… for every 4 people who make it to the summit, 1 has died trying :S). Thing is, he has already climbed the seven summits (http://7summits.com/), which are the highest peaks of the seven continents: Killimanjaro, Denali, Elbrus, Aconcagua, Carstensz Pyramid, Vinson and Everest. He now wants to climb the second highest seven summits, which is where K2 falls. Talk about ambitious!
|View of the Athabasca Glacier as we ascend Mount Wilcox|
|The group following the trail to the peak|
|Not at the summit, but getting close|
The coolest in the group was a guy Laurie and his daughter Natasha. Now who is Laurie? You can find his website here: http://www.laurieskreslet.com/. Laurie Skreslet is the first Canadian to summit Mount Everest, which he accomplished in 1982. That’s right- I hiked with this guy!… the first Canadian to climb Everest! And he was so cool :). His daughter was also taking photos and filming scenes in order to update his website, because it’s definitely a bit out of date. So what started out as a solo hike to the peak of Mount Wilcox turned into a great group hike, led by Laurie Skreslet, as he gave us pointers about creating cairns for other hikers, being too ambitious when it comes to scrambling, pacing a hike, and using judgement when it comes to safety and turning back. Let’s just say no one in the group second-guessed his advice when he recommended we turn around after hitting some snow patches just short of the peak. We may not have reached the summit, but we got pretty close, and the views were incredible regardless. By the time we returned to the base of the mountain, the hike was a little over 6 hours. I said my goodbyes, thanked everyone for a fantastic day of hiking, and was off to Jasper.
|Laurie Skreslet (right) and his daughter Natasha|
|View of the Wilcox Pass from Mount Wilcox|
|Scrambling along the side of Mount Wilcox|
|I’m happy to be here!|
|Panoramic view from close to the summit|
Sunwapta Falls. At about 54 km before reaching Jasper, I made a quick stop to see Sunwapta Falls. There are lots of beautiful lakes, falls and canyons in the Rockies. The Sunwapta Falls was definitely worth seeing.
|Driving along the Icefields Parkway, approaching Jasper|
Jasper and The Athabasca Hotel. Upon entering the town, I stopped to take a photo of the “Welcome to Jasper” sign. It was a long time coming, and with that, I was able to cross “Go to Jasper, AB” off the list. I can’t quite explain the feeling of driving down Patricia Street and pulling up to The Atha-B. The front of the hotel was very familiar; Jasper itself was familiar; yet, at the same time, it felt different. I mean, it was 10 years ago. I actually had feelings of being beside myself, for lack of a better expression. The town was beautiful like I remember, but busier, which was expected since it’s the long weekend. I remembered the small library where I would write e-mails, as well as Jasper the Bear located in downtown. When I checked-in and settled for the night, the staircase, the bar, and the hallway leading to the staff quarters all brought back memories. It was all too familiar and distant at the same time. It was a great and packed day, but the following day would be a bit more relaxing with time for reflection….
|The Athabasca Hotel|