USA and Canada Days 10-13

Day 10

We packed up our bags and were up a little later than normal. We’d covered most of the ground in Vancouver that we wanted to but still had Stanley park left to see. We thought about renting some bikes but the weather was looking like it could rain a fair bit. We chose to walk through downtown to the park and then walk some of the sea wall before going into the aquarium. It’s one of the world’s best apparently, but we really weren’t that excited. It was really packed with people and I think we got lucky in Bangkok by going to a very empty one just before closing. The highlight was the 2 Beluga whales and a small dolphin display.

Afterwards we cut through to the other side of the park to check out a couple of the beaches. It wasn’t exactly sunbathing weather but a few people were still trying their very hardest. We grabbed some mid afternoon key lime pie and some drinks with a beach view and the pie was superb. We then walked back through downtown before grabbing an early pre-train dinner in a Malaysian place. I don’t remember ever having Malaysian in a restaurant before but my Beef Rendang was one of the best curries I’ve ever eaten, and God knows I’ve eaten a few.

We grabbed out bags from the hotel and went to the train station to board the Via Rail overnight service to Jasper. Our cabin wasn’t luxurious but it was perfectly decent and had more space than our similar journey in Thailand. The next carriage had an upper deck with an observation area (lots of window area in the sides and roof) so we spent a little time in there and eating the complimentary jammy dodgers before trying to get some sleep.

Day 11

I don’t quite know how, but I slept on a moving train. In Thailand I spent the whole time listening to music and failing to sleep but on this one I was out like a light. We got up super early for breakfast around 6.30am so that we could get some decent seats in the observation deck. The food was pretty good considering. Most of our carriage was filled with a Japanese tour group who were spending a week in the area. We got seated with a couple of them at lunch who were perhaps 10 years older than us. It’s a special kind of delight that they show when you surprise them with a bit of their own language and her eyes went so wide when I said the usual Japanese equivalent to bon appetite.

It was a pretty long day watching scenery roll by and occasionally chatting to the other passengers. Some of them were going all the way to Halifax in the East, all by train. We saw a couple of eagles but no particularly exciting mammals. We arrived a little late into Jasper but still picked up our hire car (a fun little Fiat 500) and we gingerly made our way to Patricia Lake to our cabin for the next few days. We came back into town to grab some fantastic pizza for dinner and finally found a restaurant that did good ice cream as well as panna cotta. We did get some first hand experience with mosquitoes back at the lake late at night and decided that for the rest of our stay we’d be in training to open and close the cabin door as quickly as possible to avoid letting them in.

Day 12

We got up early to head out of town towards Lake Malign. Our first stop was pretty close to Jasper and that was Malign Canyon and a series of bridges over the canyon with some really deep views! We were a little clueless as to the length of the trail but did the longer route anyway and were rewarded with some fabulous views, just at the cost of a lot of climbing back up the canyon to get back to the car.

Next up was a stop at Medicine lake. The viewpoint at the end of the lake was gorgeous and had mountains on all sides and a very clear lake. We stopped at a few viewpoints to enjoy the scenery and a few more just to get confused at where the hell we were meant to go to get to the view.

Finally we arrived at Malign Lake. Early tourists arrived here just over 100 years ago and first impressions showed why. It’s very picturesque. Only one road comes to this lake and it’s not just next to Jasper, all of which helps to keep the number of visitors reasonable. We grabbed some lunch and then did one of the fairly easy hikes before hopping on a lake cruise for an hour and a half. I spent most of the time on the back deck just enjoying the view and snapping photos. All around are mountains, some of which have chunks of glacier visible. Around halfway down the lake we all got off and had a little walk around near Spirit Island, a tiny little grove of trees that have significance to the original natives.

After the boat we did another relatively easy hike over to Moose lake. It wasn’t named for the moose but some did settle in nearby. We hoped to see some but it’s not all that common. Thankfully we got lucky and down the end of the lake was a seriously big moose just having a drink and slowly wandering by. I passed around my binoculars to the girls who arrived just behind us who were trying to look at it through zoomed in phone screens.

We headed back up the road into Jasper trying to watch for wildlife as it’s a hotspot for bears but we didn’t get lucky. We tried to book onto a wildlife watching tour for the following day but they were all full. I may have been slightly sad at the thought of missing out on the good wildlife! We grabbed a burger in town before crashing for the night.

Day 13

We had originally planned to go up the local gondola but we were a little gondola’d out at this point so we decided to do one of the hikes instead and go up near Mt Edith Cavell. A long, windy road took us up to the parking area and we could feel the altitude kicking in at around 7000ft. The walk was a little more serious than my guidebook had suggested and I was intent on getting up to the penultimate viewpoint via the easier trail but skipping the very top. Just before we got to the fork between difficult and easy we met a couple descending who told us that there was a bear up ahead near the trail. This definitely picked up my pace. The next couple told us that it was a grizzly and then I felt slightly differently. Still excited but a little more nervous. Reports were that it was seen from the hard trail rather than the easy one, so off we headed to hunt for it. We only saw perhaps 4 people in the next hour on the trail but sadly no bears.

We did at least get some fantastic views and then get to enjoy a relatively easy descent down the other route and see a marmot. From our best point we could see mountains, a glacier and then a waterfall from the glacier which was feeding into a glacial pond which had large chunks of ice floating on it. We descended and took a closer look at the pond before heading back to Jasper where we settled for some more of the pizza.

On a whim I got Claire to check the local tour company to see if they’d had any cancellations for their wildlife tour whilst I went shopping for more memory cards. It turned out that they’d had a lot of interest and put on another tour and Claire booked us onto it immediately. We had just enough time to get back to our cabin, get ready and then head back to town.

This is where things get a little ironic. On the way to our tour to go try and find a bear.. we saw our first bear. You know you’ve found wildlife when there are cars at the side of the road and havoc is ensuing. A black bear was feasting on some berries just inside the woods so we took a moment to watch and grab some photos before having to dash off to our tour.

The tour was really a 3 hour hunt along the highway and some local areas to find whatever was about. We found a lot of elk on the road to Miett but no bears, coyote or anything else. As we headed back into Jasper near the end of the tour we stopped near a few cars to try and see what they’d seen. We weren’t even sure there was anything as everyone else was leaving but eventually someone from the back of the bus spotted a bear right at the back of some trees and we pulled off the road to go up to the railway line and got a good view of it. He was eating some grain dropped by freight trains and eventually wandered off to the other side of the tracks.

Compared to most of the people on the wildlife tour it seemed that we’d seen a lot of animals so far in Jasper, but I guess we’d just been going to the best spots and doing plenty of walking. We grabbed a bit of light food for dinner and failed to have an early night. Tomorrow we have the scenic drive to Field ahead of us as we head towards the last part of the trip. The weather was a mix of overcast today and sunny (yesterday) in Jasper so we can’t complain. Looks like storms might hit us in Banff but hopefully they aren’t too bad.