Icefields Parkway IV - Swan Song for the Jetta - CycleBlaze

July 26, 2018

Icefields Parkway IV

Saskachewan River Crossing to Bow Pass

Today’s weather was like yesterday’s when we started out: beautifully clear, crisp, cold.  Our route is from the Crossing to Peyto Lake at the summit of Bow Pass and back.  It has a roughly similar profile to yesterday’s - the two passes (today, Bow; yesterday, Sunwapta) both top out at nearly the same elevation, so the net gain is the same.  Yesterday’s ride followed the North Saskachewan, and today’s follows the Mistaya.  Today’s is more compressed though, because the Bow is ten miles closer to us than Sunwapta.

We could ride directly from the hotel, but we’re checking out this morning and moving on so we have a choice: leave from here and return, or drive to the summit first and reverse the ride.  We decide on the latter, for several reasons: break up the drive to Canmore a bit; give some more time for the day to warm up a bit; and hopefully see Peyto Lake, a famous beauty spot on the Parkway, when it’s less crowded.  

At eight we’re in the car on our way south, and by eight thirty we reach the Peyto Lake parking lot, and find it relatively empty.  We don’t quite have the place to ourselves, but it’s far from the crush of visitors that you can expect if you ride midday.  We encounter only a few other walkers on the short hike to the lake viewpoint, and when we get there we find only about a dozen viewers.  It is easy to find good places to stand and get a clear view, and can take all the time we want without feeling pressure to give up our space for others.

And, it is of course spectacular.  Peyto Lake is one of the few spots I have a clear memory of from my first visit here - I was shocked then by the surreal pale blue color of the lake surrounded by peaks and fed by a glacier just a short distance upstream.  It’s one of the few specific spots I wanted to return to this time.

It is as good an experience this time as before.  No, it’s much better - it’s quiet this time, and last time we walked along with a steady stream of other tourists; it is a splendid time to see it this early in the morning, with the lake still and reflective; and, of course, I’m in much better company this time.

The color of Peyto Lake, the source of the Mistaya River that we’ll follow back to the Crossing, is almost surreal.
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Ron SuchanekThat is amazing.
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3 years ago
The glacier in this gap in the Waputik Range is the source for Peyto Lake.
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At Peyto Lake
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At 6,900’, we’re at the high point of our ride down the Parkway. There is an impressive wildflower display in the meadows above the lake.
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Bill ShaneyfeltNice shot of yellow columbine!

http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Aquilegia+flavescens
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3 years ago

So that was the upside of starting the ride at the top.  The downside is that it’s all downhill from here back to the lodge, and it’s only nine now - still cold, and parts of the road are still in shade.  We put on all our layers and brace for a frigid coast down the pass.

It’s much better than I expected though.  Surprisingly, even though peaks line both sides of the road, we’re in the sun nearly the whole way.   The only real issue is the hands: Rachael brought her long gloves, but I didn’t.  I have a fix for that though - I stop regularly to give them a break from the wind and take photos of the wonderful landscape.  Today is just as extraordinary as yesterday, and there are reasons to stop constantly for a slower look and to let it all fully sink in.

Beginning the drop from Bow Summit. We drop about 1,200’ in the next five miles until we reach river level.
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This impressive range is the Waputik Mountains. Anchoring the right side is Mount Chephren; I think the largest peak on the left is Mount Patterson.
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Waterfall Lakes is a famous reflection point on the Parkway. We’re lucky to be here at the right time of day, on a good day.
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Mount Chephren, Lower Waterfowl Lake
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Another astonishing ride today, passing peak after peak as we drop along the Mistaya River
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I think this is Mount Murchison, viewed from the south. We saw a photo of its northern face two days back.
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Salk lick by the roadside, just south of the Crossing
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Ron SuchanekI was there and some guy was feeding the sheep Cheetos or something. I secretly hoped one of them would knock him on his arse. Does that make me a bad person?
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3 years ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekNot in and of itself, no. These things do add up though. Perhaps you should purchase some indulgences just to be on the safe side.
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3 years ago
The classic pose, with bighorn sheep off the frame to the left
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The North Saskachewan River, at Saskachewan River Crossing
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On the bridge over the North Saskachewan River
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We bottom out at the river crossing, rise a bit on the other side of the North Saskachewan, and pull off at a viewpoint for lunch.  From here we can see a ways up both river valleys and across toward Howse Pass, the gap in the peaks that the first peoples and trappers used to cross over to the Columbia watershed long ago.  

Then, back south, and uphill.   The ride back is a quite different experience, of course.  It has a few good climbs in it of course, but the big change is the weather.  It isn’t clear any more.  The sky has hazed over a bit, dimming the radiance of the views.  Clouds are starting to amass, and it looks like in a few hours we could see thunderstorms.  Once again, we’ve been rewarded by getting an early start.  That seems to really be a key here in the mountains, at least in the summer.

A few hours later, we’re back at the car, and can barely bike to it because the traffic is so dense.  The access road is completely jammed with vehicles.  If you can do it, by all means try to arrive at one of the edges of the day or outside high season.

Caw Talk
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The view from the Howse Pass viewpoint. I’m not sure what this trio is southeast of Saskachewan River Crossing.
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An hour later, after our lunch break, and they’re still here!
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Heading back south toward Bow Summit. The weather started turning about an hour ago, and it looks like we could see thunderstorms before the day is out. Keep climbing.
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Back at North Waterfall Lake and Mount Chephren. Still beautiful, even without the reflection.
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This sign is posted opposite the exit to every significant pull off on the Parkway. Might as well turn the right way.
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Climbing back up Bow Summit, approaching Peyto Lake and the car.
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It’s about a two hour drive to Canmore.  The first thirty are the final segment of the Icefields Parkway, betweeen Bow Summit and Lake Louise.  This is the only stretch we won’t bike, so we take it in as best we can from the wheel of a car.  

Two hours later, we’re in Canmore.  I’m really startled by how beautiful it’s setting is.  I’ve misremembered it from my first visit, and am surprised to find it ringed by grayish mountains.  I’d been thinking it was further out into the evening slope than this.  It looks like a beautiful place to hang out for four days.  

We’re staying at an Airbnb here.  Our host is gone for the next two days but we’ve been left instructions to let ourselves in.  We have the place to ourselves, and the house cats - two large, fluffy orange tabbys.  They look like they could be siblings, except one is tailless so they’re easy to tell apart.  Both are very friendly and social, but stub is something else.  I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a cat that is more in your face with a need for attention.

When we arrive, we pile our armfuls of belongings on the floor in the entryway.  Immediately, stub runs downstairs and flops on top of the middle of the pile.  He lies there while we pull out pieces and move them to our room, until there’s just him and the suitcase.  Rachael gently lifts him off so we can move the suitcase.  He follows us into the room (a very tiny space, incidentally - we have a cramped four days ahead of us).  We put him out; he cries, he paws at the door.  It’s going to be a chummy stay here.

One of the two orange Toms in our room in Canmore. As soon as we dumped our gear on the floor, he climbed to the highest point and settled in.
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Irrepressible
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We face an ugly sky as we walk west in Canmore toward dinner. Lightning streaks the sky, Thurber rumbles loudly. Good thing we got our ride in early.
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Canmore is a bunny haven. They come in all colors: black, tan, mixed. They’re everywhere.
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He just won’t quit! I’ve never met a needier cat. I thought he’d never let us get to sleep.
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Alain AbbateJust surrender and let him into the room, then you might get some sleep.
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3 years ago
Jen GrumbyThat is a fantastic photo. Good thing I just finished my coffee before I saw this pic ... in the sudden laughter outburst, I would have spit it out!
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3 years ago
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Ride stats today: 45 miles, 3,000’

Today's ride: 45 miles (72 km)
Total: 831 miles (1,337 km)

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