To the Icefields and beyond -- the first of the high passes - Over the hills and far away - CycleBlaze

June 22, 2016 to June 23, 2016

To the Icefields and beyond -- the first of the high passes

The northern terminus of the Icefields Parkway, Jasper is a relaxed and attractive townsite on the banks of the Athabasca River.  It holds fond memories for me from earlier visits, so I lingered over a generous pancake breakfast, and then sought out a bike shop.  I bought a cable lock to replace the Abus item that I'd carelessly managed to lose on my train journey. (As it turned out, I hardly used the new lock, so it proved to be of mainly symbolic value.)

The sky to the south was bright, and beyond the Athabasca, the mountains beckoned:

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On this first day, I was aiming for the hostel at Beauty Creek at the 85 km mark of the Parkway, just over 100 km from my campsite at Snaring River. The ascent to Beauty Creek is gradual, a net gain of some 400 metres from Jasper.  The gradient allows a rider to scan the ramparts to the west, the lowering sky lending a sombre note to the majesty:

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The restaurant at the Sunwapta Falls Resort offers a good cafeteria meal. Its warmth was welcome, too -- the weather was turning cool and humid, with swirling brisk headwinds and (occasional) tailwinds.  As I passed the Jonas Creek campground around the 75 km marker, a cyclist came up alongside.  He slowed, and we chatted.  Andrew, a Kiwi on a Surly, was going onwards to Beauty Creek hostel, so we rode together.  He was on the first leg of a two-part ride across Canada, to be spread over two years.  He runs a landscaping business in Auckland, which he closes down for a couple of months during the Antipodean winter, and goes cycle-touring.  (His tours are a bit more extended than mine--one had taken him from Romania to Beijing!)  He had camped overnight at the Whistler campground in Jasper, after a long, wet, cold and taxing ride from the BC coast.  Happily for him, the sun reappeared as we covered the last few kilometres to Beauty Creek.

The hostel was nearly full-a dozen cyclists had already checked in-but there was enough space for the two of us.  The larger group was en route to Red Deer in Alberta, heading south to Saskatchewan Crossing and then east. The cyclists were mostly in their 60s and 70s, men and women from East and Central Canada, led by a Kiwi.  They had met one another some years before on a guided tour in Central Europe, and maintained their friendship with group rides like this. 

My Rohloff and its accompanying Hebie Chainglider, which cocoons the chain, sparked some curiosity:  Ooooh - was that a carbon belt?  I said I couldn't claim avant-garde status--the 'glider was just a handy way of keeping my chain clean.

Climbing Sunwapta Pass to the Columbia Glacier

A hard climb up Sunwapta Pass to the Columbia glacier field—in the last few kms, the gradient is 8, 9, and even 10%—awaits on the second day:

Towards the Icefields, with the climb up Sunwapta Pass ahead left
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Along with the beauty, there is altitude; and with that, weather that my Scottish forebears knew all too well.  (No wonder the few cyclists I saw heading northwards on the long downhill were squealing with glee.)  

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What the photo doesn't show is the cold, clammy, sweat-soaked feeling you get after 10 kms of a 9% grade into a headwind, all the way down into first gear for the last 3 or 4 kilometres.

This too will pass, however.   Even amidst glaciers and Scottish weather, a bowl of hot soup in a Visitor Centre chock-a-block with tourists from buses, cars and RVs, plus a warm dry jersey to replace a cold soggy one, can help a rider’s outlook no end:

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The hot soup, followed by pie, was enough to let me press on, and to ease down the steep prolonged descent on the south side of Sunwapta Pass. (Of this there are no photos, because on my ride down the 11 kms of looping switchbacks from the summit, the heaviest rain of my entire tour poured down—and stopped abruptly when I reached the bottom!) 

Early blooms, no doubt helped by the rains, bring a welcome splash of colour to the roadside:

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We stopped for the second night on the Parkway at the Rampart Creek hostel, just 62 kms south of the Beauty Creek hostel (but 62 kms with a 2035-metre summit in the middle.)  In planning the tour, I'd assumed that I'd be able to go a few hours beyond Rampart Creek, but just before leaving Ottawa, I learned that the campsites further south would open only later in June.  As it turned out, Rampart Creek hostel was a good place to end a short day.

The hostel is beautifully situated beneath a vertical cliff, maybe 75m in height, topped with conifers, and behind that, ramparts to the east.  Ken, the manager, reckoned their altitude to be about 1750m.  Between the main hostel building and the cliff bubbled a busy stream, full but remarkably clear despite the afternoon rain.  It made for a brief and bracing wash-off.

Chatting with Ken, I asked him how long he'd been living in this little corner of paradise.  About five years, he said--he'd needed a change from the easy and familiar. "And where would that be?" I asked.  "Ottawa," he said, "a little west of downtown."  Then, he named a street about five blocks from where I live.  Such a small world, sometimes.

We made our supper and the following day's breakfast in the company of the Red Deer Riders.  They clearly enjoyed their mutual company, and their easy camaraderie gave off a good vibe.

Today's ride: 157 km (97 miles)
Total: 227 km (141 miles)

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