I started my Canadian journey with one particular phrase in mind, spoken by a certain Hobbit in a certain greatest trilogy of all time; ‘I want to see mountains again Gandalf, mountains!’ (Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring). So in an accordance with that purpose, we are kicking goals early as can be seen below! Enter Jasper National Park, a winter wonderland of endless mountain ranges and frozen lakes.
The journey to Jasper was slightly more perilous than I have let on (sorry mum)… It began with an overnight Greyhound bus from Edmonton beginning at midnight, with an expected arrival in Jasper at 6am. Now I would love to say I backed up the assumption with forethought and a little research, that at the very least the Jasper bus station or a coffee shop would be open to shelter me in the freezing early hours, but that wouldn’t be quite right. So, as would follow, the bus arrived an hour early at 5am and I was flicked out of my warm seat right into the middle of a -35 degree snowstorm after about 3 hours of bus sleep. Not good. Panic ensues. This is probably a good point to say that my hostel was 4km out of town, up on the mountain side. So that was off the cards.
After hastily covering every inch of exposed skin I did a quick unsuccessful run around the bus station, banging vainly on the windows, to what I would later discover was mostly an antique railway museum. So there I was, a silly boy with a backpack in the middle of a freezing snowstorm. I needed shelter and pretty damn fast. After a quick scan of the small town centre I spied a few hotel vacancy signs and wasted no time! The first hotel was a god send, the reception a hearth with a crackling log fire. But, given the fact all their rooms were full and there was disapproval at the idea of me sleeping next to the fire for a few hours, I was spat back into the storm!
I will be forever grateful for the sweetheart of a Night Manager at the Athabasca Hotel, who not only took me in, but upon receiving the terror on my icy face gave me a discounted rate. You sir, are beautiful. I entered the sanctuary of the hotel room, and upon being delivered from freezing madness into the safety and promise of a soft hotel bed, all I could do was laugh. I had made it to the Canadian Rockies! The rugged heart of the North! And despite poor planning resulting in a major uh-oh moment in the middle of a snowstorm, I was still kicking! You beauty.
I gathered myself together, bought some food and supplies, and headed up to my mountain hostel! The next day would be filled with the hype of New Year’s Eve, and having been tempted with promises of frozen waterfalls and perilous ice-topped rivers on the Maligne Canyon Ice Walk, I had booked it as soon as I arrived for the next day. It definitely did not disappoint.
The eve of the New Year began with an early start. Well, an early start by current sunrise standards in Northern Alberta, which usually occurs around 9am. We were getting picked up at our hostel to journey across town, off to explore the deep recesses of an Ice Canyon! A group of us, including a group of European exchange students who had just finished up a semester abroad at the University of Guelph, were led by our friendly tour guide through a frozen wonderland.
Equipped with heavy duty everything-proof boots to combat the potential of falling in arctic water in -30 degree weather, we ventured into a valley that looked like a scene out of Narnia. Fountains of ice crystals hung across the walls of the pass, some with a thin stream of running water trickling translucent at the core, others a playground for daring ice climbers scaling with quick pick axes. With icy conditions freezing over my camera and upon hearing a story about the previous week where an explorer had fallen waist deep into one of the many frozen ponds, we tread with care through the pristine spectacle of ice waterfalls.
Following our journey, my new Guelph exchange friends were lovely and took a lonely traveller on board to go and thaw out at a local coffee shop. Having rejuvenated, we spent the afternoon of New Year’s hiking across the Valley to peak over the endless stretch of mountains and dense Fir tree valleys that swept up and across the contours of the giant frosted slopes. High in the alpine air, you could breath in the beauty of the landscape with the thin cool air, the unparalleled majesty of the Canadian Rockies!
The night of New Year’s Eve was full of festivities next to a warm log fire up on our Mountain hostel, a combination of laughter and exhaustion from a great big adventure of a day! I would like to say that was the reason for a poorly executed dance move resulting in an embarrassing fall and two sprained fingers later that night at the local Jasper nightclub, but that would be again stretching the truth I think. However, New Year’s Eve had been brought in with style and in a valley full of snow-capped mountains! A pretty damn fine way to bring in 2018.