Jasper National Park, Thursday, 13-Jul

Another gondola ride with hiking to a summit, going around a set of five lakes, and a quick stop at another Fairmont hotel. Just another day in Jasper.

Our inn while visiting Jasper National Park is actually in Hinton, about an hour to the north. Because of this, our plan of attack is to get up a bit earlier than usual so we can still get to the park before too many crowds show up. Especially when we're doing tourist-heavy things such as riding the gondola.

Whistlers Mountain

The Jasper SkyTram is a long, steep gondola ride which takes you near the top of Whistlers Mountain (the one in Jasper National Park in Alberta, not the ski resort at Whistler Mountain in British Columbia). We took a chance on trying to arrive early to avoid the lines, and it paid off; there was no line to purchase a ticket, and we only had to wait one ride up (the cars fit 26 people, and one goes up while the other comes down).

Also on the same car was a tour guide with five clients, and she was giving quite a bit of information to her group, and at one point she tried apologizing to the gondola operator who said it was fine.

Among the things we learned is about the mountain pine beetle, which sounds a lot like the bronze birch borer which infested our birch trees. The usual ways the pine beetle are controlled are either with sustained extreme cold or with fire. The temperature has been warm enough that the beetles haven't been frozen, and with current fire suppression practices, there haven't been fires. The forests are becoming very dense, and with all the trees dying with the beetle, there is a growing amount of dry, flammable timber around.

Another interesting item is that one of the two gondolas has a big reservoir on the bottom which occasionally gets filled with water and then carried up to the top (with fewer passengers to account for the weight). The other tram does the same, but in reverse for sewage. Power lines lie loose on the hill along the gondola path.

After we got to the top, we were presented with a great view of the Jasper town area. Another reason we were doing the gondola this particular day is the smoke forecast from the British Columbia fires seemed to be as clear as we would get for the rest of our stay, and the weather didn't seem like it would be too bad. We lucked out, since even though there was some haze, we could still see the ground and other mountains quite well.

Behind the gondola building was a set of trails which went up the mountain. Of course we started heading up.

We were well above the timber line, so the ground was pretty bare, but not completely there were quite a bit of wildflowers, and several animals. Right away we saw a chipmunk and a couple white tailed ptarmigans. We were going along one trail when I looked at the top of a large rock to see a brown lump, a hoary marmot. It was just sitting there in the sun and didn't seem very fazed by us, although it did keep a lazy eye on our movements. We saw another marmot later on, with the same laissez-faire approach to life.

Our first target was the false summit, which gave a great view of the valley below. There were also a couple big red chairs there (they're all around the various parks, part of a social media photo sharing campaign).

We then proceeded to the summit, which was quite a ways off. Once we got there, we got a great view in all directions. At the peak there was an instrument where you point at the name of a feature, then sight along it to see the item in question. Quite clever.

There was another trail that went to another summit, but we didn't go there (it was even less developed than what we had climbed, and we had neither sticks nor enough water to do that).

It was time to wind our way down the mountain back to the gondola. There is a trail which you can hike down (or up), but since we wanted to do more hiking elsewhere, we waited in line and were the last two onto the first gondola. There were enough people in the waiting area to almost fill the next one, too.

When we got to the bottom, it was a very different sight. Lots of people waiting to ride up, a long line to purchase tickets, and the parking lot was quite full.

Since the timing was right, we grabbed a picnic table and ate a picnic lunch, while cementing what we would be doing for the rest of the day

Valley of Five Lakes

We drove south a way to hike the Valley of Five Lakes trail. There were a couple ways we could do the loop, one which circled Fourth, Third, and Second Lake then going back, while the other added a loop around First Lake. We decided to do the shorter part and see how we felt before choosing the final route.

The beginning of the trail had us going down into one valley, then up over a ridge to go down into the valley with the lakes. On the way we crossed a boardwalk over a marsh where at times you're supposed to be able to see beavers, but we saw none.

Eventually we came to Fifth Lake (the trail went between Fifth and Fourth Lake). It was quite large, but since this was our only view, we lingered for a bit. There was a small dock you could walk out on, so we did that. I stayed at the end to take some photos, but I started to feel the dock rock back and forth. I was pretty sure Melody hadn't come back on, so I took a look and there was a tour guide with a half dozen people walking onto the dock. I figured it was time to go back to land, so I squeezed past everyone (some people seemed uncomfortable since the dock wasn't very wide in addition to being tippy) but I got back to the trail with no one getting wet.

The trail turned left where we got our first view of Fourth Lake, which was quite a bit smaller, and very peaceful. Walking along the trail, we saw that it connected to Third Lake, the one I found the most striking since it had a very bright green ring not far from the shore. Second Lake also had some bright green coloring, but it was more of a splotchy pattern.

We got to the fork in the road, and instead of heading straight back to the parking lot, we decided to hike around First Lake. We got some peeks of it through the trees, but surprisingly we didn't get a full-on view (but probably would have had we taken the shorter loop). Like Third Lake, there was a bright green ring, but this one was much closer to the shore. Very striking.

The trail followed the lake for a while before heading up into the forest. We saw several few meadows and a ton of wildflowers. A group of mountain bikers passed us on a narrow part of the trail, and they seemed to be having a good ride.

When the part of the trail came where we make another turn to head to the other side of First Lake, we saw a couple women going up the trail. They were huffing and puffing heavily, so we knew that we would have a long, steep, or both trail going down.

The hike ended up being a bit longer than we were expecting, but we did manage to make it back to the car. Once there, we snacked a bit, then decided we had time to make one more stop.

Jasper Park Lodge

Just north of Jasper town is the Jasper Park Lodge, which is another Fairmont hotel. This one is more of a resort, with horse stables and a golf course. We looked around inside a bit, then went to the basement to grab another snack. We then checked out the main lobby and view from the restaurant, which was quite nice.

The decor was a combination of lodge and Native American. There were quite a few deer heads mounted on the wall right next to columns stylized to look like totem poles.

Rest of the day

We didn't spend much time at the lodge, after which we hopped into the car and drove the hour north towards Hinton. The only notable animal sighting this time was a coyote crossing the road.

The previous day, we had stopped at the Safeway at the far south end of town (we were staying past the north end of the main part of the city), but there were few people there and the selection was surprisingly sparse. This time we decided to try Freson Brothers, which seemed to be much busier. It was easy to see why, since it was much nicer with better selection.

We ended up getting something from the deli to eat. Once we were done with that, we and the rest of our groceries went back to the inn, where we hung out for the rest of the evening.