Day 50: Columbia Icefield, AB – Jasper, AB

Our campground was situated at the base of a mountain with a simple route to the top and I had ambitions of getting up early to climb it. But four a.m. rolled around and there was a heavy rain falling – even if the rain stopped the rocks would be slippery and dangerous so I abandoned my plans and went back to sleep.

Morning arrived with the sun periodically peeking through the clouds and our gear was left to dry very slowly. On this kind of morning our routine goes a little like this: First, our food and scented items need to be retrieved from a tree or bear box. Water must be filled up for the day ahead after evaluating whether we need only a couple water bottles worth, or up to six liters. Then clothes. This trip I brought two shirts and two shorts for riding and I usually wear a single pair for 2-3 days before switching to a fresh set, with laundry happening about once a week. Clothes and miscellaneous gear get packed up and then the tent’s pieces – rain fly, tent body, and groundsheet get laid out in the sun to dry. If you pack them up while wet mildew can grow and ruin the tent.

Breakfast is usually a bagel and some peanut butter and Donald boils water for coffee. Then a game of chicken begins – one of Donald or I have to be the first to put on bike shorts and chamois cream, starting our countdown to actually cycling. The comfortable trail running shoes come off and the stiff cycling shoes go on, allowing the clothes bag to be closed up. Snacks are picked out for the day and make their way into the handlebar bag and all the panniers get strapped to the bike. We roll out of the campground, stop thirty seconds later because I’ve forgotten to start tracking the ride, and then we’re off.

The campsite today was only a short distance from Sunwapta Pass – we were still pretty high up – so the day had a lot of downhill in store for us. But to keep the riding from being too easy a steady headwind kept our pace in check all day. The road today followed the Athabasca River towards the northern end of both Jasper National Park and our bike trip. Glacial sediment has turned this river a milky tan color – far from the idyllic shades of blue and teal of the Bow and Sasketchewan Rivers and their surrounding lakes. The mountains up here are rugged and darker in color than those in Banff – periodic cliffs jut out of ridgelines and reach towards the sky. Not as many visible scrambling routes up these peaks.

Storm clouds drew near and just as drops of rain began to fall and clouds to the west threatened to drench us, a park lodge and restaurant came into view. We stopped for a quick lunch and got out all of our rain gear, only for the storm to skirt by to the south, missing us. While we were eating a man came up to us and asked if the bikes outside were ours. Apparently a raven figured out there was food on our bikes and managed to snag two snacks from Donald’s top-tube bag. Dirt and scuffs on my handlebars and bag revealed the raven had attempted and failed to get at my food as well.

We kept on running into bicycle tourist after bicycle tourist today – twice as many in these three days on the Icefields Parkway than the previous 2500 miles combined. Some of them are on long distance tours, but many are only cycling this road.

A few more hours of pedaling and seeing the sights and we finally reach the end of the park. Just past the park gates there was a fading sign for the town of Jasper. We were still five miles from town – was this it? We pulled over and snapped some photos but the sign and view were rather lackluster. Back on the road we reached another sign for Jasper and stopped for another round of photos. Making our way through town no better symbolic endpoints appeared so we finally high-fived upon reaching our hotel. Not quite as dramatic as jumping into the ocean at the end of a tour, but that’s how it is.

We’ll be packing up our bikes and heading to Edmonton to catch our flights. Donald is flying home and I’m heading to Europe to meet up with Jiayi. Stick around for a little conclusion post in the next few days.

Notes from Donald: “Today was bittersweet and full of mountains, waterfalls, and rivers. We are in Jasper now. The end.”

Today’s mileage: 69 miles

Final Total: 2656 miles

Day 49: Sasketchewan Crossing, AB – Columbia Icefield, AB

Another low mileage day! We had our eyes on the Columbia Icefield campground – about thirty miles from Sasketchewan Crossing. But I messed up and got the idea into my head that it’d be a “short” day – which always means that the day feels like it drags on much longer than anticipated.

The day began by following the milky blue North Sasketchewan River north. There are a few viewpoints here – of the river, surrounding mountains, and the “Weeping Wall” which seeps water. We stopped for photos but nothing was quite as impressive as yesterday.

Before long the road curved upwards towards Sunwapta Pass and the ascent began. The sun was beating down but a headwind helped keep temperatures in check andĀ  after an hour of pedaling we arrived at the pass and crossed into Jasper National Park.

Shortly below the pass is the campground and luckily there are plenty of spots available. We set up our tents and headed to the nearby visitor center to see what was there. To our surprise there were hundreds of people there and much more than we had expected! There were tours onto the glacier on specially built ice crawler buses, bus rides to a glass-floored sky-walk above a canyon, two restaurants, lodge, and (of course) a gift shop. We were under the impression that there weren’t any other resupply points on the highway so it was nice to see some civilization!

We did a short hike to the edge of the Athabasca Glacier which was a bit underwhelming then headed back to camp, cooked dinner, and prepared for the oncoming heavy rain.

Notes from Donald: “We crossed into Jasper National Park today! We’re camped at the edge of the Columbia Icefield and the campground is small but pretty. We also took a hike up to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier which was… windy.”

Today’s mileage: 31 miles

Total: 2587 miles

Day 48: Lake Louise, AB – Sasketchewan Crossing, AB

We have three days to cycle the 140 miles of the Icefields Parkway so there’s no rush from now on. Jiayi was here last year and made a list of recommended sights for us so we’ll be stopping along the way for short hikes and sightseeing.

The day started with a brief mile on the Trans-Canada Highway where they had luckily installed a bike path so we didn’t have to ride on the freeway proper. The first exit was the beginning of the Icefields Parkway and had another gate to make sure you have a Canadian Parks Pass. But like so many other park entrances on this trip, the bike path routes around the park gate – we have yet to have our park pass checked once!

The road begins by following the Bow River up through a valley with rocky peaks on either side. Snow still covers large patches of these mountains and I spend my time looking for routes up them.

Photos of the Icefields Parkway had inspired this trip and the two spots those photos were taken were on today’s route! We reached the first area – at Bow Lake – and started walking along the road looking for the exact spot, only to notice hundreds of mosquitoes buzzing around us! They landed by the dozen on all of our panniers and our legs as Donald raced to get the bug repellent out of his bag. A very liberal application later and the bugs stopped bugging us enough for me to futz around with getting my bike to stand up against a small rock for a photo.

The road went up and up and eventually reached Bow Summit at 7,000 feet where there was a parking lot and viewpoint. Peyto Lake was an incredibly vibrant shade of blue and the valley in which it resided was stunning, but the constant stream of tourists getting off of buses made it hard to enjoy.

We pulled over at most of the stops along the road, taking short hikes to viewpoints. Mistaya Canyon was particularly great – would recommend. Before long we reached the Sasketchewan River and found a place to stay for the night. The only resupply point on the entire highway is here so we’ll be stocking up before taking off tomorrow. Today’s bizarre snack of choice was “sweet chili sour cream potato chips.” Pretty good, would have again.

Notes from Donald: “We got to make a lot of touristy stops today. There were a lot of lakes and waterfalls that we got to see. All in different shades of blue. It was a very pretty ride today.”

Today’s mileage: 52 miles

Total: 2556 miles

Day 47: Lake Louise, AB

We spent the day in Lake Louise. It’s sort of overwhelmingly touristy but I guess that’s to be expected.

The lake itself is certainly very pretty. We had a fancy afternoon tea in the Fairmont Hotel and then hiked up to Lake Agnes and Little Beehive, before deciding to hike all the way up to Mt. St. Piran. The snow got a little dicey with our lack of hiking poles so we stopped at a sub-peak 500 feet below and headed down.

And by popular demand, a cropped in photo of the grizzly. Need a more powerful zoom lens.

Day 46: Radium Hot Spring, BC – Lake Louise, AB

Today was to be on the longer side with more than eighty miles to cover and a fair amount of elevation gain as well. So we procrastinated in the morning and got a late start.

Immediately outside of Radium is the entrance to Kootenay National Park and the road begins its ascent. The first climb went smoothly and we covered the two thousand feet of elevation in less than an hour. The rest area at the top was fenced off with signs saying it was closed due to frequent bear sightings so we continued down the other side of the pass in hopes of finding a place to stop. Just a couple minutes later we passed by a black bear mom and cub on the side of the road not ten feet from the road, behind a concrete divider. Luckily we were going thirty miles an hour so neither us nor the bears had much time to react and soon they were well behind us.

After a quick stop at a viewpoint we continued downhill and came across another black bear on the side of the road, this time with a couple cars pulled over to watch. As we whizzed by the bear looked up at us sheepishly, its mouth full of of greens like that of a grazing cow. We’re definitely in bear country now.

The road today wound exclusively through national parks and as a result services were far and few between. After our quick descent we began following the Kootenay River upriver once again, after being separated from it for a day. Between a headwind and the slow, constant uphill, progress was slow but we eventually reached the Kootenay Park Lodge – the sole resupply point for the day. The restaurant was closed so we at a lunch of bagels and peanut butter.

Back on the road and progress was still slow, now due to the road being steeper as we approached another mountain pass. This time at the top we crossed the continental divide for the fourth time this trip, back into Alberta, and into Banff National Park! Coming to Banff by bicycle was always a goal of mine – I refused to visit by plane or car unless I had biked here – so now I’d call this goal unlocked. Next time I’ll happily visit via some faster means of travel.

While pulled over for a photo with the continental divide sign a grizzly bear appeared a couple hundred feet away and lots of cars pulled over for photos. We snapped a couple from afar and proceeded onward, not wanting to test our luck.

The road finally began descending into a new valley and we got our first glimpse of some of the impressive peaks in Banff. Another hour and a half of steady uphill brought us to Lake Louise where we’ll be taking a rest day before the final leg to Jasper.

Notes from Donald: “Today was a big day for us – pretty high mileage with a bunch of climbing and our *probably* final crossing of the continental divide on this trip. Biking through Kootenay National Park was pretty cool, and then we crossed into Banff and saw ourĀ  first Grizzly bear. Riding on highway 1A in Alberta was really nice because it was quiet and peaceful.”

Today’s mileage: 84 miles (5800 feet of gain)

Total: 2504 miles