Posted by: kassandrahardy | September 16, 2010

Don’t waste your time in Jasper: Bag or Bail?

Nights 64-67: September 3-6, 2010

Banff and Jasper National Parks, Alberta, Canada

Toe of Athabasca Glacier - Columbia Icefield

Even as I stretched my kinked back after nearly seven hours in the car, my body aching and stiff as we rounded the dark corner to our first campground, I couldn’t help but feel extremely aflutter to be breathing wild canadian air.

As soon as the sun lit the sky, we sacked our bags, rolled up the tent, and continued our drive north. At first sight of Athabasca, my eyes were as wide as the rivers of ice in front of us. More impressive, we had the whole toe to ourselves. We had barely brushed the surface of the basin when we decided to bail and return to the melt stream. The ice was glassy, fractured, and slippery – enough to make you think more than twice about taking one more step. Furthermore, in almost all directions, rock debris served for camouflage ontop of the archaic water.

Hidden Ice

Our stomachs told us that we had our share of the icefield and that the townsite of Jasper had to be in our near future. Coco’s was the preferred breakfast venue by a local resident- in which we soon agreed that it was a fine suggestion.

Jasper National Park (Canada) is three times the size of Glacier National Park (MT) and Banff National Park (Canada) is twice the size of Glacier. The landscape is bigger, the valleys are wider, and the ice fills in every nook and cranny. This landscape made it easy to imagine Glacier hosting this much ice in the past few centuries. I kept thinking, all I have to do is travel north by the enth degree and it is like traveling back in time to hundreds of years ago in Glacier Park.

Edith Covell Glacier below Angel and Ghost Glaciers

We made an honest attempt at experiencing the quality over the quantity of Jasper. It was a tough feat, as you can imagine, we wanted to bag everything in sight. We hiked along the Skyline Trail in the hail above Maligne Lake. We caught a ‘warden’ program focused on the historic use of the land, including the traditional cooking of bannock. We spent a whole day climbing the southern arm of Athabasca Peak (Parker Ridge.) And we saw a GRIZ six feet from the car.

Parker Ridge

Berry Season

Our last night in the north country was spent a mere two miles northeast of Banff at Two Jack Lake. We arrived in our fifth snow storm of our short trip, set up camp – only to crawl into the tent and crash. We woke to a tremendous sun rise over pristine powdered peaks followed by a spontaneous walk around the lake. Although unplanned, once we set out – we had planned to circumnavigate the lake. We hit a ‘dam’ and bailed back to camp.

Two Jack, Banff

My hope in our race was restored a bit when we returned to the campground. The lake shore had a seemingly unbiased magnetic force. Although people slept in tents, in campers, in extravagant RVs – by morning, they were  all looking for the same connection with this land.

Recommendation: Don’t waste your time in Canada. Educate yourself and get the backcountry road guide before you head north. The landscape is HUGE, there is so much to see and do – and  you will want to savor it all.

So, we bailed on a lot up there. But, as we drove back south, my mind had already planned three trips in this landscape for my near future.

Moraine Lake



  1. Stunning photo of Two Jack.

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