Fall Foliage Through Domes
Fall Foliage Through Domes
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Jasper to Lake Louise

A Disorganized Day Down the Icefields Parkway with a Stop on the Columbia Icefield and Ride on a Snow Coach
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The best way to describe today is disorganized at the beginning and end when we were boarding and detraining the bus, but fine in the middle when we were experiencing the scenery of Banff and Jasper National Parks driving down to Lake Louise on a full bus with 50 other people, not the way I typically travel.

The day began with me waking up early before our 8:10 bus departure time and forgetting that since Jasper is so far west in Mountain Time it wouldn't get light out until 8:00am so the start of my walk into town was in darkness, avoiding two male elk clashing their antlers together, stopping at a local bakery full of locals to buy some breakfast before it was light enough to take pictures of the very long Rocky Mountaineer boarding it's passengers only in the rear of the train. The front cars of this train were from our trip, attached and being pulled light to the Rocky Mountaineers home yard in Kamloops.
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I also got a few photos of The Skeena a very short train.
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Then, as the light was getting much better, I had to rush back to the hotel for what was supposed to be our 8:10 departure. It was mayhem, lots of luggage all over the lobby; multiple buses all going to Lake Louise just to pick up a few more people. No one was in a very good mood. It was also still grey and overcast out with no way to see the mountains. Our bus finally pulled in around 8:30, the luggage was loaded slowly, we stopped at yet another lodge to be packed full to the brim. There were two empty seats. It was the same driver as yesterday with corny jokes who grew on me throughout the day and we felt sorry for since Rocky Mountaineer is so disorganized.

We slowly made our way with a few stops, down the Icefields Parkway through the rain and the mist. The first stop was the Sunwapta Falls
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Next stop was Tangle Creek.
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Around 10:45 we came to the Columbia Icefields Center for the Ice Explorer out to Athabasca Glacier. We had a 11:30 departure from a bus gate; there was even a departure monitor with the name of our bus driver next to RMV vacation.
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The trip itself was wonderful and unique and I would recommend it. First we boarded an old coach-bus displaying a message like "Have a Nice Day" on the curtain destination sign. This took us up a quite steep road up to near the base of the glacier and it started snowing which made the whole experience more magical. Here was a transfer station with a few enclosed areas for wind protection in case there is not a coach to take you back immediately.
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Then we boarded a truly bizarre machine with six wheel drive seating 50 people and a wheelchair lift in the back. Their modified Foremost Delta Terra Snow Coach fitting about 50 people complete with a wheelchair lift designed from machines used for Arctic Oil Exploration. There are 23 in existence, all but one is used on the Ice Field, the other is in Antarctica.

We went down a dirt track with a ridiculous 32 percent grade. Our wonderful guide told us the reason was once in the '80s the road curved down and around the lateral marine that was a longer and steeper road with rocks hitting the snow coaches, a major rock the size of a basketball landing in an empty seat of a coach ended this road's use. Then it was through a deep puddle to clean off the tires and out to the middle of the icefield.
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There we got, on what was an hour long tour, 20 minutes to set foot out on the snow. This made walking easy compared to ice that would be the norm on a sunny day. It was enough to see a few snowball fights.
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As we headed back to the transfer point it started snowing harder and we luckily immediately got back on a warm 'happy' bus before pulling over to let snow plows clear the narrow road. We continued slowly pulling over again, when a heavily French accented manager got on the bus and asked if 6 passengers wanted to ride back in his SUV with four wheel drive. We were able to go and I got in the front seat during the short blizzard for the steep drive with this man saying over the radio that most other vehicles on the property were too dangerous in this type of snowstorm to help with the evacuation.
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We got back to the Visitors Center with an hour for lunch in the overpriced cafeteria where I had a burger and we sat with a lovely Australian couple from our tour. During lunch it cleared up completely with sun shining in afterward. It turned out that the SUV did one more run before the bus could drive back, and we left on time at 2:00 pm to continue south down the Icefields Parkway.
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Next was a quick stop at Waterfowl Lake.
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Then we continued to Bow Peak.
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The last stop on the shores of Hector Lake. When we left seeing a rainbow (and the bus driver continued his terrible koke that there should be a bear with a pot of gold beneath it. There wasn't. We saw no bears).
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Then we continued onto Lake Louise to have half an hour at the chateau to see it while our bus driver had to deal with luggage in Luggage Land with a nasty bellhop who screamed at us to get back on the bus when we were trying to identify ours since it was a restricted area. It was out in the open in the bottom of the parking lot. I stopped at the concierge room (it wasn't just a desk) who gave me a map and said it was a nice 45 minute walk down to our simple Lake Louise Inn in town. My grandmother rode the bus.
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After getting a bit lost in the various parking lots trying to find the trail I had a wonderful walk down to the tiny village with maybe four stores and a nice visitors center. There were few restaurants and nothing looked good in the inn for dinner so we went across the street and I had an excellent pasta dish at the neat pub inside the hotel across the way before passing out early.

The Next Day: Lake Louise to Banff via the Spiral Tunnels

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Fall Foilage Through Domes

Last Updated: 8 November, 2011
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