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Posted by on Jul 2, 2009 in North America, TripJournals | 1 comment

Pride Travel’s Rocky Mountain Rail Journey Through Canada -Day 7: Jasper to Lake Louise, the Columbia Icefield, and Athabasca Glacier!

Day 7 –Jasper to Lake Louise, the Columbia Icefield, and Athabasca Glacier!

This is the most exciting day of our journey! The opportunity to actually step out and walk on a glacier is a first for two travelers who have visited Alaska and South America’s glaciers many times over already, but never so up-close and personal. We traveled on one of the most scenic highways of the world, the Icefield Parkway, and made a stop at Athabasca falls before heading to the Athabasca Glacier for our trek onto the glacier in specially-designed motorized behemoths.

Our morning was most rested, thanks again to the supreme soft down pillows generously heaped on the bed. I had to tear Nathan away from them this morning, and double check that he (thankfully) had not packed away a pair in our luggage somehow. Mornings are tough for us, yet we can say this was amongst the most pleasant in our lives. Being able to gaze out at the lake from our cozy corner sitting area while birds chirped happily away was a treat that we wish we had more time to enjoy fully. Definitely a resort worth the effort of getting here, one we will return to, the Jasper Park Lodge has been host to celebrity and Royalty for good reason. Our deluxe room, while not the most lavish or most lakefront afforded us a perfect side view out our little corner of sitting area that crowns the stay at this beautiful rustic resort. Imagine sipping a cup of tea or coffee from a round table, with plush sofa love-seat for across from you for friends, and your slice of nature within your reach. But don’t let the ‘cabin’ style fool you. Marble bathrooms and fully furnished living space is nothing short of the best city centre Fairmont Hotels.

After finally making our way back to the main lodge, we boarded our motorcoach for our narrated tour through the Jasper National Park on our way to the Columbia Ice Fields. While driving through the park it is not uncommon to view the wildlife from the road as they go about their daily lives. Unfortunately for us, as the day would reveal, the animals would be wholly uncooperative the entire day. Christopher, our driver and tour narrator, has worked in the area for 21 years. His knowledge of the area is quite welcome as the insights often make puzzling names and locations make sense. Although, we must confess, that due to his desert-dry sense of humor we often found it hard to tell when our laugh cues were spaced in and when the narrative was factual; indeed, Chris had such a melodically soft monotonal voice as to lull many of us to sleep often during the day. The more resistant of us, however, obtained very insightful commentary throughout our tour.

It is again exceedingly difficult to explain in words the breathtaking mountain views that seem to be around every corner; even photographs do not begin to capture the pure, massive, spectacle that is the Canadian Rockies. Huge glacier covered peaks are reflected in turquoise colored ponds and lakes, the smell of pine, aspen and other trees permeating the air and making crisper, fresher and oh-so-mountainy. Our first stop is at Athabasca Falls, a quick stop for some lovely pictures, before heading onto for our journey onto the glacier. Largest of all icefields in the Canadian Rockies, the Columbia Icefield covers eleven of the highest peaks and flows to feed six major outlet glaciers, three of Canada’s largest rivers and eventually three oceans. The ice straddles a triple Continental Divide, two provinces and two national parks with a depth of 1200 feet, about the height of the Empire State Building.

[Nathan:] The Columbia Icefield is so cool, even though you really only see the very top of it where it begins to feed the Athabasca Glacier. Upon our arrival at the glacier chalet, our driver and guide Chris handled ticketing for our group’s trip on the Ice Explorer portion of our journey. This is the part of the day that we have been waiting for! We are shuttled to the Ice Explorer by bus, as the glacier has retreated and continues to still do so every year. Soon we are ready to board the Explorer, a mammoth red machine, with tires as tall as a person. This monster looks as though it is something that stepped out of Star Wars, and drove right through the theatre laying waste to anything in its path. What a bonus to ride on one of only a dozen or so of these unique contraptions in the world, which are used solely for this journey with one vehicle in the arctic for scientific explorations. Our specially trained Ice Explorer driver and guide noted that the vehicles were especially designed by a mountain and glacier climbing gear manufacturer and strictly for the purpose of safely navigating atop a glacier.

[Nathan:] After climbing into the Ice Explorer we descend the moraine, an accumulate mound of loose debris left as a glacier retreats, at a steep 18 degree grade, once of the steepest descents on wheels in the world. Soon we are on the glacier and being driven out to one of the deepest and most stable areas of the surface. The scenery is too surreal, like watching a science fiction movie or some digital version of Pluto or one of our outlying planets, we proceed deeper onto the glacier. Here we have the chance to jump out and walk around, without a doubt one of the coolest things we’ve ever done, pun intended. A small stream of glacial melt flows around the edge of the area and we get the chance to fill up our water bottle. For once in my life I know without a doubt that bottled water was bottled at the source. Before we knew it our time was up and we had to head back to the chalet and our bus to continue our trip to Lake Louise.

[Nathan:] The Rockies towered above us, and as we continued our Icefield Parkway drive, interspersed firs and pines gave way to braided streams and rivers. Making a brief stop, we beautiful Bow Lake to admire the scenery. In just a short while our destination loomed before us. We arrive in the late afternoon, with enough time left to check in, drop our gear, and enjoy a bit of the resort and its majestic lakeside and glacier setting.

[Nathan:] The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is one of those really special destinations, the overriding sense of calm and peace is phenomenal, and if you are lucky enough to have a lake view room you can soak all of it in while sitting in your robe. Our junior suite was amazing, with all of the amenities we have come to expect at The Fairmont these days, but I‘m jumping ahead of myself. Looking at the outside of the hotel we stand in awe, this hotel was once part of the Canadian Pacific Railway resorts. This grand dame takes your breath away from the outside and you haven’t even seen the good stuff yet. The immense lobby is beautifully and tastefully decorated in a fusion of palace slash hunting lodge. Make sure to stop and say hi to Sonny the golden retriever, official pet ambassador for the hotel; if you are a guest in the hotel, you can sign up to take him out for a walk around the lake. Many of the Fairmont Hotels in Canada are very pet friendly, so be sure to make arrangements if you wish to travel with that special family companion.

After an expedited check in process, we head for our room in anxious anticipation; our Gold Leaf Fairmont package accommodations with Rocky Mountaineer include a lakeside view room, and we upgraded to a junior suite in the Glacier wing. Our room was very spacious and quite lovely, featuring a small sitting area past the bed, with two plain rounded ionic columns in the classical colonial style. And the view? Amazing… a full head on panorama of the lake and the majestic Victoria Glacier. Our countless photos of the scenery can only capture a glimpse of the true panorama of the lake and glacier in this unique alpine oasis. We take a quick stroll in front of the hotel for some scenic viewing and photos, running into our first forest critter, the chipmunk! This cutesy rodent was very playful and extremely photogenic, posing for us on several occasions while nibbling on his unopened daisy as he scurried from rock to rock beside the lake.

While perusing the many shops at the Chateau, we run across Ollie {from New Zealand} at the sporting goods store. I [Marc] happen to mention my incessant craving for Caribou, and Ollie becomes our seer and font of knowledge! Upon his recommendation, we trek through a small 5 minute trail behind the Chateau where all the staff housing is hidden, and around the corner to the Deer Lodge. This small cozy hotel, probably a three star, is literally behind the Chateau Lake Louise and while it lacks any direct view, is worth considering in any future plans to the area. Very much an alpine Lodge with a rustic feel, we proceed to the bar and restaurant onsite for what Ollie promised would be a great charcuterie appetizer plate with smoked game meats. Our expectations are met, as the Game Platter contains venison ham, elk sausage, deer prosciutto and game pate, all quite delectable. Imagine our delight when we looked further down the menu to see both elk and caribou featured! We splurge a bit tonight and order one of each. Nathan keeps coveting my caribou, saying it is softer and more tender than his elk, but I keep telling Nathan that his elk is more tasty, with a deeper flavor; not a bad argument to have, really. Needless to say we enjoyed our food immensely and highly recommend this casual dining venue with excellent local cuisine. A quick stroll back to the hotel, we turn in for the night near midnight just as the sun begins to set and darkness barely touches the sky.

Make sure to look at the itinerary map and photos posted to see our journey’s route by visiting our facebook page by clicking the button at the bottom of our homepage at or directly by using this URL :


1 Comment

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