Bike Touring the Canadian Rockies, page 3

Page 1: Canmore to Lake O'Hara
Page 2: Lake O'Hara to Mosquito Creek
Page 3: Mosquito Creek to Jasper
Page 4: Jasper to Jonas Creek
Page 5: Jonas Creek to Canmore

Sunday, July 31

Distance: 43.8 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 50 minutes
Average speed: 11.4 mph
Maximum speed: 50.9 mph

We didn't rush out of camp this morning, nor did we waste time, and we started riding at about 11:30. That's late. Maybe we would have moved more quickly if the sky had been sunny or if the campground sink and food storage had been closer to our tent. Weather was never a problem today, and initial cloudy skies became gradually less cloudy throughout the day.

Daniel started the day riding in the trailer with Maggie, which helped all of us have a good day. Yesterday and on the first day of our trip (Canmore to Lake Louise) we made Daniel ride his trailerbike all day because there just wasn't room for him in the trailer. That eventually made him tired and careless, so he would do dangerous things like sway the bike side-to-side, or ride with no hands on the handlebars, or sit backwards and talk to Maggie. Then we would scold him or threaten to punish him, which made the ride less fun. Today we rearranged our gear to make room for him in the trailer, and he rode with Maggie about half the day.

Early in the afternoon we crossed Bow Pass, the highest point on Icefields Parkway (2067m,) and we visited a few overlooks near the pass. The most stunning and popular was the overlook above Peyto Lake. So many people were trying to take pictures of their families that I volunteered to photograph anyone who would hand me their camera. I quickly helped four families that way.


Getting our food down from the bearproof storage area. Most of the campgrounds provide bearproof lockers, but Mosquito Creek just has cables and pulleys to hang your food above the ground.


Crowfoot Glacier. In the early 1900's the glacier had three "toes" and looked more like a crow's foot, but much of the ice has since melted and the lowest toe is gone. Even so, the ice at the edge of the glacier is about 50 meters thick.


Tossing rocks into Bow Lake.




Peyto Lake, near the top of Bow Pass.

Beyond Bow Pass we had about 20 miles of mostly downhill, including an initial drop that sent our speed over 50 m.p.h. That might have been over the speed limit, but it's hard to remember when the limits are posted in km/hour. The clouds were breaking up as we started our descent, and Kathy and I talked about how easy it is to feel optimistic when the sun is shining and we're rolling down a long hill. Eventually we bottomed out at the North Saskatchewan River, where we were greeted by storm clouds and a strong headwind. "Where did all our optimism go?" I joked.

We had less than 10 miles to go, and climbing into a headwind wasn't that bad. The storm clouds blew off to the east and we arrived at the Rampart Creek campground under blue skies, but we could see that a rainstorm had hit the area just an hour or so earlier. Maybe getting a late start this morning wasn't such a bad thing. I didn't find anyone interested in sharing a campsite with us tonight, but we did pitch camp next to a Canadian family with a 2-year-old. Our kids visited that family while Kathy and I cooked dinner and set up the tent.


Looking back at the mountains near the end of our ride, after crossing the North Saskatchewan River.


Getting ready to roast marshmallows at our neighbors' campsite.

Monday, August 1

Distance: 23.2 miles
Riding time: 3 hours, 34 minutes
Average speed: 6.5 mph
Maximum speed: 27.8 mph

The sky was wonderfully clear all day, but our campsite was surrounded by such tall, steep mountains that we didn't feel the sunshine until 9:30. Our bike ride was a continuous view of tall, steep mountains, and many had snow on their peaks.

We spent most of our time climbing Sunwapta Pass, which may be the toughest climb of our trip. We started the day pedaling, then switched to walking as we went uphill into a headwind. Eventually we pulled out my mule harness (rope + shoulder straps) and I towed the bike uphill while Kathy balanced it. A friendly couple with a large van stopped to talk with us and offered to drive our baggage to the top of the pass. They weren't even traveling in our direction, but the husband was a bicyclist and wanted to help. "You're a long way from the top," he said, "and I know what you're going through. This is the nastiest climb on the whole parkway." We declined their offer with a thank-you and kept walking. I want us to prove to ourselves that we can handle a long, mountainous trip on our own. A short distance later the hill leveled off enough for us to start pedaling again. Right at the end of our ride we crossed the pass, entered Jasper National Park, and rolled downhill a couple miles to the Columbia Icefield campground.

Once again we reached our campground late (7 p.m.) and put our kids to bed late (10 p.m.) Daniel and Maggie are so tired that they're having trouble staying focused or following instructions, and they're more emotional than usual. We were lucky to camp next to another family with children tonight, and our children were happy to play with them while we set up camp, but we must figure out how to give our kids more rest.


Kathy makes Kool-Aid during our lunch break on a switchback.


Towing the bike on the steepest part of our climb.


Walking the bike near the top of Sunwapta Pass.


Biking into Jasper National Park.

Tuesday, August 2

Distance: 6.4 miles
Riding time: 36 minutes
Average speed: 10.7 mph
Maximum speed: 22.1 mph

Several times last night I heard loud, echoing booms, like thunder from a distant, powerful storm. But there was no storm last night - the booms came from avalanches off the nearby glaciers. In the mountains just west of our campsite is the Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains (130 miles2 and over 1000 feet deep.) From that icefield many glaciers slide out between the mountains, including the Athabasca glacier that we can see from camp.

This morning I got up early and hiked to Wilcox Pass for a better view of the glacier. It was such a clear, calm morning that I didn't want to waste it by sleeping in. My hike didn't take long, and when I returned Kathy and the kids had just climbed out of the tent to cook pancakes. We set today aside to learn about the glaciers, so after breakfast we rolled down to the Icefield Visitor Center. It has good exhibits explaining the glaciers, but the biggest attraction is the fat-tired tour buses that can drive visitors right onto the Athabasca Glacier. The bus tickets are expensive (Canadian $130 for our family, Maggie was free,) but it is the simplest way to get up close to the ice.

Our kids loved the bus ride and walking on the ice, and especially loved drinking the glacial meltwater, which the bus drivers assured us was healthy to drink. Maggie tried to build a snowman, but the ice didn't pack together well.

We all went to bed at a healthy time tonight, and are looking forward to tomorrow's ride. The road is mostly downhill from here to the town of Jasper, the northernmost point of our trip. We should be there in two days.


Looking at Athabasca Glacier, on the right. Mount Athabasca is the highest peak on the left.




Displays at the Icefield Visitor Center.


Our bus goes down a steep hill to the glacier.


Maggie liked riding the ice bus.


Glacier tour bus.


Panoramic view of the Athabasca Glacier.


Kathy tries to build Maggie a snowman; Michael helps the kids drink glacial water.


Fixing our tent at camp. A zipper on our rainfly quit working, so I attached snaps for us to use instead.


Dinnertime rainbow.

Wednesday, August 3

Distance: 66.6 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 5 minutes
Average speed: 13.1 mph
Maximum speed: 44.0 mph

Kathy and I took a long time to make breakfast and break camp today, biking away just before noon as we have most mornings. I wish we weren't so slow, but at least Daniel and Maggie do a good job of entertaining themselves while they wait for us. Daniel pretends to be a pirate, and usually pulls Maggie or other campground kids into his story. Today a log was his ship, a cardboard box was his treasure chest, and his treasure was rocks, sticks and two Canadian pennies that he found. Maggie pretends to be Rapunzel, the long-haired princess from the children's story. She holds her blanket to her head to simulate long hair and finds a cluster of trees to be her castle. This morning Daniel and Maggie played together with a combined pirate/princess storyline, but switched to a doctor/nurse story when I told Kathy that I needed to bandage a finger that I cut a few days ago. Daniel held my finger still with a stick splint while Maggie applied a band-aid.

When we started biking it was cold despite the sunny skies because so much cold air flows down from the nearby Columbia Icefield. Afternoon clouds kept our ride cool all day even though we lost 1000 meters of elevation on the way to Jasper. Daniel spent most of our ride in the warm trailer with Maggie.


Waking up at camp. Maggie spent the night in Kathy's sleeping bag because the Columbia Icefield campground gets so cold at night.


Daniel and Maggie bandage Daddy's hurt finger.


Sunwapta Canyon.

Throughout this vacation many people have photographed us with our bicycle, but today was the most noticeable. Four different times someone asked to take our picture, others photographed us as we rode by, and during one brief rest stop a van load of Japanese tourists (about eight people) photographed us all at once. There are many bike tourists in the Canadian Rockies - we see them everyday - but I guess only a few are families. This morning a park ranger saw us and said, "Are you the bike touring family? You guys are becoming famous."

We pedaled all the way to the town of Jasper, the northernmost destination of our trip. Now we can spend a few nights in the same location, which the kids will like, and we can finally take showers. We haven't showered since the start of our trip in Canmore. We can also buy groceries for our return ride south.

We saw two grizzly bears and a black bear during our long ride, and we had to stop for one of the grizzlies as he crossed the road in front of us. Kathy thinks grizzly bears look a lot like Tubby, her childhood teddy bear that Maggie now sleeps with at home.

When we arrived at the Whistlers campground close to Jasper, the staff told us that only walk-in campsites were available. All 700+ drive-in campsites were full! I often like walk-in sites, but these sites were in dense pine trees, where the ground was wet and the air was probably full of mosquitoes. I chose to cruise the drive-in sites looking for someone to share with, and we came across a father and his two sons who were happy to share. Ken is from the small town of Burns Lake, British Columbia (he works for the Forest Service,) and his sons Mike and Joey (ages 7 and 5) quickly started playing with Daniel and Maggie. We made dinner and put the kids to bed. It's nice to know that we've reached the turn-around point of our trip. This is the farthest north that Kathy or I have ever travelled.


A grizzly bear near the road.


Playing during lunch.


Sunwapta Falls.


We rode through a couple storms on our way to Jasper.


Crossing the Athabasca River.

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Page 1: Canmore to Lake O'Hara
Page 2: Lake O'Hara to Mosquito Creek
Page 3: Mosquito Creek to Jasper
Page 4: Jasper to Jonas Creek
Page 5: Jonas Creek to Canmore