Sunday, February 12, 2017

Go Snowshoeing in Jasper National Park in Canada


Item number 57 on my bucket list has been "Go snowshoeing" for years. Despite living in rural Alberta my whole life, where it is winter three-quarters of the year and always full of snow, I have never even stood in snowshoes before. It was actually a little sad that I had never checked item 57 off my list yet.

That is, until this past weekend, when I finally went snowshoeing in Jasper National Park in Canada's scenic Rocky Mountains. It was a beautiful experience, and I am pretty sure I'll be asking for snowshoes for my birthday this year.

Snowshoeing was so much fun that I want my own pair now!

My husband's birthday is in a couple of weeks, and for his birthday gift, I decided we would slip up to Jasper and have a little winter adventure on our own. My parents drove up to our home and stayed with the kids for the weekend, building snowmen, tobogganing, and gorging on Dairy Queen ice cream. So my kids were completely fine with being parentless for the weekend. They love their grandparents to pieces.

Off Joey and I went, on a four and a half hour drive to adventure. Well...

Our adventure up to Jasper was exactly that: an adventure. We drove up on Highway 11, heading from Rocky Mountain House to the Icefields Parkway Highway (Highway 93) via the Saskatchewan River Crossing. For us, this is the fastest and most efficient driving route to Jasper. EXCEPT, stupidly, we didn't check the road reports before we left, and about halfway between Rocky Mountain House and the Saskatchewan River Crossing we saw flashing lights alongside the highway, indicating that Highway 93 was closed.

Little bunny tracks in the snow - better than cougar tracks for sure!

Frantically, I began Googling information on what that meant for us. Before we lost our signal, as we were basically in the middle of nowhere, I learned that the Icefields Parkway was closed for 'avalanche maintenance' and wasn't opening until maybe 5 p.m. that evening, if that. We could either turn around and forget about our weekend away, or reroute ourselves somehow. In the moments before we lost cell phone signal, I found us a logging road, Route 734, that would take us up north through backwoods country to a town called Hinton, and then we could drive on the TransCanada (Highway 16) into Jasper. It was supposed to add about two hours to our route, but we were determined not to miss out on our winter adventure weekend, and decided the logging road was our best course of action.

We found Route 734 without incident, and were pleasantly surprised that the wide gravel road had been smoothly plowed and was well-maintained. With the knuckle-biting twists and turns, rollercoaster-esque hills, towering trees, and lack of any other signs of life it seemed as if we were driving along in the middle of an apocalypse movie. However, we made good time and arrived, finally, in Jasper only an hour later than our original estimation.

Route 734 to Hinton was an extremely pretty road, even if it was unplanned.

When I had booked with our hotel, the Maligne Lodge, I had mentioned that it was my husband's birthday weekend. Upon our arrival, we found that the hotel staff had prepared a lovely bottle of wine and birthday card for my husband, and our beds were decorated with two towel swans giving each other a kiss. It was such a nice touch and made us feel very welcomed after our long, long drive to Jasper. So thank you to the Maligne Lodge and the amazing staff there!

Joey's birthday greeting from the Maligne Lodge staff. Thank you!

The next morning, it was time to check off snowshoeing from my bucket list. Joey and I went to Edge Control Ski & Outdoor Store where we rented snowshoes for each of us for the day. We had only planned to be using them for the morning, but the daily rental fee of $15 per person was pretty low so we rented for the whole day, just in case. The ladies working at the counter were extremely helpful and suggested a few places where we could easily and quickly access some great snowshoeing areas.

Happy to be out and about in such a breath-taking environment.

We ended up snowshoeing around Patricia Lake, with the notion that if we wanted to snowshoe again later in the day, we could try Pyramid Lake just a bit further down the road. However, after one hour of snowshoeing half the perimeter of Patricia Lake, we were tired and happy and ready to retire the snowshoes for the day!

We strapped up in the parking lot and then took the well-packed trail towards the lake shore. Walking on the packed trail in snowshoes wasn't that thrilling, and actually a little difficult. When you are snowshoeing, you have to walk with a different sort of gait: wider in your stance to avoid treading on your own snowshoes, and wider in your stride to gain traction with the longer length of the snowshoe.   It is a great workout for your butt and hips, but I really felt it in my upper thighs, especially the adductor hip flexors. And then doing all of this on a packed trail with not much snow makes it even more tricky.

Crossing the bridge to access Patricia Lake. 

Once we veered off the main path and into the deeper, untouched snow, things became easier. It felt like you were walking with pillows strapped to your feet. I thought that by using snowshoes I would be walking on top of the snow, but of course, you sink in a little. However, you don't sink in as deep as you would had you just been walking with boots. I know this because Joey didn't strap his snowshoe on tight enough and it came off, and his booted foot sank into the snow significantly more than his snowshoed foot.

Demonstrating how far down you sink even with snowshoes.

We wandered around the edge of Patricia Lake for quite some time, getting the hang of the snowshoes and our adapted stride, experimenting with snow depths, and just admiring the scenery. We looked for signs posted about whether or not we were allowed to walk on the frozen lake, but there were none to be found. We saw some tracks made by other snowshoers on top of the snow-covered lake, circling the perimeter of the water, and decided that it must be okay.

Snowshoeing the perimeter of Patricia Lake.

I was a little nervous about falling through the ice, even though it was February and the weather had only just turned warm after a two-week -30 degree cold snap. To appease my nerves, we decided to trek just around the edge of the frozen lake, so that if I did fall in, I'd be able to get out. Eventually, we ventured a little further out, the lake frozen solid and sturdy beneath our feet.

Enjoying the pristine Jasper snow.

The views from Patricia Lake are incredible, with Pyramid Mountain hovering over it, shrouded in clouds. Roche Bonhomme, or Old Man Mountain, is also visible from the frozen lake. It is called Old Man Mountain because it looks like an old man reclining in the mountain range, his eyes to the sky, hands folded on his belly. Once you see him, you can't believe you didn't notice him before. It is a very cool illusion.

Frozen canoes dot the shoreline of Patricia Lake.

We made our way halfway around Patricia Lake before deciding to head back due to time constraints. I would like to say that I was disappointed that we had to wrap things up after only an hour, but to be honest, my hip muscles were burning and I'd worked up quite a sweat. I had spelled my name in the snow using my feet, and moving those snowshoes around in cursive writing was a pretty good workout!

Joey exploring Patricia Lake.

Finally we returned to the lake shore where we had begun. I was tired but very happy, grateful to have checked off this bucket list item in such a beautiful locale. Unfortunately, after our next activity that day, which was hiking Maligne Canyon, we ran out of steam and did not go snowshoeing again before the rentals were due to be returned by 6:00 p.m.

We will definitely be going snowshoeing again, and next time it will hopefully be with my own pair and not rentals!

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