Since I don’t have the proper footwear and it’s a little bit dangerous to go without a guide, I booked the Ice Walk with Sundog Tours in order to see Maligne Canyon’s waterfalls properly. At 9:30 the guide ‘Chuck’ picked me up from the hostel, and we headed to their office to pick up the proper footwear and cleats, before driving up to the canyon. We head to the carpark on the far side (near the Bridal Veil Waterfall), and start heading towards the main section of the canyon, warned to stay on the left side due to the threat of falling limestone. He also points out a lot of the other hikers who are doing a lot of the things my group were doing yesterday, noting that they clearly don’t understand how dangerous the area is, and that despite carrying a first aid kit for his tour group, he’s never needed to use it on a client. Other people in the canyon however, have needed it almost constantly.
Snow fell overnight, so the slush at the entrance isn’t as bad, but still more than what normal footwear can handle. We’re told to try and stay under rock cover at any point, and if we hear ‘ice!’ to bolt for the nearest overhang. In winter, we’re normally several metres lower than we are now, but due to snow and ice refreezing, we’re pretty high (there are overhangs just scraping the ground that you can stand under at the start of winter).
One of the first waterfalls we come across is known as ‘The Angel,’ with the biggest waterfall ‘The Queen’ just around the corner. These incredible sculptures are used by a local company to teach ice climbing, although it’s getting dangerous to do so now. Naturally their shape changes every year, but they’re simply stunning to see up close.
Further into the canyon, and you come across the first ‘pothole’ which has been made by water filled with minerals (creating a sandpaper effect) smoothing down the sides and creating a circular roof. It’s a very strange thing to see in the canyon, especially when you realise it’s natural.
Further along, we also discover something known as a ‘log jam.’ A few years ago there was severe flooding in the area, and the lakes overflowed more than they ever have in recorded history, sending tons of debris and wreckage into the canyon. This rubbish eventually got caught in corner pockets, and when the water receded, left these giant accidental jams in their wake. Wedged together like the ultimate pickup sticks, the Jasper Park officials can do much except wait for them to rot – although they have made some that were suspended in the air due to the water height drop to the ground via dynamite for safety reasons. This one sadly, has stopped the canyon from being used for weddings. The section on which it lies used to have a natural stage area where people would get married. Due to the high pothole roof and the shape, this area was known as the cathedral.
Around the next corner is the end of the line for us. A giant slide of ice blocks the way forward – although we might be able to get up it with effort, we’d never get back down, so we head back out and towards the exit.
The entire trip took about 2 ½ hours, which was pretty impressive considering that’s more or less how long we spent exploring the rest of the canyon yesterday, and meant I had the afternoon to myself when the coach dropped me off at my hostel. But before I did, I ended up winning a good roommate award. The four guys in my room were getting ready to leave, but one of them couldn’t find their wallet. I managed to find it in 2 minutes, freeing them to go, and then went to the fridge to find that Jess and Marie have left some alcohol by accident. Since their train hasn’t left yet, I take it down to the station, and give them a farewell with a 6-pack, before heading out of town towards a hiking route.
Just a kilometre or so out of town is a walking/bike trail that leads to an area called ‘Old Fort Point.’ It’s based mostly in the woodland and heads up to several other hiking trails (working sort of like a ‘central station’ for Jasper hikes), and is about a 4km loop. It’s relatively easy, although this time of year sees a lot of the pathways covered in skating rink ice and very difficult to navigate. The worst part by far was an extremely steep hill that had NO snow or foliage for me to work with, and had me doing the bambi splits and scrabbling on all fours more than once. However I had it better than the two girls I passed who had to find a way DOWN it. The reward was almost instantaneous though, as I found a large lookout point formed from limestone.
The view from here is pretty fantastic. Maligne Canyon was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, but Jasper in general is phenomenal. I can only imagine what it’s like fully decked out in snow or in the winter.
You have the opportunity to do a continuation of the loop via the track 1a, but given the state of the paths I continue onwards on track 1 towards Old Fort Point. This is a giant rock/overhang that gives even more incredible views of the Jasper area. It also has a pair of red sunchairs for people to use and take a close look at the mountains in the distance – which have no walking tracks and are left untouched for the native wildlife to use. I only managed to spot sheep though.
The only issue with Old Fort Point, is that it’s a little difficult to get back down. I knew I could go the way I came (which was an awkward indent in the grass and mud I’m still not sure WAS a legitimate way up) or travel further along given how big it was. I explored, following what I thought was a path, only for it to end in a sheer drop a good ten minutes later, forcing me to backtrack.
Once I’m back on the track, I make my way down to a wide clearing just underneath the point, and find my way to a set of stairs that take me to the carpark next to the river. Apparently this is where most people start, but I’m kind of grateful I went the other way considering some of the steep hills vs ice. It was also a pretty easy walk with good rewards along the way, so I consider it a great afternoon.
Tomorrow I’m going to head in the opposite direction and make my way up to Pyramid Lake, high in the mountains on the other side of town.