Most the house was up at 8:30, and Jess, Marie and myself headed out for Maligne Canyon. I was going to back out last minute after talking to the owner regarding how easy it was to navigate this time of year, but they talked me into it. We headed to the train station to grab a taxi, and $30 later, we were at the start of the loop.
In the winter, this place can’t be navigated without snow shoes, but by this point in the season, most of the thick snow has gone and this biggest issue is ice. Cleats are best, but we don’t have them, so make do my sticking to the edges where the ice hasn’t become a deathtrap, and when we can’t, clinging to the railing and literally sliding down the hill.
Maligne Canyon is part of the Canadian Rockies, and unlike the American Rockies, was created via glaciers rather than volcanic activity. It’s biggest draw is obviously the river that runs through the centre, which is fed by Medicine Lake and Maligne Lake, and many underground springs. In the winter it freezes over, creating these amazing structures out of the waterfalls that you can get up close to by heading into the canyon and walking on the ice.
Along the way, we run into two guys also exploring the canyon, Michael and Andrew. They work for the Skytram, and are just as curious about the area. We eventually reach a large central area, and spot tour groups heading into the waterfall laden part of the canyon. The problem is that most of this ‘entrance’ is ice water and slush, which our shoes aren’t designed to handle. I decide to back out (I’m coming here via a tour tomorrow anyway), but the others decide to sacrifice their footwear and head inside to explore. I spent the next 30 minutes or so hanging around the entrance and trying to stay warm without moving.
When the others return, they’re soaking wet from attempting to climb an ice structure and getting punished for it, but otherwise thought it was completely worth it. We then headed down the opposite side of the canyon where the walls were lower and wider. We try to follow people’s footsteps, but at one point, rather than following their actions and climbing back onto the path, we keep going and come across a very tight opening that is completely iced (like a skating rink on angle) with a drop at the end. The only grip available is a large branch leaning in the crevice. Naturally, Michael risks it, and urges us all to do the same. It’s the most awkward thing we do all day, especially when we realise the only thing stopping us from sliding down and quite possibly getting hurt is a piece of wood not held down in any way.
Thankfully, we all make it down, and clamber up the hill to the next segment, where we find a cave. I found out the next day that said cave had experienced a large drop of limestone that morning and was in fact a ridiculously dangerous place to be, but it was cool to check out when we were ignorant of that.
This part of the canyon is the most dangerous due to the high walls being composed of limestone, which thanks to melting ice, is constantly crumbling and has constant rockfalls. We’re unaware of this but there are stones constantly falling down, at least until it widens out yet again to the Bridal Veil Falls, a beautiful non-frozen waterfall that cascades down a natural step way of limestone. This waterfall is fuelled by an underground spring, which means it never freezes since it can’t get cold enough. In fact, after this point the river isn’t frozen, as all the water from this point is too warm to do so, and doesn’t decrease in temperature until it hits the river out of the canyon.
The fact that its glacial water also means that it’s crystal clear at this time of year, and when we continue walking, we find a spot that Michael and Jess both believe is PERFECT for a dip. Course, by the time we’ve navigated down, Jess has backed out, but Marie takes her place, and both attempt to brave the water.
They quickly realise how stupid this is. The water may not be freezing but that doesn’t mean it’s not cold. To their credit, they get to their lower thigh before leaping back out of the water and into their clothes.
By this point we’re all ready to start heading back, and after some frustrating attempts at reading the maps (whoever decided Jasper maps would be orange on yellow needs to be SHOT), we figure out where we are and what would be the fastest route back – heading upwards and taking the high route to loop back to the carpark. Getting uphill is a bit tricky due to the ice, but once it levels out it’s smooth sailing, and gives us some pretty great views of Jasper park.
Of course, for Michael they’re not good enough, and at one point on the way home, he finds a tree and decides he absolutely has to climb it. We can only step back and watch him shimmy up the thing (and give us heart attacks when a dead branch snaps underneath him), before he tries to descend and jumps down in front of some very confused hikers.
To be fair, the photos and video he took were very impressive.
We don’t need to call for a taxi this time, as Michael and Andrew have a car, thus giving us a cheap way home. It’s a bit of a squash, but doable, and when we make it back, we make plans to meet up in the evening and introduce Andrew to Cards against Humanity, as he’s never played. When the game is over, I step back from the entertainment for an early night. I’m heading to Maligne Canyon again tomorrow, and this time I’ll get to see the waterfalls for myself.