Sunday, May 28, 2006

Icefield / Jasper Weekend: Part 2

After leaving the Icefield Centre behind, Chana and I had about an hour's drive ahead of us before we'd reach our next stop... Jasper. Now, if I had been driving this leg of the trip, I'm sure we would have made it in less time than that because my foot tends to be a bit heavy and I rarely stop for any of the sightseeing attractions along the way. In my defense, these "attractions" are usually just plaques telling the story of how a particular mountain got its name, or marking the location where some long-dead pioneer made a mineralogical discovery... Interesting, but not worth losing valuable driving time over.

Fortunately, though, I wasn't driving as we made our way north. We had only been driving about 10 minutes when I felt the van slow down and Chana said, "I'm stopping". Before I could protest, I looked out my window and saw an absolutely amazing series of waterfalls that ended right at the side of the road. There was no plaque to tell us the name (if they even had one), but the Park officials had been wise enough to provide a bit of space for vehicles to pull over.

A few other people had also parked and were taking pictures of each other in front of the cascading water, or climbing up to explore the higher portions of the falls. The highway isn't a very busy one, though, so it wasn't crowded. We had no trouble getting a lot of great shots. I even managed to make my way up to the base of the first fall and found that some of it was still frozen... The sight and smells were amazing!

Eventually, we got back in the van and continued on our way. We were both feeling so good about our trip up to that point and commented to each other about how perfect the weekend was turning out. Too bad it wouldn't last...

When we arrived in Jasper, things took a turn for the worse. Chana had never been there before, and I hadn't been in the little mountain town in 14 years, so we had no idea where we should start looking for a place to stay. A quick drive around town (which only takes 10 minutes, driving slowly) only showed us an abundance of "No Vacancy" signs on each and every hotel, motel, or chalet. Not exactly an encouragement. But Chana, as usual, was the calm one, and she pulled out a pamphlet she had wisely picked up at the Icefields Centre that had all the phone numbers of the accommodations in Jasper.

Long story short, a half an hour and a dead cell phone later, we knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that everything was booked for the night. Not that it mattered too much... We also found out that the average rate for one night at a hotel in Jasper is between $250 and $350! Definitely not what we had expected and certainly not what we had budgeted for! As I began to rant and rave about how I would never return to Jasper, Chana began driving around town again, looking for some sort of inspiration, I guess.

And you know what? She found it.

Many of the homes we drove past had little "Approved Accommodation" signs on them. Now, I'm familiar with the idea of a "Bed & Breakfast", but I really don't like the idea of staying in someone else's home, sleeping down the hall from them, or having to sit down to a meal with a total stranger. But, Chana insisted that we had no choice but to give it a try or turn around and drive the 4 and a half hours back home. Faced with that kind of logic, I had to give in.

And I'm glad I did.

Most of the "Approved Accommodations" also had "No Vacancy" signs out, but we soon found one that didn't. Chana went up to the door (believe me, she's the great negotiator in this relationship) and knocked. It turned out that someone else had gotten there just ahead of us and was in the process of signing in, but the owner of the home explained that, even thought the population of the town was only 5000, there were over 200 Approved Accommodations to be found. And the beautiful thing was, the majority of them were not Bed & Breakfast style set-ups, but simply rooms done up to be exactly like a hotel suite, complete with cable TV, private washrooms, and separate entrances. Now that was something I could do!

We ended up spending 2 nights in Jasper, in 2 different places, and it only cost us a total of $140. That's a far cry from the $500 to $700 a hotel would have set us back! And the places we stayed in were easily as nice, if not nicer, than a hotel suite.

The weekend was saved!

Our first full day in town was Sunday, and we spent the early part of the day going up Whistler Mountain on the Tramway. Chana isn't exactly a fan of heights, but she was very brave on this trip and had her breath taken away by the beautiful view at the top. Of course, once we reached "the top", I realized it was still a fair hike if one wanted to reach the actual summit. No paved pathways or set of stairs here... Just a steep, gravelly path that twisted and turned up the side of the mountain. And, since we were above the treeline at this point, there was no vegetation larger than a tuft of grass to protect me from the biting wind as I climbed.

Chana stayed behind to explore the Gift Shop and eventually make friends with a nice lady from England as I trudged my way to the actual top of Whistler Mountain. I lost my breath a few times and my heart was beating like a jackhammer in the thin air, but I'm a stubborn sort and I'm proud to say that I made it. Of course, the wind has about 10 times worse up there, so I only stayed long enough to get a few pictures before making my way back down to Chana and a little bit of warmth.

Amazingly, that only brings us to about 10:30 in the morning, and the day had a few more adventures in store, but you'll just have to wait for the next post...
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