Archive for May, 2009

Orlando Bingles’ Rocky Mountain High: Day 13

by Bingle on May.31, 2009, under Richard Bingle Family

As we had a day still left in Jasper, Rich and Karen decided to see if we could go rafting for a second time on this trip. Rich and Karen had taken a white water raft trip down the Athabasca River back in 1989 when they drove to Alaska with Rich’s Dad and Karen’s sister. Karen researched our options without letting on to the girls what we were planning. We ended up deciding to go with Jasper’s Whitewater Rafting and trying to book their 9:00 a.m. Athabasca Falls trip (which is what we had done in 1989). Unfortunately, we were not able to get anyone on the phone before 9:00 a.m. despite leaving voicemail. So we drove down the street and found their storefront. One of the owners, Eddie, informed us that since they were still training their guides for the season, that the Falls trip wasn’t being offered yet. When we mentioned that there were 5 of us (a raft holds 6), he made a phone call and got someone with experience to be our guide. It turned out that our guide, Ron, was another owner and co-founder of the company.

We had a little time before our raft trip was to depart, so we drove down Highway 16 towards Edmonton for about 15 minutes enjoying the scenery and looking for animals before turning around and heading back. On the way back towards Jasper, a coyote crossed the road in front us (the third canine to do so on the trip). We stopped right away, but he disappeared into the woods almost immediately.

We left Jasper at 10:30 a.m. and drove to Athabasca Falls. By talking with Eddie and Ron along the way, we confirmed that this was the same company that we had rafted with back in 1989. After gearing up in wetsuits, jackets, and booties, we carried the raft down to the edge of the river below the falls to an area we had pointed out to the girls from an overlook when we had visited the day before, and got ready to go. Eddie hustled down river a ways to take some photos. We started out paddling towards the falls, but the water volume was way too high to get anywhere near them (but apparently would have been possible just a week prior) and we were off.

Ron had been working the river for 38 years, and his experience was obvious. He didn’t use oars like the guides on our last two trips, but rather relied on us to provide momentum and used his paddle as a rudder. This meant that we paddled a whole lot more on this trip than our other two family rafting trips combined. Along the way he gave Karen lessons on how to “read the water”, i.e. which waves were ok to go over and which ones meant there was a rock just below the surface.

The scenery was spectacular. Mountain views were everywhere. We really wished we had a waterproof camera, especially when we briefly stopped in the eddy of a large boulder at the edge of the river and Ashley and Amber scrambled to the top while we floated about 10 feed downriver from them. They had a great view of the river and a mountain in the distance and we had a great view of them above us with the mountain in the background.

Nobody fell in this time, although Karen, Ashley, and Amber all braved the 38F water for a brief voluntary dip. Rich and Alyssa were smarter and only dipped their feet. All 3 “swimmers” claimed that it was much colder than the Yellowstone River had been.

Right before our trip was to end, we all spotted a fawn enter the river and start to swim across. It didn’t get very far before it decided to turn around and head back to shore. It scrambled up the bank and disappeared into the woods. We never did see its mother. Our first fawn sighting of the trip was a unique one.


When we landed and got back on the bus, Eddie had left a laptop with 17 pictures of us running in a slideshow. Rich was blocking the view of Amber in most of the shots (but that is only fair as he also blocked a fair amount of water from hitting Amber during the trip), but it was great to actually have photos of us actually rafting for a change. Check out the album by clicking on the picture to the left!

Patricia Lake

After taking the bus back to town, changing into warm dry clothes, grabbing a bite of lunch, we headed back out in the van. We drove a ways down Highway 16 the other way, but didn’t see much of interest, so turned back and drove up to Patricia Lake and Pyramid Lake. Both were very pretty. The girls were especially interested to find out that Patricia Lake had been the site of a ice boat experiment as part of Pproject Habbakuk back during WWII (they had learned about Project Habbakuk, ice boats, and Pykrete from a Mythbusters’ episode right before we left on our trip). We took a short walk over a footbridge to Pyramid Island. The wind kicked up quite a bit when we crossed the bridge, so we didn’t spend too long there (although the girls all took the opportunity to stick their fingers in the water when they were sheltered from the wind by the trees on the island).

We got back to our hotel around 6:15 p.m. and spent about 45 minutes in the indoor pool playing freeze tag. We finished off the day with dinner and cards in the room.

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Orlando Bingles’ Rocky Mountain High: Day 12

by Bingle on May.30, 2009, under Richard Bingle Family

We got up in the morning and headed back south down the Icefields Parkway to Athabasca Glacier. We had planned on taking the Brewster Ice Coach tour onto Athabasca Glacier, but the girls didn’t know that. Fortunately, we had two little “detours” along the way. Both of them black and both of them bears.

Sleeping black bear

The first was literally less than a mile outside of Jasper. A largish black bear was sleeping beside a stream near the road. We watched him for a while, but he was partially hidden by brush and not very active, so we were soon on our way again.

Small black bear crossing road

Karen and Rich spotted the second bear down below the side of the road as we passed it while we were driving along. We stopped as soon as we could on the shoulder just in time to see the smallish bear come up the hill onto the road. It looked at us for a few seconds and then continued on across the road and into the woods on the other side. We made a quick U-turn, but it had disappeared into the woods.

Family on Athabasca Glacier

The Athabasca Glacier tour includes a “bus” ride up onto a flat spot of the glacier. You are allowed to get off the bus and walk around on the ice. Apparently they have been using the same section of the glacier for the tour since they started doing it (although the ice obviously moves over that spot) because the flatness of the bedrock beneath closes any of the crevasses that develop. It was pretty cold up there (at least Alyssa thought so) and you had to watch where you stepped. We saw one woman get her entire foot soaked when the ice she stepped on turned out to be slush. After the tour we spent some time looking over the exhibits in the visitors center there.

Black bear and one year old cub near Columbia Icefield

We had just left the icefields visitors center with the plan to visit Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls on our way back to the town of Jasper when we encountered a “bear jam”. This time it was a female black bear and one year old cub near the side of the road. We did as we were supposed to and stayed in the van while taking our pictures, occasionally leapfrogging ahead as the bears moved farther down the road. Of course, a few folks got out of their cars for better shots and we were a bit concerned when the bears decided to get a drink of water from the little stream flowing next to the shoulder (probably less than 25 feet away), but thankfully nothing happened. The bears continued down a ways and had just started to climb the fairly steep cliff away from the road when a park ranger arrived and used some firecrackers to scare the bears to climb faster.

Just a little ways farther down the road there was yet another “bear jam”. A grizzly was a few hundred feet from the road on the flat. Way too far for pictures, but Karen got some video. The highlight was the bear rolling in the dirt occasionally. Suddenly in the distance you could see legs sticking up in the air as it rolled over.

Hiking near Sunwapta Falls

We made our planned stops at Sunwapta Falls and Athabasca Falls. At Sunwapta Falls, there was supposed to be a 15 minute hike down to the lower falls. Since we hadn’t hiked in a few days, we decided to give it a try. After about 15 minutes we came to a view that showed the river curving away around a bend in the distance, but with no sign of any falls. At that point we decided we had hiked enough and turned back.

There are lots of different viewpoints at Athabasca Falls, from both sides of the river. There is a also a little walk down an abandoned channel. From one of the viewpoints Karen and Rich pointed out where they had entered the river on their raft trip back in 1989.

We finished off the day with a dip in the hotel pool.

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Orlando Bingles’ Rocky Mountain High: Day 11

by Bingle on May.29, 2009, under Richard Bingle Family

Family by snow in Banff National Park

Day eleven was supposed to be an easy travel day from the town of Banff to the town of Jasper, a 3.5 – 4 hour drive. It took us 8.5 hours. Of course we did stop for the occasional picture of a pretty mountain or some video of a deer, but then we spent 2 hours doing something that in a month or so would have taken less than 5 minutes – visiting the Peyote Lake overlook at Bow Summit.

Hiking through snow to Peyote Lake overlook

During the “summer”, visitors can park 150 feet or so from the overlook. Apparently the end of May doesn’t count as “summer”. The road up to the overlook was still snow covered and closed. But the lower parking lot was open. There were two choices for hiking up to the overlook, the trail through the snow covered woods (which had a sign on it recommending against it) or up along the closed road. We chose the road. You might think that hiking up the road would be easy. It wasn’t. The trail of footprints through the snow/ice was extremely slippery, the road was fairly steep, and where the trail had actually reached (or almost reached) the road surface, it was like walking in a stream. When we finally reached the overlook, we discovered that the lake was still covered with ice, only hinting at its unique glacier silt tinged turquoise color.

Rich at Peyote Lake overlook

We stayed for quite a while, resting from the slog up the hill and video taping the numerous avalanches of snow on the mountain across the valley. When we finally decided to head back down to the car, we opted to go back through the woods, which even though we were going downhill still ended up being a rough trip as the entire way down was heavily snow covered.

Black bear

The animal sighting highlight of the day came when we saw a tour bus, car, and bicycle all pulled over on the other side of the road. We made a u-turn at the next opportunity and drove back to see what was going on. It turned out to be a large male black bear loping along the river by the road. We paced it on the shoulder for a while until the river bent away from the road and the bear disappeared into the woods. We drove down a ways in hopes of spotting him coming back out of the trees, but we didn’t see him again.

Extent of Athabasca Glacier in 1908

We stopped at Athabasca Glacier (part of the Columbia Icefield) and hiked up to the toe of the glacier. On our hike, we passed markers for where the toe had been in 1982 (one year after Rich’s first visit to the glacier) and 1992 (three years after Rich and Karen’s visit) along the way, and we still had plenty of distance to go. They have ropes about 100 or so feet from the toe and lots of warning signs about the lake/river that had formed beneath the toe being deadly if you fell through, all to keep people off the ice. The ropes and signs are apparently pretty ineffective as there were plenty of footprints visible. After our hike, we stopped in the visitors center briefly, but with all of our hiking, it was already approaching 6:00 p.m. and they were closing. We decided we would need to drive back to visit their exhibits the next day.

As it was getting late and we knew we were going back to the glacier the next day, we skipped stopping at Sunwapta and Athabasca falls and just enjoyed the scenery.

While we were checking into the hotel in Jasper, the girls had fun taking pictures (from a safe distance) of a couple of bull elk across the street from the hotel. After checking into our room, we opted for pizza at a local pizza joint (good, but not as good as Outlaws Pizza in Gardiner had been) and called it a night.

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