Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Canadian Rockies: Jasper National Park

Japer National Park

Welcome to Canada!
Map of Jasper NP

Snaring River
I flew into Calgary to meet Ted (he had been backpacking in the Kootenays for several days), and we drove north, then west, starting our camping trip in Jasper National Park.  The first night, we camped at Snaring River, where the only sites available were a couple of walk-in sites.  We grabbed one and used my wheelchair to help carry the large and heavy car camping gear. After several trips down a medium-packed gravel path, we ended up enjoying what was probably our best – most private and best view, not far from a flowing river – campsite of the trip.  We camped here for a night and then set off down the highway.  The following blogs provide a recounting of the sights, sites, and trails we experienced or heard about during our 10-day trip from north to south to west.

Roll-in camping

Walk-in camping (wheelchair style)

Maligne Canyon

Maligne Canyon: To the north of the Maligne Lake, the Maligne River forms Maligne Canyon.  It is only accessible to a point, and it is full of crowds, but it is worth a stop to see the beginning of the canyon. And definitely worth a stop for the milkshakes!

Maligne Canyon

Milkshake at Maligne Canyon

Medicine Lake: On the way from the canyon to the lake, you pass a picturesque lake, which is actually a valley that fills up with meltwater each summer, after which the water drains through the karst lake-bed to an underground river, disappearing every year.  There is a pull-out at the north end of the lake for viewing.

Maligne Lake
Young eagle at Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake: The view of the lake was beautiful, but we couldn’t see the surrounding mountains because of the smoke from nearby forest fires (one of the forest service staff said the fire was not actually in the park boundaries, but he had his backpack packed, just in case).  However, I have seen pictures of the view taken on a clear day, and it is fantastic.  
Maligne Lake

West side of Maligne Lake
We made the mistake of trying the lakeside trail on the west side of the lake.  The trail was wide enough for a wheelchair and the scenery was beautiful, but the trail was so full of large roots that it was no fun, and at some point it even forced us to turn around.  

Mary Schaeffer Loop , a two mile trail on the east side is supposedly paved and accessible.  We meant to go there, but after bad directions (on our part), we had battled the roots on the west side and were too tired to try the east side.

I also heard that the 6.5 mile (return) Bald Hills trail out of Maligne Lake was accessible in that it was up an old fire road, but not very accessible in that it was always uphill.  I was advised to at least try to go to the old hitching post, if not top of hill, where first glimpse of view was.  Unfortunately, by the time we got these tips, it was too late in the day for us to try. We got this advice from an employee of the resort, after trying unsuccessfully to find out similar information from various rangers.  

The Maligne Lake Resort itself was barely accessible and the outhouses around it were pretty non-accessible.  The resort employee told us that this issue had come up many times over the past several years during their talks with park officials, so park officials definitely knew about and acknowledged the problem.  Yet, nothing was ever done to improve it.

Beaver/Summit/Jacques Lakes trail: At the north end of Maligne Lake is an old fire road that goes for 1 mile to Beaver Lake and then 1.5 miles more to Summit Lake, before continuing as a hiking trail to Jacques Lake.  Because the trail to Beaver and Summit Lakes is a fire road with minimal elevation gain, it may be appropriate for wheelchairs; on the other hand, it may be too rooty or muddy.

Jasper: The public washroom across from the information center in Jasper town is accessible, as is the nearby outhouse at Palisades.

Jasper SkyTram
 We didn't go up, but according to the website, the tram itself is wheelchair accessible, the upper terminal with a restaurant is mostly wheelchair accessible (not the second floor), and the1.2 km trail from the upper terminal to the summit is a dirt path.

Pyramid Lake
Pyramid Lake Island:  This hike was one of my favorites – beautiful views, great trail, and a baby elk!  The island is reached by a wooden bridge leading from a parking lot about ½ mile from the Pyramid Lake Resort.  There you’ll find a short path of hard-packed dirt around the island, passing by a couple of viewpoints over the water to mountains.  As an extra bonus, the elk frequent the water at morning and  evening.  During our visit, a small herd went into the water off of the mainland.  Later, a mother and her spotted baby crossed the wooden bridge over to island.  Once the other annoying camera-snapping tourists left, we just hung out with them (or they with us) while we stared at a windsurfer sail beneath Mt Edith Cavell.
Elk bathing in Pyramid Lake

Bridge across Pyramid Lake to PL Island

Pyramid Lake Island trail

Mother and baby elk keeping us company on Pyramid Lake Island

Windsurfer and Mt Edith Cavell at Pyramid Lake

Lake Annette trail
Lake Annette
Lake Annette:  Lake Annette loop trail is a paved, designated wheelchair-accessible trail around the lake.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to try it out.

Mt Edith Cavell glacier
Mount Edith Cavell:   Because of construction, the road up to Mount Edith Cavell was by permit only.  We managed to get a permit, and we found a parking space an the general lot.  However, the trail was too narrow, steep, and rocky to get very far up with a wheelchair, so it might be better to admire the glacier from the parking lot area.

Mt Edith Cavell glacier

Mt Edith Cavell glacier
Crowds at Mt Edith Cavell
Trail to Mt Edith Cavell glacier

Trail to Mt Edith Cavell glacier

Next post: The Canadian Rockies journey continues down the  Icefields Parkway

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Canadian Rockies

The Canadian Rockies are absolutely stunning: The drive from Jasper down to Banff passes through mountains, glaciers, colorful rocks and lakes, meadows exploding with wildflowers, and wildlife.  

Lake Louise

Icefields Parkway

Bow Lake

This flower grows like a weed,
especially in areas recently
cleared by fire.
What could it be called?

Not just rocks -- marmots!

Moraine Lake

Taken from inside the car!

Wheelchair placard --
yet notice the raised entry
and loose gravel
Still, despite the glorious scenery, perhaps my most prominent memory was that of the search for an accessible restroom – pardon me, Canadians – washroom.  Actually, in the national parks, most of the washrooms are outhouses.  Based on my travels, outhouses in lower BC are very accessible; Alberta not so much.  And even those outhouses displaying accessible signs were often only teasing.

In the parks, most outhouses sat on 3-6 inch high concrete pads, but had no ramps to get up.  Many were surrounded by loose gravel, which devoured most wheelchairs.  Sometimes there was even a step up from the concrete pad to the outhouse itself.  Many of the outhouses were too small to fit a wheelchair anyway.  And seldom was an outhouse fitted with any grab bars.  Finding a truly accessible outhouse was a rare occurrence, and I often planned my day around outhouse possibilities.

Hikers at Edith Cavell Glacier
(Planning ahead would have been good)
Due to latitude and altitude, the parks are reliably snow-free only for a short period each year, so in July and August the roads are crawling with hundreds of buses and thousands of tourists every day, while the campgrounds are teeming with lucky campers who reserved ahead and the hopeful masses who had not (guess which we were).  Getting away from the people and also getting into a campsite meant, by necessity, creativity, flexibility, and luck.  For example, with the help of my wheelchair as a cart, we enjoyed three nights at walk-in campsites – keep in mind that our camping gear is NOT walk-in suitable (4-person car-camping tent, two-person cot that’s as heavy as a tank, privacy tent with commode, and other large and heavy car-camping gear).  One night the only site available was one designated wheelchair site (perhaps only in Canada would people have respected that designation and left it free).  And there was one night with absolutely nothing available, so we joined many other campers in a campground parking lot.  

Turning obstacles into adventures:
"Walk-in" camping with a wheelchair
and wheelchair -sized camping equipment
(that's our tent)!
Crowds and outhouses aside, we spent a wonderful week in the Canadian Rockies, with many happy memories.  The scenery is indeed stupendous, and there are in fact a good deal of accessible sights and activities.  We started in Jasper National Park and then drove down the Icefields Parkway to Banff.  We ended with a visit to Lake Louise and a stay in Yoho National Park, before a too long day of driving back to Seattle through the acrid smoke of the British Columbian forest fires.  As usual, I wasn’t able to compile my notes until much later, making all statements subject to a suspect memory!  Details to follow.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Larch March

We first saw the golden larches in Switzerland.  And then in the Canadian Yukon.  We were transfixed -- not only because these conifers seemingly defy nature and drop their needles in the winter, but because they first turn  a magnificent gold, glowing in the sun.  Wilderness wisdom has different dates for this spectacle -- from mid-September through mid-October, including one insistence on the exact date of October 10.  I guess, as with most things, it depends on the regional weather and weather patterns that year.  At any rate, the larches in the North Cascades are the sub-alpine variety, which means that they grow only above 6000 feet, in a state where even the tallest non-volcanic mountains are shorter than 10,000 feet.

Still, their beauty calls, and we were drawn to the famous "larch march," this year.  We drove to Rainy Pass in the Northern Cascades, where a hike to Rainy Lake took us through temperate rainforest, fall colors, chilly temperatures, and patches of snow from a recent snowstorm to a mountain lake surrounded by more fall colors, high mountains, and -- far away -- views of golden larches.

The Rainy Lake Trail is one of my favorites.  It is a mile (each way) paved trail that is accessible to all wheelchairs, as long as the wheelchair hiker is strong (or has a strong hiking companion!).  The most exciting thing about this trail is that it is an actual trail used by hundreds of able-bodied hikers, through an actual forest, and ending at an actual view destination.  All of this while being completely paved (and, mostly, in good condition).  People using a manual chair need to be very strong (or have assistance), since there are quite a few steep hills.  People using a power chair should be careful that it doesn't get stuck in one of the puddles of water or mud on the otherwise-well-mantained paved path.  All wheelchair hikers should be forewarned and careful about a common but difficult barrier to wheelchair hiking: the trail slopes significantly sideways toward the downhill side.  Finally, it is a rainforest,  so it will probably be damp.  We hit the trail in the final days before the highway closed (due to snow), so the dampness was compounded by the chilly weather (it was in the mid-thirties) and the scattered remains of recent snow.

All of those precautions aside, it is a fantastic trail, and it was a fantastic hike.  We hiked through the rain forest, with its big, beautiful trees, moss, lichen, and ferns.  We were often greeted with bursts of fall color from the deciduous trees, bushes, and vines.

At the end of the trail, we stopped to admire and photograph the distant golden larches hugging the crags of the high peaks, while bright fall colors highlighted the vines and bushes on the slopes nearer the lake.  All fronted by a beautiful mountain lake.

There are several accessible trails outside of the North Cascades visitor center in Marblemount, WA, which I would like to try in the future, so I'll definitely return after the winter passes and the low snow melts.  Candy Harrington, who has published several books on barrier-free travel, including a book about barrier-free travel in Mt Rainier and Olympic National Parks, is planning to publish a book about barrier-free travel in the North Cascades next year.  I'm looking forward to using someone else's research to find and enjoy wheelchair-accessible trails!