10/16/2003: Day 8: Up to the glacier and back down in the snow
9:00 am: Karen is loading ice in the coolers as I wait in the lobby of the Banff Avenue Inn. I woke a bit dejected because of yesterday's misplanning. Maybe I'm just tired. The forecast for the coast (Vancouver and Seattle) is rain for the next few days : (
Also, the check engine light came on yesterday. It had done this back in the spring when we replaced the timing belt on our new car (1998 Mazda Protégé with 88,000 miles on it at the start of this trip.
This morning, we went to Evelyn's for breakfast: A spicy(!) veggie roll, prizefighter pie (black & blueberry), and a lemon yogurt scone complemented the good coffee. Then we exchanged $100 and got advice about travel plans at a coin and ammonite-opal dealer next to the bohemian coffee house (which was still closed an hour after their posted opening).
We set out from town today with the same sort of weather expectations as yesterday, and drove under gray overcast and through flurries. We headed up 1A back toward Lake Louise in part because it is on the way to Vancouver. We checked the weather at the ranger station in the Lake Louise Visitor's Center to see if we should head on up (out of our way) to the biggest remaining glacier in Canada, the Columbia Ice Fields in Jasper park. The forecast was good: The flurries we’d been driving through should disperse, and the sky clear up (just like yesterday).
When we got to the Ice Fields Parkway (Hwy 93), it was snowing harder. The Mountie in the toll shack at the park entrance ($14/day) said that it was supposed to clear up, and the glacier facilities were all open. They'd sent a plow up, but it found nothing to do. As we drove up the road, the snow got harder, and was starting to stick. Bridges were icy. By the time we got to the Saskatchewan Crossing, the highway was white except for narrow tire tracks. At the Crossing rest area, restaurant, and tchotchke stand, I heard a worker receive the news that the Snow Coach tours were cancelled for the day. We could still go on up to the site, though. The trees were white, and all mountains were invisible by the time we reached the Columbia Ice Field Center. The falling snow was thick enough to hide all mountains. We couldn’t even see the glacier directly across from the viewing stand! These are the closest glaciers to any road on the continent. The Snow Coaches are essentially tour snowmobiles, and the weather was too much for them! The several busloads of Japanese tourists we kept encountering on the way up there would be disappointed.
We decided not to drive farther along the Canadian Rockies up to the town of Jasper. Back down to the Maple Leaf (1) and over to Vancouver was now our plan. Shortly after we began our retreat, we saw a red van flipped over off the side of the road.
As we headed downhill, the snow got clumpier, and finally turned to rain. On the 1, we had slush for a while, and then rain, and then snow, and … Well, it was a total of about 8 hours to get to the Best Western at Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park in western British Columbia, about 110 miles from Banff! The last hour of driving was in mixed snow and ice, the dark fir trees around us bowed heavy with Winter Wonderland.
We had hardly seen a mountain since Banff along one of the most scenic, mountain-panorama roads in the world. But the close-in scenery with its new winter cloak was nevertheless quite enchanting.
We reached Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park, Alberta, Canada at dusk. The Best Western had rooms, so we stayed.