On a trip with my kids to the west coast of Canada, I have made a point to visit Mt. Robson Provincial Park. There are few provincial parks in British Columbia – and perhaps Canada – more majestic than Mt. Robson. On the west side of the Continental Divide, just under an hour’s drive from Jasper on the Alberta side, the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies reveals itself majestically on a clear day to the delight of all who may travel by to take in its splendour.
This mountain is big enough to create its own microclimate. Warm, moist air from the west collides with the mountain and is driven upward, cooling and dropping larger than normal amounts of moisture in the area. Perfect conditions exist for the ferns, mosses and massive cedar and fir trees that flourish here.
Berg Lake Trail
One of the most popular and well-known trails in the Canadian Rockies is the Berg Lake Trail. With a number of backcountry camping opportunities possible further in, it is the first 4 km of the trail that anyone of just about any age or skill level can hike. Leading to Kinney Lake, this gradually inclining trail is enjoyed by thousands each year. Following the path of the Robson River, the trail offers many scenic viewpoints along the way.
Upon arriving at Kinney Lake, we enjoy a lunch at one of the picnic tables, taking in the expansive and breathtaking view. Experiencing such a view –at par with backcountry hikes – is truly a privilege given the relatively short, easy nature of this hike.
Fraser River Origins
Near its headwaters, the Fraser River runs by the Robson Meadows campground. One of my favourite front country campgrounds, Robson Meadows is just off the TransCanada highway and within walking distance of the Visitor Centre. It is hard to imagine the over 1000 km journey the salmon take from the Pacific Ocean to reach this point. It being late enough in the summer to catch the run, my kids and I are able to spot 5-6 salmon leaping into the air near the scenic bend in the river on the east side of the campground.
As twilight approaches, we are sad to go, but eager to enjoy our second night’s stay and head further toward Vancouver Island the next morning.
This was one of the most surprisingly amazing days I’ve experienced this summer. (And I just got back from hiking the Fryatt Valley in Jasper National Park!) As I sit here on a bench overlooking Astotin Lake, I reflect on the day I’ve had. The lake is situated at the north end of Elk Island National Park.
A Jewel Hiding in Plain Sight
Residing in Fort Saskatchewan, I have lived only about a half hour drive from the Park for over 2 years. Having driven out here only once last spring and not exploring much at all, I realize now I never gave it the chance it deserved. Arriving here today (I almost didn’t come) simply as another spot to catch up on some work, I begin by walking to the small beach and around the many picnic grounds in this National Park. With numerous picnic tables, fire pits, cook houses, washrooms, and a campground, the facilities are so very obviously at the caliber of a Canadian National Park!
Parks Canada has placed red adirondack chairs in various spots throughout the National Parks system. Along one of the many trails throughout the Park, they overlook the lake: this spot to be my office for the afternoon.
Paddling My Way
After working for about two hours I decide to rent a kayak for a mere $15 for the hour. Paddling across this lake on such a warm, calm summer day is truly a privilege.
The Bison are Here!
Arriving back on shore I decide to check out some of the festivities. Today is the day of the Bison Festival. Elk Island National Park holds more bison within its borders than all of North America in 1890 (a simultaneously inspiring and depressing fact considering the decimation of the herds of millions upon the arrival of western Europeans to North America). As children and adults alike “pet” the stuffed specimen on display, I can hardly wait to explore the park further to find the herd. But that will have to wait as there is much more yet to see here at the festival.
Native American dancers are always among my favourite spectacles: the colour, the culture, the music, the dance!
A Chance Meeting
Wanting to check out some of the other lakes and see a live bison in the park, I drive to the south end. “Bison Drive” doesn’t reveal to me any of North America’s largest land mammal; but on the way back, on the main road, coming upon a specimen of impressive size and dark brown hue I stop with some trepidation to snap a quick photo from my car window. This massive animal dwarfs my little car. THIS is Elk Island National Park.
Twilight Comes to Elk Island
Coming back to my spot overlooking the lake, and finishing my work (for today), I am watching the colours of this amazing sunset get deeper and richer. Birds chirp, and now, just now, the coyotes are howling to each other across the lake.
The moon has appeared to the left of me. The sun is disappearing to the right. As I think once again about this day I feel two things: First, I’m going to come back often to this special place, so close to my little apartment; Second, I should have been out here so many more times these past two years to have such days, and find such a twilight as this.
Twilight has come in many ways today. I completed my return journey out of the Fryatt Valley, blessed with another day of rich blue skies, sunlit peaks and white, rushing waters.
Now, sitting next to the Athabasca River just outside the town of Jasper, near the end of the day, I’ve undertaken the task of finishing a book I’ve admittedly taken far too long to read: David Suzuki: The Autobiography. With only a couple of chapters left, I am certainly in the twilight phase of it.
However, soon after a group of rafters go by…
…and as the rain clouds move in, I decide to make my way back to Whistler’s Campground where I have already set up camp for my last night here.
The End of Two Journeys
I have been in a strange bubble: Thunder and dark clouds surround me, but no rain. Wanting a campfire not only for the simple enjoyment of it, but also to have the warmth and light to be able to finish this book, I chopped and lit the dry wood gathered from the pile. I have now been sitting for just over an hour, reading the last pages of this book, about David Suzuki’s own reflections on his twilight years. Darkness comes, the deep orange glow of the fire emanates heat directly at my knees, and I finish this book as I finish this day and this trip: with pure joy that I have experienced it and yet sadness that it is over.
After a good night’s sleep, and a cup of tea with my breakfast, I head out toward Headwall Falls and the hike to the top. Approaching Fryatt Lake I am once again amazed by the blue/green colour of these mountain lakes and feel lucky to have the sun above illuminating it in such a fantastic way.
Another 3 km and I come to the Headwall Campground at the base of the falls. From here, I can see the challenge ahead and wonder how the trail could climb that high in just 900 metres, and what path could it possibly take?
Making the Headwall
I made it! Maybe I shouldn’t be so joyous. I’ve done more difficult hikes before. But I know what it is: disappointment, then accepting and being ok with that disappointment, then having it all turn around and come through after all. It creates an even greater sense of elation. Having met a young, heavily bearded man hiking down from the top of the Headwall, I asked, “Is it easy to navigate?” He said, “just follow the orange markers. My wife and I stayed up at the hut last night; the views are amazing.”
I listened but must have had my head down on the way up as after scrambling for a bit to a point that seemed impossible to go any further, I accepted that I had failed. “Where are the orange markers?” I exclaimed to myself in disgust. Resigned to my failure I headed back down – mostly on my butt. But just a short way down I noticed the biggest strip of orange tape I’d seen yet. I had indeed missed it.
My elation was so palpable and heartfelt that it took away my personal embarrassment. And just a few more minutes up what would normally be considered a challenging hike (now suddenly seeming soooo easy after the cliff climbing I had just attempted) and I have made it. And am I glad I did.
Maybe I shouldn’t keep reporting my mistakes (though this really wasn’t much of one). Heading up the trail along the creek trying to get closer to the cirque above me, I end up following a trail through the bush. I could tell it was heading toward a waterfall, but not where I wanted to be; instead hoping to push on further toward the base of the cirque ahead. So I find my way back down to where I had started.
Lunch Break Rock
I take my lunch on a rock in the middle of Fryatt Creek still above the Headwall – having nimbly leapt across a few other boulders to get there. After eating my sandwiches and fruit bars, I stretch out on the rock, nearly drifting off a few times.The sun is warm – the water I dip my feet into (having taken off my boots for some much needed foot rest) is not!
A few low rumbles cascade down from the circ above- rockslides, though I cannot see them. Then a large, low rumble from straight ahead is accompanied by a plume of dust. This must happen often as it has cascaded down a large chute, through which this scene has certainly played out time and time again. But I am lucky to have been here to see it this time.
In Pursuit of the Cirque
After my lunch and snooze on the rock, I decide to try the trail again. And there it is: hidden by the fact that it crosses a tiny stream, the rest of the trail lay before me.
Not 5 minutes later I find myself at the small upper lake. This is where I wanted to end my hike. And I’m here!
A break in the cloud – the return of the sun – and I decide to head toward the west side of the lake. Scrambling a little over huge boulders, skirting the edge of this lake made grey/blue/green by countless particles of silt washed from the surrounding Rockies, I come to a tiny beach, then yet another slide. Climbing part way up to get the best vantage point of this amazing 360 degree display of pure, raw beauty, I sit, listening to the water pass through the rocks below me, and take one more panoramic photo of the lake and the cirque behind.
This being as far into the backcountry as I shall go on this trip (but with the hike down yet to come and plenty of daylight left) I feel I am now in the twilight of my journey.
Closing my eyes and taking a number of deep breathes to smell, taste, and experience with every sense I have this amazing air, this truly special place and my luck in being able to be here, right now, I take one – then another, then another – last look before I head back. Walking along the shore I step through the soft sand, leaving footprints for the first time in the opposite direction from which I had come.
The Rain Decided to Wait … Just For Me?
Within the minute of my standing and heading back, the clouds that had been hinting their intent, decide to endow me with the first sprinkles I’d felt all day. With good gear, and knowing how lucky I’d been to have had such amazing weather this day, I am not disappointed that the rain has come. In fact, it has solidified what I’d already known about this day: I have been blessed. So instead of chagrining the fact that the clouds have moved in and begun to drizzle cool drops over my shoulders, I in fact smile one of the biggest smiles I’ve had in a long time.
Jasper National Park has always been a spiritual place for me. Not in a formal, religious sense, but as a place that has always inspired me to see how beautiful the places around us can be and how lucky we are to be able to experience them. I try to come to Jasper as often as I can.
This time, I’ve come to hike the Fryatt Valley.
A Multi-Use Trail
Parks Canada allows hikers to bike the first 12 km in from the Geraldine Lakes Road off highway 93A south of Jasper. An old fire road, the beginning is quite open and not too difficult.
However, not far in I am required to take off my boots and push my bike across a stream in my bare feet, not made any easier with the 40 pound pack on my back. Riding further along, the road really becomes a trail where I need to once again dismount and push, but just for a short while up a couple of switchbacks. Not much further up, the trail opens upon a grand view of the Athabasca River valley. The sand dunes that fall away from this outlook make it even more unique.
Further along through the woods, I make it to the Lower Fryatt backcountry campground. I take a short break to wash my hands and face in the crisp, cool water of the rushing stream that neighbours the picnic area. The ride took me 2 hours. “Not bad,” I think.
Going further needs to be done on foot: both out of necessity due to the narrow, more challenging trail, and also because Parks Canada does not allow bicycles past the Lower Fryatt campground (where I lock my bike to a tree).
It is almost unknown to me just how beautiful the surroundings are as this part of the trail is heavily forested. As I begin to parallel Fryatt Creek (about 4 km into this 6 km hike) an opening to the creek from the trail leads allows me to take advantage of one of the most gorgeous lunch spots I’ve ever had the privilege of encountering. I carefully step across and through the many paths the water takes, branching off and rejoining time and time again on its journey downward; dropping my pack and resting it up against a fallen tree now left stranded in the middle of the stream bed.
The view overwhelms me as I set to making my lunch: a flatbread ham sandwich with cinnamon honey, some trail mix, and refreshing water from the stream itself (treated with some tablets I carry with me).
As the sun streams down, the blue sky, green trees, white rapids, and multi-coloured rock – including the copper coloured mountain around which I have come – all come together in what I think of as pure beauty.
On to Brussels Campground
But I must continue and after just 2 more km I have completed my 3 hour hike (lunch time included) and arrived at the campground I shall call home for the next 2 days. Setting up my tent, blowing up my air mattress and spreading out my sleeping bag doesn’t feel like work; rather, more like a reward.
With my camp set up and food carefully hung from the high cables provided (protecting it from bears) I am already eager to see if I can make it to nearby Fryatt Lake this early evening.
And I am able to make it their in under a half hour. Standing on the shore of this blue-green lake, seeing the “Headwall” at the far end, with its snow white waterfall cascading down, I’m already thinking of tomorrow.
But now, after walking on the way back to the base of the two waterfalls on either side of the valley…
… and having enjoyed a warm pasta meal and cup of hot chocolate cooked over my tiny backpacker’s stove, I set to taking a few pictures during this twilight time, with the last light of day now falling across only a few of the peaks at the north end of the valley, and only slightly illuminating the spot I have chosen for my tent.
A Good Night’s Rest Awaits
As the dark progresses, it is time for me to gladly retire. It is warm here in my little tent – though it shall cool off more throughout the night I’m sure.
And with the light now gone I realize it is the sounds here that are just as special as the sights. Water rushes down the valley, insects are singing their buzzing and whistling songs. And zippers are being drawn on tent doors by those nearby who too are ready to rest, ready to be ready for tomorrow’s adventure.
Tony celebrated his 90th birthday yesterday. There has never been a more enduring performer than Tony Bennett and I do not mean this simply because of his age – and his ongoing tour schedule! His endurance in popularity flies in the face of listeners’ fickle musical tastes over the past 7 decades. Throughout continuous change in what is considered “popular” music, Tony has remained at the top of the charts AND at the top of his game, and not just in the jazz idiom.
Seeing him perform this week on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, I could not believe the power and quality of his voice. “Could not believe” being a figure of speech of course: this is TONY BENNETT after all.
Tony’s popularity throughout the years is easily demonstrated by his numerous Grammy Awards. Perhaps most astounding are Tony’s wins in popular music in recent years, he reaching incredible new heights of success with his 2014 win for the extremely popular Cheek to Cheek album with Lady Gaga.
I was fortunate to see Tony perform about 5 years ago in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I remember being outside the Jubilee Auditorium and seeing his limousine pull up around back. It was exceptionally – or rather, typically – cold in Calgary that winter day. My curiosity about what Tony must have thought of the -30 C day was soon satisfied when he joked soon after taking the stage: “Last time I was in Calgary I said it would be a cold day [in hell] when I return. I was right.” With his small ensemble (piano, bass and drums) he commanded that stage like no one else I had seen. And this in his mid-80s!
So now at 90, and he in the twilight of his life, Tony in no way seems to be in the twilight of his career. Singing Gordon Jenkins’ “This is All I Ask” only the way Tony can, he smiled broadly at the Late Show audience as he delivered the lyric, “As I approach the prime of my life, I find I have the time of my life.” And judging by that smile, he certainly is having the time of his life. And WHAT A LIFE!
Looking for yet another place (not my office, not my living room) to catch up on some work, to make it somehow enjoyable, I took myself to the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton. Certainly the most iconic of Edmonton’s structures, the Conservatory shall be celebrating its 40th anniversary later this year. These 4 glass pyramids encasing Temperate, Arid, and Tropical zones plus an ever-changing Feature area serve as botanical oases throughout all seasons.
And Edmonton has seasons – real seasons! It was about 27 degrees Celsius in the beautiful, green and flower-adorned park surrounding the Conservatory today. In fall, the medium yellows of poplar trees, and reds, purples, and oranges of neighbourhood shrubs, harken the oncoming of winter. And WHAT A WINTER. Temperatures in Edmonton often reach down to the -20s C and from time-to-time even more intense cold snaps will see the air change from breathable to dense and biting at the -30s or even -40s C.
But for today (or yesterday, technically as I write this) I thoroughly enjoyed my outdoor office, having brought my laptop and a neatly packed lunch in my little red Coleman cooler.
So what could any of this have to do with twilight? It doesn’t get dark in this part of the world until well past 9:30 or 10:00 pm this time of year, and I did not stay that late. It was a flower, a bright yellow flower inside the Temperate pyramid that so perfectly mimicked the last light of day: the sun often brightest and most brilliant as it hits the horizon, seemingly reaching up to get in one last exhalation of light. With its petals pushing upward, and the bright brilliance of this flower causing me to make a quiet exhalation and exultation of my own – “Wow!” – this flower is as the sunset: magnificent and never to be the same, never to be replicated and a gift to this earth.