A Look Back: Matters of Pride, Camping with an Elk in Jasper National Park and the Columbia Icefields

Warm and wonderful in Jasper National Park.
In the most recent "A Look Back" post, I'd shared a journal excerpt from the first day of my journey from Denali National Park, Alaska to a new job in Philadelphia, over 4,500 miles away. 

After driving along the rest of the Alcan, through the Yukon, Liard Hot Springs and part of British Columbia, we stopped to camp in Jasper National Park. The journal excerpts continue with an account of our unexpected early morning visitor and moving on from Jasper into the Columbia Icefields for some of the most incredible terrain I'd ever seen.

I awoke feeling restless at 5:30am with an urge to use the facilities. I spend a good length of time arguing internally about whether or not extracting myself from the warm sleeping bag was worth it, or if I could manage a little more sleep until the sun rose and warmed the tent. It's one of those impossibly constant cool weather camping problems; one I was glad to have. Dan and I had switched sleeping bags on account of his being warmer and my body's inability to regulate its own temperature. I'd warmed sufficiently by that point to have shed my very top insulating layer, which included my big, marshmallowy Cornell Athletics sweatpants. (To the Athletics Office: I'm not sorry I didn't return them after graduation. After surviving four years of college swimming, I deserve them.) I'd shoved them to the bottom of the sleeping bag and a walk to the bathroom meant retrieving them. Ah, well.

Dan and the fire I finally managed to make!
I finally decided it couldn't wait and was off to the facilities in our Jasper National Park campground, complete with indoor plumbing. I made a silly comment to Dan about how we were roughing it. He gently reminded me that, despite our outdoor sleeping quarters, the bathroom was a shorter walk from our tent than it had been from my employee housing room in Denali just a week earlier. (I lived in one of a handful of beautiful A-frame housing units in Denali without indoor plumbing. If I wanted to pee in the middle of the night, I had to get dressed and head to the nearest bathroom, a relatively short walk away. Good times!)

I'd wanted to make a fire in the morning and was determined to do so before Dan got up. I collected an armful of dead spruce branches and thought I'd have a roaring blaze in no time. Wrong. After crouching near the kindling and fiddling with my lighter, all I'd managed to do was turn the pile of pine needles and bark from brown to black. I was about to surrender when I heard Dan stir in the tent. It had become a matter of pride. I must get the fire started! I must!! I flicked the lighter one last time and managed to ignite the bundle of wet sticks. Victory! It was almost as difficult to keep the little flame lit, but I managed to avoid embarrassment and ridicule by doing so...barely.

Our early morning campsite guest in Jasper National Park.
We missed the 11am checkout time because a bull elk parked himself right next to our tent while we'd gone on a little jaunt into town and couldn't get near the tent to dismantle it without fear of being charged. Back into town we went for a wonderful breakfast of homemade bread and eggs. Aurora (my Toyota Corolla), even completely loaded down with all of our worldly possessions, is consistently getting 30-35 mpg. The elk still hadn't moved when we returned. I slowly and deliberately approached the tent and got close enough to unstake it. We moved it closer to the car, dismantled it, packed up and left, heading south toward Banff and the Columbia Icefields.

The beginning of the Columbia Icefields. There are no words.
I thought I'd seen it all in Alaska, but I was remarkably mistaken. This section Canadian Rockies, save Mount McKinley, seems to be consistently taller than anything I've seen. The peaks are more jagged, the mountains more angry, and the landscape more intimidating the further we go. Instead of  relatively gentle rises from base to summit, these boast thousand foot sheer cliffs staggered from top to bottom like stairways for giants. The summits of each are extraordinarily obvious and the mountains exhibit obvious sedimentary layers. Most are over 3000m tall and as a result, each have their own little glaciers and ice fields. Most look unclimbable without a harness, lots of ropes, lots of people, and a certain level of disregard for self preservation. Small trees grow improbably in the smallest of flat spots. They stretch toward the heavens above deep blue lakes and rivers fed by the endless glaciers. It's just...inspiring. Do we have to leave?

In the next "A Look Back" post on May 13th, the journey continues through the Columbia Icefields and on a backpacking trip to one of the largest backcountry glacial lakes in Banff National Park!


Alison Lee said…
what?! the elk situation is hilarious!
Katie said…
it was definitely a unique situation! they'd been known to charge campers in that area, so we were trying to be as careful as possible by waiting it out :)
fraction said…
what?! the elk situation is hilarious!
Camping Beds said…
Nice article.. about the Jasper national park and the columbia  icelands.. I don't want to miss this places...