The last day with Laura on this trip. We visited Mount Robson and a couple of other sites along the way. At the visitor center I was given a small book on the bicycling options in this area of Canada for which there are many. I will have to return with my bike and try them out. The day had rain forecast and there would be no way to do the hike we wanted without encountering rain. As we went to prepare lunch the rain started and so we packed up to move to a sheltered picnic area. There Laura began work on a pesto chicken pasta dish using my little camp stove. I made a pile of wood and kept the fire going. In the shelter were several other travelers and we were told we inspired them to cook a full meal as well.
After lunch it was time for Laura to head back west, and me east. Laura is a great travel partner and had for the second time put together a memorable trip. I decided that I would head mostly east and stay in Canada until just above Fargo, North Dakota. I have seen North and South Dakota before, but little of Canada. So I began my trek toward Edmonton. This would be northern most latitude (54.622°N) I have even been. I bedded down at a truck stop just outside of Innisfree, Alberta.
Laura had gifted me a camp stove I tried out the previous night. In the morning we had vanilla overnight oats and eggs cooked on the new stove. I felt well rested after taking the previous day off from long hikes. What I found strange was that despite my legs protesting hiking when I got on my bike they didn’t bother me at all. I guess hiking works a muscle group cycling does not as my cycling muscles were just fine. Regardless I felt like I could handle whatever we decided to do.
We started at Athabasca Falls, and then Maligne Canyon with sandwiches for lunch. We then went to the Jasper Skytram and hiked up to the summit of Whistlers Mountain. The view was really something. We were surrounded by snowy mountains on all sides. We had done several hikes on this trip but I think the results of this one was my favorite.
Had overnight oats (chocolate and nuts) breakfast. Both Laura and I were fairly fatigued from all the hiking after the last couple of days and decided to forgo the long hike at Parker Ridge we had planned for today. It was probably good we did. The hike was a snow covered trail up a mountain and we heard from others it was a mess. Neither Laura or I had footwear that didn’t have holes in them. It was probably too early in the season to do that hike.
Instead we did the lookout at Bridal Falls, Parker Ridge (just for pictures), Tangle Falls, Sunwapta Falls, and our biggest event, Athabasca Ice Fields glacier walk. On the last trip I did with Laura I had asked if there was a glacier we could walk on. We didn’t have time that trip, but this time we did. To get to the glacier they took us in what looked like a bus matted with a monster truck. We needed a vehicle like this because getting to the glacier required driving a hill with a 40% grade.
The glacier was cool in every sense. Temperatures required me to wear my winter coat—the only time I needed it on the trip. The day was warm, but when you are standing on a sheet of ice hundreds of feet thick it tends to cool down the surrounding air. It was also incredibility bright and without sunglasses one had to squint hard under the intense light. Snow is highly reflective and we were surrounded by miles of it. The tour guide told us about the stream of water the circled the area marked off as safe, and we could drink from it. To be honest the water was a little drab. My guess is it was almost pure with no minerals for taste. However, I was able to drink from a glacier. And hug it. I am a big fan of snow.
Started the day with pumpkin soup with chicken for breakfast. Laura had dehydrated the ingredients before setting out for the trip and aside from taking a little longer than expected to rehydrate the soup turned out great.
The main trip today was Bow Lake and a hike to Bow Glacier falls. This was a shorter hike than yesterday coming in at 8.6 km (5.3 miles). The area was pretty spectacular and I was able to see Bow Glacier as well as the area Bow Glacier had once covered. I incorrectly thought the glacier may have covered the area we were hiking 100 years ago, but after reading a little I am mistaken. I’m not sure when the glacier covered the area we were hiking, but since 1850 it has retreated some 1,000 meters (3,600 feet) from where it had been. We were about 1,500 meters (4,900 feet) from the glacier so it has clearly been longer than 100 years. I had also hoped to find us a route over the creek that separated us from the trail to the south, but failed. The waters were running quite high because of the spring melt. Any narrow spot along the creek had fast moving waters far too deep, and the wide areas not enough rock to walk across. So after having sandwich for lunch we started back.
After the hike we had hot chocolate at Num-ti-jah Lodge, then visited Peyto Lake, and Mistaya Canyon. Hiking had really put ware on me, but was taxing Laura even harder. She had to stop several times to ice her knee. So we found a campsite a bit early and Laura made Quebecois split pea soup with ham for dinner. My boots are shot and the cracks on the souls means my feet were pretty wet from the hike. At camp I was having difficulty getting the fire started because of how wet the wood was. So I decided to try drying the wood by building a tower of wood over the coals, and put my wet boots on it as well. Seemed to work well enough and I had dry wood for the morning’s fire.
There are many benefits to traveling with Laura. Not only does she make a great travel itinerary but she is a fantastic cook. In the morning I got the fire going and Laura prepared Chorizo Sausage, veggies, potatoes and eggs for breakfast. I went on a quick ride around Banff while she cooked—better for me not to be in the way after the fire was started.
Most of the day was spent hiking Johnston Canyon. At the ink pots we stopped and had sandwiches for lunch, then both took a nap for about 20 minutes on a sandbar in the middle of a creek. The hike totaled 12.5 km (7.8 miles) and really pushing extent of my hiking abilities.
Afterward we did Morine Lake and then Lake Louise. We had dinner at a restaurant in the Fairmont Chateau. A week unshaven, waring my hoodie, and sweaty clothing from a day of hiking I was painfully under-dressed for the restaurant we had dinner but it was still a lovely time.
Work up in East Glacier and it was time to cross into Canada. I made a big deal out of packing up my car for the border crossing into Canada. In the past I have been given a full interrogation when crossing the border. This time however, I was asked a couple questions and sent on my way. All that work getting my car in order just to be waved through. I don’t mind at all.
Once in Canada I had a few hours of driving before reaching Banff. I also had no cellphone. Using a fast food chain’s Internet I had downloaded off-line maps of the areas I knew I would be traveling before crossing the border. However, I still wanted Internet access while in Canada—I am a professional computer nerd after all. So I stopped in Calgary—the only city along the way—to see about picking up a simple cellphone plan. For being such a simple request it sure take forever to do anything with a cellphone, however in about 45 minutes I was on the road with data and voice service for the duration of my stay in Canada.
I met my old friend Laura at a prearranged campsite in Banff. After setting up camp we traveled into town and visited the White Museum, Banff National Historical Site (cave) and then traveled to the Banff Gondola. After riding to the top of the mountain and taking in a spectacular view we had dinner with one of the best backdrops I’ve ever had for dinner. I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated my birthday.
I did a short ride around the campground after it got dark and did some long exposure shots of the mountains and stars. It was still twilight at 11:00 pm.
My alarm went off at 5:00 am, but I was having none of it. I hit snooze three times before feeling ready to be awake. I recall disabling my last snooze at 5:27 am. The sun was up and I had big plans for the morning. I hadn’t initially noticed but there was a bathroom about 100 meters from where I parked for the night. Breakfast consisted of orange juice and a peanut butter and jam sandwich, along with grazing on whatever else was next to me during the drive back to Avalanche Creek. I was excited. If I could make the Loop in time, I might be able to cycle all 14 miles up the mountain to where the road crews were removing snow.
As I was preparing it was raining lightly, but stopped shortly afterward. There was a good chance I would be getting wet during this ride, and it was a risk I was willing to take. The temperature was somewhere above 50. I packed my bike with a hat and a sweatshirt, not thinking too much about why. In hindsight it was rather important I had done so, and I should have packed more.
The GPS tracking software said my ride began at 6:24 am at an altitude of around 3,350. As before the first 5 miles were a fairly light climb and went by fair quick. The mountains were still hiding in clouds but even more so this morning. The humidity had to have been nearly 100% as there was almost mist in the air. Then the climb began just a couple miles before the Loop. Again I set a target heart rate and gave a steady push. This time, however, I found my heart rate didn’t want to stay below 165 BPM. I was too excited and wanted to push harder. I reached the Loop, and as I biked in high anticipation I finally saw what I was looking for: the open sign. Same as last night meaning the road was still open. I did not know yet if the road crew would come though to close the area off or when—only that the road was currently open. And so the climb continued which was now at 4,300 feet.
The grade didn’t seem to change much for the remainder of the ride, but I managed my heart rate better after this. The scenery was changing. This road was getting progressively obstructed. Fallen rock and debris became more common. That made sense. The road crew was concentrating on clearing snow and the rock falls and runoff was not something they needed to contend with. The right lane, which faces the valley as opposed to the rock face, was usually clear whereas the left lane could be fairly obstructed in places. Sometimes large piles of rock and debris had been collected in the left lane.
Around 7:30 am I was passed by two trucks. These were presumably from the snow removal crew. I waved as they passed but otherwise it was uneventful. Maybe 30 minutes latter a second truck came by and the driver stopped me. He said the road had been closed for the snow removal crew and I stated that when I started the road had not yet been closed. The man seemed satisfied when I said that I had been passed by two other trucks earlier in the morning telling me that if they didn’t say anything to me then it wasn’t a problem for me to be where I was. He warned me the snow removal area would be pretty sketchy and I assured him I would turn back before reaching the point where men were working. The guy was pretty nice about everything and seemed mostly concerned that I was putting myself in harms way. That was my last encounter for the remainder of the climb.
By this point it had started to rain. Sprinkles at first but then a fairly steady light rain had developed. My shirt was soaked and my pants were wet enough to stick to me. Yet I had not reached my goal and wanted to push on. I was a little chilly but not cold. My hands were probably the worst having gone numb from constant pressure on the handlebars and chilly wet cycling gloves. But I’m stubborn. I wanted the 14 miles advertised at the visitor center, and I was going to get it.
By this point the road was scary. Just before the Weeping Wall I saw a pile of what looked like road barricades. At first I wasn’t sure why they were there, but as I continued I figured it out. They were not barricades—they were guard rails. The rails were attached by bolts along the edge of the road and removed before the winter snows. I presume this is because of avalanches which would be common in this area. If not removed an avalanche would simply break the rails off. Thus they were removed for the winter. Riding along a road that was already one lane due to debris now had the added danger of not having guard rails. I was starting to experience a far less tamed version of the park. Just after the Triple Arches the road narrowed to one lane that was cut through a snow pile several feet high. The pile was melting rapidly. The thought occurred to me that dad it decided to let go as I passed my bicycle and I would have become a permanent mountain resident—albeit not functional ones.
I closed in on my goal. The GPS was indicating I had traveled 14 miles. I was cold, and soaked. Around a mile ahead I could see heavy machinery at work. The GPS indicated I was at 6,060 feet, about 600 feet shy of Logan Pass—the highest point of the road. This gave me a total of 2,710 feet of climb, destroying my previous climb at Yellowstone. But my accomplishment had come at a price, one which I would now have to pay.
At this point I don’t know the temperature. I guess it was around 50 with a steady wind. My shirt was completely soaked, and the front of my pants also very wet. My hands where numb from cold. The return trip down the mountain would require almost no physical excursion meaning I would not be generating the body heat I was currently using to stay warm. I knew this was something I should be concerned about.
It had stopped raining and I had packed a sweatshirt. So I would start by putting that on. I first had to remove my drenched tight fitting shirt which turned out to be rather difficult. My hands were so cold my fingers didn’t want to function. So removing the wet shirt took a fair amount of effort. However, the dry sweatshirt was a welcome relief. I also put on a hat I had packed. If only I had packed gloves I would have actually been in pretty good shape. Although my legs were wet they didn’t seem cold. My shoes and socks were wet as well, but also didn’t bother me much. With the dry shirt and hat only my hands were a problem.
Unlike the previous night were I could take advantage of open roads to hold very high speeds, the debris along the road meant it would be too dangerous try the same thing from where I was. Thus I would have to ride the breaks to keep my speeds reasonable for the decent. A strong wind chilled my already cold hands, but the sweatshirt took most of the sting out of the wind on my torso. I had to stop a couple times to warm my hands, but I found that riding the breaks and peddling was working to keep my speeds at bay and my heart moving fast enough to stay warm. Despite being a stubborn ass who wouldn’t turn back earlier I made it back to the Loop.
I found there was a gate across the road I hadn’t taken notice of before, and it had been closed. This gate was serious with extensions on either side to prevent people from crossing it. I was on the wrong side and there was no ground around it. I had no choice but to lift my beast of a bicycle over the barricade. At least now I understood what it meant for the road to be truly closed. There was no getting around this gate without knowing you did so. The sign I had encountered earlier did have the arms down, but the gate was the best indication the road was closed. I had not broken the rules by crossing the boundary when I did because the gate had not yet been closed. But I could see why the man in the truck stopped to speak with me. There would have been no way I would not have known I was breaking the rules had I passed this gate when closed.
I took a bathroom break at the Loop where I chatted with a couple who had just reached the Loop by bicycle. Afterward my hands had sufficiently recovered to make the remainder of the ride much more tolerable. When I reached Eve and started the engine right away to generate some heat. After packing up my bike I changed into dry clothing. I took a leisurely journey to the visitor center were I inquired about other bicycling options in the park. For the most part, I had already exhausted them. There were some stubs—tails of a mile or less—but the main road was really all there was. Sometime I would like to cycle the entire stretch from West Glacier to St. Mary. For now, I badly needed a nap. I moved my car to a more remote location in the parking lot and retired to my trunk den for a couple hours.
The sun had come out and the day warmed into the 60s. I had to pop the trunk to get a breeze so I didn’t get too hot. But the sun alternated with periodic rain. It would rain for 10 minutes, then be sunny, then rain again. Since my bicycle is sitting on my trunk, opening it for air requires a bit of force and then jamming something in the gap to keep it open. I grabbed the nearest item I could find which happened to be some sweatpants I use to sleep in. They got fairly wet as a result. When I got up I spread out all wet items in hopes I could get them to try. In the remaining hours they did.
It was now time to travel to the east side of Glacier, and by the only open road it would take about an hour and a half. Not long into the trip the sun came out and stayed out. The east side of Glacier was like a totally different place. Bright spring day with heavy winds. The road was not open very far, only to Jackson Glacier Overlook. This would be the first time in my 3 visits to Glacier National Park I would actually get to see a glacier. It was mostly covered by winter snow and looked more like a snow pile than what we think of as a glacier—but that is normal for this time of year. It is sad to think that this, and indeed every glacier in the park is predicted to be gone in less than 15 years. The warming climate had been steadily shrinking the glaciers since the 1850s. Most are completely gone, and the rest only a fraction of their size.
I was almost glad when I saw the sign on the road barricade that said bicycling was prohibited past that point. The park has been trying to get a bear that has been roaming the area and has closed the road as a precautionary measure. All my cycling from the last several days has caught up with me and I really didn’t have another ride in me today. So I stopped along a lovely stretch of road to do some writing.
Got up around 6:00 am. Did a quick loop by bicycle and watched Old Faithful. Did a couple of other early morning shots before starting drive to Glacier National.
Arrived after the park facilities were closed, but the gates are still open. Went to visitor center to check on plowing progress and state of roads. Read the roads were open to car to Avalanche Creek, and to hikers/bikers some 14 miles past that.
It was cloudy and sometimes sprinkling as I approached Glacier. The mountain tops were disappearing into clouds much as they had my last visit. The gray backdrop gives the place an almost monotone appearance only broken by the green of plant life. What I noticed right away was the smell. I don’t know what is in bloom but the scent is a wonderful fragrance. I found myself just pausing often with eyes closed just to inhale and take in this scent.
My drive to Avalanche Creek was slow with frequent stops for taking pictures along Lake McDonald and its tributary McDonald Creek. Both the lake and creek were high from the ongoing spring melt. Rapids and waterfalls roared.
When I reached the closed road at Avalanche Creek I still had over an hour before sunset. Turned out I had longer than that, but didn’t know it. I didn’t know if I had time to do all 14 miles of the road that was open, but I was going to try.
My last visit to Glacier National Park was probably the highpoint of my last trip. I fell in love with mountains lofting into the clouds and fog rolling into valleys. But on bicycle I found an even greater appreciation for the beauty of this place. I found myself riding among tall pines when just around the corder there was a clearing and to the side of me a mighty wall climbing into the clouds. You just can’t experience that transition while driving. In addition, I was almost completely alone on my journey. I passed a couple of hikers as I first started out, but after a mile there were no other humans. I did pass a couple of white tail deer. They all took note of me, but only to see that my direction of travel had nothing to do with them. Afterward they returned to foraging.
I pressed on riding down the center of Going-to-the-Sun Road. After all, there was no other traffic to worry about at all. After a couple of miles I noticed I wasn’t far from The Loop. I had recalled this section of Glacier was fairly steep. By my calculations the sun was about to set, but there was still a lot of light. With one successful hill climb under my belt and a fully charged bike battery I decided that the Loop would be my target before turning around.
The grade increased and I put my front sprocket into the middle gear and repeated what I had done for the climb to the continental divide: adjust gears and effort to target my heart rate between 155 and 165, and push forward. I went through a tunnel I had always wanted to top in while driving and watched the waterfall coming off the mountain side through two stone windows in the tunnel. Shortly after the tunnel I had reached the loop. I read that the road I was riding was designed to have no higher than a 6% grade. I’m not sure what grade I had already ridden but I knew I was good to have ridden such a grade for a lot longer. I set off to continue my journey but found a marker in the road stating it was closed for further travel. It was strange, however.
The stop signs were up, but the sign that said not to continue further not closed. I didn’t notice the open gate in just a few meters further from the sign. In addition, I had only traveled about 8 miles of the 14 the visitor station said were available. Not waiting to break any rules where I could be interfering with men working to clear snow I decided this would be the end of my climb. I had climbed some 950 feet which did not surpass my climb at Yellowstone, but I was more than willing to continue. Dwindling light and being unsure about the road closure it was time to turn around. The temperature had likewise dropped and I put on a sweatshirt knowing I wouldn’t have exercise induced body heat to keep me warm but I would have a strong headwind to cool me off. It was a good decision.
The trip down the mountain had a major advantage over Yellowstone—this road was closed. I had not passed anyone and was unlikely to on the way down. This and the high grade meant I could move at whatever speed I felt I could handle. I held speeds of over 30 MPH for at least 2 miles. For this leg of the trip I couldn’t add any energy by peddling as even my highest gear let me peddle as fast as I wanted without offering any torque. It was better than any video game I’ve ever played. The winding mountain road had turns I could take if I did them wide, and it was pure exhilaration screaming down them. As the grade decreased so did my speeds, but I held more than 20 MPH most of the remaining trip. As I reentered the forested area I started ringing my bell at intervals slightly concerned that my high rate of travel might startle a deer which could jump out in front of me. That would have been bad for the both of us, so I made some noise. One deer did flee, but into the woods and not into the road. For this portion of the trip I pushed as hard as I felt like it, sometimes getting high heart rates.
When I got back to my car I was pretty excited about my experience. It was now twilight and about an hour past when I thought the sun should have set. Being a quarter to 10:00 pm I am still not sure why it was so light but I was glad it was.
Eve (my car) was sitting next two one other vehicle—as SUV with a bike rack—and those were the only two cars left. I had not seen any other bikers along the way and wondered where the others might be. As I packed up two men on bikes pulled up. In chatting with them I learned that the point at which I stopped was not the end of the road. That was only during the day when the snow removal crew were at work, at which time they put down the stop signs. Part of me felt a little cheated, but the other part of me wanted a squeal. If I got up early enough the following morning, I may be able to reach the Loop before the snow crew closed it off. This would be my goal.
My body was a little tired from my ride, having burned 1,100 Calories in my hour and a half ride. It was time to turn in for the night. On the slow drive back I brushed my teeth and pulled over briefly to remove contacts. I found a lovely parking spot near the lodge and within seconds of parking was in my sleeping den. Didn’t take long before I was out.
Woke at 7:00 am and started drive to Old Faithful area. Quite chilly and hoped to burn a little time so it would warm up. Prepared the bike for a ride to explore some of the cycling trails. First set of trails were to the west. I had a hard time finding the actual bike trails, but traveled the ones I could find.
Ride turned into a 3 hour and 20 minute ride covering 23 miles. I was hoping to try a hill climb but the first ride took a lot longer than I thought. So I went back to the car to eat and fell asleep for a bit. This allowed batteries (camera and bike light) to recharge. Decided to crawl into the trunk for a nap. Woke around 5:00 pm feeling pretty rested and decided I was going to try a hill climb.
I have never cycled in mountains before and to my knowledge I’ve never biked up a hill that was more than a couple hundred feet in altitude. Looking at my cycling options at Yellowstone the pamphlet did give alternate changes. I decided to try cycling to the continental divide telling myself that if I got too tired it was easy to simply turn around and go back. I was rested, well stocked with way more calories than I needed for multiple days of travel, and anxious to see what if I could do it.
Self rules were to keep a heart rate between 155 and 165 BPM so I didn’t over stress myself. The first part of the ride had heart rates over 170—I was just too excited, but over time I was able to get them lower. Not sure my speeds but I wasn’t feeling burned out by the near continuous climb. I think the first part of the ride took about an hour. It covered 8 miles and a climb of around 1,000 feet. Pretty sure this is the highest climb I have ever made on a ride. Reached the continental divide before expecting it and was surprised at having done so. An 8 mile ride isn’t much of an accomplishment, but the 1,000 foot climb was. I had been concerned that the altitude would have effected me more as I was now at over 8,000 feet, but I didn’t notice any difference.
Took some time to celebrate my victory. Fairly chilly and snow all around me. Isa Lake was still covered in ice and the hills around me had a thick blanket of snow. But it was wonderful to be there.
The ride back down the mountain had a very high rate of travel. GPS says I hit 40 MPH but when watching I was never able to hit more than about 33 MPH as even in my highest gear I couldn’t add any energy. Made the trip back in around 30 minutes.
Pictures is a very happy Wisconsin kid after accomplishing his first mountain ride.
Found a lodge with a sitting area to I fetched my laptop to do some writing. Damn battery was at 50% and I don’t see a place to plug in. Found a second sitting location with electricity and did some writing until around 9:00 pm.