Nice last night – rain on the tentfly. Makes the sleeping that much better. Seems like it cooled things down a lot too. We’re all up by 7 and ready to go by 8, and I bet it was in the high 40s maybe.
In checking our maps, we note “only” 17 miles to breakfast, but oh my. This segment takes us up on a brutal climb to the Glacier Skywalk tourist attraction. We’re talking a sustained 9-10% grade, actually one of the toughest I’ve encountered.
The views around here are stunning, including lakes, icefields, glaciers, alpine forest, monstrous mountains. It’s hard to truly take in where you are – every view is so breathtaking. The skywalk itself looks pretty cool, a transparent elevated sidewalk, so Jack and I mill around to check it out.
Buses arrive regularly to dump tourists and we soon understand that the skywalk is a paid attraction. Jack and I couldn’t see the point of paying just to walk out onto the plexiglass. We’re here already (having paid our own price), and from this vantage the low hanging clouds fully obscure one of the primary sights, the Stitfield Glacier. Neat place to be, however.
For another few miles we descend and finally stop at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre for breakfast. The place is overflowing with people. Too many people. Our climbing exertions have actually put us well into lunchtime already, so Phil and I decide a hamburger’s in order. Jack and I order fries and get separate plates with huge delicious heaps of them. Seems they don’t mess around with French fries in Canada.
The view from the centre includes a nice view of the edge of Athabasca Glacier. Everything we read told us the glaciers are mere vestiges of their former selves. We also learn that the tour buses taking visitors to the Glacier Skywalk cost $141 CAD pp. Yowza!
While we dine, a handful of tourists approaches us. Some had seen us from the bus laboring up the slopes to the walkway and heaped praise on us. A few others were touring cyclists themselves. Sure was a pleasant stop here – I think we were grinning most of the time.
From the Visitors Centre, it’s another 600′ of climbing to Sunwapta Pass at 6676′ elevation, which marks the current boundary between Jasper and Banff National Parks (the boundary has moved around a lot over time). A long RIPPING downhill followed. Jack and I could not stop our spontaneous laughing – it was that much fun. We both got way out in the lane and were catching up with cars, Jack hitting 45 mph. Phil’s a little more conservative on descents, so we waited for him at the bottom and he arrived with a big smile too.
Around 3pm we stop in to look at Rampart Creek Campground, another first-come-first-served place. Sites are still open. The next campground is 20 miles. Logic would dictate we take the bird in the hand. Still, riding conditions are great today, and if we cover the 20, we’ll be 1/2 way up another pass and shorten tomorrow’s ride considerably. The latter sentiment won out – onward we go. Besides, we like to ride our bikes.
Eight miles to The Crossing Resort at the David Thompson Highway, so we stop for dinner. They had a chili bar that beckoned to me, Phil had fish, and Jack had, hmmm, oh yeah, a grilled cheese sandwich. We all grab camp food as well.
From there it’s another 1000′ climb to the campground, but it turns out not as tough as might be imagined. The sign out front at Waterfowl Lakes Campground reads “FULL / COMPLET” but we enter anyway. This is yet another first-come-first-served location. We spin around the camp road scoping out possible sites to pitch our tents, e.g. adjacent to shelters or between other campsites.
At the station, we encounter a friendly and talkative ranger engaged with car tourists seeking a campsite. The ranger turned them away, providing alternative campgrounds to check up and down the road. When he turns to us, however, his answer quickly changes. He directs us to a marvelous set of walk-in sites and explains that if they were full he’d improvise us a place no problem. With a laugh he suggests we might want a brisk dunk in the lake too. His welcoming attitude to touring cyclists is very reassuring.
These first 2 camping days have taught us that many CPS campgrounds, including the first-come-first-serve type, have hiker/biker tent areas that have available sites even late in the day during peak season. In a pinch, it seems the rangers are on the cyclists’ side and will seek to accommodate.
Set up among the tall pines – tenting in splendor. Does it get any better? We nibbld snacks for a while but soon duck into the tents when an early chill sets in. I end up with top and bottom base layers, warm socks, and a beanie inside my fully zipped sleeping bag – it turns that cold. But oh so comfortable to sleep (tenters out there know what I’m talking about).
Today’s Ride: 60.4 miles
Today’s Climbing: 3,675 feet
More Stats: http://cyclemeter.com/
Tour Total So Far: 110.7 miles