I woke very early this morning to take care of a little business. 🙂  When I went outside I looked up (as I always do) and saw something really weird in the sky.  I thought maybe it was clouds but the sky was clear.  I kept looking at it and then I realized what it was.  It was something that I had always wanted to see, but had never seen before…..the Northern Lights!

Once I figured out what I was looking at I just stood and looked up in amazement. It had not even crossed my mind that I was far enough north to see the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was like waves of light flapping in the sky above me.  I was so excited I was completely giddy. I tried to get pictures but as usual, I need a better camera (I think I’m going to finally get one after this trip). So here is a link to some images. So once I gave up on getting pictures I was content to just stand and watch…and watch….and watch. 🙂  I first woke up around 4:00ish but it was close to 6:30 before I finally stopped watching (they were just about over by then) and went back to sleep.  I was so excited that I couldn’t have slept if I would have tried earlier anyway.  It was so amazing!  While I could technically check The Northern Lights off my bucket list, I absolutely want to see them again!!!

So I went back to sleep, with a huge smile on my face, and woke around 8 still feeling euphoric from what I had been blessed to see a couple of hours earlier.  But unbeknownst to me, my totally awesome morning was not finished!  When I got up and looked out this is the first thing I saw about 20′ away….

I had heard some bull elks bugling at a distance during the night but I had no idea they had come so close during the night. When I went out I saw a good sized bull with several cows and calves.  In a few minutes I heard another bull calling from over the hill.  When he came over I could see that he was bigger than the one with the cows.  I watched as he made his way over to where the other bull was standing calling out over and over.  I got my video ready thinking there was going to be a fight.  But as he came closer, the first bull bowed out and walked over the hill.  I continued to watch as the whole process was repeated when another bull, bigger than both of the first two, came from the other side of the field.  Like the first bull, the second bull bowed out without a fight and the new, third bull, now stood with the cows and calves as they continued to graze.  All-in-all there were 4 bulls in the area and probably 10 cows and 5 calves.  It was an awesome way to begin the day….especially after having seen the Northern Lights two hours earlier.  Needless to say I was LOVING Jasper National Park!

While all of this was going on I struck up a conversation with a man who had walked over to watch as well.  As soon as he opened his mouth to introduce himself I knew immediately that he was from Ireland.  His name was Roy Gallagher (yeah, that’s about as Irish as you can get).  He had traveled to Canada for a wedding and came to Jasper for a short holiday.  I can’t remember actually how it happened but we quickly began to talk about music.  He was a wealth of Irish music information and began to name musicians and bands faster than I could type them into my phone (I love Irish music).  We had a great conversation for probably 10-15 minutes and before I left I made sure to get his contact information as Ireland is one place I’ve been that I definitely plan to return!  So by 9 AM this morning I had seen the Northern Lights, watched 3 bull elk compete for a herd and met a great Irish man who knew tons about Irish music.  Wow!  I could have gone back to bed right that minute and considered this a great and full day!  But there was more in store…..so let’s move on.

The area around the town of Jasper is very beautiful (images).  I spent some time in the park visitor’s centre looking over all of the hiking options around Jasper but I decided to head back down the Icefields Parkway to do a hike further south.  But before I left Jasper I took a couple of pictures to remember this beautiful area…

So I left Jasper and headed south on the Icefields Parkway.  In about 30 minutes I came to the area where I had stopped and made dinner last night and I couldn’t resist stopping to take some more pictures of this gorgeous area in full daylight.  The Aspen’s were just beautiful….

I had decided I would hike Wilcox Pass (images) near the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre.  On the way I passed some beautiful mountains, glaciers, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and a place called the Glacier Skywalk (images)…..

I had seen the Glacier Skywalk on the Discovery channel a few years ago and was interested to see it. But they had closed the parking area at the Skywalk so you had to park at the Discovery Centre and then wait for a shuttle to take you to/from the Skywalk.  I was anxious to hit the trail and didn’t want to wade through the crowds so I decided to forego the Skywalk.

About 10 minutes beyond the Skywalk I arrived at the trailhead for the Wilcox Pass Trail.  I quickly grabbed my stuff and hit the trail.  The trail wasn’t very difficult.  You climb about 1000′ in 2.5′ miles or so where it flattens out into a large, rocky “meadow” (I wouldn’t really consider this a “meadow” but I’m not sure what else to call it).  When I arrived at this point I was delighted to see a herd of bighorn sheep….and really close!  I stood as they walked right by me. They were obviously used to humans up here but it was still totally awesome…..

While this was “technically” the end of Wilcox Pass trail I really wanted to get to a point where I could look down on the valley that I had driven up to get here….so, as usual, I kept going. 🙂  As I hiked on I had some great views of the Wilcox Pass area as well as the areas I had hiked the day before, Parker Ridge & Parker Peak (on the right in the pictures below)….

Click here to see a 360 view of this area

I walked over some broken semi-trails and scrambled over large rocks in other areas for about 30-45 minutes until I finally made it to the area I had hoped I could reach.  And when I got there, the view of the valley below and the Athabasca Glacier was so worth the extra effort…

Click here to see a 360 of this area

And as I love to do, I found a nice cliff ledge where I could sit, have some lunch….and take a picture of my dangling boots. 🙂 (fyi, I love the word “dangle” ever since the movie “Forest Gump” 🙂 ).   Just to add some perspective, if you look closely at the highway below just in front of where the water is coming down you can see a large bus passing by….of course, it’s not “large” from a 1000′ above. 🙂

I sat there for a while just taking it all in, enjoying the view and the peace and tranquility of this place.  And as with almost every hike I didn’t want to leave.  But it was getting late, the sun was going down, I had about 1.5 hours to get back to the trailhead and I had one more place I wanted to see before dark.  So I (you know what I’m going to say 🙂 ), reluctantly got up and headed back.  But as usual I made several stops along the way to take more pictures and enjoy the view….. (notice the moon in the upper right of the last picture….LOVE IT!)

So for anyone who may not know me that well I am a self admitted total dork!  As an example, as I was walking back I topped a small hill with the sun behind me.  When I saw my shadow it immediately reminded me of Gumby (ha ha).  Of course, that reminded me of the Eddie Murphy skit on Saturday Night Live years ago…..”I am Gumby Dammit!” and I couldn’t get that out of my head for the rest of the hike!  Yeah, I’m a dork….but I have a good time! 🙂

The last picture I took on this hike was of two red chairs.  I had seen this in a couple of the park visitor’s centres but this was the first time I had seen any during a hike.  To promote Canadian National Parks they placed red chairs at various places around each national park.  Next they published where the chairs were in each park (Jasper Red Chairs) and then challenged people to hike to each of the locations.  It’s actually pretty cool (if you ask me). So anyway, I took a few minutes on my hike down to rest in a chair…..and take a picture of them of course. 🙂

Once I made it back to the trailhead I drove down to what they call the “toe” of the Athabasca Glacier (images).  They have a large “people hauler” that actually goes out onto the glacier.  From there I believe they allow you to get out and walk on the glacier.  I did that last year on the Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand when we landed a helicopter on the glacier (click here to check out my post from last year) so I was ok not doing it again.

But it is sad, and kind of scary, having now seen glaciers on 3 different continents and reading how they are all receding at alarming rates.  As I mentioned in a previous post while I was in Glacier National Park, scientists estimate that at the current rate within the next 20-30 years there will be no more glaciers in Glacier National Park. If you’re not aware, glaciers play a huge role in our ecosystem providing much of the water that fills our streams & rivers during the dry summer months and providing water for farming, live stock and human consumption.  So while you may think that retreating glaciers do not impact you or that it may not seem like a huge or wide-scale issue, it is!

Click here to see a 360 of the Athabasca Glacier area

By the time I finished the short hike to the toe of the Athabasca Glacier the sun had fallen behind the mountain.  So I packed up and headed south.  In less than 10 minutes I crossed back over into Banff National Park. I drove another 20 minutes or so and found a great picnic area to stop and make dinner.  By this time the sun was setting and the sky was beautiful with a pink hue….

Needless to say, with the Northern Lights, a herd of elk, meeting a great Irishman who loves music (like me), taking a great hike, seeing the bighorn sheep and watching another beautiful sunset, it was a great day in the Canadian Rockies!


Until next time…..

“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” – Eleanor Roosevelt


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