Hiking six miles around five lakes left us energized and ready to explore more of Jasper, but we had to arrive at the Edith Cavell check-in point before 4:00 pm, or we’d be turned away. And that would be a shame, since we awoke at dawn to secure a coveted permit up Cavell Rd. to admire Angel Glacier clinging to the north face of Mt. Edith Cavell.
But in our haste, we turned left from the Valley of the Five Lakes parking lot, instead of turning right, and continued south on the Icefields Parkway till we reached Athabasca Falls.
“This isn’t right,” I announced, turning into the Athabasca Falls parking lot. “There’s no way, we’re going the right way. I need to see the map,” I declared.
Ordinarily, this attraction would have been a worthy succession to our last hike, except it was in the wrong direction. We should have caught our mistake sooner, but the soaring mountain peaks on both sides of the road can be hypnotic and easily rob a sensible person of their better judgement.
And so we inadvertently drove 12 miles out of our way, wasting precious time against our impending deadline. What now?
But then again, there are few better places in the world to u-turn.
“Look,” I suggested to Leah. “We may as well walk around. We’re already here.”
“So you’re okay about missing the glacier trail at Edith Cavell?” Leah countered.
“No, I’m not,” I insisted. “But if I’m going to leave here to drive there, and we’re too late for there, then we blew for here and there. So why not at least do something while we’re still here?” I thought my logic was impeccable, but then Leah played the absolution card.
“You’re gonna do whatever you want anyway, so why are you even asking me? Just don’t blame me if can’t get to Edith Cavell in time,” Leah asserted.
“We wouldn’t even be here if you hadn’t told me to turn left in the first place,” I said in my head.
“He’s so smug,” Leah thought to herself, “and it was his idea to extend the Five Lakes hike in the first place, so none of this is my fault if we don’t get there in time.”
Grabbing my camera, “Well then, I’m going to shoot the falls. What are your plans?”
Leah paused, then announced, “There’s way too many people here. I’ll just hang out in the truck. Besides, it’s just another waterfall.”
But that wasn’t the case. While the Athabasca Falls isn’t the longest and the widest in the Canadian Rockies, it surely ranks as the most powerful.
The fury of the water as it drops over the lip and plummets into the abyss is nothing short of spectacular…and the sound is deafening.
On the other side of the viewing bridge, the turbulent water collects itself,
as it runs though a canyon of its own making.
The back road to Edith Cavell was winding, narrow and pitted, and 12 miles away. Arriving before our 4:00 pm cut-off would require some steering finesse, a good suspension, and a heavy foot. I was up for the task, and hoped that my F-150 was up to the challenge. It was us against the road.
I could feel my body absorbing the vibration as I firmly gripped the wheel. Leah was mostly quiet as I swayed around potholes without leaving the road.
“I should have worn a sports bra,” she lamented.
“Not to worry,” I assuaged, “We’re making good time.”
Even the road surface began to cooperate–going from rough to smooth. However, a time check showed 10 minutes left on the clock with a 10 minute ETA. It was going to be a very close call.
A road detour diverted us to a turn-off where we offered our credentials to a ranger sitting under a portable canopy, and we held our breath. He scanned a print-out before returning our permit.
“You’ll need to display this on the dashboard. Enjoy the park, guys,” he proclaimed, and waived us through.
“I can’t believe we made it!” Leah blurted, followed by a high-five.
“Piece of cake,” I replied.
Like a runner taking a celebration lap, we took our time on the road to the summit, advancing through a steady combination of hairpin switchbacks followed by long runs that kept me guessing how high we were climbing.
Finally, we pulled off the road at a clearing that gave me some answers.
Soon after, we reached a parking area occupied by no more than twenty vehicles, and we instantly realized how lucky we were.
A trail head shrine dedicated to Edith Cavell gave us some insight into the person and this special habitat.
The uphill climb along along the sub-alpine ridge revealed our first full look of the Angel’s blue tongue receding into the pass,
where glacial melt spilled between deep channels of rock…
…and collected into Cavell Pond,
guarded by Cavell Glacier–a 150 foot wall of ice…
that occasionally calves into bobbing icebergs the size of school buses.
The one mile trail terminates at a railed platform with a skewed view of the pond, albeit a safe distance away from potential avalanches.
But better views are there to those who are willing to scramble to greater heights over loose rock piles and between boulders as big as buildings…
to a place where playful hoary marmots dart…
around the many imaginative cairns that punctuate the landscape.
This is a solemn place that memorializes the service and duty of Edith Cavell.
This is a place where angels fly…