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               Day 3 September 17, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Patricia Lake, Jasper, CAN

    This morning the lake is smooth and quiet. A cormorant perches at the end of the dock. Standing on the dock, we take in morning's serenity. We look for wolves - we know they are here. We also know we may not see them. Elk graze along the road near Pyramid Lake Resort and along 93A. The bull elk is still herding the harem, this time on the east end of the road near the river. He lifts his head and bugles, steam curling from his mouth and nostrils.
   The sun rises slowly over the road to Maligne Lake. The road is lined with conifers and aspen turning gold. As the car rounds a bend toward Medicine Lake a moose steps out of a ravine onto the road, followed closely by her calf. She crosses the road slowly and we stop in our tracks. The road drops off steeply to the Athabasca River below. The moose looks over the edge and takes a step, then turns back across the road. We sit, not moving. As she walks slowly though tall grass, her calf trails behind. When we finally turn the vehicle around, they have disappeared.
   Hoof prints weave through the sand bars that intersect Medicine Lake. Al told us caribou cross the shallows and we are hoping by some dumb luck to see just one. While our eyes are fixed on the lake, now half mud, a black bear sow strolls up the road trailed by her cub of the year. Like most black bear sows we've seen, she is small and her cub is a chubby little fur ball. There is nothing like a bear cub to make you smile. The two forage at the side of the road, ignoring cars. We follow her around bends in the road, partly to protect her from vehicles that might not see her coming around the bend. She is fine.
   Then we are stopped again, this time by a young big horn sheep ram grazing by the lake side of the road. Steep slopes of rocks and grass reach to the lake. Looking up at rocky cliffs and trees twisted in odd shapes where the sheep descended, I search for others and see none. He is a lone sheep this morning.
   The Icefield Parkway is supposed to be a good place to see wildlife and may be the only place to actually spot one of Jasper's 80 grizzlies. We drive past the Athabasca River and cross the Astoria River, then turn up the road to Edith Cavell. The road is narrow and winds sharply. The air is filled with smoke from a nearby campground.
   About two miles up the road a black bear sow and her two cubs cross into the grass. They are all midnight black, the two little ones padding after their mother with furry feet. All the cubs we have seen are healthy looking, not "apple heads" as Tim calls coy when their heads are too big for them. The mother and cubs are extremely tolerant and I wonder for a moment about bear jams. This is such pleasant, unhurried viewing compared to some of the bear "sideshows" we have seen.
   Edith Cavell is a peak named for a WWI nurse who was executed for helping prisoners escape from Belgium. Next to the peak is Angel Glacier lying in the mountain's saddle. The morning is clear and cool, but not cold; perfect for hiking the rocky path to the glacier. Chunks of ice float in blue green waters at the foot of the glacier. A sudden crack and roar breaks the quiet as an avalanche of snow tumbles from the glacier, echoing through the air.
   The path to the glacier is fairly short, but the trail to Cavell Meadows is steep and 2.5 miles. It winds around and up - and up - through forest to open meadows across from the glacier. If I had been better prepared (had time for coffee this morning and brought water) I would have enjoyed this hike a lot more. A pika poses for us like a sphinx and a black bear appears on the way up, ambling through a very small grassy patch into the trees. We pass him again on the way down, a good sized bear, minding his own business most of the time. At one point he notices us, looks up and charges toward us and we scatter. "We" are Tim and I and a young German couple who walk ahead of us and ask us to "go together" which we willingly did. Admitting she was nervous, the young woman said seeing a bear was "the goal" - but not too close.
   The Edith Cavell meadows are bowls of grass with remnants of wildflowers and a few conifers here and there. For the most part it's above tree line. Tim spotted a large hole dug high on the slope, rocks in front - possibly a bear den. The glacier faces us, staring white. The hike seems brutally long and steep for us, but much easier on the way down.
   In the afternoon we rest at Annette Lake. Two gray jays watch us closely, trying to invite themselves for a meal, though they are no where near as aggressive as the Clark's nutcracker who demanded trail mix at Edith Cavell today. We walked through Jasper Lodge and around the grounds of the resort and return to the cabin, stopping to admire big horn sheep near the road.
   After dinner we sit by the lake. A breeze kicks up and the sky has clouded over. A small family of loons dives for dinner near the dock, three females - a mother and two young. We hear their long, melodious calls in the morning. Farther to the east a cormorant bobs up and down in the waves. At 6:00 p.m. it is still light, and quiet. Waves lap gently against the dock. On the east end of the shore a woman and her dog play along the beach while just yards away a small group of people gather to view the lake. The playful elk does not appear.

Author - Christine Baleshta
Photography - Tim Springer

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