The 24 Jasper Edition: What to do in Jasper for a Day

If you had a short window of time, less than a day, to do something fun what would it be? I’ve struggled with this concept for a long time; my life is packed and I like it that way. I prefer living in a constant state of creativity, I love my community, and sometimes that means my times of escape are relegated to a few days or hours. When I do get time off, I chose to focus on friends and little adventures I can do with them; new styles of fitness, discovering new trails in the Edmonton area, and of course the occasional sit back and chill. I’ve also been known to take express trips: hop into the car at the crack of-don’t-even-ask and head to the mountains for the day or, my favourite, ride out to just watch the sunset on the prairies. I love adventures, big or small, because they lead to moments that have changed my life.

There’s something about the mountains that calls to me every time I need a bit of a change of scenery. Whether it’s because of the awe inspiring landscapes, the fresh air, the fun activities, or it is a feeling that my city roots drink up a simpler way of living, I come back from places like Jasper with an absolutely refreshed sense of being. I’ve watched countless sunsets but they all pale in comparison to the ones I witnessed in the mountains. So it’s with the intent of a bit of an escape in the busy holiday season and seeking a great adventure, that my friend Hayley and myself launched off at 3 am from Edmonton to Jasper for just one day. There was only one goal: experience as many things as we could in a day.

We started the morning off by chasing the Northern Lights for what seemed to be an eternity; watching as the colour trails of greens, blues, and reds danced across the sky. The price of a few hours of sleep was worth this moment alone. Time passed in silence with my co-pilot as we bore witness to one of the most precious natural wonders. As the Auroras disappeared the shimmering outline of the mountains appeared in the night sky. My eyes were constantly bouncing between the road and the millions of stars. Jasper is one of the world’s largest dark sky preserve and the lack of light pollution really allows a person the ability to appreciate its grandeur.

We arrived at the Town site quite early with the intent to grab some food and rent skis. We walked into Cafe Mondo and ate a hearty breakfast while planning the strategy for the day. Ultimately we knew that the most efficient way of tackling the most activities in a few hours is to keep the travelling distances short. Jasper has a lot to offer within a ten to fifteen minute radius of its Town Centre. Keeping relatively organized while still allowing a lot of time to explore and have fun is really the key.

Pyramid Lake Jasper Cross Country Skiing

After the meal, we grabbed our cross country ski rentals and headed to Pyramid Lake. Clipping into the skis that day was the first time I’ve done it in more than fifteen years – but the day was about getting uncomfortable. A few strides in and all of a sudden I realized that skiing is one of the greatest winter sports. Cross country is a low impact sport that is suited for all ages and fitness levels. On top of all of that it is a relatively inexpensive sport, you don’t need a lift pass and daily rentals are cheap. Gliding with relative ease across a frozen lake without another soul to be found is something special, but watching the sunrise over the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains puts the cherry on the cake.

Pyramid Lake Cross Country Skiing 2

Pyramid Lake is about 15 minutes away from Jasper’s Town site which was great to fully maximize the skiing experience. There are some defined cross country ski trails but we chose carve new paths and explore the lake. A few hours later we drove back into town and started our next adventure: ice climbing.

Maligne Canyon Jasper Ice Climbing 01

Many people walk the ledge of Maligne Canyon during all times of the year, but the freezing temperatures open up an entirely new perspective of the canyon. Waterfalls that once roared become walls of ice with small trickles of water that refresh the ice surfaces. Our Ice Climbing guide, Rob from Rockaboo, was amazing. His calm demeanor and knowledge made every part of the experience as smooth as the ice surfaces we were climbing. There’s something about starting the ice climbing off by rappelling sixty feet without knowing what’s beneath you that adds a measure of blood pumping exhilaration. Diving into the canyon is surreal: the air suddenly gets a bit humid, the sounds of the mountains begin to muffle, the sunlight dims, and you become surrounded by a cathedral of rock and ice. The river is still open at points so the canyon chimes with this odd interval of distant rushing water and absolute silence.

Maligne Canyon Jasper Ice Climbing 02

Maligne Canyon Jasper Ice Climbing 03Climbing in general is a finesse sport but ice climbing is a marriage of a delicate but powerful touch, strategy, and a lot of courage. This constant rhythm of setting the ice pick above the head, looking down, pushing your butt into a seated position, kicking the feet into a new surface, and standing on the toes is cathartic. Hayley and myself have climbed together before, so the basics of belaying, rope safety, and trust were already established. Confidence in your belayer is absolutely necessary especially in conditions where you are battling the elements and the equipment as the rope freezes and thaws. The realization that I was awake for over 24 hours, and lacked nutrition, at this point led to a few basic mistakes in technique and mental blocks but every time I looked around I was refreshed by the experience, the scenery, and the company.

The climbing was a bit shorter than the usual experience that most people have. A typical climbing trip starts early in the morning and carries on till late in the day. The brief experience certainly has me thirsting for more; I’m looking into a full day or multi day adventure in the next while and I’ll definitely do it with that company again. The next adventure was conveniently a tour of Maligne Canyon.

Maligne Canyon Adventure Tours 01

Our guide, Trevor from Maligne Adventures, met us at the ice climbing site and we headed downstream meandering through the high rock walls. It has been an exceptionally warm winter so our tour was shortened a bit but still worthwhile. I’ve hiked Maligne Canyon so many times wondering what views lied deep in the gully and I was not disappointed when it’s majesty was finally revealed. This tour is a photographer’s paradise; every bend revealed what looked to be a hidden scenic gem where it felt like time stood still.

Maligne Canyon Adventure Tours 02Trevor was the quiet but knowledgeable type of guide. Contributing bits of information when necessary but also fully appreciative of moments of meditative silence. As we ventured the high rock walls and waterfalls grew distant and the river began to flow. It’s amazing how such a short distance reveals an entirely new landscape. Our adventure day also happened to be on winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, so we were able to watch a pretty amazing sunset as our hike was coming to an end.

Maligne Canyon Adventure Tours 03

After six plus hours of constant activity we figured it would be great to kick back a little and decompress. Jasper has jumped on the micro-brewery train in producing many unique beers so we arranged a tour of the Jasper Brewing Company and a dinner to follow. The great part about this company is the unique relationship between the artisanal beers and the events that happen in Jasper; the Master Brewer concocted a flavour and style for most major events in the past few years. The food was stepped up pub fare; normal ingredients were substituted with a bit of a natural flare like replacing beef with elk, adding hops and other grains to salads. Ultimately the gastro-pub experience there was an amazing finish to an awesome day.

Jasper Brewery Company_

So with the completion of a very adventure filled day, we hopped back into the car and drove back to Edmonton. The trip home was a quiet one, the Auroras were silent but the stars were out in full force and we were simply decompressing. As the twinkling stars were gradually replaced with the glow of city lights I was physically exhausted but felt so refreshed. The day was one for the history books with many experiences and I’m happy to have shared with with a great friend. I have never walked away from an adventure feeling the same again. I have realized that these experiences are not escapes from my day to day life they add to my ability to experience things in a different light.

Jasper is also holding a great event called Jasper in January; it’s a three weekend extravaganza of adventure, food, and arts. So if you want to experience some of the things I have and more check it out here:

About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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