With the first week behind us it was always going to be difficult to choose one highlight. Lots of factors were in play, should it feature wildlife? We’d certainly seen some. Food maybe? the Jasper meal and the ice creams that the three of us ate together while taking in the full reality of where we were certainly made for a special and memorable evening. We’d also completed some decent hikes and marvelled at some wonderful scenery.
We’d always planned on doing the Joffre Lakes hike, some months previously Laura had sent me a picture from a hike she had done in February, wearing snow shoes. It intrigued me and I assumed that it couldn’t be too difficult if the snow and ice were gone. With an average round trip time to the top lake of 5 hours and a total elevation of nearly 1300 feet we knew it would be a challenge, but we were used to walking in the Lake District and although we were under no illusions we felt that we would be able to handle it. We were tight for time, it takes longer to get anywhere in Canada than you might imagine. I think they give the distances between points in a straight line, unfortunately most of the roads are just a continuous set of bends.
Joffre Lakes is just east of Pemberton on Highway 99, coming from Jasper. There is ample parking and the walk to the bottom lake is no more than an easy stroll, although when we were there there was still some quite deep snow on the ground in places. I had, on the advice of a doctor I had met at a trade show, bought myself a couple of decent carbon fibre walking poles. I hadn’t realised at the time just how much use they would be. From the bottom lake the climb starts off quite steadily. Laura was insistent that given the time we had we would be lucky to make the waterfall above the middle lake and she also warned us that it wasn’t going to be as easy as it looked but we decided to press on. The first part of the climb is on a gravel and rock strewn path which very quickly begins to rise quite sharply. I was glad of my decent walking boots and my poles. By now, about 30 minutes into the walk we were starting to come to terms with how tough it was going to be but “can’t quit” mentality had kicked in and on we pushed.
I have to admit that after the first hour we were all feeling it. The air is pretty thin that high above sea level and this was one of the toughest walks we had undertaken for quite some time. The views though were quite spectacular and after a few tears and mild recriminations along the lines of “whose bloody silly idea was this anyway” we decided that, as tough as it might be, we had to at least make the middle lake. By now both my knees and my left hip were telling me to give it up but my head and my heart were in charge. We did have frequent stops to look back down the mountain and to wonder at the areas where landslides, some of huge proportions, had carved great swathes between the trees.
After two hours of climbing we made it to the middle lake, we aren’t normally an overly demonstrative family but we shared a group hug and patted each other on the back. All three of us felt a sense of achievement, you could see a mix of wonder and pride in Lauras face. She admitted at this point that she nearly quit a half dozen times when she did the hike in the snow and that she had been driven on by what she called her natural stubbornness and desire to succeed. I was as proud of her as she was of me and her mum. We had a drink of water, ate some chocolate, decided the top lake was probably a “bridge too far” and settled for making it to the waterfall.
From the middle lake the walk to the waterfall seems quite gentle, so much so that we questioned whether or not to go for the top lake. I think we would have done if we’d have had a bit more time to spare but we were concious that we still had to get down, get changed and drive for a couple of hours before we reached our base for the second part of our holiday.
Al in all, as physically and mentally challenging as this walk was, the sharing of it with my wife and daughter and the strength we took from each other both during and after it will stay with me for a long time. It hasn’t been easy living apart from our youngest daughter for so long. The highlight for me isn’t so much about the walk, although magical enough, as about who I shared it with and what it meant to all three of us. Family is a very precious thing.
© Colin Cross 2018