JASPER, AB—Taking in the magic and the mystery of the Rocky Mountains—illuminated by the shining orb of the full moon—is a must when visiting Jasper National Park during this loveliest of lunar phases.
If you’re visiting Jasper during a full moon, consider yourself lucky. Not only can you bask in the moon’s opaque glow in a sky free from city light pollution, you can make the event even more special by tagging along on a Full Moon Hike, compliments of the Friends of Jasper National Park.
Every month a volunteer interpreter for “the Friends” takes groups of locals and tourists out who are keen on experiencing some of Jasper’s trails by moonbeam.
The hike starts at Old Fort Point. With the guide's interpretive expertise being the fauna that call Jasper home, the mood is set for learning about things that go bump ... or hoot, in the night.
“Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” said guide Heather Heise. No was not a pop quiz as to what pub to patronize after the hike; this phrase is how bird lovers have described the sound of the hoot of the barred owl—one of 11 owl species found in Jasper National Park.
Heise told us that with its dish-shaped eyes, off-set ears, hollow bones and fringed feathers, owls are nocturnal hunters extraordinaire. And when we arrive at a nondescript tree along the forest trail and our guide asks us to practice our new owl call, we experience the thrill of hearing a response somewhere from the evergreen canopy.
On a bright day, and if you are lucky to be there at the right time, the sun's rays dance off the frozen waterfalls that stretch down into the Maligne Canyon in Alberta's Jasper National Park.
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Bats, lynx, voles and cougars are some of the other night dwellers Heise told us about as we trek the trail toward inky black Lac Beauvert. Not yet frozen over and therefore devoid of ice and snow, the reflection on the lake of the lights from the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is almost as arresting as the moon itself. Silhouettes of couples enjoying the view opposite us remind us that on this frosty night, romance is in the air.
We ended the adventure by ascending the steep staircase back at Old Fort Point. Though the icy steps meant we held the handrail extra tight and our visible puffs of breath were shorter and more frequent, the view from the top is worth the effort. The moon was bright enough to read under, shimmering off the river and into our wide-eyed stares.
Across the railroad tracks, the tungsten glow of Jasper’s restaurants paled in comparison to the moonlight. It’s a sight which reminded us that “who cooks for you?” had yet to be answered.
While night hikes can be magical, romantic, and educational, during the day Jasper offers a different kind of adventure on the trails.
Finding yourself in Maligne Canyon’s icy caverns of history and mystery is an experience unique to Jasper. I had the opportunity with Overlander Trekking and Tours, a Jasper adventure company specializing in these frozen and fascinating two-hour outings.
The Maligne Canyon is a 10,000 year old limestone gorge, cut by the raging torrents of glacier melt in the heat of the summer. In the winter, the flow slows to a trickle. When the water eventually freezes, it offers adventure seekers a frosty pathway on which they can explore sparkling waterfalls, echoey caverns, stoic stalactites and angelic ice formations.
We were walking on ice, and to prevent a slip, our unassuming guide, Trevor Lescard, provided us with cleats to wear on the soles of the warm winter boots, which were also supplied. With a sturdy foothold we’re able to look high above the canyon rim where bighorn sheep are often at play, and where the last sliver of daylight angles onto the Queen of Maligne ice fall.
In the deep cold, when the underground water seeps out just faster than the air can render it frozen, icicles form on the Queen at a startling rate of three metres per day.
Playtime in Jasper isn’t always just about the skiing. Trekking the park’s storied landscapes during the day or at night can be a wonderful way to work up an appetite.
The Friends of Jasper National Park offers some other unique outings including a bird count in December where all birders are welcome to participate. For more information on all the activities, call 1-780-852-4767 or www.friendsofjasper.com for more information.
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