Last weekend, Sheena and I made a weekend visit to the Nordegg and David Thompson Highway area, northwest of Calgary. There are many trails along the David Thompson Highway and because of it’s relative distance from major cities, you certainly don’t see the crowds as in Banff or other recreation spots.
We began the drive early Saturday morning. Our route would take us 335 kms, following the Transcanada Highway westward to Lake Louise, then northwest along the Icefields Parkway toward Jasper. The road provides a great opportunity to see the mountains and snow. However, the farther you get from Lake Louise, the greater the chance that the roads will be snow-covered or even impassable (there are gates at the Lake Louise and Saskatchewan crossing junctures for road closures). Fortunately, we lucked out. It had been a nice sunny day in Calgary and the mountains. We had only to contend with about 6-8 inches of snow on the roads for about 30kms. Not too bad considering.
At the Saskatchewan River crossing, we immediately noticed a change in temperature and terrain as we made our turn Northeast from the Icefields Parkway onto David Thompson highway. Apparently, the Saskatchewan River area is arrid and dry throughout the year, with minimal rainfall. This was noticeable while making our way, as mountains with snowy bluffs slowly turned to rocky and barren terrain. The shrubbery was also different, giving almost the impression of a desert. After a few minutes of scenery, we came upon Lake Abraham and the David Thompson Resort.
Our arrival was interesting, that’s for sure. Our first words were, "This is a resort?" At first glance, in the off-season, the ‘resort’ looks like a place that seemed a bit cheesy, sort of an Eddie Griswold type of place (for you Christmas Vacation fans). I had thought it would be a ‘typical’ bed&breakfast, with homey surroundings, independent lodging, etc. As we would soon find out, it was more of a dormitory style location, with the bed and breakfast housed within the resort’s staff quarters. The resort was not fully open in the winter, but apparently is a busy place in the summer. A few hours later, after checking out our lodgings, we would realize that the place was fairly reasonable due to the remoteness of it’s location. After chatting with the owner’s (who you also eat with during breakfast), we found it is the only resort within a few hundred kms in either direction — and operated under its own power, water, sewage treatment and other supplies. The owners live in an adjacent house and were very welcoming of us, with certainly lots to tell us about the area. During one of our conversations, we found out that the owner’s had been hosts to the ice climbers that had been killed last month. The hosts had been quite shocked by the whole ordeal, having known the men from many years of repeated visits. I’m not sure about Sheena, but I had an eerie feeling throughout our stay, after finding out some of the details of what happened.
Our hikes in the David Thompson Highway area had water in mind. Having reviewed the maps, we realized that there were about five waterfalls in close proximity to the highway and the resort. Planning to have supper in Nordegg, about 40km northeast from us, we headed out for the afternoon. We investigated the Tershishner and Allstones creeks, looking for waterfalls along the banks. However, due to lower water levels with Tershishner and high cliffs along Allstones creek, we abandoned our searches after an hour hiking for each. In consolation, both locations did give us interesting looks at the ice formations leading to Lake Abraham. We decided to head for a sure-thing, a hike to Crescent Falls.
Originally, we had heard from the David Thompson resort people that the road to the trailhead had been drivable. Upon arriving, I realized their determination was fairly debatable. I would realize, perhaps they were saying it was possible without difficulty in a typical ‘Alberta’ pickup truck. In a lower-profile Matrix, it was a bit hairy to say the least. Nevertheless, we drove on — half expecting to get stuck, but knowing that turning around wasn’t possible. Thankfully, we would reach the trailhead within about 4 kilometres from the highway.
Starting the hike, it immediately reminded me of the Devil’s Bend trail — a sidetrip on the way to Economy Falls in Nova Scotia’s Cobequid mountains. Traversing cliff-sides for the better part of an hour, Sheena and I found the trail was fairly well trodden. The snow had melted in the sun in most places, however the descent was fairly steep and trecherous in some spots. I would have liked to venture closer to the falls, but the incline and holes between the snowcovered rocks would have made it a bit of an undertaking. As well, the day was slipping away on us. This is definately going to be a summer swimming spot. As we left, we caught a glimpse of the Upper Falls, also along the same river. There would be a few hours of bushwacking to reach those. Satisfied that we reached at least one falls in the day, we headed to Nordegg for supper at the town’s only restaurant. Nordegg has a whopping population of 82, but this weekend was home to many snowmobiling travellers.
Later that night, we returned to David Thompson to find that we were the only guests in the b&b and had the run of the place that night. Sheena really enjoyed the fireplace after a long day of driving and hiking. We played a bit of crokeno and enjoyed the warmth.
On Sunday, after a HUGE breakfast with the owners and a good chat, we decided to explore the shoreline of Lake Abraham and check out some more of the thick ice that lined the lake. Lake Abraham is a man-made lake, apparently the longest in Canada at about 32kms in length. Apparently, the water-level changes dramatically throughout the year, with the highest point at 100ft. You can see the fairly steep slopes that we had to decend to the ice. It was certainly an experience, I seem to see thicker and thicker ice each weekend. You could have probably driven a tank on this stuff it was so thick.
Anyway, as Sheena and I were exploring the lake — a storm started rolling in from the mountains. We had originally planned to see Siffleur Falls, which would take us back towards the Saskatchewan crossing. But, because of the weather, we decided to head home a couple of hours early — going through Nordegg and Rocky Mountain House. In the 140kms from Nordegg to Rocky Mountain House, it was probably the most isolated highway I’ve ever been on. (The logging trucks were driving 150km/h!)
A good weekend away from the big city, but more destinations to visit with summertime swim trunks on!