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By Laurel Nikiforuk on July 18 2018
“Canada D’Eh in the Rockies”
One of my favorite things about working in the forest sector is living in a forest town. And, one of my favorite things about the active, scenic forest town of Whitecourt is its location: close to all that’s best of both the city and the country. Whitecourt, in west-central Alberta, is approximately two hours’ drive from Edmonton and three hours from Jasper National Park; this means that on weekends, there are endless possibilities for summer outings. On the recent Canada Day break, I was able to take advantage of that proximity to visit two of my favorite places in one weekend – my home-base in Edmonton, to see family, friends and my dogs, and Jasper, to revel in the majesty of the Canadian Rockies.
First plan: I would finish work on Friday, June 29th, then drive that night to Jasper, where my parents had booked a couple of tenting spots at Pocahontas campground. However, once I began my workday, that plan quickly changed (see my previous blog, about the need for flexibility when planning your days in forest). After 8 hours of quadding down muskeg roads, I was far too tired to drive safely to Jasper. Instead, two of my fellow Millar Western summer students and I headed out for dinner at a local restaurant to kick off the long weekend.
(Summer highlight: June 29th was my 23rd birthday! To celebrate, I picked up a slice of cake from the grocery store in Fox Creek to eat during a work break. I completely forgot to pack a spoon, so I ended up eating the cake with a pen I found in my cruise vest, while listening to the hail pelt the roof of my truck. The strangest moments often become our fondest memories!)
New plan: I woke up verrrry early on Saturday, June 30th, to make my way to Jasper. With the rest of Whitecourt still asleep, I grabbed a coffee and hit the road while it was still dark. Sun or no sun, there’s nothing like starting a drive to the mountains to make it truly feel like summer.
(Side note: According to some of you, I drink an “excessive amount” of coffee. It’s medically necessary. Let me live my life.)
On the way to Jasper, the wildlife was out and running. Just that morning, I saw a herd of elk and a bighorn sheep with a lamb! I arrived at the campsite to meet my parents and cousins, and we were off to hit the trails. Because I came a little bit later in the day, we had to opt for a shorter hike. We chose Sulphur Skyline – an 8-km trek that generally offers beautiful views of the mountain range surrounding Miette Hot Springs. That day, the weather was bleak and rainy – in fact, it was snowing at the summit. So, not quite the views we’d anticipated, but the time spent with family in fresh mountain air made it all worth it. On the way back to our campsite, we passed by a curious black bear! That evening, we enjoyed some much deserved time soaking our achy muscles in the warm waters of Miette Hot Springs.
The next day, Sunday, the weather had taken a turn for the better. On the suggestion of a well-versed hiker, we ventured off to Opal Hills, which is known for the grizzly bears that frequent the alpine valley at its summit. The steep ascent never seemed to end; after every switchback, another appeared. As we trudged our way up, hikers happily bounding their way down warned us about bears people had spotted on the trail… We became more nervous with every step. Luckily, we encountered no bears that day – in fact, we saw no wildlife at all. Instead, we found snow – and lots of it! The meadow at the peak of the trail almost felt colder than the summit the day before, so we paused to layer up and munch on cookies that had turned to crumbs under the weight of our backpacks. Although the descent almost felt like more work than the climb, the hike altogether was a blast! I would recommend giving this trail a day in mid-late July to enjoy the wildflowers that bloom in the unforgettable meadows that surround the majority of the trail length.
That evening, we celebrated Canada Day with dinner, hot drinks, and board games. We went to bed exhausted, woke up on the holiday Monday morning, and packed up to leave. Rather than heading straight back to Whitecourt, I instead drove to Edmonton to see my dogs and enjoy the luxuries of home. It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that I got up early to make my way back to Whitecourt in time for work that day.
Enjoying your work and then maximizing your weekends is all part of the good life in a forestry town, and Whitecourt is a great location for anyone looking to enjoy the best of city, town and country living!
Get outside and have a safe week, friends!