David Thompson Highway: Alberta 11

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By the time I reached Saskatchewan River Crossing, on the Icefields Parkway, I was starting to realize that I was going to spend most of the day in clouds.  As I crossed the river, I looked east, and saw some blue sky. I had already planned to head out Alberta Highway 11, the David Thompson Highway, for a few kilometers, just to see what was there.  Now, I realized that my side trip would give me the chance to see a remarkable landscape, in some of the prettiest weather of the day.

It is truly amazing what difference a little light can make.  The David Thompson Highway follows along the northern side of the Saskatchewan River, as this glacier-fed river makes its way out of the mountains and into the prairies.  The road heads east, directly towards these mountains, which include Hatter, Elbe, and Normandy Peaks.  Then, as it gets closer, it swings north to avoid them.

During that northern stretch, you’ll be passing through an area known as the Kootenay Plains.  A sign at the side of the road explains that the area is an example of a montane ecology, with a wide river valley that includes forests, grasslands, and gravel deposits from streams and glaciers.  49 species of mammals, and 76 species of birds live here, perhaps one of them in this very birdhouse, which is on the fence line, beside the road.

Mount Ernest Ross is the most noticeable feature along this stretch of road.  It stands at 2,300 meters (7,545 feet) above sea level.  As soon as the road crests the hill near Mount Ernest Ross, you’ll drop down again…

… and see this incredible view laid out before you.  It’s around this spot where the Saskatchewan River begins to widen into Abraham Lake.

Abraham Lake was formed in 1972. The name was selected by students in Alberta, who chose to honor Silas Abraham, an early settler in the Saskatchewan River Valley

There were only a couple of good places to access the lake, but the best one was so muddy and snow-slushy that I didn’t dare take the car into it.  Instead, I drove on, and eventually found a place where I could park at the side of the road, and walk down to the shore.

I think that’s Mount Michener, elevation 2,545 meters (8,350 feet).  You’ll get a good view of it from multiple angles, since the lake curves around the mountain, and the road follows the lake.

Mount Michener received its current name in 1982, honoring Daniel Roland Michener, a Governor General of Canada. Previously, it was known as Eye Opener Mountain and Phoebe’s Teat — in honor of a woman who kept the miners in Nordegg from being lonely.
Abraham Lake was frozen, of course, and a cutting wind was blowing off the surface of the ice.  I would have loved to have stayed around and enjoyed the beauty for a little longer, but my multiple layers of clothing weren’t enough to allow it.

Nearly to the plains, I found one more place to stop.  This wide turnout at the side of the road would be my turnaround point. I had only planned to go about 30 kilometers out Highway 11, but I ended up going twice that distance.  About 30 kilometers further, and I would have reached Nordegg, a speck on the map that’s just about the only sign of civilization along Route 11 until Rocky Mountain House — a town that’s halfway between Calgary and Edmonton. In other words, there was no point in driving any further east — and I still had to make it to Jasper, at the north end of the Icefields Parkway, for the night.

Driving back, Highway 11 provided nice views of Elliot Peak and Mt. Ernest Ross, but it wasn’t long…

… before the clouds started to envelop me.  The rest of the drive up the Icefields Parkway, and my evening in Jasper, were grey.  My detour on Highway 11 had, indeed, given me the best weather of the day, and enough good photos to make the day seem worthwhile.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive out and back on Highway 11:

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