This was hands down my favourite day of the trek. As we sat around our final campfire together three weeks later and reminisced about our highs and lows of the past month, this day in Jasper National Park stood out to me as the absolute best.
Because it combined my three favourite things in the whole wide world. Hiking (and then more hiking), chilling out in the pool and dining out. There is nothing more satisfying to me than having a good old walk in the chilly mountain air for a few hours before relaxing and having a little bit of a pamper and then making sure I put all those calories straight back into my body. If I were asked to describe my perfect day, this would pretty much be it.
As we did two beautiful hikes in the same day, I've split this post into two parts simply to accommodate the huge amount of photos I just cannot choose between.
Before we get going, here's a little Pocahontas to help set the mood:
Upon waking to discover that we hadn't been consumed by elk-hunting grizzlies after all (although there was a rather terrifying moment the night before when we managed to lose Meg in the giant campground as the sun melted into the twilight), we were given the option to explore the town of Jasper or go on a bit of a hike.
Michele and I were the only ones who wanted to go on a longer hike so Chad drove us to Old Fort Point, a place just outside of the town next to a tangle of rivers, where we scrabbled up a steep hill to enjoy wonderful views of the surrounding area.
And to appreciate just how solitary we were...
We turned our backs on civilisation and headed into the wilderness.
After that initial scramble up the hill, the terrain was fairly easy - although it was still a three hour hike so we were pretty worn out by the end of it!
We made our way through thick forests and past azure lakes with those misty blue mountains lurking behind the clouds in the distance.
Spot the elk!
As we traipsed through the woodland, I began to feel more and more like Pocahontas.
There had been warnings before we set off; make lots of noise to frighten the bears away, spread out when walking through patches of dead trees (in case one falls and traps one of you - if you're far apart the chances are one of you will be free to help the other), beware this, beware that...
I was still half hoping we would see a bear but at some points the silence and the stillness began to worry me. So I began to belt out classics such as Colours of the Wind and Just Around the Riverbend (it felt appropriate at the time).
We followed the sound of rushing water down to the side of a lake that, from afar, glowed in every shade of blue and turquoise.
As we climbed down, big dark shapes would jump out in our peripheral vision and our hearts would catch in our throats as our minds screamed 'BEAR!' - only to discover that it was only a fallen tree or old charred log.
Although that's not to say the wildlife was in any way lacking...
It was really nice being there together in that great space, which was simultaneously so empty and so full. No humans. Just trees, birds, the rush of water.
And us having a good old gossip about the other people on our trek, dissecting personalities and wondering if there would be any blossoming romances within the group (sorry guys!)
Soon we began to get closer to the end point, meeting others who were doing similar hikes nearby.
Out of the woods, we came across a pretty little walkway which took us over the meadow flowers and a meandering stream.
Which was just so picturesque, it got me singing Pocahontas again!
We disappeared back into the trees and made the final part of our journey. Bumping into a pair of older women from San Francisco, we stopped to have a chat about the hike, the trek and how we'd met in San Francisco four years earlier (n'awwwwwwwwwww...)
And then a rather surreal moment when we came out onto the road and found this giant bench to wait for our ride home on!! Half an hour later, everyone else came around the corner in the van, we jumped in and went off to the second part of the best day ever.
Now before you go...
A little pause for thought...
Have a little look back over the images of the mountains, hillsides and plains.
They're beautiful and majestic and entirely unlike our own bare British hills.
I'd always taken this for granted; I assumed the British hillsides weren't a suitable environment for such greenery.
But it turns out that our environment and what we consider "natural" is entirely governed by land ownership and policy - and we are the poorest nation in Europe when it comes to wildlife and forestry.
I really, really recommend reading this blog by George Monbiot, a persuasive environmental essayist if ever there were one.