I have a new crush. Her name is Edith. She lives far away, but she stands out. She’s quiet, but elegant; curvy yet skinny; smooth, tough, and more than a little dangerous. And she takes my breath away.
Yes, I’ve flipped out over the road up to Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper National Park. (Cavell was a British nurse celebrated for her bravery during World War I; she was executed by the Germans. The peak named after her is one of the most prominent in the Jasper area.) Like the Highwood Pass in Kananaskis, Cavell Road is closed to car traffic until June 15 each year, meaning there’s usually a brief window around this time for cycling it when most of the snow is gone and before the cars return.
Last week Strava Jeff and I made the trek from Edmonton, in separate vehicles, there, up and down, and back in one long, glorious day. It’s one of a handful of magical rides in Alberta. I highly recommend it.
After having ridden Highwood last year at this time, it’s hard for me not to compare. Highwood and Cavell are very different animals. The former has two access points, north and south, so riders can go up, over, down, and back, provided the summit is clear of snow. And it’s way longer at 54 km. It’s also fairly easy to get to, about an hour’s drive from Calgary. Heck, it’s even got amenities: there’s even a fancy lodge at the north end.
Cavell, however, is much harder to access, being a four-hour drive from the capital; the closest amenities are 10 km away in Jasper; and Cavell is a single-access road--you go up to the top and then back down, that’s about it. Plus it’s relatively short: from gate to summit it’s a mere 14 km. (Though it’s easy to combine Cavell with some other lovely climbs to make for a full day’s ride; nearby Marmot, for instance, isn’t gated but we encountered only one vehicle on it.)
But for several reasons, I prefer Edith’s charms. Cavell’s remoteness is one. Unless you live in Jasper, it’s a hike to get to Cavell Road, which weeds out the mildly serious Looky-Lous. Cyclist on Cavell tend to be the devoted sort. Then when you finally get there, the modest entrance to the access road is tucked away on the Athabasca Valley’s Highway 93A, an inconspicuous, almost secret passageway for the climbing curious. And while it’s short, Cavell Road has other things going for it. For one, it’s a narrow twisting road, with a series of Euro-style switchbacks in the lower part, and with vegetation creeping right up to, and often hanging over, the asphalt. Highwood is a straightish, wide highway through and through; Cavell feels more like a generous, woodsy path.
Cavell is also trickier to navigate than her Kananaskis cousin. The narrowness of the road means there’s going to be more stuff on it--debris from trees, rocks, even mud. (The day we were there we had to hike our bikes across a small slide.) In many places the pavement drops about a foot straight down; don’t get too close to the edge. (That said, the pavement, for a high mountain road, is in remarkable condition, holding up nicely after being re-done a few years ago.) But all of these hazards are precisely what gives the road an adventurous feel.
Cavell also has an Angel. That’s the name of the glacier near the peak, which is best viewed from the meadow not far from the parking lot. We didn’t make it to the parking lot the day we went. The final 500 m of road were snowed in, but even from where we had to turn around, a ways past the hostel, we got a glimpse through the trees of the old, shrinking, but still majestic berg.
Jasper National Park is officially open again, and the Cavell Road gate opens on June 15. That gives you a week to get there and see Dame Edith for yourself. Do it, if you can. She’ll charm you.