Heading east from Jasper on the Maligne Lake Road is the remarkable disappearing Medicine Lake.
In summer, when most people visit Jasper – the summer population being around four times its winter numbers – the lake looks like any other. Set among snow-capped mountains and abounding with wildlife, Medicine Lake appears as a typical glacial lake. Particularly busy are the frantic rabbit-like pika who use every waking minute to prepare food for the long northern winter.
Wander through here in fall (autumn) and the lake will have disappeared and a only a few shallow pools remain. Remarkably, Medicine Lake is not a lake at all. Thought to be spiritual by the native Indians, the area has only a small drainage ability into a series of underground passages that eventually surface downstream in Maligne Canyon. With the intense water flows of late spring and early summer from the melting glaciers and mountain snow, the water pours into Medicine Lake much faster than it can drain, filling it until it appears to be a lake.
This is no different to turning a tap on fully into a basin, where the basin keeps filling as more water is going into the basin, than can escape through its drainage hole. Eventually the water flow slows as the snows complete their melting and the cooler autumn weather starts the long winter cycle again. The water finally drains from Medicine Lake and it is no longer a lake.
With its fascinating geology and panoramic setting, Medicine Lake is a worthwhile quick stopover on the road to Spirit Island and Maligne Lake, a story for next week.