Columbia Icefield

Day 9
Sunday July 24th

Cafe for breakfast and then headed north to Athabasca glacier. It was only now we found David had not packed any long trousers and only after we arrived at the glacier did we discover that he'd left his sweatshirt in the chalet. This turned out to be an excuse for Jude to get a nice new warm fleece and lend David the jumper she was wearing, a trifle large maybe but forgetting a jumper does not mean he gets the benefit of being bought a new one.

Our chalet was on the left facing that mountain
Main Icefields Parkway highway

Athabasca Glacier

The Athabasca glacier comes out of the Columbia icefield the largest icefield in the world

The cafe had a great view of the glacier and you could make out all the ridges of rubble as it had advanced and retreated seasonally over the years. Originally the glacier had reached the road but now it was a long trek to it.

We booked a snowcoach trip onto the central part of the glacier, quite expensive but I figured we weren't going to be coming back any time soon. The coaches ran every 10 minutes so although busy we only had half an hour to kill.

The first mile of the journey was on tarmac road so we were in a standard touring coach with a running commentry from the driver. Apparently the trees beside the glacier only grow on one side as the wind coming off the glacier is so cold it freezes them. The road kept to the solid rock, for the most part we couldn't see the glacier itself as the glacier pushes a huge pile of loose rocks and rubble out to each side (a morraine). Eventually we climbed above the rubble to a transfer point where we changed to a snowcoach. These have 6 wheels all driven each 6 feet across, can climb a 40 degree slope and cost a million dollars each. Their slope capability was needed as the trip down to the glacier from the transfer was narrow and well over 30 degrees, only one coach was allowed on it at a time it was so steep.

We had half an hour on the ice with strict instructions by the guide (& repeated by Jude) not to go outside the area marked off with flags. Naturally I encouraged - I mean reinforced this ruule, extorting the kids not to fall down any crevases and kill themselves. Jude was not pleased ! We tasted some pure meltwater (cold) and Chris made David race back and forth to get him to slip over (it worked). All too soon it was time to get back on the coach and return.

Off limits

Glacier Toe

We had lunch in the cafe, cheap and nasty food with a high price tag. then drove over the road to a point where we could walk up and on to the toe of the galcier. The long trail drove home the point that the glacier was receeding with the placement of year markers showing how far the glacier extended in the past. In the last 10 years alone it had receeded by a couple of hundred yards.

Again there were severe warnings (especially by Jude) not to stray off the marked section with warnings that the last fatalities had occurred by at the toe of the glacier. If you fell down a crevass it would be 45 minutes before the rescue team was ready to come out and by that time you would probably have died of hypothermia. Naturally I made sure the kids didn't stray unless they followed me. Jude scowling again pretended not to be with us.

The crevasses we found were long and deep but not very wide, the greatest danger was from dropping your camera down them. Only when I pointed this out to another couple did she hurridly attach the strap to her wrist. They were a nice young couple who asked me to take their photo and reciprocated later when they met us at the bottom.

Deep but less than 6" wide

Morraine at the glacier toe

We drove back slowly admiring the scenery and stopping at another bear sighting.

There were many stretches with "Beware boulders" warnings but just this side of the bridge opposite we saw the results. Boulders 10-15 feet across lying beside the road and many slightly smaller ones having obviously bounced across the carriageway into the centre of a large loop in the road.

Black bear

We'd just driven up that 5 minutes previously


©2005 Rob Hayward