Thursday, January 22, 2015

Athabasca Glacier

This is an ongoing series recapping my 2008 trip to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

If you want to see a remnant of the last ice age, head to the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park.  This mountain valley boasts six interconnected glaciers, one of which visitors can easily access.  The Athabasca Glacier sits closest to the Icefields Parkway, and due to its location, has the distinction of being most visited glacier in North America.

The Athabasca Glacier spills between two mountains

Driving the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise, Roger and I wanted to leave enough time to reach this glacier.  I'd read it was a must-see for Banff visitors.  Heading towards the parking area, we were greeted with this amazing overview.  Sandwiched between two massive mountains, the Athabasca Glacier spilled into the valley below.

Walking a barren plain to the glacier

Visitors can walk to the foot of this massive icefield.  Roger parked our car in the nearby lot, and we followed the other tourists down a wide, rubble-strewn path.  The surrounding area was barren, made up of dull gray sediments left behind by the retreating glacier.

Signs showed how much the glacier has retreated

The once-mighty Athabasca Glacier has been shrinking at an alarming rate of 5 meters (16 feet) per year.  It's retreated nearly a mile in the past century.  Markers placed along the main path, each with a different year, showed the extent of the icefield in the past.  A very sober visual as to how quickly we're losing this valuable resource.  The photo above shows Roger posing by the 1992 marker.  As you can see, it retreated quite a ways in 16 years.

Lots of dangers on the glacier

Another common sight along our trail - lots and lots of warning signs.  Many dangers lurk on these icefields.  The Athabasca Glacier ranges between 300 and nearly 1000 feet in thickness.  Melting ice creates many deep crevasses.  Hiking on the glacier is not allowed, unless you're with an organized tour.

This was as close as you could get

This row of cones and rope was as close as we could get.

Unless you booked a special tour

From our vantage point behind, the rope, we watched a couple of guided tour groups ascend the icefield.  I was wishing we'd signed up for one of those.

It was cold at the glacier's edge

Instead, I had to be content with just viewing from afar.  But that was okay too.  The massive size of this icefield was mind-blowing!  And it was very, very cold near the glacier's base.  I was bundled up with warm coat and hat, and still got chilly.

Glacier close-up

Roger and I zoomed our cameras in as far as they would go, and got some really cool shots of the rumpled, wrinkled ice.

Meltwater pools at the glacier's edge

A steady stream of silty meltwater flowed from the Athabasca Glacier's base.  The ice at it's toe didn't look too stable.

These snow coaches took visitors on the ice

After spending time getting up close and personal with the Athabasca, Roger and I headed to the visitor center across the road.  Walking through the parking lot, we spied a very unusual vehicle.  It was a snow coach - a specially designed bus with thick lugged tires to enable driving onto the glacier.  Another option for folks who didn't want to go hiking up the icefield.

Another glacier in an adjacent valley

Sadly, we had neither the time nor the money for such a tour.  So Roger and I had to be content with touring the visitor center.  It was quite well done, though.  And the place offered many great vantage points to view the nearby mountains, and of course, their glaciers.

Ice-topped mountains

The neighboring mountains had really cool glaciers.  And their very tops were rimmed with a thick coating of ice.  Looked like a snowy white hat.

Close up of the glacier's fractured edge

It was amazing to me how the ice perched on the side of steep mountainsides.  Although it looked ready to slide off at any moment, it stuck fast.  Zooming in on the ice, one could see a maze of cracks and crevices.  A mound of white ice particles at it's base gave evidence of frequent icefalls.  Yet another reason not to venture too close to a glacier's edge.

Another look at these majestic high peaks

Roger and I took in more of the stunning mountain scenery for a little bit longer, before realizing time was getting late, and we still needed to drive all the way back down the Icefields Parkway to reach our campsite.  So we reluctantly tore ourselves away from this very interesting visitor center, and headed back down the road.

Bidding the Icefields Parkway goodbye

It was fascinating to get so close to a huge, active glacier.  The entire length of the Icefields Parkway was full of gorgeous sights.  Another highlight of our Banff, trip I was glad we'd explored this area.  But next time I hope to make it all the way to the town of Jasper!

Sharing with:  Scenic Weekends


  1. Gorgeous scenery, Linda, and I love that bus. :)

  2. SO COOL! (no pun intended) ;)
    Love the shot of you by the glacier's edge, and the little people trekking out there on it - really gives perspective to the massive size!

  3. LOVED this post Linda! I was fascinated by your photos of the glaciers and trying to recall if we went here when we were in the Lake Louise, Banff and Jasper area. Awesome pics of the area and the glaciers!!
    Blessings, Aimee

  4. What a great post. Really loved the images. The snow and ice on top of the mountains is worth framing. The shot of the recent avalanche is equally fascinating. I have to say, the whole valley is enchanting.

    Mersad Donko Photography

  5. This is amazing Linda ! Such a beautiful part of the world :) loved the pictures and kudos to you for making this trip! It looks super chilly!

  6. That is just beautiful, you can even feel the cold & desolation there.

  7. Hello Linda, gorgeous series on the glacier.. The scenery is just amazing... What a wonderful trip and memorie for you and your hubby.. Great photos. Have a happy weekend!

  8. Linda your shots are just gorgeous. Lake Louise is an area that I have wanted to go that is still on my bucket list. You have inspired me to keep considering this and make a real effort to go there. Thanks so much for sharing these shots!

  9. Loved your account of the glacier! Very interesting and as always, great photos to accompany the writing! Always a pleasure to stop by for a visit to your posts!!!

  10. spectacular! The scenery is breathtaking! And your photos are amazing.

  11. I loved the photo of the snow that looks like a water fall. Beautiful, but too cold for me!

  12. We have several glaciers on Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker here in western Washington state. I love to get up close and personal with them. These are fabulous pictures! :-)

  13. Glad you got to the glacier! Did you notice the sign for 1986? That's when we were there with young kids. As I recall there was more of a short vertical front to it then rather than a long gentle slope. But the other ones hanging on the mountain tops were spectacular too!

  14. Wow, fabulous views of the glacier! I got to go to Glacier Na. Park for the first time last July, but it wasn't quite like this!

  15. These snowy and icy views are breathtaking. What an amazing experience this must have been. I would have been taking heaps of photos too. Love the design of the ice a stretched tractor.

  16. Majestic scenes ~ wonderful photography and what a marvelous trip for you!

    Happy Weekend to you,
    artmusedog and carol

  17. I've never been to a glacier. When we were in New Zealand, we hoped to visit the one on the S Island, but we were deluged with rain and were told that we might as well turn around as there would be no getting near the glacier. I loved seeing your photos of the ice field, Linda. How's the foot?

  18. What perfect weather to experience this magnificent area.

  19. I've never seen a glacier in person before. Best hurry before they melt away. Tom The Backroads Traveller

  20. Climbing on glaciers is one of my favorite things to do.

  21. We did this trip but your pictures are much much better! Lovely!

  22. Wow! How cool and majestic. I like the adjacent valley photo Very much. Thanks for sharing.

  23. Beautiful, amazing and also alarming...
    Our climate is changing at a rapid pace.
    Wonderful post!

  24. Great shots of the glacier! I was there many years ago. It was receding then but not at the rate it is now!

  25. Very nice- the picture with the group gives a nice perspective

  26. Wow, that is an awesome reminder of nature's power. Great photos!

  27. Gosh I had to pick my jaw up- these are amazingly beautiful sights and you did an excellent job capturing them. AWESOME.

  28. What terrific shots! I hope to see the glacier here in New Zealand in the near future and your photos are great anticipation!

  29. Unbelievable scenery. I had no idea you could get so close to the glacier, and I'd love to make the hike one day. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  30. Great photos! That was quite a hike:)

  31. Neat shots of the glaciers. I think it would be very scary to go up on the ice even if it was on a guided tour.

  32. Dearest Linda; Wow, how magnificent to visit and experience these great glaciers☆☆☆ But your WONDERFUL photographs took me to the spectacular picture tour♡♡♡
    Sending Lots of Love and Hugs from Japan to my Dear friend, xoxo Miyako*


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