Another activity on the ol’ ambassador card ticked off, as well as something on my bucket list, stand on a glacier! As my time in Banff comes to an end, I was determined this weekend to visit the Columbia Icefields in Jasper National Park, as I can’t go home from a year in Canada without having stood on a glacier, that would be wrong! Myself and a friend rented a car and set off on the three hour drive beaming with excitement, we had read about the Athabasca glacier but it still seemed the stuff of legends to us, how can ice be 983 feet thick (300m)? The drive from Banff to the icefields was so beautiful not to mention refreshing, I have been surrounded by the exact same mountains for ten months so to see ones that were different was a breath of fresh air. On the drive we caught a glimpse of Crowfoot Glacier, which fuelled our excitement.
It is hard to get a sense of scale from the pictures, but we were on the road and a good few miles away from the glacier. The mountain range it sits in is huge and even though we were quite a distance from it, we could still see the beautiful blue colour.
Another couple of hours and we arrived at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre. We were reasonably early so the place wasn’t busy and with the buses departing every 15-30 minutes it wasn’t long before we were on our way.
The picture above shows the route we took from the Ice Centre to the glacier, the road is easy to see. This area is home to some of the highest peaks in the park and from the very left we have, Mt. Athabasca 11,453ft (3491m), Mt. Andromeda shrouded in cloud 11,318ft (3450m) and the Athabasca Glacier to the right which is what we were heading for. We boarded a coach which took us on the ten minute drive to the Ice Explorer stop where we then boarded a, well, an Ice Explorer.
These Tera buses were made specifically for use in arctic conditions by a company in Calgary in the 1980s, seat 56 people and have some snazzy brown, leather seats. I think I remember our guide telling us around 30 of these were made with Brewster operating the majority of them, one in the arctic and one with the American military. As they cost around $2 million each its no wonder there aren’t that many. Note to self – remember to bring note pad along to future tours.
After a short – almost vertical – drive, we were on the ice. The glacier moves at a rate of around 3cm a day and it is estimated that in around 60 years, it will melt and all that will remain will be a beautiful, bright blue lake.
This shot looks back toward the Ice Discovery Centre and there is no walking behind the Ice Explorers as there are crevasses hundreds of feet deep which would be fatal if someone were to fall in. My favourite part of the trip was being able to drink and bottle the glacial water which was extremely fresh and completely tasteless, but I now consider myself to be a water snob and I just don’t know if spring water will cut it when I return to Scotland.