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Published: August 9th 2014
We made a nearly start to give ourselves plenty of time and to avoid tour group crowds. We had some significant hiking in mind, and wanted to be sure we had time.
Early in the morning there were clouds hanging around each mountain peak, like the clouds were seeking shelter from prevailing winds. As the day went along, these dissipated, leaving the peaks standing up starkly against the intensely blue sky.
Our first early morning stop was at Athabasca Falls, one of the most visited places in the park. Fortunately, we got there ahead of the tour groups and had only a few fellow travelers at the site. This falls thunders (and yes, that is the appropriate word) over a cliff formed by a glacier, and cuts its way back a few millimeters every year. In the canyon are old channels the river has abandoned, showing dry large potholes and scouring of the walls.
Next was the heavily visited Athabasca Glacier. In order to actually go up on the glacier, you must either go on a guided tour requiring an early morning arrival that was not realistic for us, or you must go up on one of the
snow coaches, and reservations for those were already sold out months ago. I suspect they are largely filled by large tour groups. However, a brief but steep walk takes you up to the foot of the glacier. Along the way are signs showing the toe of the glacier at various times, and it is obvious it has receded rapidly since 1982. At the edges of the valley are the lateral moraines, large piles of stones piled up along the edge of the glacier during its greater extent, and these appear to be at least 100 feet high. Across the valley, probably a mile or more from the current toe of the glacier, is the terminal moraine, marking its greatest extent. On the walk up to the glacier, you walk across flat rock faces showing heavy scoring from the passage of the glacier. The air coming off the glacier was cold and we were somewhat bundled up against the chill. Although the glaciers here are retreating as they are all over the world, here there are still areas where they are 365 meters thick, and you can see that high up on some of the mountains.
Our next stop was
our premier planned hike of the day, the Wilcox Pass Trail. It is a somewhat difficult 5 km hike up over a rise of several hundred feet, and was going to be a challenge. We got about half way up and it started to rain lightly. Hearing thunder nearby, we did not dare continue one as much as we would have liked to, and so we went back down after seeing the vista down the valley from half way up the slope. Wish we could have gone further, but sometimes you just have to take what Mother Nature gives you.
Next stop was Bridalveil Falls (does every park have one of these?), and then a hike down a steep somewhat muddy slope to the foot of Panther Falls, the highest "hidden" (meaning not seen from the highway) falls in the park. My Mother would have been proud of our waterfall tour. I don't think she ever missed one.
Another short hike further along the Columbia Icefields Parkway took us to a vista high above Peyto Lake, a brilliant turquoise blue from the fine silt ("rock flour") suspended in the waters. The color is almost indescribable. But the best
was yet to come.
I have always heard of Moraine Lake. Many people say it is the prettiest lake they have ever seen. I now number myself among them. The water carries multiple shades of the purest blues, and the shores immediately give way to the majesty of the famous Ten Peaks that surround it. High up on the cliff wall we saw a waterfall that must fall for hundreds of feet before hitting on rocks and dissipating. The lake is named for the large rock pile on one end that dammed up a stream and formed the lake. Originally, it was thought be from a glacial moraine, but now thought to be a landslide from the nearby Tower of Babel mountain. This was a great end to a spectacular day.
Tomorrow: A day in Banff National Park, including Lake Louise
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