Icefields Parkway

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October 8th 2009
Published: October 8th 2009
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Icefields Parkway

Icefields Parkway and Columbia Icefields

Friday Sept 18: The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) runs north from Lake Louise to Jasper, and it's all within the territory of Banff National Park and Jasper National Park. It's a spectauclar drive! (230km/144mi.)

Although I rode along part of it in 1970 with my 3 friends, Ellen, Marty and Kitty, just after we left college, I had no memory of its grandeur. I can only think it must have been a rainy, cloudy day so we couldn't see it, because it seems it would be impossible to forget this road otherwise. And I do recall it raining when we stood on the Columbia Icefields on that trip.

National Geographic has called this “One of the World's Ten Greatest Drives”, and although I have no way of knowing how true this is, in my experience it sure ranks up there.

There are frequent scenic viewing spots along the way, waterfalls, hikes, picnic grounds and campgrounds, though the campgrounds were starting to be closed for the upcoming winter when we were on it.

Some spots attracted particularly large crowds, Crow Foot Glacier, for example. (This one's for you, Becky.) The Crow Foot
Crow Foot GlacierCrow Foot GlacierCrow Foot Glacier

The bottom toe of the three has disappeared, and the middle one is going.
Glacier used to have three distinct toes, but the bottom one is gone now, and the middle one is shrinking.

The Columbia Icefields is like almost no other place on earth. Straddling the continental divide, this MASSIVE ice field provides river water to the Atlantic Ocean (via Hudson Bay), the Arctic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean (via the Columbia River).

YES, THIS IS THE ORIGIN OF THE COLUMBIA RIVER, Portlanders!!! One of the origins, anyway.

The Columbia Icefield has three glacier arms which extend down toward the Icefield Parkway and are viewable from the road: The Columbia Icefield in the center, the Athabascar Glacier to the south, and the Dome Glacier to the north. It has many other arms unseen from the road, but a model inside Icefields House gives you an idea of its vast form.

I was sorry to see how much the glacier had shrunk since I last visited, and as we walked and walked from the parking lot to the glacier, in the whipping wind, I noticed signs marking its recession. I first spotted a marker for where it had reached in 1982, then marker for where it ended in 1992 ...
Columbia Icefields GlacierColumbia Icefields GlacierColumbia Icefields Glacier

Definitely in Canada here!
and when we got close, it was roped off and we weren't able to step onto it or even touch it, as it's too dangerous. This was a disappointment, but a little boy fell into it last year and died before the rescue team could get him out.

People wanting to actually walk on the icefield can pay a hefty sum and travel in a special ice vehicle which goes out on the field considerably further up the slope.

Looking back to the Icefields House building, it was such a long long way. Despite my concern about how the glacier had receded in the last 39 years, the truth is that this particular glacier has been receding since about 1890 and once upon a time it went all the way out to the current roadway.

The Columbia Icefields had rivers running over the top of it, out from under the bottom, and at a lower point there was one running back under it! At this ice cave there was the signature blue of glaciers—I hope you can see it in the photo.

Additional photos below
Photos: 19, Displayed: 19


Columbia Icefields GlacierColumbia Icefields Glacier
Columbia Icefields Glacier

From a bit higher up, near the entry to Icefields House, where there are good exhibitions on wildlife and glaciation.
Athabascar GlacierAthabascar Glacier
Athabascar Glacier

This extension of the Columbia Icefields is just to the south of the Icefields Glacer.
Dome GlacierDome Glacier
Dome Glacier

This faces the Icefield Parkway, just to the north of the Columbia Icefields Glacier
Glacier impressionsGlacier impressions
Glacier impressions

Deep scratches made into the rock by the receding glacier draggingt stones with it.
1982 marker1982 marker
1982 marker

The Icefields Glacier extended to this point in 1982
1992 marker1992 marker
1992 marker

By 1992, The Icefields Glacier only reached to this point
I made it!I made it!
I made it!

Despite the pelting wind, I got to the glacier edge at last.
The face of a glacierThe face of a glacier
The face of a glacier

Much bigger than it looks here.
Glacier top streamGlacier top stream
Glacier top stream

From hollow to hollow the stream runs down the face of the glacier.
Phil at the glacierPhil at the glacier
Phil at the glacier

Disappointed we couldn't walk on the ice.
Lower ice caveLower ice cave
Lower ice cave

The glacier water was running back under the glacier here.
Lateral moraineLateral moraine
Lateral moraine

Gigantic piles left at the sides of the valley from which the glacier has retreated.
Looking way back to the parkwayLooking way back to the parkway
Looking way back to the parkway

This was once all glacier.
Looking backLooking back
Looking back

Looking down at the massive rock valley we just drove through.
Rental vehicles were everywhereRental vehicles were everywhere
Rental vehicles were everywhere

Lots of people were travelling in these rented vehicles, especially folks from overseas.

8th October 2009

Memories of the Icefield Glacier
Sure is a fantastic drive isn't it? We did it about 22 years ago and have a photo of Katherine holding Kev's hand as they both stand on the end of the glacier and Kev videos it. Maybe you can't remember its grandeur from your earlier visit because sometimes beauty evades youth...if you know what I mean!! M xx
8th October 2009

Climate change in pictures - I loved this Martha!
9th October 2009

a bit like N.Z
loved the photos, reminded me of New Zealand and the Franz Josef Glacier where we climbed all over it after landing on it in a helicopter, we did the drive to Banff once with a lot more snow on the peaks, the mountains were breath taking, interesting to see them at a different time of year but it still looks pretty cold !
26th January 2010

Loved the photos and commentary. This is an area that I have not seen, but now will bring it toward the top of my travel list. Really very spectacular! THanks, Greata

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