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Published: October 8th 2009
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 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 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.
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