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Published: October 8th 2010
The Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield
It was a long drive from Banff to the Columbia Icefield, but well worth it. The road there, known as the Icefield Parkway, has some absolutely stunning scenery. The constant trail of RV4RENT’s clients gave us plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, but that didn’t stop them from winding us up. It was tempting to stop at every view point, lake or trail that we came across, but we decided to drive there without stopping and then use the return journey for the continuous stop-offs.
Once we got to the icefield it was clear that we had hit a major tourist trap - coaches, cars and camper vans everywhere. We got our tickets for the drive on the glacier, which was about an hour and a half later, and had a look round the visitors’ centre to fill the time. We thought it would be useful to remind ourselves of what a glacier actually is, as what I could remember from those geography lessons at school was probably not very reliable.
The Columbia Icefield itself is the largest in North America, south of the Artic Circle at least, and it has some stunning statistics. It’s area is 45
View towards the Columbia Icefield
times that of the Central Park in New York and its volume was in the trillions of something or other (unfortunately I didn’t catch what the unit was).
Coming off the icefield are a number of glaciers. There are a number of massive coaches, with wheels of five to six feet in diameter that run along one of the glaciers, called the Athabasca Glacier. Apparently the drive onto the glacier is the steepest in the world and I’ll admit that it was a bit hairy. There are also a number of holes in the glacier and, given that the glacier is deeper than the Eiffel Tower, we wouldn’t have wanted to drive into any of them.
There was a marked area where we could walk on the glacier so there was no risk of wandering too close to any of these holes. Running within reach was a stream of melt-water from the icefield, which everyone is invited to drink. We wished we had been proactive enough to take a bottle with us, which many people had done, as the water is as pure as any that you’ll find.
Due to global warming and the like, the glacier
View of Lake Peyto from the nearby view point
is melting fast that it is advancing, effectively meaning that it is retreating by about 10m per year. Us and our oversized car didn’t help, but at least we didn’t have a pick-up truck or monster-sized camper van.
On the way back, we stopped at Lake Peyto and Lake Bow - both of which made fantastic photographs. At Lake Peyto, there was a short walk from a car park to a lookout with a fantastic view. The main problem here however was that all the coaches stopped-off there and it was difficult to get a photo that hadn’t got any Japanese in it.
Finally, we came across what we thought was a serious road accident. The road was almost completely blocked by abandoned cars and buses. As we got closer we saw people walking with their cameras, which we thought was a bit out-of-order. It turned out that there was a big, black bear eating by the side of the road and, contrary to all the safety advice we’d been given, everyone was walking towards it to get some pictures. Idiots! I got a couple of great pictures as well.
We arrived at the Lake Louise village
Bow Lake viewed from the Icefield Parkway
in the evening and went looking for somewhere to eat. The lady in the Tourist Information recommended the Lake Louise train station, which has been converted into a restaurant. What fantastic advice that was. As well as sitting inside, they also had a bar-b-q outside. The peace and quiet was only interrupted when a couple of goods trains went past, which was all very exciting and we aren’t even train spotters. These were unbelievably long so we put on our anoraks and counted 140 trucks on the first and 90 on the second. And many of those were stacked two high.
Tot: 2.575s; Tpl: 0.059s; cc: 19; qc: 72; dbt: 0.0598s; 2; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb