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Icefields Parkway / Columbia Icefields, AL
Sunday, July 29, 2001 - 7:30am by Lolo
140 miles and 3.5 hours from our last stop
Today's drive was hopefully going to be an event in itself--the 178-mile Icefields Parkway, one of the most spectacular mountain roads in the world. Unfortunately, the weather was pretty damp and dreary so I'm sure we weren't seeing it at its best. Still the scenery was quite awesome--pristine river valleys, alpine meadows, emerald-green glacial lakes, waterfalls, and glacier-covered mountains.
However, the highlight came about halfway along the drive when we reached the Columbia Icefields Visitor Center at the base of the Athabasca Glacier, one of the 8 glaciers that make up the Columbia Icefields, the largest nonpolar ice cap in the world. The glaciers are more than 2,500 feet thick and cover a 200 square mile area. Since the Icefields are located on the Continental Divide, their melt water feeds streams and rivers that pour into three different oceans--the Arctic, the Atlantic, and the Pacific. It truly was an incredible sight.
We had two choices for experiencing the glacier. One was to just walk out onto the foot of the glacier on our own. The other far more expensive choice (it cost $162 Canadian for 2 adults and 2 kids) was to take the Brewster Ice Age Adventure, a 90-minute excursion onto the face of the glacier in specially designed, balloon-tired buses. Normally, we shy away from touristy, expensive, big group tours like this, but in this case it seemed like the best way to truly experience the glacier. Also, afterwards we heard a story about a tragedy that occurred here the previous week. A 10-year-old boy who was out on the foot of the glacier with his family, fell into a crevasse and couldn't be recovered. What an absolute nightmare. The thought of that boy still haunts me to this day. On the Brewster Snocoach tours, the parts of the glacier they let you out onto have been carefully checked for crevasses so a tragedy such as this one can't occur.
The tour really was fun. We were jostled and bounced along the ice and climbed some inclines so steep that you would never expect a vehicle to be able to get up. We were let out of the coach onto the glacier on an area that had been tested for safety. Our tour guide explained to us how glaciers were formed and pointed out some interesting geological features along the way. He was so cute that Michelle and I definitely developed an appreciation for geology, or at least pretended we did.
Further north on the Icefields Parkway, we stopped to see the very impressive Athabasca Falls. From the parking area, we took a short hike to a bridge over the chasm where we got a great view of the 82-foot-high waterfall dropping into a narrow canyon below.
The 178-mile long Icefields Parkway, which connects Lake Louise and Jasper, is perhaps one of the most spectacular mountain roads in the world. The road climbs through three river valleys past deep-green lakes, waterfalls, glacier-covered mountains, and dozens of permanent snowfields.
About halfway along the 3-hour drive is the Columbia Icefields, the largest nonpolar ice cap in the world, covering 200 square miles and more than 2,500 feet thick. It also happens to be the hydrographic apex of North America where water flows to three different oceans (Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic) from one point.
Brewster Snocoach offers 90-minute excursions onto the face of the glacier in their balloon-tired buses. The tour allows you to walk out on the glacier in an area that has been tested for safety. For those not taking the tour, you can drive your car to the foot of the glacier and then walk out on the surface. Extreme caution must be used to avoid falling in a crevasse.
Further north on the Parkway towards Jasper are several waterfalls. Perhaps the most impressive is Athabasca Falls, which drops 82 feet into a narrow canyon. A short hike to a bridge over the chasm provides great views of the falls.
Icefields Parkway / Columbia Icefields location map in "high definition"