So far, we’ve been to Drumheller and Banff (see part 1 and part 2). Normally, that would be all the adventure I needed, but we made the last minute decision to visit the Glacier Skywalk and the Columbia Icefield, both in Jasper.
Before I get to the sites, let me just say that the drive was spectacular, except for idiot drivers who were too busy sight seeing to drive safely. Mountains, calm lakes reflecting the mountains, rivers, etc. It was beautiful view after beautiful view.
The first thing we did was visit the Glacier Skywalk. There was a lot of controversy (scroll down for a summary of the issues) when the plan for the Skywalk became public. I agree with a lot of the concerns, but I also agree that sometimes we need to make compromises in order to help people experience and appreciate the majesty of our natural and geologic treasures. The hard part is finding where to draw the line in the sand and preventing people from pushing that line towards more and more development. The latter is, I think, the hardest and the one thing that we’re pretty bad at. But, I went, partly because my cousin and I were looking for fun things to do, and partly to see what all the controversy is about. (For the record, I’m still on the undecided with regards to how I feel about the Skywalk.)
My cousin isn’t fond of heights, so it was a bit stressful for her, but I was actually a bit disappointed. I guess I didn’t do enough research and I assumed it was higher. It was cool, but I hoped it was a grander view. That said, the view was quite wonderful.
After the Skywalk, we had lunch and waited for our turn to head out to the Athabasca Glacier, which is part of the Columbia Icefields. It was quite the endeavor: first we got on a crowded old bus to head up to where the “snow coaches” are and then from there to the glacier. I’m pretty sure we spent more time travelling then visiting the glacier (though, that was only about 20 minutes). I’ve wanted to walk on a glacier ever since I studied oceanography, over a decade ago. It was pretty awesome getting a chance to stand on something that has such a huge impact on the surrounding area.
The icefield is on top of a triple Continental Divide: the melt water flows to the Arctic Ocean, the North Atlantic Ocean (via Hudson Bay), and the Pacific ocean (according to the tour guide, this is very rare). While the immediate area looks desolate, there’s an old growth forest with trees older than 300 years on one side and on the other side there’s an ancient growth forest forest (I think he said the trees were older than 800 years old). As a nature buff, I was geeking out over this. I’d love to go back some day to join one of their guided walking tours on the glacier and maybe check out the old growth forest.
One of the cool things about the trip was the “snow coaches”. They have to transverse an unpaved road and the little part of the glacier that they are allowed on. To get to the parking lot, there’s a hill we have to drive down which is incredibly steep (according to the tour guide, it’s the second steepest unpaved road). It was pretty intense going down – I could help feeling like the vehicle would flip, but they use a special hydraulic system developed for those giant trucks you see in open mines which allow the vehicle to go down the hill very slowly.
This is the view heading back up the hill.
And, just to give you some perspective, here’s a screen shot of when I rotated a duplicate so that the horizon was horizontal.
It was a great day trip and totally worth the crowds and idiot drivers we had to suffer through.