Two years ago this past August, my mother and I ventured on a cross country trek in my brother’s Jeep across Canada. We drove west from southwestern Ontario to Vancouver, BC over the course of two weeks, and then down to northern California to meet up with the men in our family. The following are taken from emails I wrote to family and friends.
Day 10: Thursday, August 9, 2012
Woke up in the morning, feeling not like P. Diddy. Temps dropped overnight and we were told it was about 3 degrees Celsius – not fun leaving our sleeping bags. Broke camp, had breakfast at the Icefield Centre and booked our tickets for the Icefield Tour on a 6-wheel, all drive, monster truck tired bus.
We caught the first coach bus out at 9:15 am to where they keep their ice venturing buses. On the way up, our driver, Roy, told us a little bit about the area. Some of the trees to our left were 300 years old (left image), so their small size shouldn’t fool us to their age as the poor soil conditions and extreme weather make it difficult for them to thrive. And due to the icy winds, the tree sap on the windward side freezes and therefore, the higher up you go, the more trees you see with missing branches on the windward side (known as “flagging”). To our right was a small patch of trees that were 700 years old. Love it.
Roy continued to tell us about “moraines” – gravelly looking hills that are formed by the debris left behind from where the Athabasca glacier passed through. Each moraine then would indicate a stage of where the glacier resided at one point. Such is my understanding anyway. We soon switched to the explorer vehicle with our new guide, Dave. He was fantastic and reminded me a lot of Cameron from Modern Family. We left the gravely bits to go onto some finer gravel that Dave explained as actually being the glacier, it was just covered in all this grit and sediment. Down a 30 degree slope, and then through some pooled water for the explorer to clean its tires of the sand/grit/gravel. This prevents bringing the dirt onto the glacier which would encourage melting (doesn’t deflect the sun’s rays like the snow does). Over the past 125 years, the glacier has receded 1.5 km and loses 2-3 metres a year!
Once at the top we took a TON of pictures, felt like we were on the moon a bit, with a Canadian flag flapping in the wind as a photo-op prop. Had about 20 minutes to walk in a designated area, so as to not fall into a crevasse, which can get as large as 30 ft by 100 ft deep.
Noticed a lot of little rivulets flowing at a decent speed, some of these feed into lake Sawapta at the bottom, or toe, (in front of the Centre).
The Columbia Icefields house 6 glaciers and “straddle a triple Continental Divide – water flows into three separate oceans: the one we ventured, Athabasca, feeds the Athabasca River which flows north through Jasper, feeds into Great Slave Lake and then joins the McKenzie River (longest river in Canada) and then empties into the Arctic. The Saskatchewan Glacier feeds the Saskatchewan River and heads east all the way to Hudson Bay and eventually the Atlantic. Last, the Columbia Glacier feeds the Columbia River, makes it way through Washington and then Oregon and to the Pacific! Columbia Icefields get around. Well, Athabasca has been around for 5000 years, so…
More factoids: From the “head wall” (top of the glacier) to the “toe” she’s 6 km in length and 1 km wide, and 300m at the deepest point – that’s taller than the Eiffel Tower (as the Centre’s posters advertised).
On our way out Dave stopped to show us a “mill well,” where streams from differing directions collide to create a bit of a whirlpool that erodes the ice and results in this well.
Coach driver shared with us that the Icefields Centre was once in the Guinness Book of World Records for most female washrooms of an establishment, with 62 or so.
From the Icefield we continued on to Jasper. Stopping continuously to view various mountains and rivers… and the occasional black bear. We stopped at the Athabasca Waterfalls which was quite spectacular. So spectacular the mist from one vantage point shut my iPhone off.
We took HWY 93A (a smaller road we thought we’d see more wildlife on… no such luck) which followed the Athabasca River and eventually met up with the Whirlpool River – Athabasca had a lot of rock flour in it, Whirlpool didn’t, so you could see the two differing coloured rivers converge. Made it to Jasper. Lovely place, beautiful scenery, doesn’t hold up to Canmore or Banff in my regard, but still, lovely.
Crossed into BC, and started making our way out of the Rockies. Followed the Fraser River and sped towards Kamloops. Decided we couldn’t go on and got the last room at a roadside motel in Clearwater. They had a pool. I swam laps. Happy.
Kilometres achieved: 531