A Walk on a Glacier

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Edith Cavell Glacier

Last fall I visited Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. My first time in Alberta. I was excited to see the Canadian Rockies close up. The timing was perfect for glorious fall foliage. The changing elevations and landscape in the park offered a mix of seasons, first fall, then a bit of spring, then a bit of winter, and back to fall. I was well prepared with a range of clothing.

One of the popular excursions in the park is a chance to “walk” on a glacier, the Athabasca Glacier.

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Athabasca Glacier

I knew it was a touristy thing to do, but how many chances do you get to do that? To reach the glacier area, I drove the Icefields Parkway, winding through the Columbia Icefields, to the visitor center. I picked a tour time and bought my ticket. Luckily I had time for a nice warming lunch before heading to the glacier. DSC_0400 - Copy

An outside deck at the visitor center provided an ideal seat facing the mountains and glacier. And, the sun added the perfect touch.

It reminded me of when I visited Switzerland, gazing at the alps on a sunny winter day, from a dry and snowless path. It didn’t seem right.

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A bus heads up to the snow coach

As the time for my bus ride to the foot of the glacier approached, the sky closed in and a sudden snow squall let loose!

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No doubt, this was the coldest, snowiest part of the park. I enjoyed the view going up the slope to where we would transfer to the giant snow coaches.

We climbed aboard. We could see the glacier.

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The glacier, through the snow coach window

The coaches are well-equipped for moving over snow. Moving is a relative term. Crawling is more like it. As one goes up the snow-packed road, one is likely going back down. We pause to let one go by. The stream of tourists proceeds on schedule every day.

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View from our snow coach

I had every confidence in our driver to keep us safely on the road. His job seemed a little treacherous, but to him it may have been just another day at work.

When we arrived at the parking area, the snow passed, the sky cleared and the sun came out. There were a couple other coaches and groups of travelers already scattered across the ice. Some were posing, some lying on the ice or otherwise frolicking.

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Though it was sunny, it was quite windy on the glacier. I noted the various state of dress of the visitors.

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Most were well prepared, but some, I thought, had to be beyond freezing. With a cover of snow, the ice still posed dangers. I walked gingerly. We had to stay within the specific area that was deemed safe.

The scene was a mix of international visitors, a good match for the row of flags of all nations that whipped in the gusts.

For a brief time, it was like there were no countries. Just us, the ice and snow, frozen in time. The scene took my mind to Antarctica. I know there are similar flags there too, whipping in similar winds, in a similarly frigid white landscape. DSC_0425

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It was perhaps odd to see such unnatural bright colors in the arctic-like landscape. It brought us back to our individual national identities.  Like the other visitors, I finally found my country’s flag. It didn’t feel like anything special. It was simply a curiosity, a photo opp. After all, it wasn’t the pole. It was Canada.

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Textures

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Having had enough time to take it all in, we boarded our snow coaches for the slow journey back to the bus.

I was glad for the experience. I was glad to have seen, touched and walked on something that is, in fact, going away.

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Sometime after my liftetime it will cease to exist.

Photos Don’t Lie

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Historic comparison of Athabasca Glacier

Published by

Joan E. Miller

I live in the amazing Pacific Northwest. I'm a writer, photographer, birder, nature lover. I'm also a gardener, of food, flowers and shrubs.

6 thoughts on “A Walk on a Glacier”

  1. Sounds like a great, eye-opening experience, Joan!

    At any point did you fear any avalanches may occur? I ask because of the sudden snow squall which you described.

    Your final two photos of comparison are, of course, both sad and maddening to see.

    I recalled Al Gore’s similar photo studies of drastic changes of glaciers and other defining topographical features in his seminal book, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

    Such photos always startle and silence me as I also invariably shake my head in sorrowful disbelief.

    Like

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