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

Textures and Tones

On a recent day that began very overcast, I visited Mount Rainier National Park. There are several rivers in the park, and the Nisqually is one of them.

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Here it is a very narrow, shallow ribbon cutting through a rocky bed. You can see the low clouds over the valley.

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These were shot in color, but I have converted them to black & white, to focus on the patterns in the water and colors and patterns in the rocks.

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The tone of the water reminds me of chocolate milk.

These views were shot from a bridge over the river.

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Arctic Sunrise – A Greenpeace Ship with a Brutal Past

The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise came to Seattle recently for a visit. The ship was touring the Salish Sea and working with the Puyallup Nation to raise awareness about a liquefied natural gas facility being built in Tacoma, the ancestral lands of the Puyallup. The LNG plant and the Trans Mountain Pipeline threaten the health of the Salish Sea, the waters that surround Tacoma, Seattle, and up into Canada.

A crew member tells us about all the controls

Arctic Sunrise is one of three Greenpeace ships that ply the waters worldwide; the other two are the Rainbow Warrior and Esperanza.

Overlooking the Lake Union area in Seattle, where the ship was moored.

While they take actions to protect our marine ecosystems, they also visit ports to meet local people, learn about their environmental issues and educate people about actions they can take to make their communities healthier and more sustainable.

Three years earlier, I had a memorable experience visiting the flagship of Greenpeace, the Rainbow Warrior, when it stopped in Seattle. So, I was excited to learn that the Arctic Sunrise was coming!

An ironic tale told by a crew member: the ship was once a whaling boat! It became available for sale, and Greenpeace eyed it for a new fleet addition. The seller refused to sell it to a group that fights whaling. Greenpeace set up a third party to buy the boat, and the deed was accomplished! Hurrah!

Specs of the boat

The ship is an icebreaker, has a “rounded keelless hull” (for those of you who like tech specs), and can land a helicopter.

From the Greenpeace website:

In 1997, The Arctic Sunrise became the first ship to circumnavigate James Ross Island in the Antarctic, a previously impossible journey until a 200m thick ice shelf connecting the island to the Antarctic continent collapsed. This was just one of the many signs of climate change which the Arctic Sunrise has helped document.

In 1999, a Japanese whaling ship rammed the Arctic Sunrise while Greenpeace was peacefully protesting its illegal whaling around Antarctica. Fortunately, no crew members were injured.

We learned about threats to the Salish Sea from oil refineries and pipelines along the coast.

Aside from their own research, Greenpeace sometimes assists scientists with accessing remote areas.

In 2009, the ship supported a researcher from Cambridge University who was documenting changes in Arctic ice volumes and thickness, as part of climate change studies.

We went below for a short video and saw some crew areas.

Bicycles are the preferred mode of transport when they are in a port.

Greenpeace is known for hanging large banners at protests and confronting illegal whaling, but the staff is also respected for conducting serious scientific research. I volunteered in the Washington, DC, office many years ago, and I know how dedicated the staff is.

No large people need apply!

If you ever get a chance to visit a Greenpeace vessel, I highly recommend it!