I’ve always had an attraction for snow capped peaks and mountain ranges, which is strange given that I grew up in a place where there were zero of each.
Perhaps it’s that opposites attract? 🙂
During my recent (see my “Unexpected beauty” post) trip to Western Canada I had the opportunity to take a day to explore the Columbia Ice-fields. Actually it’s been a lifelong dream to visit…
Starting my day at 6:00 am and heading south toward Red Deer, Alberta I had decided to take the scenic route to my destination which is some 4.5 hours distant from Edmonton.
The route itself takes you almost into Red Deer, before veering West along Highway 11 as it skirts pristine rivers and lake, before eventually heading north along the Icefields Parkway toward the Columbia Icefields Visitor center.
What I wasn’t expecting was the beautiful rolling hills and lush farmland between Edmonton and Red Deer.
As I finally joined the Ice-fields Parkway the mountains that had been so distant were now starting to rise above me.
I would argue that Western Canada has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. There is nothing like snow capped peaks on the jagged mountain ranges as you drive along this scenic route. It makes you feel incredibly small in the grand scheme of things under these towering goliaths!
Fortunately for me I’d booked in advance for both the Icefields Adventure and the Skywalk as it was quite busy, although based on my conversations with the staff it was tapering off in terms of visitors. Wow, I’d hate to see it when its busy!
Boarding the bus to take us to the halfway point where we picked up the massive six wheeled Ice Explorers, that took us out onto the glacier. Getting to the glacier is a whole different matter in these big vehicles as one of the first things you need traverse is a 30 degree slope down onto the glacier.
For those of you that haven’t experience that level of steepness, it’s insane as you actually feel as though you’re going over a cliff, and trying to climb one on the way back.
What I learned was that the Snowdome, which is a mountain unto itself is that it feeds all six glaciers from on high. This incredible mountain f sits atop the continental divide and is on the border between Alberta and British Columbia at just over 11,000 feet.
The glaciers facing west all flow toward the Pacific ocean, while the eastern ones eventually find their way into the Saskatchewan river before running into Lake Winnipeg some 1200 kilometers distant.
The snow depth is somewhere between 100 and 365 meters deep depending on where you are.
It was about 4C during my visit, with lots of sun and so the glacier was melting at a good rate, all flowing down into the valley far below.
The most shocking discovery came after my trip up the glacier when I walking back to the car park and the marker that identified the edge of the glacier back in 1884 when it was discovered…some three kilometers from where it ends today.
Wow! That is a long way. From the Discovery Center you can see the base of the glacier, but the vehicles and people are almost impossibly small at that distance.
Unfortunately for us all the rate of melting is accelerating at an unprecedented rate which makes me incredibly sad to think that this natural wonder will eventually be no more.
Next up was the Skywalk which is a man made bridge that juts out over the edge of the mountain to the valley floor far below. Located some 280 meters or 918 feet over the Sunwapta Valley, with the floor made entirely of glass its a stomach turning experience for those of us afraid of heights.
That being said, once you get into the groove (and don’t look down through the floor), then it’s not so bad. 🙂
The scariest part is that the structure vibrates a little when you walk, and therefore can be a little off putting, but the views are stunning!
You feel like you’re flying over the valley far below with incredible vistas in every direction you look.
As I said it’s been a lifelong dream to visit the Columbia Icefields and I certainly wasn’t disappointed – it was everything I’d dreamed about.
My route back to Edmonton was north via Jasper. I mean who can come this far, without visiting Jasper…right? 🙂
Once through the town itself I took a little detour to see Maligne Canyon. This is definitely worth a visit, if you love to hike or see nature at its very best this is a great little place to sojourn.
Maligne Canyon is what they call a “slot Canyon”. Over the millennia the water has cut deep (50 meters or more) into the limestone rock to create a beautiful narrow gorge with a series of deep waterfalls.
I arrived back into Edmonton for 9:00 pm which considering the day and the 1000 kilometers that I had covered a pretty big day – it was absolutely worth every moment.
Until next week