In the above photo, Athabaca Glacier is the tongue of ice in the valley between the mountains.
The cool thing about this glacier is that you can almost drive up to it.
This photo was taken through the front window of our car--see the wipers? There's a small wooden building to the left of the parking lot. You'll see that building again.
See that gorgeous aqua glacial lake on the right? Here's another view.
We park. We've already donned multiple layers of clothing. We add jackets. I get out my gloves and headband. It's already cold and it will be much colder up close to the glacier.
We start up the path.
There is an "other worldliness" to this landscape.
looking back. See the building? It looks so tiny already. The trail is a little over a half mile in one direction, going uphill gently and steadily with short, steeper sections. The trail begins at 6500 feet (2000 meters) elevation with a gain of 165 feet (50 meters). not impossible. The windy coldness increases as we approach the glacier.
We have arrived at the toe of the glacier. There is glacial melt--a small waterway--in the foreground.
See the tiny people?
A plank has been laid to enable the fearless (foolhardy) to cross over to the glacier.
not a public
DANGERS BEYOND THIS POINT:
crevasses and millwells (DEEP HOLES, SOMETIMES HIDDEN)
Changeable ice conditions
Swift flowing creeks with slippery banks
PARTIES PROCEEDING BEYOND
THIS POINT MUST HAVE:
Mountaineering and rescue equipment
The knowledge of how to use it
You may have noticed those people on the glacier. Yep, a few folks wandered onto the glacier in spite of signs like this and one detailing the fall of a young boy into a crevasse a couple years before. (It's easy to take a SnowCoach trip onto the glacier with a guide--see LINKS below.)
Glaciers form because more snow falls in a year than can melt during the short summer season. Over time the accumulated snow transforms into ice and begins to flow outward through gaps in the mountains. This creates great tongues of ice called glaciers. The Columbia Icefield receives about 33 feet (10 meters) of snow annually, falling every month of the year.
In places the ice is 2,952 feet (900 metres) thick.
Glacial ice is in continuous motion, creeping forward at the rate of an inch or so per day, flowing down the valley like a frozen, slow-moving river. The Athabasca Glacier has been receding/melting for about 125 years because of a warming climate. The extent of its retreat during that time frame has been about a mile. Signs mark the years when the glacier reached farther. The shrinking glacier has left an other worldly landscape of rocky moraines in its wake.
The Columbia Icefield at 126 sq miles (9325 sq km) is the largest icefield in the interior of North America. It feeds six glaciers, of which Athabasca is one. However, this glacier makes up only 2% of the total mass of the Columbia Icefield.
Through the glaciers of the Columbia Icefield, fresh water flows into three oceans--east to the Atlantic, west to the Pacific, and north to the Arctic. This forms a triple continental divide. Since Snow Dome is the highest peak in the Icefield, it is the hydrographic apex* of North America which means that this is the center of water distribution to the continent.
Meltwater from the Athabasca Glacier feeds into the Athabasca River which then flows into Lake Athabasca in northeastern Alberta.
Parks Canada Columbia Icefield Area and Athabasca Glacier
satellite view of the Columbia Icefield
Banff and Beyond photos and information, including SnowCoach trips
Climb Wild great information on the Columbia Icefield with photos
my post--peaceful Athabasca River in Jasper National Park
*One other apex exists on the continent of North America--Triple Divide Peak in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA.
We've begun round 8!!
Alphabe-Thursday, hosted by Ms Jenny, is so much fun! This week our letter is "A." Come visit others' submissions HERE and join in the fun!
photos by me © 2012 all rights reserved