Thursday, May 23, 2013

Athabasca Glacier

Located in the Canadian Rockies, Athabasca Glacier is one of six principal "toes" of the Columbia Icefield.
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.

informational signs

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 
crevasses and millwells (DEEP HOLES, SOMETIMES HIDDEN)
Changeable ice conditions
Swift flowing creeks with slippery banks
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


  1. Wow those are stunning! it's scary that people go past the signs. That would keep me away!!

  2. Awesome photographs!! Thanks for sharing! I don't understand why people ignore the signs and venture where it's not safe...

  3. This was such a cool post...thank you for taking us there!Visiting from Alphabet Thursday!

  4. Wow! Great pictures.
    I have to admit, I would probably be one of those people crossing the plank for a closer look.

  5. The glacier and surrounding area is stunning! It must have been quite an adventure to go trekking there!

  6. Wow! I love all your photos and your adventure! And it looks like you learned a lot - which is always fun because it tells us about our world. Thank you for sharing these. :)

  7. I've never seen a glacier before and know I'd not be walking on it with those signs posted! Thanks for taking us along on your adventure and for all your information about it too! I enjoyed it!

  8. Absolutely FABULOUS pics! I love the one of the pop of red in all that gray. Hope you brought a rock back!!

  9. Oh wow, I never knew you could just drive up to a glacier! I saw some as part of our Alaskan cruise a few years ago, and they're just massive. How cool to see them up close!

  10. This was fascinating! And what a cool view from your car....


  11. Wow, just breathtaking! You're right about the other worldliness of a place like this. Like Paige, I got a glimpse at glaciers during an Alaskan cruise and would love to spend more time with them up close. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

  12. These are beautiful pictures of mountains and glaciers. I have similar views in my native country.

  13. Well, as you might have known, I have been here! Back in the '50's, the ice came right down to the road. When I was there in the mid-eighties, it was a mile walk to find ice! Your photos are wonderful, and bring back happy memories.

  14. Beautiful! I've seen glaciers, but I've never been to the Canadian Rockies. I think everyone else in my family has, and I have a cousin in Alberta so I really have no excuse!

  15. That's a tongue-twister of a name♫ Nice series of shots! My Letter A:

  16. What a great trip! I would love to see a glacier one day.

  17. WOW! Amazing photos! What a beast of ice it is to behold. The shot with the people nestled below really shows its grandeur. Thanks for showing it to us.

  18. there is another worldliness to these photographs. This is someplace I know my family would enjoy visiting. My fear is that I'll never be able to take trips with them, because of my ankle! Hopefully, that's just a fear... {:-D

  19. Wow .. the views look amazing! you make me want to go there :) Thanks for visiting by my blog yesterday x

  20. Amazing! What a beautiful sight.

  21. Those were wonderful photos. It looked cold! I'm not sure I would have gotten very far.

  22. Stunning photos and so interesting! I really enjoyed my walk with you :)

  23. wow. otherworldly is right. great shots -- thanks for taking us on a tour of the glacier.

  24. Breathtaking subject and beautiful pics. Great subject for "A". I have one planned but haven't posted yet. Been sewing this week and I get a little consumed!
    Thanks so much for coming by My Journey. I enjoyed your visit and comments.
    Have a wonderful Saturday.

  25. Over the years since 1973 I've been there many times and really notice the changes. I look forward to going next month with my two grandsons, to introduce them to the glacier. That was a great 'A'!

  26. We are going to Banff in a couple weeks and look forward to a hike. The Canadian Rockies are indeed beautiful.
    xo Catherine

  27. that must have been so cool to see it - thanks for posting about your trip!

  28. What a fascinating post! Some people are so rebellious to warnings then they fall in a dark hole and want to sue someone! Aack! Just like the ones at the zoo who let their children climb into enclosures. That is why we call them animals of the "wild"! Duh!

    It is interesting how you can visit a place and have a summery outfit and have to suit up to polar bear conditions to get an up close and personal look. I am always prepared when traveling. We got stuck in a snowstorm once many years ago when our two older children were very small. Scary when the car broke down and we were dressed for an anniversary party for my hubbys grandparents. Now we are always prepared.

    This was a favorite post. Thank you for sharing and allowing me to vent about people who don't like following the rules.

  29. Thanks for the memories. I haven't been there for many years.

    How awful that some visitors ignore the signs and a boy fell into a hole. Until then I'm sure they felt the signs were for someone else...not them.

  30. I loved going on this awesome adventure with you...

    From your car all the way to the glacier.

    An Amazing post for the letter "A"!

    Thanks for linking.


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