Friday, July 14, 2023
Stats: 132 miles driven, 1 mile walked, Jasper to Columbia Icefields to Athabasca Falls to Jasper
It rained hard last night. I slept through the thunder and lightning. Gregg didn’t.
This morning we went back to The Other Paw bakery for breakfast and coffee. I had a chicken somosa and Gregg had a veggie somosa. They looked like apple turnovers. A lady in line said they are traditional Indian with curry. She had me there so I had to try it. It was a little spicy yet delicious. Thankfully we had split a sticky bun to eat afterwards. Gregg had a flat white. I had dirty chocolate chai which tasted like a mocha latte.
Before leaving town, we stopped at the Premier ticket office and got the boat cruise “refund” sorted out.
It was foggy along with the smoke. As we drove south along the Icefield Parkway, we were oblivious to the beauty surrounding us.
Little by little, we caught a few glimpses and could try to imagine what it looks like on a clear, sunny day. A lady at the coffee house said her husband was so sad for first time visitors to not be able to see the majesty.
As we continued south and neared the ice fields, there was some relief from the fog and smoke and we could see the ice fields and some of the peaks. It is breathtaking!
The Columbia Icefield building is large with a gift shop, restaurant, movie area, and exhibits. Evidently you can stay here overnight, too. We didn’t realize that.
In the 1800s, the Athabasca Glacier covered the current parking lot. It is sobering to see how much it has receded in recent history. At this rate, scientists estimate it may be gone by 2100. That is sad, not only for visitors, but for animals, plants, and the environment in multiple ways.
One of the peaks we passed is named Diadem. (a jeweled crown) That triggered an earworm that I’m now happily humming…
“Bring forth the royal diadem and crown Him Lord of all”
(A hymn that begins: All hail the power of Jesus name…)
By the time we boarded our bus, the clouds and smoke had begun to shroud the mountain peaks again. Thankfully, I remembered our Ireland vacation rule – if you see something you want to photograph, do it now. Otherwise the weather might change and hide the view. We got a selfie in the parking lot with glaciers behind us.
I was iffy before, but one of our bus drivers told us that we were passing the Alpine tree line. Amazing! The clouds and smoke came and went. When the sun could make its way through, it was warm with my flannel shirt on. But on the glacier, it was delightfully COLD!
We learned that in order to be considered an “ice field,” it must have at least two exit glaciers. The Columbia Icefield has six exit glaciers! One is the Athabasca Glacier in Canada’s Jasper National Park.
Our bus took us closer to a transfer station closer to the glacier. There we boarded a 6-wheel-drive all-terrain bus called an Ice Explorer. The closer we got to the glacier, the closer I got to crying. My heart was bursting with joy and praise.
Once on the glacier, we were given one half an hour to walk around within the designated area. It was fun to hear the ice crunching under our feet. I said it was like walking through our favorite ice (you know the kind that Chick-fil-a and Sonic have) although the chunks were larger.
There was a glacier-water stream where we were invited to fill our water bottle with, which I did. Honestly, it had a “dirty” flavor (my brother-in-law, Kelly, would probably like it wink-wink) but it was fun to drink and was very clear. We took selfies and had our picture taken with a Canadian flag.
With the rest of our time, we stood and hugged each other, soaking in the view. Again, I was close to tears. Such a mixture of emotions were running through me. Amazement that we were standing on such a HUGE hunk of ice. It seemed so huge, yet it is just a tiny part of our incredible world. And ice seems inconsequential, yet it serves many purposes including feeding water into the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic Oceans! Even though it is huge, it is moving. That movement has rearranged all the boulders, rocks, and sand that we could see. Fascinating. Intriguing.
The Ice Explorer returned us to the transfer station where we caught another bus. Our next stop was the Columbia Icefield Skywalk. So fun! It is a walkway along a cliff with views of a steep pebbly cliff with little to no foliage dropping down to a rushing glacier-water river. On the other side of the river are steep hills back up with pine and aspen trees, rock, and rock mountains. Just mind boggling. The walkway then juts out over the cliff with a clear flooring to see below.
In the past, those clear floors have freaked me out and my head and body fight each other over the decision as to whether to walk on it or not. Before we arrived, I had a nice chat with myself, reminding me that I will be safe if I walk onto it. When I stepped onto the clear floor, I crossed my arms and put a hand on each shoulder, hugging myself and protecting my heart. I don’t know what made a difference, but I never had any hesitation or fear reaction. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience!
Back at the Columbia Icefield building, we went upstairs and ate lunch. Three guesses what we ate… if you said poutine, you’d be right! We love this stuff! We took our time soaking in the views of the glaciers while eating at a counter by the window.
It is difficult to judge time here because of the long days. It was after 4pm when we began our return trip to Jasper but it didn’t feel that late. We stopped at the “Goats and Glaciers” overlook. We saw a mountain goat with a young kid as well as glaciers in the distance so it lived up to its name.
Then we stopped at Athabasca Falls for a hike (mostly paved trail and bridges) which was incredible. The POWER of those falls could be seen in the quickly rushing waters and in the roaring sound it made. I’d recommend this stop to anyone traveling the Icefield Parkway.
Back in Jasper, we thought about going out, but we were both tired and content to grab something from the car and hang out in the hotel room. We planned out the next few days and Gregg made hotel reservations and Lake Louise reservations. Tomorrow we will drive south on the Icefield Parkway again, as we did today. A bit further is Lake Louise which everyone says to NOT miss. But…they require you to take a shuttle and there were no passes available. Ugh. I finally found a ski lodge that offers a combo ticket for their ski lift and a shuttle ride so we purchased it. We’ve got to be at Lake Louise by 11:15 tomorrow so we plan to be up and out of Jasper by 7:30ish.
Saturday and Sunday nights we are staying in Banff. Monday we will drive through the Rockies, back into the USA and stay in Kalispell, Montana. We want to see Glacier National Park but they require a car pass – and all of them are spoken for. But wait! If you enter the park before 6:00 a.m., you don’t need a car reservation. So… Tuesday will be a VERY EARLY morning for us. After driving through Glacier National Park (and back, maybe), we’ll drive south to West Yellowstone for the night. We’ve been to Yellowstone and while we were there, people told us about wonderful hikes to take. So we want to go there on Wednesday. Thursday will be the Grand Tetons. After Thursday, our schedule is TBD.
Today ends our first full week of vacation. Two weeks to go. It has been a refreshing time already.