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Columbia Icefield and Ice Explorer on the Athabasca Glacier

Canada (Rocky Mountains) . 2016 . Apr 22


This post is part of our Canadian Rockies Trip Report and Itinerary 2016. Do check out the full itinerary and our reviews here

The Columbia Icefield was approximately an hour’s drive away from the Athabasca Falls. The scenery from the Athabasca Falls to the icefields became more mountainous and colder as we approached the icefield, with sightings of a few glaciers along the way.



You’ll know that you are very near the Columbia Icefield when you drive pass the Glacier Skywalk, a relatively new attraction within the Canadian Rockies.  It is an exhilarating 1 kilometre cliff-edged and glass-bottommed walkway about 300 metres from the valley below.


It was a shame that the Glacier Walkway was not included in our tour, and we could only watch as we drove by.


Very soon, we reached the Columbia Icefield.  Just when we thought that we had seen the best of Jasper National Park over the last 2 days,  the Columbia Icefield comes along and we just had to marvel at how beautiful nature’s work can be.


The Columbia Icefield is the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains and it feeds 8 glaciers including the Athabasca Glacier which we were to have our ice adventure at.  That's the Athabasca Glacier at the centre of this picture and that’s where we were headed for.


The Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Centre was where the tickets to the Ice Explorer Adventure tickets were sold, but we were headed there for a quick toilet break before our Brewster bus would bring us straight to the Ice Explorers that were specially built to transverse this snowy terrain to get us to the Athabasca Glacier.


The Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre was also where the free shuttles to the Glacier Skywalk departs from.


It seemed that the Athabasca Glacier was among one of those many glaciers affected by global warming - it had retreated more than 1.5km over the last 150 years! The picture on the right shows what it was like back in 1919, compared to its current state in the picture on the left!


We snapped as many pictures as we could before hopping back on Brewster which was to bring us to the start of our snow adventure!  Anyway, here's the picture of the Athabasca Glacier again, in April 2016 and you can see how much the glacier had retreated.


Back on the Brewster coach and taking as many pictures as I could while the coach brings us as close to the glacier as it could.



These were the ice explorers that we had to transfer to so that we could get to the Athabasca Glacier.   Can’t help but notice the lunar-like landscape here.


We snagged a seat right behind the driver of the ice explorer.  I can’t tell whether its a good thing or a bad thing, but at least, I could see clearly what was happening in front.


We went down some really steep slopes, and across some running glacier water which served to clean the wheels of the vehicle before it ‘steps’ onto the sacred glacier.


And at last, after 15 minutes of drive in the ice explorer, we were finally standing here at the Athabasca Glacier!



That’s me testing out the ice on the glacier.  See how the ice takes on the trademark blue-ish hue of any glacier in the world.


That vast and seemingly endless expanse of glacier ice…..It is possible to hike on the Athabasca Glacier, but you will need to sign up for the hiking tour with a licensed guide, which unfortunately was not included in our itinerary today.


One of those things that you can do (and must do) is to bring an empty bottle to collect some of  these crystal clear glacier water.   They are refreshingly cool and taste very different from the usual water from the tap.


Our stay on the Athabasca Glacier in the Columbia Icefield took only about 30 mins, after which we had to get back to the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre.  At the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre, there’s a gift shop (great shopping here), and a food court at the second level.


But we learnt quickly that the real attraction here at the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre was neither the shopping nor the food, but the incredible scenery outside at the second level.



The viewing angle here was obviously so much better than what we could see at ground level.



One last look at the Athabasca Glacier and the Columbia Icefield before we left.


By this time, we were inching closer to Lake Louise in Banff National Park.


Join us next as we bring you on our next leg of the journey towards Lake Louise.

This post is part of our Canadian Rockies Trip Report and Itinerary 2016. Do check out the full itinerary and our reviews here.


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