August 15th ~ Junction of Banff and Jasper National Parks
The Icefields Parkway extends 144 miles from Lake Louise to Jasper. With over 100 glaciers, numerous waterfalls, towering mountains and the Continental Divide, stunning wilderness hiking opportunities, and of course the chance to spot animals in their natural habitat make this UNESCO site worth the trip. Condé Nast Traveller has labeled it one of the top drives in the world.
We have already covered it from one end to the other over the past several days. The only places still on the list to see and explore are the Columbia Icefields, Athabasca Glacier and the Glacier Skywalk.
Our campsite (Wilcox Creek) was only a few short miles from the Glacier Discovery Centre. The day before, we had stopped in and pre-booked our 9:00 am combination excursion that included both the trip to the Icefields and the Glacier Skywalk.
Advised to check in at least 10 minutes before departure, their system operated smoothly and we were soon on board a comfortable bus that would take us the short distance from the center to where we would load onto the hefty Brewster Ice Explorer.
I know most of you have seen the steep hill warnings when crossing mountains that range from 6 degrees to 12 degrees where trucks are advised to pull over and check their brakes and use a lower gear. There are even run-a-way ramps if their brakes fail.
Well, let me tell you folks – that is NOTHING compared to what the Ice Explorer bus had to navigate to get us up onto the glacier. We found out that this beast of a mover was certified to handle the icy roads up to a chillingly steep 38 degrees. We came to within 4 degrees of maxing it out! Now THAT is STEEP!!!
Athabasca Glacier was our destination where we walked on ice up to 1,180 ft thick.
“The glacier currently recedes at a rate of about 5 metres (16 ft) per year and has receded more than 1.5 km (0.93 mi) and lost over half of its volume in the past 125 years.” ~ Wikipedia
They had grated the ice near where we disembarked from the beast onto the glacier which made the walking a little easier. Even with sturdy boots, I was still doing a fair amount of slipping and sliding and hung tightly onto Tim’s arm. Others who were more steadfast on their feet scampered off and explored further onto the ice fields.
Before we knew it, our time was up and we climbed back aboard the Ice Explorer. Maneuvering our way back UP that 34 degree, very steep hill was a bit of a thrill. Then it was time to transfer back to a regular bus for our five-minute journey to the second half of our tour, the Glacier Skywalk.
The glass-floored observation platform is suspended 919 feet (280 m) over the Sunwapta Valley.
We had originally planned on doing a similar skywalk when visiting the Grand Canyon earlier in our trip, but I had mistakenly thought it was at the North Rim instead of the West Rim. So, since we missed that one, this was a kind of “make-up” experience.
Tim is not fond of heights, and was relieved when we missed the Grand Canyon Skywalk, but was a great sport here.
In case you missed them, here are the posts of some of our other stops along the Icefields Parkway. You can click on any title to read that article.
GRATITUDE MOMENT – Today I am grateful that Tim overcame his fear of heights and was able to share this experience with me. He confessed that it did not bother him at all. Now that is HUGE progress. Yay!