Our last official day of the road trip (for me at least) was the shortest driving day of only just over 400 km but it was by far our longest day! We left Jasper and headed for Mt. Edith Cavell to see our first glacier up close and personal. Three, in fact, as there was the Ghost Glacier, the Cavell Glacier, and the Angel Glacier, which is meant to look like angel wings. It was another chilly morning, but the sun was out and we hope, hope, hoped it would stay with us for the day.
After our leisurely walk amongst the first glaciers of the day, we officially said goodbye to Leanne. She headed east back to Edmonton and we continued south onto Athabasca Falls. They were loud, loud, loud; big, frothy, powerful – everything a serious set of falls should be. The coolest part was, we got to be face-to-face with them and also walk down towards the bottom of them as they emptied back into the river much lower down.
Next, came the slightly less picturesque but no less breath-taking expanse of the Columbia Icefields. It at first appears to be just a lot of barren, grey, bland mountains and valley floor that one could imagine would be much more attractive completely covered in snow rather than just patches. But when you see the main glacier head-on from the visitor centre and come to realize how far it has receded, it has a slightly different significance.
On our “snow coach” tour we first learned about our transportation. Each Brewster Snocoach is designed and manufactured specifically for travelling on the Athabasca Glacier. Each vehicle of the quite extensive fleet holds up to 56 passengers and are the only commercial vehicles to traverse such a steep grade – 36%!!!! It was fully like an amusement park ride – outrageously steep. For comparison, the steepest road I’ve driven is 11% and it was steep. Trucks are advised to do break checks, etc, etc, on only 8% grades. So, 36 is out of control. And AWESOME!
Walking on the glacier was cool, tasting the crisp, clean, freshness of the glacier water was “aahhhhh”-worthy, and watching the Asian tourists was fully enjoyable, but my favourite part was learning about the water flow direction. The Icefield feeds eight major glaciers and sits on a triple continental divide. Which basically means, we were at the centre of the universe when it comes to water movement in Canada! The Athabasca River, North Saskatchewan River, and the headwaters of the Columbia River all originate from this point and flow into three different oceans! The Athabasca originates at the Athabasca Glacier and eventually ends up in the Artic Ocean; the North Saskatchewan originates from the Saskatchewan Glacier and heads east towards Hudson Bay and into the Northern Atlantic; the Columbia flows to the Pacific. SO COOOOOL!
We didn’t leave the Icefields until after 5 pm and still had a stretch ahead of us to get back to Calgary. We managed a few quick pullovers for photos of wildlife, the occasional mountain, and a waterfall here and there. We made our last official tourist stop at Peyto Lake for the steep trek to mosquito country. It was a very pretty glacial lake with the splashes of sunshine now and again bringing it fully to life.
We made only one photo stop once we hit the Trans-Canada to snap-snap-snap this perfectly reflective lake and marvel at my fave mountain in all the Rockies! A salad stop at Wendy’s gave us one last burst of energy to get us home and unloaded before reconnecting to the world with internet and (me!) looking forward to my own bed!
And that officially brings Part One of Summer 2013. I am currently on Part Three. I might catch up eventually. Perhaps not!