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Mike and Adele Explore the Rockies - 2003

Part 6: Athabasca Glacier

The Athabasca Glacier is one part of the Columbia Icefields, a huge area (325 square kilometers) of solid ice the lies along the border between Alberta and British Columbia.  No pun intended, but the Athabasca Glacier is just the tip of the iceberg known as the Columbia Icefields.

Athabasca Glacier
The Athabasca Glacier.  On the right is Snow Dome, which is the true continental divide.  At the base of the glacier is a newly formed lake, which will one day look like Peyto Lake.

Athabasca Glacier
A close up view of the glacier.  Those specks on the left hand side of the screen are people walking on the glacier.  The glacier is six kilometers long and one kilometer wide.

The call this a "true continental divide" because the melt from the Columbia Icefields flows into rivers that empty into the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans.  In fact, the Athabasca River emptying from the lake formed by this glacier goes all the north to the Arctic Ocean.

After touring the visitor's center, we bought tickets to board the "SnoCoach" - it's a six wheel drive bus that actually takes up near the top of the Athabasca Glacier.

The SnoCoaches.  The ride alone is worth the ticket price (how about climbing up and down a 32% grade)!  Oh, and by the way, the ice is 900 feet thick underneath us at this point.  That's taller than the Space Needle!

Old SnoCaoch
These are the old SnoCoaches.  Very low frills.

Athabasca Glacier
The top of the Athabasca Glacier.  The Icefield continues beyond it for miles and miles and miles...  See how weirdly blue the ice is?

Athabasca Glacier
A glacier from one of the nearby mountains that empties into the Athabasca Glacier.

Snow Dome
The Snow Dome on the other side.

Blue Glacier Water
See how blue the ice is in this stream that runs along the top of the glacier?  Unlike the lakes, this water is 99% pure.  And around 1,000 years old.  We drank some, and it is the best tasting water.  Why is this ice blue?  Well, the ice is so heavy and so thick that no air is kept in the ice.  The pressure is so great that there is only water in the ice, which means that it is blue (the ice we are used to seeing is white because of the air trapped in it).

The "anthills."

There is an interesting story about these "anthills."  When the snow forms in the clouds, it collects around a speck of dust.  When the snow is dropped on the glacier, the dust stays on top of the glacier as the snow melts and then gets absorbed into the huge pack of ice.  As the ice melts underneath, the dust collects into mounds, under which there is an upside-down snowcone of ice.

This is a collection of moraine.  It looks like a big pile of rocks, but it is actually a small layer of rock atop a giant pile of ice.

A better view of the moraine.  Just above where the snow is is where the SnoCoaches were based at the 1965.  There was a gift shop, which is now somewhere in the pile of ice and snow behind the snow coaches.  Again, this pile is actually more snow and ice than rock.  And it used to be atop the peaks above the glacier.

There are a number of more glaciers and waterfalls along the route if you continue north to Jasper.  Since we were staying in Banff, we turned around and returned back to Banff.

Continue on to Part 7: Lake Minnewanka