Standing on the white-blue ancient ice of the Athabasca Glacier in Alberta, Canada, fulfilled a lifelong dream I never knew I had.
The Athabasca Glacier, a tongue of ice 6 kilometers long and one kilometer wide, is part of the Columbia Icefields, located at the Continental Divide. While doing my second artist residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Banff National Park, I felt compelled to take an excursion up to the Icefields. Last year, I had come across the tour brochure and rejected it outright, but the idea had stayed with me: I could be an ice explorer. Me! I've been known to say, "I hate snow." I don't like to be cold; therefore, walking on infinite layers of ice didn't seem like me.
When my tour group arrived at the base of the Athabasca Glacier, we got into a massive bus that took us down a sheer incline and out onto the ice.
It felt like we were on the surface of the moon. The crevices and craters revealed wild streaks of electric blue. I filled my water bottle with water from the gurgling stream. Crisp. It tasted like crispness.
The ice on the glacier is said to be as deep as the Eiffel Tower is high, and I was on top of it all. I danced with joy; I danced with gratitude; I danced because I felt like dancing.
This could be you. You can drive to the Columbia Icefields, where you can buy a ticket for admission. My tour was through Explore Rockies.
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Up Close & Personal with the Athabasca Glacier
We actually visited the Athabasca Glacier for the first time in 2011, took our chances and walked around on it. Returning this year, the glacier appeared to have changed quite a bit - it looked flatter, the river was larger, and walking on it was no longer tolerated, except on tours. So instead of exploring on top of the glacier - we wandered around the moraines spotting beautiful scene after beautiful scene.
Walking on the Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rockies
The Columbia Icefield is home to the magnificent Athabasca Glacier which you can actually drive up to and touch! We also did the Glacier Walk on Athabasca which involves traveling in a specialized vehicle called Ice Explorer that can traverse crevasses and the glacial ice surface.
If you see the photo closely, you'll notice the barely visible tiny specks midway up the glacier - these are the custom-designed Ice Explorers driving around on the glacier!
Our first sight of Athabasca Glacier is one we'll never forget. We had never seen anything as massive and stupendous before. We got to walk around on the glacier, we drank pure glacier water, and we touched the freezing but pristine turquoise-blue ice! The glacier was covered with deep crevasses so we did not venture outside the recommended area. The meltwater we drank was refreshingly cold and exhilaratingly crisp.
Nearby hikes like Wilcox Pass allowed us to explore the Columbia Icefield from a stunning vantage point, as we hiked to the top of a nearby mountain and got an expansive view of the glacier capped valleys of the Icefield and more glaciers.