Walking Atop 100-stories of 10,000 Year Old Glacial Ice

You haven’t lived until you’ve stood upon glacial ice that is thicker than the Empire State Building is tall, and furthermore, ice that was perhaps around when Moses was just a young’un.

During our summer road-trip in the Canadian Rockies, we pulled off the Icefields Parkway to experience standing upon the Athabasca Glacier in Canada’s famous Columbia Icefields.

Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefields, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

The Columbia Icefield is a powerful, dynamic force, shaping the regional landscape and climate. Its glaciers endlessly advance and retreat in an ancient elemental dance, in a place where time is measured in millennia.

The Columbia Icefield is located in Jasper National Park. The Icefield – the largest sub-polar body of ice in North America – is one of the reasons why the United Nations declared Canada’s four Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Sites. The Icefield covers 325 square kilometres with solid ice up to 365 metres (1200 feet) deep. Meltwater from the Icefield flows to three oceans: the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic via Hudson Bay. (via Brewster Canada)

We stood in the Icefield high upon the Athabasca Glacier.  And, to make our adventure even more exciting, we were brought to our perch aboard a 42 ft Terra Bus which was specially designed to inch its way down the very steep sides of the mountain and out onto the ice.

We began our 80-minute journey aboard a common passenger bus at the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure Center.  Soon, the road ended and it was no longer possible to transport our group with a bus.  Therefore, at another staging area high up the side of the mountain, we all climbed aboard our Terra Bus.

Little did we know that this monster of a craft would soon be inching us down the very, very steep sides of the mountain.  There were screams of terror from many in our vehicle as we started down the 32% 18-degree grade.  Just for a reference, the steepest grades allowed on our mountain interstate freeways is a mere 6-degree grade.  We were three times that!  Yowza!

There were screams of terror from many in our vehicle as we started down the 32% 18-degree grade.

After our driver let just the right amount of time for us to soak in our fears, he assured us that our vehicle was designed for such travel and that its lowest gear crawled nearly as slow as a snail with the transmission doing all the work and not the vehicles braking systems.

That information calmed the fears and we all sat back to enjoy astoundingly beautiful views as we crawled our way out onto the ice.

After a few minutes of ice travel, we reached a clearing in the ice where we were told that we would have 45 minutes to go out and explore the glacial ice.  We were warned to keep within marked boundaries, so as not to fall into ice fissures, and were actually encouraged to drink some of the glacial water that was flowing in small streams all around us.

As we stepped out onto the ice, there was a certain sense of awe present as we realized we were about to explore something that has been present, growing and shrinking with various climate changes, for millennia.

Our journey walking upon the Athabasca Glacier was easily one of our great lifetime travel memories and an experience that we would very highly recommend.

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Disclosure:  our Columbia Icefield Glacier Experience was provided by the kind folks at Brewster Travel Canada.  Thanks!  It was a blast!

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