Icy blue

This week’s Throwback-Thursday theme is ice. Perhaps my favourite topics in physical geography is glaciology (volcanoes and meteorology come a close second) and so it was with some delight that I realized I could get close-up views of glacier while hiking in BC and Alberta. I had visited Chamonix for a conference (wow – 20 years ago now!) and had enjoyed seeing the snowy icecap of Mt Blanc and the Mer de Glace, but they were still quite distant. What I wanted was to be able to touch that blue ice, without necessarily getting into mountaineering. I found two ways to do just that.

1. Scale. A lucky shot, these 2 photographers were packing up as we got to this viewpoint. Taken in Aug 2009.

Our third trek into the Canadian Rockies and our second time stopping at the Athabasca Glacier. In 2008 we’d taken the coach tour out onto the glacier, which gave us the chance to step out onto the ice and even sample the delicious cold meltwater. A year later we spent a few days exploring along the Icefields Parkway, stopping off at the Athabasca Glacier once again, this time just walking to the toe past all the signposts marking its position in recent years.

As we turned to leave, I noticed these two just beginning to walk away after taking a few photos. I changed to the telephoto lens and quickly captured them against the freshly-revealed ice in the background where a chunk had calved off, leaving behind a sheer blue cliff. It remains once of my favourite glacier photos because it lends scale to the immensity of the ice.

2. Wedge Glacier, getting further away each year.

By the end of our first summer of hiking in Vancouver, we had improved our strength and stamina sufficiently to tackle the steep hike to Wedgemount Lake, the site of perhaps the most accessible glacier in the area. That day, our turnaround point was the campground next to the lake, though I now wish we had continued on to the glacier on account of it being much closer than it was in the above photo (taken in 2015). I never expected to witness glacial retreat in my lifetime let alone in just a decade of hiking in BC. I was shocked when I revisited in 2013, and even more so in 2015 where the combined effect of a mild, low-snow winter and a warm dry summer had led to a huge retreat in the Wedge Glacier.

Where only 2 years previously the glacier terminated in an ice cave and a small pool, now the glacier’s snout ended in a much larger lake – indeed, a new glacial lake forming. Still impressive to be so close to this river of ice, but sobering to witness its retreat.

3. Wedgemount Lake, always a stunning place to be.

Lastly, a wider shot of Wedgemount Lake looking towards the Wedge Glacier, again taken in 2015. On our first hike here in 2005, the glacier extended to the obvious rocky outcrop visible near the end of the glacier. In the 1970s, the glacier calved into the lake itself! And that colour – always such a treat to see.

For sure the lake and its surroundings look spectacular on a sunny day such as this. But one of my favourite visits was on a misty, cloudy day in 2011, the rocks dusted in their first skiff of snow. The lake glowed a sage green being the only colour in an otherwise mostly-monochrome scene. A beautiful sight! The other highlight of that day was seeing a mountain goat. 🙂


Who goes there?

Who goes there? Bear! Prelude to probably the best bear encounter we’ve had. It was quite something to be stopped on the road and have a mother bear wander back and forth between the cars to find tastier berries.

I don’t know how long we were stopped for, but it felt like an age as we sat in the car and watched this mother bear and her three cubs feeding by the roadside. Traffic was at a complete standstill, and the road was completely blocked by cars (including a tour bus); people had just stopped in the road to watch. It was a mesmerizing experience, but I worry about the cubs in situations like this as they are likely to grow up thinking that cars stop for them.

Eventually a gap opened up in front of us and we moved on to Maligne Lake for our boat tour (see the previous entry).


Beautiful reflections in Maligne Lake

We’ve taken the boat tour on Maligne Lake a couple of times now and I still think it’s worth doing, despite the cost. The highlight is getting to see the famous Spirit Island that adorns the majority of the RVs touring the mountain parks. As we neared this point, the pilot slowed right down and swung the boat round in a big lazy arc so as not to create a wake and disturb this near-perfect reflection. Definitely a big “wow” moment!

Bear crossing

Why did the bear cross the road? Probably to escape the camera-wielding tourists…

Yet another photo from our 2011 visit to the Rockies. We spotted this bear along the road between Jasper and Pyramid Lake, and of course had to pause long enough to get a photo or two. While it looks like the bear is crossing the road, it’s actually walking through an empty parking lot so there was a good distance between us. It looked our way for a few seconds before taking off into the forest.

Tekarra and the Marmot

A welcome sight at the end of a long day – hiking below Mt Tekarra towards our campground. Oh and yet another cheeky marmot!

We were so glad to see this view, to be finally done with the long switchbacking trail down from the Skyline. Marmots kept us company, mocking our zig-zagging descent with their ability to trundle straight down the slope. By this stage we’d hiked 16 or so of our 18 km for the day, and we were all pretty tired. But there was one final insult: we reached the trees and could see a sign. We expected it to mark the campground, so imagine our dismay when the sign actually said “no camping”, and the campground was still another km away…!


Throwback to a Thursday back in August 2011 when we cooled our heels on some icebergs while admiring the Angel Glacier

There’s a story behind every photo, some of which are longer than others…

Picture another beautiful September day in the Rockies, another day of touring with my parents, showing them the best that Jasper has to offer. We headed up to Mt Edith Cavell for the gorgeous view of the Angel Glacier, which is about a half-hour drive out of Jasper. I was watching our fuel level as usual but had made the mistake of relying more on the number of kilometres we’d driven on the current tank rather than paying attention to the gauge itself. As we rounded a bend, the yellow “low fuel” warning light came on. At least we were fairly close to the parking lot and I did my best to go easy on the accelerator.

Rather than have all four of us make the pointless return trip to Jasper (and concerned that sitting at the side of the road waiting to get more gas was not a fun way to spend hard-earned vacation time), I suggested that everyone else enjoy the morning while I went off in search of gas. Good plan, I thought. And so I headed off back down the hill (thankfully!), the yellow light my more-or-less constant companion. I even took to dropping the car into neutral to use less fuel. Yay for steep hills!

Finally, I got back down to the main highway and turned towards Jasper. I am naturally light-footed on the gas but I was even more careful than usual, keeping my speed down as much as possible. Fortunately, traffic was light and I didn’t hold up any other cars. After a very nervous 10 minutes or so I eventually came to the traffic lights outside Jasper and could finally breathe a sigh of relief. I pulled into the gas station and filled up.

Now it was time to rejoin the others. I have to say I missed my old Integra on the drive back up the hill – being the only person in the car I could throw it around a bit more (the handling of the CR-V isn’t great, but it does stick to the road pretty well), and I thoroughly enjoyed my return trip. I parked up and jogged over the old moraines to find Mum, Dad, and Maria relaxing by the side of the glacial lake. Indeed, at one point Maria did actually have her feet up on a little iceberg near the shore, literally cooling her heels 🙂 Now to relax!