Tom & Charlene's Excellent Adventures travel blog

$5000 tire

Snowcoach

pictures showing glacier receding

Columbia Ice Field


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Headed out this morning for the long beautiful drive up the Ice Fields Parkway. Arriving at the gateway to the Parkway many cars were parked along the roadside. They told us a big grizzly crossed the road but had rambled on into the woods. We were too late. We did see a pile of bear scat along the road that confirmed their report that it was a HUGE bear.

This trip gave us the many “Kodak Moments” that were missing on the Bow Valley Parkway. Quite a reward for enduring yesterday’s boring drive. We stopped many times for pictures. The wildflowers are in bloom now, enhancing the beauty of the drive. Majestic snow/glacier covered peaks lined both sides of the roadway. At

times the terrain changed and on one side were snow covered peaks while those on the other looked like they should be in Arizona – very stark and treeless. For the most part sub-Alpine forests covered the roadside areas. Large piles of rocks and debris left by the receding glaciers were visible in many places. Braided rivers were visible from many overlooks. Braided rivers are those formed by runoff from glaciers and meander wherever they want. The route of the river is decided by the amount of debris left behind as the river flows. In some area it looks like tiny stream through a gravel or rock pit; other times there may be only one or two channels through the debris. Then there places where the river becomes very fast moving with many whitewater areas.

We reached our first destination of the Columbia Icefields Interpretive Center at noon. Apparently we arrived at the same time as the tour buses – what a crowd. It is quite an experience to walk on a glacier. We walked on the Mantanuska glacier during our 2008 trip to Alaska. That was a true Alaskan backcountry experience. To enter the public glacier we crossed private land and had to pay a $15 entry fee to the owner. You could then proceed on a rutted muddy road to the parking lot. There were few visitors to the area. We walked through all the glacial debris to the edge of the glacier at the top of the hill. Some of the rocks were pea-size while others were as large as a truck. It was a cold and foggy day that really enhanced the starkness of the area. We traversed trickles of blue glacial water on the slick trail to the top. The experience was one of the highlights of that trip.

This was a very different experience. Soon after our arrival we boarded a bus that took us across the road to the glacier and our snowcoach. The snowcoaches are specially designed to travel on ice. There are 23 of the coaches in the world. Twenty-two of them are at the Columbia Icefields and one is in use in Antarctica. The tires cost $5000 each to replace. It was quite a steep, bumpy ride out to the glacier. At one point we went down and then up a 32⁰ incline. This day was bright and sunny. Each snowcoach held about 60 people. There were 5 coaches parked there with one leaving and another arriving about every 5 minutes. The glacier was beautiful. Many streams were running out the side of the glacier forming an ice cold stream of blue water. Places underfoot were mushy in some spots and solid in others. This depended on the foot traffic and sunlight. Each group was allowed 20 minutes to experience the glacier and take pictures. We recommend the experience to anyone driving the Parkway. New this year is a glass walk over the glaciers. We did the glass walkway over the Grand Canyon so we bypassed it this time. It was very popular with the tour buses since there was a price break for doing up to four different “experiences” offered.

We drove on to Jasper. The friendly visitors’ center offered free wifi so we were able to catch up on emails, Facebook ;-), and update the journal. They also directed us to the Jasper Brewing Company for a fine evening meal. Again we had a window seat and watched all the campers & RVs heading in and out of the Parkway. Jasper is a nice town inside the Rocky Mountain National Park.

We then proceeded to the Whistler Campground only to find it full except for boondocking. We decided to try the KOA between Jasper and Hinton and found a spot with electric and water. We needed the power to charge all the iPad, laptop and camera batteries. Spent the evening doing laundry and talking to fellow campers. Finished laundry about 10:30 PM. Were pleasantly surprised to find that the sun was just setting as we walked back to the RV.



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