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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Jasper National Park ~ "The Columbia Icefield Trek"

Not Your Everyday Bus
Whistlers Campground was busy with campers moving out for their days’ adventures. It amazes me that 781 camp sites at Whistlers are so quiet and nearly every site is private with trees and a picnic table. Our 8 am departure was perfect. The sun was shining and the temperature was already up to 53 degrees. The road south at first is filled with fir trees and mountains fairly close. The vistas soon changed with the Canadian Rockies towering well above our field of view from inside the moving truck. We stopped at nearly every pullout to grab a shot of these mountains. This road is the most scenic mountain roadway in Canada. It is called “The Icefields Parkway”.  This is the route to over one hundred visible glaciers, turquoise lakes, rushing waterfalls.

On The Columbia Icefield
Mission one for today was to get to the Columbia Icefield and a get a ride onto the Icefield in one of those Giant Monster Truck Busses. The newest one cost 1.5 million dollars. There are only 23 of these in the world and 22 of them are here at the Columbia Icefield. They look like a bus with giant skidder tires. They are capable of descending and climbing a 36% grade. On this trip onto the Icefield, they would be only doing a 32% access. For an example of the grade, the acceptable percent for a highway is 12%, so you can imagine this monster going down a loose gravel hill onto the Icefield. Oh! The one vehicle that they don’t have out of 23 was leased to the US government and is in Antarctica.

That is the Columbia Icefield Top Center!
Helen Getting Ready for a Glacial Water Drink!~
This ride onto the Icefield is a big business. Regular buses shuttle tourist from the Icefield Visitor Center up to a staging area. You board the “Ice Explorer” and the driver gives you a detail anatomy of a glacier and how it is constantly moving. They have a road grader that keeps the ice graded and trenches open for melting ice water to run off and not flood the road. Once you are on the ice, you can feel the temperature drop nearly instantly. You are driving on ice that is as thick as the Eiffel Tower is tall. There are boundary limits that you are warned about once you get off the bus for pictures. The danger is called “Mill Wells”. These are caused when a dark object like a rock is on the surface of the ice. The sun heats the rock and it settles into the ice. Once the water flows into the pocket sometimes it keeps melting and creates a large hole that can drop a hundred feet into more water runoff. The ice around the Mill Wells is also soft and can give way into the hole. It sounds scary. It is and most people obey the rules.
Not All is Beautiful Looking Up!

It was a great experience to be able to explore the Columbia Icefields!

Later in the day, we arrived at the famous Lake Louise that has a  “Chateau” resort at the outlet end of this turquoise lake, with a glacier in the background. We spent some time basking in the sun by the lake.

Footnote: The Visitor Center had told us that all campgrounds fill-up by noontime and we were advised that we could dry camp in the overflow field a couple of miles east of town. There is road construction further down the road and many of the construction crews and equipment are sharing our field tonight. I am out of WiFi hotspots and it may be a few days before I get to post this part of our “Boomers on the Move Adventure Blog”

That is what we did and saw

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