Tag Archives: Glaciers

Ice and No Fire

Thursday 8 September 2022 – I hope you like photos of scenery, glaciers and waterfalls, coz there’s rather a lot of them here.  If so, please read on…..

As far as we could find out, there was no reason for us to avoid going to Jasper.  The news was that the entire town of Jasper was without power, but the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, we were assured, has its own generators, and the Icefield Parkway was, according to the Park’s Facebook site, still open.  So off we set.

Well, there was one thing we had to deal with first – sunrise photography.  I awoke at around 0630 without the necessity for an alarm call, and peeped out of the window to see whether conditions were going to favour mucking about with photography that morning.

That was an encouraging sight, so in between the various parts of getting up and packing ready to leave, I occasionally took a photo as the light developed.

At about 0715, a tiny breeze ruffled the surface of the lake

and I decided that I should hasten down to the shore to get a different viewpoint, preferably one without a bloody tree in the way (so Rocky Mountains, that) before the reflections dissipated.  I was down and by the lake in five minutes, by which time the scene had changed dramatically.


Having zoomed in to take the shot above, I noticed that my camera was making some odd choices about the light.  This is the colouring it saw

which was greatly different from what my eyes were registering.  Its decision about colour balance (a very low colour temperature of around 4,500K) was different, in that zoomed-in shot, than it had been a moment earlier for the wider scene (around 10,500K).  I tinkered for a while with setting a different white balance on the camera, but settings of Sunshine and Cloud made no difference. In the end, I put the camera back on auto White Balance and adjusted the colour balance when processing the RAW image(s) in order to get nearer what the human eye (or at least my human eye) was seeing.  This is another reason for shooting in RAW – it permits adjustment of colour balance without losing any image data, which is not the case for jpegs.


By 0735, the light had developed to this

and I started looking around for different framings, such as a little foreground interest,

and then the breeze, which you can see ruffling the water in the distance in the above image, rose just enough to eliminate reflections, signalling the end for me (and the dozen or so photo diehards who were also there; the idiots shooting selfies carried on prancing and posing because the truth is that they don’t give a stuff about the beauty of the image).

We left the hotel at about 0930, with a general intention to drive the Icefield Parkway and a specific objective to arrive at the Icefield Discovery Centre at about 1300, as we had booked An Adventure!  The Parkway is billed as a hugely scenic drive, and it is – it is gated and you have to buy a permit in order to drive it (CAD 18 for us two seniors).  I was driving, and while our rental car’s Lane Assist function would have allowed me to take photos from behind the steering wheel, I thought it best to leave Jane to spot and take images whilst we were actually under way.  The scenery is, indeed, truly immense.

Every so often there is Something To See that’s off the road itself, and so we joined the stream of people stopping, leaping out of their cars, taking photos (even occasionally without themselves in them) and then leaping back behind the wheel and zooming off to the next Thing To See.  I’m being sardonic, here, but the sights are lovely, even if the photos are, by definition clichéd. For example, Bow Lake gives plenty of scope for photos conveniently near parking places.

In the above photo, you’ll notice a red-roofed building.  It turns out to have the endearing name of Num-Ti-Jah Lodge

and nearby there are several more nice views.

Further on is Peyto Lake, which offers some more wonderful views.

Like many of these roadside stops, it has toilets; these are basic unplumbed cabins with a stool and not much else. But the Peyto Lake ones had rather fetchingly been decorated.

More Big Scenery ensued

on the way to our next stop, the Mistaya Falls.  As well as being attractive, as most decent-sized waterfalls are,

these are unusual in the shape of the channel that the water has carved out for itself, which is very twisty.

The viewpoint also provides a morning workout on the walk back up to the car.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that the Big Scenery continued to wow us as we moved on

and it became clear that we were coming into Glacier Country.  There was the occasional distraction on the road,

but we made it unscathed to our Adventure!, which was hosted by the Columbia Icefields Discovery Centre.

We boarded a coach which took us a little way down the road, where we boarded a “snowbus”, (to, for, by, with or from snow) with Murray as our driver/guide.

These snowbuses are very specialised vehicles; there are only 25 in the world and 22 of them are here at the Columbia Icefield. (Since you ask, two of the others are in Churchill on Hudson Bay and the final one is in the Antarctic.) The terrain we would cover was not something any conventional vehicle could cross, so he bade us fasten our seatbelts and not stand up whilst he was driving, even though the typical speed was about 4 kph.  The designers were parsimonious in the extreme with the legroom allocated to each seat, so I was jammed in with no risk being dislodged by anything short of the sort of explosion which would have done for us all anyway; but I buckled up, as did everyone else; and we headed on to an actual glacier.  Looking out of the bus windows, we could just make out some figures on the ice

(see the little dots by that boulder?), and soon enough we trundled (slowly!) out onto the Athabasca Glacier, where we were allowed to step out on to the ice.

We were joined by other snowbuses from the centre

and pretty soon the bounded area we were permitted to roam was quite crowded.

Photo opportunities, unsurprisingly, abounded: close-ups of the Athabasca glacier higher up

displaying that wonderful blue colour that glaciers show (among all the dirt and rock they collect as they move); photos back to the Discovery Centre at the foot of the opposite side of the valley

where, incidentally, the Athabasca Glacier once reached, giving a clear insight into how much and how fast it is receding; and photos of various other glaciers

all of which are fed by the vast area of the Columbia Icefield – the largest area (200 sq.km) of glacial ice in the Canadian Rockies, the edge of which is visible as a layer in the above photo, and which extends back over the tops of the mountains.  An icefield, we learned, is different from a glacier – an icefield is stationary and the snow falling on it and being compressed under its own weight, feeds the glaciers, which move. The Columbia Icefield feeds five glaciers and meltwater from those glaciers feeds into three oceans – the Pacific, the Arctic and (if you include Hudson Bay as part of it) the Atlantic.

The Athabasca glacier is pretty swift. It moves 30 metres a year, apparently; but its replenishment is only 25 metres’ worth of glacier, so it is thinning and receding, as is almost every glacier in the northern hemisphere.

Having spent our 30 minutes on the glacier (including a very suspiciously-coloured patch of ice among the blue)

we got back into the snowbus and thence transferred to a coach that took us to the Skywalk

which I found a bit difficult to understand until I saw the meat of it:

a walkway jutting out from the cliff face – a remarkable feat of engineering.  The trail leading to it has some nice artistic touches

and enables views of the valley below

(that’s the Athabasca River, by the way). One then gets to walk out on to the glass floor of the Skywalk

after being careful to follow instructions.  It’s a sturdy glass floor

and the Skywalk offers some great views of the valley and some of the glaciers.

The Skywalk itself is pretty neat.

In the middle, back to camera and wearing a woolly hat, was a chap who was offering to take photos of people for them.  I think that was his job; if he was a professional photographer, he may well have been wondering what it was he did in a previous life that condemned him to such a role; but it gives people joy, so (through gritted teeth) good luck to them.

We were bussed back to the Discovery Centre, where we had a coffee and a last look at the glaciers in the surrounding area.

Above is the Snowdome; you can see the thick layer of ice on top of it, which goes to feed the glaciers.  We had a good view of the glacier we’d been on.

There, if you look carefully,

you can just make out the snowbus and its people.

It was as we queued for our coffee that we learned of the death of our Queen. Having generally kept up with developments, we’d known that this was not unexpected; but it was still sad news and we paused for a moment of reflection and respect.

As we drove on, there was – goodness me! – more Big Scenery. By this stage we had only two more planned stops, both waterfalls.  The first was the Sunwapta Falls

which, like the Mistaya Falls, were splendid without being spectacular, and finally the Athabasca Falls

which were a great deal bigger; something even an Icelander might make a foss about.

That was the final official Thing To See of the day as we made our way towards Jasper, but there was still some Big Scenery on view as we neared the town.

Our hotel was the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, a large and pleasant resort, with many attractive, if well-used, cabins spread across a wide area.  It was well after the cocktail hour by this stage, so we didn’t stop to take any photos of what looks like a very photogenic place; more in my next post.  Once we’d conquered the navigation of the site to find our room, we simply headed for the main lodge and a welcome drink and evening meal.  We had a small surprise on our walk back to our room, though:

A. Elk, who may or may not have a theory which is hers*

In fact there were four of them – two adult female elk and two younger ones – calmly helping themselves to the grass and shrubbery on offer.

On that interesting note, we ended the day.  It’s been a long one with a huge amount of fascinating things to see – with, fortunately, good weather and no smoke from the fires which are still affecting the area. So; since you appear to have made it this far, thank you for reading about it.  We may well have a quieter day tomorrow; please come back later and find out.

*  Monty Python sketch from the early 70s

The next stage of the journey – North! to Alaska

Tuesday 9 August 2022 – If you’ve read yesterday’s installment you’ll know that we reached Heathrow with no problem beyond the usual apprehension that bedevils us in the quiet time before the taxi arrives for major travel. The rest of Phase 1 of the journey – getting out of the UK and into Vancouver – was generally very agreeable and entirely crash-free.  The Air Canada plane was, I think, quite new and certainly spiffy, with little touch screens for doing everything: selecting in-flight entertainment, controlling the aircon, configuring the seat.

The choice of in-flight entertainment movies was very impressive.  I didn’t count the total offering of films, but I reckon it must have been around 100 – new releases, classics and cult offerings.  My normal choice is to for escapist rubbish, typically out of the Marvel stable, but I noticed something that really took my fancy, standing out because it was first in the list due its name – A Hard Day’s Night. I wonder if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know that this is a Beatles film?  It’s not a classic, but the songs in it are classic early Beatles numbers from 1964. The nostalgic sentimentalist urges which lurk embarrassingly close to the surface within me immediately settled on this as the first film to watch.

(The Beatles LP that featured the film’s songs was the first 12″ LP that I ever bought.  It was expensive – 32/6d, or £1.63 in modern currency – and I treasured it. Until I gave it away, that is.  I think my brother took it off my hands when I decided that I was only interested in classical music, which was in turn before I became a fan of prog rock before turning back to classical music.  Musically, I’m just a tart.)

(Another parenthetical note.  32/6d is nearly 97 Mars Bars – they cost 4d in those days if memory serves. Today, a Mars Bar is 65p, meaning that the equivalent cost to me, a 12-year-old was just a whisker under £63.  Never let it be said that LPs are expensive these days.)

I actually went to see the original Hard Day’s Night film in the cinema, and, on watching it again, realised how much about it I had forgotten.  It’s a Richard Lester musical comedy film, and so its credentials are reasonably good. Although it doesn’t stand up to today’s cinematography in any way, I hugely enjoyed watching it; a wonderful burst of nostalgia, both musically and otherwise as I was reminded of the songs and successfully recognised some peripheral actors in the film whom I wouldn’t have expected to see. I’m particularly proud to have identified a young Robin Ray, who had just a tiny cameo.

Culturally, the rest of the flight was a basket case as I went back to escapist rubbish which seemed mainly to feature Benedict Cumberbatch being American and Strange. I managed to squeeze 3.98 films into the journey, with just the climactic 15 minutes of The Batman unwatched due to the plane having come to a halt outside the Vancouver terminal (see later). Jane tried to persuade me out of the intellectual doldrums of these films to make sure I’d seen some of the scenery as we approached Vancouver.  We both had a go at taking photos of the view, which was excellent. But, again, see later.

Jane also got some good shots as we got closer to Vancouver itself.

Once landed, we then needed to get ourselves to the airport hotel, a Fairmont. The process was smooth and largely stress-free.  The airport has a plethora of electronic passport gates which worked well, and also allowed us to assert that we were free of the Dreaded Lurgy; there was a final check by a border guard and then all we had to do was to hand over our ArriveCAN receipt and find our bags.  There are many, many carousels at Vancouver airport and one has to walk past quite a few before finding a screen telling you where to look.  We found our carousel and only had to do a few minutes of The Carousel Stare Thing before Jane’s bag came out.  Having invested in baggage trackers, I was a bit concerned about where my tracker was telling me it was, which was still at Heathrow.  However, it turned out that it was teasing me, as the bag turned up just a couple of minutes later.

Finding the hotel was a process which had a promising start, as there were signs, but the navigation grew a bit more challenging as we debouched into a huge arrivals terminal now devoid of any hotel-related guidance. We (i.e. Jane – I have my male pride to think of, here) asked someone and were pointed in the right direction  which turned out to be up another level at the other end of the not minuscule terminal building – another non-trivial walk for my poor backpack-oppressed shoulders – and were soon checking in.  Easy as it was, the process carried with it one disappointment, albeit a relatively minor one.  Fairmont is part of the Accor hotel group, and, for reasons lost in the mists of time, I have a loyalty membership; since the vast majority of the hotels on our holiday are Fairmonts, I’d fondly imagined building up a huge reservoir of loyalty points as we went.  This turned out to be illusory as the nice check-in chap told us that you need to book the hotels as an individual to accrue points. Since all ours were travel agent bookings, these didn’t count. Sigh . Still, we got free WiFi, so it’s not an entirely lost cause.

From then on, the day proceeded exactly in line with my previous experiences of air travel to west-coast America: feeling a little tired and a little hungry despite being fed twice on the plane; heading to the bar for a snack and a drink;



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after said  drink and snack at the bar – a good one, incidentally – suddenly feeling very tired; going to bed earlyish and falling asleep immediately; waking up at 3am and finding it difficult to get back to sleep.

However, we both managed to get a reasonable quantity of sleep in a very comfortable and well-organised room. We took breakfast in the hotel.  It was table service only, so no browsing of the buffet for healthy items, and food choices that were rather too complex for my jetlag-ravaged brain.  In the end, we had a good, substantial breakfast before heading off to hand our bags over to the tender mercies of the international baggage transfer system.

Air Canada recommended we get checked in some three hours before the flight to Anchorage, so we were in plenty of time at a very quiet check-in area.  Bag deposit was easy, if conducted through more checkpoints than I’m used to, and we eventually found the Maple Leaf lounge in the terminal building.  At this point, we realised we’d made a tactical error, in that we could have had a perfectly decent breakfast in the airport lounge and saved ourselves the $100 that breakfast had cost us.  Reading my brother’s blog of his Canadian odyssey had set my expectations that things in Canada were expensive. The reality still stings a bit, though.

And finally, the North! To Alaska! part of the journey was a really pleasurable, nay unique, experience. We were cordially greeted by the cabin steward, a very agreeable chap called Hugh Chetwynd, who did a superb job of swift and efficient service for all his (#smug) business class customers whilst keeping up an engaging stream of cheerful conversation. One nugget he vouchsafed as we were awaiting departure was that the view during the trip should be excellent, as they were expecting clear conditions and flying up along the west coast.  Rather delightfully, there was a spare window seat available on the other side of the plane, so I moved from my usual aisle seat and both Jane and I were able to get the benefit, and got some great photos from each side of the plane.

The view was sensational!  When we were in Jordan, a tea stop above Petra advertised itself as having the best view in the world, but, frankly, what we saw knocked that into a cocked hat.  Here’s a taster.

I don’t believe I’ve ever been been fortunate enough to take as many worthwhile photos as I managed on this flight, all the way from Vancouver to Juneau, before the weather closed in and clouds obscured the view.

Whilst I was busy taking photos from one side of the plane, Jane was equally busy on the other side, so we have a vast number of excellent images. I won’t bore you with the photos here, but you can see them in this separate post, which is a treasure trove for anyone who is interested in aerial photos of lakes and mountains.

Excellent service, wonderful aerial photos and free no-extra-charge gin & tonic – what a heady combination!

Once the clouds obscured the view, since the same films were on offer today as on yesterday’s flight, I was then free to catch up on the final 2% of the film I had failed to watch to the end – The Batman. It was very much in line with the rest of the film – too dark to see what was happening most of the time, lines muttered in voices too hoarse to understand what was going on and plotted in such a manner that the first two drawbacks made the whole thing an incomprehensible mess. But I’d nothing better to do and nowhere else to go, so I got a sort of grim sense of closure out of wasting those extra few minutes of my life.

When we arrived at Anchorage it became apparent that the passport check that we’d undergone in Vancouver represented the international border with the USA, because we simply walked out to the baggage carousels with no further checks.  It took a few minutes for the bags to arrive which we spent in amiable travel bragging with a couple who had been seated behind us in the plane; they were very obviously very well-travelled and we are polite people, so we let them win; the upside is that we got a couple of excellent tips for when we travel to the antipodes.

Whilst we were awaiting our bags, the driver who had been booked to take us into town joined us by the carousel and so once we’d picked them up we were swiftly off for the 15-minute drive to the Hilton Anchorage hotel, which will be our home for the next two nights.  The weather was cool – just about 13°C, and slightly drizzly – but we’re optimistic that it will be dry tomorrow.

Our most important task is to arrange for pre-cruise Covid tests, theoretically available just down the road from the hotel.  Our cruise line, Silversea, runs (at least on paper) a desk in the hotel lobby and so we hope to get firm guidance about testing there. Once tested, we hope to take a trolleybus tour of Anchorage to get some kind of idea about the place. That will be the subject of tomorrow’s entry, so do please come back and join me there.

An aerial photo bonanza – from Vancouver to Anchorage

Tuesday 9 August 2022 – On just the second day of a major holiday that my wife and I took to Canada (separately documented), we flew from Vancouver to Anchorage in order to take a cruise back down to Vancouver.  We were really lucky with the weather conditions for that flight – for most of the journey there were practically no clouds and so we had fabulous views.  If your bag is aerial views of lakes, mountains, islands and glaciers, then this page will be three bags full for you.

These photos are subject to the limitations of being taken (a) on mobile phones, albeit decent ones, and (b) through an aeroplane window.  They’re not exhibition quality, but I hope they give you an idea of the treat we had as we looked out at the view.

As we started, the city of Vancouver was still under a bit of mist.

but the view from the other side of the plane, over Keats Island towards Grantham Landing was clear.

I could see the glacial water flowing down the Squamish Estuary

and Jane had a view the other side, towards Half Moon Bay.

The Squamish River winds its way between the mountains.

This was my view over some lakes near Icecap Peak

and Jane got a different perspective towards Half Moon Bay.

The procession of spectacular views, from each side of the plane, carried on as we headed roughly northwards,

including some of the distinctive turquoise of glacial water.

Varying rock types could be seen

and glacier formations, like this, just south of Silverthrone Mountain.

The variety of lakes, rivers and mountains continued as we headed north west above the Inside Passage,

until we reached Ketchikan, a place we’ll be visiting next week as we cruise back down to Vancouver.

There it is

just there, where the cruise chips can be seen!

Soon after that, as we drew level with Juneau, the clouds started to gather.

and, as a friend of mine once put it, we had a “map-reality disconnect”. This is what the real-time map, as displayed on my screen, showed

and this is what I could see looking out of the window.

We had cloud then for the rest of the journey to Anchorage, and we could only see the land once we got below the clouds coming into our final destination.

It had been a memorable flight, with some stunning views; it was a real pleasure to have been in the right place at the right time.