Tag Archives: Icefield Parkway

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