Friday, November 12, 2010

Banff and Jasper Trip Part 9: Icefields Highway Part 2

Earlier posts about my Banff and Jasper trip (Pt 1, Pt 2, Pt 3, Pt 4, Pt 5, Pt 6, Pt 7, Pt 8)

Looking South Towards The Athabasca Glacier

It has been a few weeks since I posted about my Banff and Jasper trip, so I figured that now was a good time to get back to that. I figure that I'll make it a regular entry for Friday's till the series is done. Read on to learn about the Athabasca Glacier.

At about the midway point of the Icefield's highway are the Athabasca and Columbia Icefields, which are the largest along the highway. These massive glaciers feed both the Athabasca and Sunwapta Rivers. Both rivers travel north from the glaciers, and the Sunwapta River joins the Athabasca River just south of Athabasca Falls, the river goes up past the city of Jasper, through northern Alberta, then the North West Territories and out in to the Arctic Ocean.

It's a Steep Climb

When you arrive at the base of the Athabasca Glacier you park near the Icefield Center, which I didn't have time to visit, and walk up to it. Due to the high altitude (2000m or 6561ft) the air is thin, so this is not easy climb. Regardless the climb is worth while, as you get to have a close up view of the massive Athabasca Glacier.

Position Of the Athabasca Glacier in 1982

If you don't believe that Globe warming is real, then don't read on, because this may shock you. The path up to the glacier was actually formed by the glacier itself as it receded. The photo  above shows how far east the glacier was in 1982. As you can see, it isn't even in sight of this position today. To put it into perspective, look at this next photo.

Pathway of a Glacier

In 1942 the Athabasca Glacier was on the edge of highway 93, which is just in front of the Icefield Center (the building with green roof). Based upon the current rate of shrinking the Athabasca Glacier will be a small lake (no ice, except in winter) on the side of Mt.Athabasca in about 100 years from now. You really cannot appreciate the distance unless you visit the glacier though, but I hope this gives you an idea of what has changed in the last 60+ years.

Position of the Athabasca Glacier in 1992

Finally after a 15 minute walk up the steep hill the Athabasca Glacier is in view, from site of its position in 1992.

The Athabasca Glacier (September 2010)

The glacier is still very large, from this position I couldn't get the enter ice-field into view with my Tokina 12-24mm lens mounted on the D300. Closer to the glacier there is a small sign telling the story of a boy who went and played on the ice, which sadly led to disastrous result, his death. The ice may look very solid, but it is moving, and parts break off from time to time, which is what happened while the 10 year old boy was on the ice. It took rescue crews several hours to find him, but it was too late. Today there are wire fences preventing you from going within 500m of the ice.

The Start of the Sunwapta River

The water flowing from the base of the glacier on the east side of the Athabasca Glacier feeds the Sunwapta River, and Sunwapta Lake, which is beside the parking lot below. Today's last photo is of the marker indicating the position of the glacier in the year 2000.

Position Of the Athabasca Glacier, during the year 2000

As you can see, even in the last 10 years the glacier has receded a notable amount. Next time I'll cover my first few hours in Banff National Park.