Driving the Icefields Parkway

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sunny morning at william's lake, revelstoke

A Monday disguised as a Sunday

The Monday of the May long weekend began waking up in the back of our Ford Explorer at Williams Lake in Revelstoke. Off to bit of a lazy start, we took our time packing up, and eventually headed towards Golden for lunch. A pit stop was made at Roger’s Pass, the summit of Glacier National Park, where Thom had his first encounter playing in the snow.  Beyond the series of chain restaurants just off the highway, we found the Taphouse nestled in the wee town of Golden, where we had a beer and lunch with my cousin, his wife and their friends.

They went for a mid-afternoon coffee, to carry them through the rest of their drive back to Calgary

IMG_9795We’re talking a proper coffee made from a real espresso machine kind of coffee. Thom was a bit excited, since he’s been majorly underwhelmed with Tim Horton’s caffeine fix and he got himself a double mocca. I ordered myself a single mocca, to fiend off any potential cases of FOMO (fear of missing out). Now, anyone who knows me will instantly recognize that this is a fairly dangerous move on  my part, with consequences for all to follow later on in the evening.

Goodbye B.C., Hello Alberta!

We carried on to Lake Louise. The fact that we slid down a hill of crusty snow from the carpark to the lake (Thom’s second snow experience in one day!) should have been a hint, but no, I was still somewhat surprised by the fact that it was still frozen. We didn’t hang around too long; we took some photos and then were on our way north, to Jasper.

IMG_9790Again, I’d not done much (ok, any) research about the area. Sometimes I just like to be surprised. Heck, at the time I didn’t even realise that driving the Icefields Parkway was going to be one of the most beautiful we’d find! In this day and age, there just aren’t too many surprises left, so I do what I can.

IMG_9823It was getting later into the evening as we made our way north with no plans or sense of urgency. One of my favourite things about spring, is the fact that the days just keep getting longer and longer!  I’d had coffee, so there was a good chance I was going to be up all night anyways.  We stopped at all the look offs we could. I was in love with the mountains.
evening drive exploring the icefields parkwayThe road was windy in parts, but still straighter than most roads in New Zealand. Around every corner was another view that left me in complete awe of our adventure at hand.
Driving the Icefield's ParkwayI sat in the passengers seat, momentarily mesmerized by the mountains, snapping photo after photo trying to capture my awe and love of what I was seeing.

Icefield's ParkwayWe ascended up mountains and descended through valleys of the Icefields Parkway, the Ford Explorer chugging along with Thom at the wheel.  At one point, to the right out my window I couldn’t believe the height at which we had climbed, snaking our way up the hill. Overlooking the valley floor below, you could see the road we’d just travelled and the depth of the mountains above.

Driving the Icefield Parkway

The highlight of the Icefields Parkway

 Driving the Icefield ParkwayAround 8pm, we came across the best surprise of all. Guided only by a few highway signs, we found ourselves at the foot of the Athabasca Glacier.

Athabasca Glacier at the Icefield's ParkwayAt first we tried to take the expedition path to the top, but that was obviously closed off the public. So back down we went, to park and explore on foot.

Exploring the Athabasca Glacier at the Icefield's ParkwayParking down at the base, I changed into some longer pants before beginning the hike to the glacier (both of us in bare feet and jandals on our feet). Thom and I have done a fair few hikes in our travels together so far, but this was by far the coldest! Of course we had to trek over some snow on the way there, but again it was crusty and hard – the most unattractive and unappealing kind of snow, in my opinion.

walking the athabasca glacier in bare feet!Going along the trail, there are plenty of information stops along the way. Who knew that the Athabasca Glacier is only one of many tongues of ice that flow from the massive Columbia Icefield. Meltwater from the Columbia Icefield drains to three oceans – The Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic- via three great river systems: the Saskatchewan (we’d crossed this!), the Columbia and the Athabasca?!?  I thought this was pretty impressive considering its inland location and the distance to reach each of those oceans.
IMG_9900It also plays a significant role in everyday life for most Canadians, as millions depend on these rivers for residential, industrial and agricultural water. The Columbia Icefield helps to keep the flow steady, especially during droughts.
IMG_9908Along the entire trail, from the car park to the foot of the glacier, there are markers indicating the receding movement of the glacier at particular year. Above, you can see where it stood in 2000 and how much it h as shifted since then.
Athabasca Glacier at the Icefields ParkwayAs we continued north towards Jasper, we excitedly spotted more chunks of ice atop mountains along the way. The coldest we’d experienced so far (a mere 6 degrees Celsius) I was quite happy to watch from the warmth o f the truck, with the heaters on full thawing out my iceblock feet.
Snow capped mountains at Icefields ParkwayWe still had a ways to go before arriving in Jasper, and darkness was fast dropping. As we crested another hill was pleasantly surprised to end the day with a brilliant mount sunset.
Sunset driving the Icefields ParkwaySure, we could have paid $50 per person to take the snow explorer up to the top of the glacier to stand on in and see it up close; but the budget traveler in me was more than happy to stumble upon a pleasant surprise in my own time and explore in my own way – when it suited us. Proof yet again that you don’t have to fork out the big bucks to have a great experience.


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  • Dana July 22, 2013, 9:39 pm

    I think I love traveling more when you don’t have a plan. My husband is the opposite, so we balance each other out. I love exploring and finding those hidden surprises, and he always has plans to hit the big stops. So glad you found a surprise of your own! Great photos too.

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