To the plains of Alberta

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Sep 2008

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Where I stayed
Kawtikh Retreat

Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Friday, September 5, 2008

After breakfast with Don and Paddy I'm back on the road.  I backtrack to the west to reenter Banff National Park where Steve and I exited the other day.  I then continue my trip north on the Icefields Parkway.  It's cold, which I expected, but it's also totally overcast and intermittently showering.  (At least it isn't snowing this time.)  The clouds obscure the mountains so I don't take any pictures.  Even though it's late in the season, cold and rainy, there's a never-ending stream of tour buses.  As I watch them drive the Parkway and disgorge their occupants at scenic spots (that are obscured by clouds) I wonder what the guides are saying... "... and on your left, behind those clouds, is Mount something-or-other with a beautiful waterfall.  You'll just have to take my word for it."
I do stop at the Athabasca Glacier.  This glacier is (fairly) easily accessible from the Parkway.  It's been retreating for years and, since the late 1800's has lost 60% of its mass.  They have cement markers denoting where it was in different years and it's easy to see a steady retreat.  So I have to climb the terminal moraines (the large piles of rubble pushed ahead of the glacier as it flows down a mountain and left behind when it retreats.)  Motorcycle boots and cold-weather motorcycle gear isn't the most efficient clothing to go hiking and climbing in.
I make it to the toe of the glacier, however and take a few pictures.  They weren't worth the effort it cost me to get them; especially since I didn't have the common sense to take a hat with me.  It wasn't raining when I got there so I didn't think to take it.  Of course after I'd climbed all the way up to the glacier it started coming down pretty steadily, soaking me.  I didn't have a thermometer so I can't give you numbers but my seat-of-the-pants estimate is that the wind coming off that glacier and blowing across my rain-soaked head was somewhere south of what would be classified as a tropical breeze.
Just to give you an idea of the scale of this thing - The last picture shows the toe of the glacier and its lateral moraine.  (The pile of rubble pushed off to the side of the glacier.)  The height of the lateral moraine shows the former height of the glacier.  About half-way up the moraine in about the middle of the picture you can see a couple of little white dots.  Those dots are full sized tourist buses taking tourists higher up the glacier.
There are also a couple of picture where the ice at the toe has broken away and you can see the blue color of the interior of the glacier.  This glacier is one of many that flow down from the Columbia Icefield.  This icefield feeds rivers that flow into three oceans:  the Arctic, the Atlantic, and the Pacific.  Amazing.
When I crossed the Bridge of the Gods outside Portland, some of the water that was floating the barge I was watching pass underneath me had come from the Columbia Icefields.
As I continue my journey up the Parkway, I parallel the north-flowing Athabasca River which will eventually empty into the Arctic Ocean.  I continue north to Jasper then east on Highway 16, finding a place to camp for the night just east of Edmonton.
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