July 20: Icefields Parkway

Trip Start Jun 02, 2011
Trip End Sep 25, 2011

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Flag of Canada  , Alberta,
Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Again today, the weather forecast called for a steady rain. However, for our drive along the Icefields Parkway and the Colombia Icefield, we were quite fortunate to have limited rain. We made 3 stops: 2 for hikes and 1 for the Icefield Visitor Center. The hikes we did offered some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen, combining the spectacular blue glacier water with the lush green meadows and the snow capped glaciers.   Being in the mountains and in these icefields that supply millions with fresh water makes you reflect on the fragile ecosystem and the impact that humans are having on it.  We had long discussions on electric cars, solar electricity, and the possibility and potential causes of another Ice Age.  We all feel we are in another world, far from West Chester where you just turn on your faucet and receive a steady flow of fresh water!

Our first stop on the Icefields Parkway was at Peyto Lake. We started this hike in the rain, and it was a rather short 1 mile hike, but mostly up-hill.   We arrived at an observation deck that was packed with tourists, because there are many tour busses that drive up and down this parkway.  It was ironic that because the girls were fighting and misbehaving that I made them hike into the woods and beyond most of the tours, which opened up into one of the most spectacular views of Peyto Lake.   We took many pictures because we were all in awe of the beauty and solitude, since not another person was around us.  It also seemed to work some magic on the girls, as their behavior was much better for the balance of the day!

We continued our drive along the Icefields Parkway and made a second stop at an area which offered a 2.5 mile uphill climb to the peak of a mountain that offered close glacier views and also the beginning of the Colombia Icefield.   What was amazing on this hike was that we went from 60 degree weather at the base to sub-40 degree weather with constant gusting winds at the peak, in 45 minutes.  It was quite cool (literally!) that we were in this snow covered land on July 20.   When we got up to the top there were rock 'huts' constructed by other hikers that break the wind when you hide behind them, so the girls had a great time for about 40 minutes adding to these structures.   The girls would have stayed longer, but we had some concern with them getting too cold and possibly sick, so we pushed everyone back down for the faster decent.

Our final stop on the Parkway was at the base of the Colombia Icefield.   We had no idea how large this was, or even that it existed before the trip.  This is a massive glacier that is over 250 sq. Km, and at places over 800 feet deep.  The runoff from this glacier provides fresh water for most of western Canada, plus parts of the Northwestern US.   The visitors center provided some great interactive models that showed the rapid erosion of the icefields over the past 100 years.  It put some real world perspective on the impact of global warming, and offered a small scale view of what is happening to the polar ice-caps.

We arrived in Jasper shortly after 7pm. Since it was late, we went out to dinner and shopped for some food. By the time we got into our campsite it was almost 10pm. A long but informative day!
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Xiu on

On my most recent trip out to see Mike and the girls, Mike told me in his research and reading (post our time in Peyto Lake and Lake Louise) that the 2 most photographed places in Canadian national parks are Peyto Lake and Lake Louise. Or put it another way, when international tourists think of Canadian national parks, they have Peyto Lake and Lake Louise in their minds. We were very lucky to have seen both. As Mike said, the drive on the icefield parkway was awesome. We saw many glaciers and beautiful lakes. The fact that in the last 100 years, the world has lost 40% to 70% of the glaciers in this area is a big concern for all of us. It made me realize that if we don't change our ways, our grandkids may not be able to enjoy the same beauty as we have done today. So, the McGoverns will be even more focused about conservation, recycling and minimizing our impact on the environment.

mcgovern on

It is a great comment on conservation. This trip has made it very clear how fast our natural resources are being consumed and the need for changed behavior. Recycling is great, but elimination is even better!

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