It’s been 75 years since the Columbia Icefield has been readily accessible to the general public. Before the Icefields Parkway was opened in 1940, the region was the haunt of aboriginal and indigenous people who were using the area for about 10,000 years as the glaciers receded. But the fact, the national parks are a huge draw for tourists and the drive has been called one of the most awe-inspiring that one can take.
The 230-kilometre parkway, which parallels the Continental Divide between Banff and Jasper, is busiest in July and August with up to 100,000 vehicles a month. It also passes by the Columbia Icefield, a giant sea of white ice and snow to the west, which is impossible to miss. About 800,000 tourists visit the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre each year and many take a one hour and 20-minute snow coach tour onto the surface of the Athabasca Glacier. This is the largest of six ice sheets that form part of the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park. While it receives about seven metres of snowfall annually, the glacier has been slowly shrinking for about 150 years. Some experts say it could be completely gone in a generation.
An American report has singled out the rapid melt of glaciers in British Columbia and Alaska as a major climate change issue saying they are shrinking substantially. It is said that the trend is expected to continue and has implications for hydropower production, ocean circulation patterns, fisheries and a global rise in sea levels. The melting is clearly evident at the eastern edge of the Athabasca Glacier.
Markers dating back as early as 1890 show the toe of the Athabasca Glacier has retreated 1.5 kilometres, leaving behind a moonscape of gravel and rock.
IF YOU GO
Take a snow coach ride onto the Athabasca Glacier: brewster.ca
Visit Banff National Park: pc.gc.ca
And if you make it all the way to the Icefield, consider visiting Jasper, which is only 93 kilometres away: pc.gc.ca
Info via Canada.com