We woke up to lifting clouds - a promise of a sunnier day? As we were making our breakfast and packing up, impressive peaks with a new dusting of snow kept peeking out of the clouds. Driving north, there was one spectacular view after another. Here are just a few of the more impressive ones.
The Columbia Icefield, a 250-square-mile area of glacial ice, separates Banff National Park from Jasper National Park. At the Columbia Icefield Centre, one can arrange a tour of the Athabasca Glacier, just one of several glaciers that flow out of the Icefield. From the Icefield Centre, a highway bus carries passengers to a parking area about halfway up from the toe of the glacier. There, we were transferred to one of their SnoCoaches. These 52 passenger vehicles are six-wheel drive heavy-duty buses built by Foremost in Calgary. The Icefield Centre owns 17 of these vehicles, the newest of which cost CDN$750,000. Incidentally, the tires on the SnoCoach are 66x43-25 Goodyear Terragrips. The SnoCoach crawls out onto the glacier, attaining a top speed of 13 mph at times (at other times, it scales a 32% gradient).
At the turn-around point, there is a graded area that can accommodate 6 or 8 SnoCoaches.
The passengers can disembark onto the glacier and walk around on the surface. At this point,
the ice is about 1,000 fee thick! There is a place where
one can drink the glacial meltwater. There are many interesting features on the surface of the glacier,
not the least of which are called 'dust cones.' These are cone-shaped piles made up of the dust
particles around which snowflakes form (glaciers are made up of compressed snow). What was not
explained, however, was why/how the dust ends up in these piles. The trip onto the Athabasca
Glacier was very interesting and informative.
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