Up there on the tourist list of ‘must do’s’ is to drive along the Icefields Parkway – it starts just south of Jasper and takes you through Lake Louise and down to Banff. At 120 miles long and built during the Depression, it’s an impressive drive in all manners of the word – both size and scale – and one thing to note, always ‘plan for the unplanned’. You may think that the sat nav calculation of the time it’ll take you to travel from one vista to the next is broadly accurate, but you’ll need to at least double this as it won’t account for the numerous stops you’ll make in-between this just to ‘snap’ the view and take a few moments to savour the scenery and peace.
On route south from Jasper, you’ll come across the Athabasca Falls. It’s where the Saskatchewan River is forced through a narrow gap in the rocks and the thunder and pace of the water is ferocious, frightening and mesmerising. It’s only a few moments from the highway and well worth the detour ….
In fact, from the highway, you quickly get a view of the river once more as you pass the falls and you would never know such a falls exist. Just goes to show, it doesn’t take much just off the highway to see the miracles of nature….
Continuing southwards, the most notable (and busiest attraction by far) is the Athabasca Glacier and the visitor centre that is built directly opposite it. It’s the largest glacial expanse of snow south of the Arctic, and at the mountain peak, it’s suggested that the depth of the glacier is 100m deep. Worryingly, the glacier is decreasing in size each year – they suggest it loses 15m each year as the amount of the decline in the glacier is faster than the corresponding annual snowfall. There’s a marker of where the glacier was in 1843, and you can see how dramatic the decline has been since that date. You can’t help but think that the vehicles and tourists now visiting it on a daily basis especially during the summer months, is exacerbating this somewhat. That said, to take a trip on the snow mobiles onto the glacier itself, stand on it, see the height of the ice, the majesty of the glaciers and drink the freezing water, it’s a life experience in every sense of the word.
One of the newest features near the glacier is the Glacier Skywalk which only opened in May this year. It’s beautifully constructed, and apart from being 200m above the ravine walking along a see-through glass corridor that for those without any vertigo issues get a real buzz from. For those of us who have height ‘issues’, sheer terror, panic and a clinging to the rails around the edges seemed to be the common characteristic. I completely appreciated the brilliance of the architecture and the feat of man being able to construct something so ‘out there’ – I just wished the natural movement of the structure as you walk across it wasn’t as pronounced. That said, I made it to the other side completely intact albeit with a higher heart rate, but to say we’d done it and seen the views from it, was superb. A must do.
The waters from the Icefield flow down the Snow Dome mountain and continue on until they reach 3 different oceans – the Pacific, the Arctic and the Atlantic. Known as the hydrological apex of North America, Snow Dome Mountain is a triple-continental divide, and is part of the Great Divide – which divides water flow from east to west across North America. There’s only 2 places in the world where this happens.
All in all, a great drive with a jewel to look forward to at the end – Lake Louise.
More to come …