I stood in front of it in awe, frozen in place.
Meeting a glacier for the first time is a transformative experience. This was the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park, and there I was, a few feet from the beginning of it. It was like staring at the very bottom of the foot of a sleeping giant, where scale and meaning challenges even the most tested of imaginations. Looking up and seeing it continue and continue, turning a bright white in the distance before fading into the thick, monochrome cloud cover, left me with little air in my lungs.
It sat there, this unending sea of ice, straddling two mountains as if they were arms on a chair. I walked along the rope blocking people from getting too close, dangerous crevasses hidden everywhere. Below me were millions of pebbles and small rocks, a few boulders. These were glacial till, remnants of a retreating mass of ice once the ice becomes water. And the till spread out as far as I could see, a dramatic change from the landscape just a short distance away. There were no trees here. Signs far behind me marked where the glacier was in 1996, 1936, 1974 and 1954. It kept pulling back. Water trickled away from the edge of it, turning into a steady stream further away.
This alone was enough to see for a day, but I was only about halfway through my drive along Icefield Parkway from Jasper to Lake Louise. A few miles ago, I saw a grizzly alongside the road and a black bear crossed it behind me. And in front of me were stunning mountain passes along and among the Rockies, and short, steep hikes to spectacular viewpoints. Lakes of an exceptional blueish-green sat quietly below pines which gave way to peaks in the clouds. And the pines weren’t like any I’d seen before – these were like needles, tall but exceptionally slender, and packed so densely that it was carpet-like.
I took a hike that next day. It started as a steady climb and I passed a few older people, young families, casual hikers. I reached the Agnes Tea House a couple of miles away and nearly 1,200 feet above the beautiful Lake Louise, where I’d begun. But I wasn’t satisfied, and I had two viewpoints above me another mile or so away. One wasn’t as high as the other, only about 400 feet further up, while the other was about 600 feet up. I took Big Beehive instead of Little Beehive, and paid the price along the steep switchbacks on the way up. I finally reached the top and found a stupendous lookout nearly 2,000 feet above Lake Louise and out onto the valley.
On the way down, I decided to go a little further and take a slightly longer way back. And then I postponed it again, going further away from Lake Louise. But there was another glacier just beyond; I caught a glimpse of it and I kept on going.
View pictures from Jasper and Lake Louise.