Columbia Icefields – Climbing on the Athabasca Glacier with IceWalks


Photographing within the Columbia Icefields of Canada

At first glistening crunch, I knew I used to be again in my joyful place. Listening to the sound of ice crunching beneath my crampons, watching because the ice sparkled earlier than my eyes, and marveling as my thoughts tried to soak within the immense magnificence because it piled in icy chunks towards the pinnacle (the highest). Glacial landscapes are an surroundings like no different, and I’m about to share how one can stroll upon one!

Athabasca Glacier in Alberta, Canada, is without doubt one of the most accessible glaciers on the earth. Situated inside the Columbia Icefields on the Icefields Parkway, it’s roughly a one-hour drive from Jasper and two hours to Banff. When you can cruise on by and catch views from the automobile, it’s past price stopping and staring a bit longer. Or, spending just a few days gazing upon the magnificent mountainside formations should you’re like me and might’t bear to look away.

What makes this glacier so particular is that you simply’re in a position to stand up near one thing that’s usually the results of a multi-day hike, hidden in a distant alpine valley. Glaciers are shaped when snow accumulates over time, turning to ice over many centuries, and the strain then creates a circulation impact, outward and down, a bit bit like a really slow-moving ice river.  They’re present in alpine areas and shift and alter all through the seasons, calving, creeping, nonetheless, most just lately, receding quickly.

Not solely do the glaciers themselves change, however the surrounding panorama is shifted over time. An instance of that is seen in sharp piles of particles and rock referred to as lateral moraines which have been transported and carried by the glacial ice, solely to be later revealed as soon as the ice melts. Lateral moraines are seen alongside the glacier, and Athabasca Glacier has some nice examples of this course of.

When visiting the Athabasca Glacier, you may take a brief, self-guided hike to the foot of the glacier, accessible by way of a carpark simply off the Icefields Parkway, or, you may take issues one very thrilling step additional.

You possibly can stroll upon the glacier itself which is one thing I wholeheartedly advocate anybody does should you’re snug mountaineering for roughly 5km. It’s this expertise I need to share with you right this moment from my latest journey with IceWalks on their half-day basic tour.

Simply to notice, whereas secure within the presence of a skilled information, strolling solo on a glacier is extraordinarily harmful with hidden crevasses, collapsible sections, and probably fast-moving sections making a maze of obstacles, principally invisible to the untrained eye. It’s all the time suggested to stroll on a glacier with a skilled professional, ideally a mountaineering information that’s had years of expertise exploring these treacherous but stunningly stunning environments.

The workforce at IceWalks have been strolling upon Athabasca Glacier since 1985 underneath the management of Peter Lemieux, an ACMG (Affiliation of Canadian Mountain Guides) ski information. After 36yrs on the ice, Peter transitioned possession of the corporate to a different member of the ACMG and long-term IceWalks information Corin Lohmann, and his spouse Megan. It’s Corin I had the pleasure of strolling with just a few weeks again on the opening weekend of their excursions in 2023.

It’s one factor to have a look at a glacier and be amazed by its dimension, element, and sheer magnificence, it’s one other to study and listen to tales from somebody who has devoted their life to this panorama.

Really, I’m leaping forward now…let’s return to the beginning of the day.

When reserving a tour with IceWalks, they’ll equip you with all the pieces wanted to make sure your security on the glacier. Climbing boots are really useful, however should you don’t have any, they’ve acquired a van full of all sizes to equipment you out. There’s a pair of crampons for everybody, gloves, jackets, and even waterproof pants should you want them. After all, you may put on your personal gear too, I solely used a pair of crampons as I had the remainder with me.

There are two occasions supplied for the half-day basic tour, I opted for the 10am tour as we had been staying in Jasper and it was only a quick drive down the parkway. Alternatively, you may as well keep on the close by campgrounds in summer season, or the Glacier View Lodge the place I additionally stayed an evening and cherished the view and really snug beds! Along with this there’s a 2pm tour, or should you’re after a full-day deluxe tour these kick off at 9:30am. Indigenous-led excursions are additionally supplied on particular dates all through the season, make sure to examine their web site right here.

The tour begins with a brief shuttle experience right down to the trailhead by Sunwapta Lake. From right here, a 15-min stroll takes you towards the toe of the glacier, the place the bottom level meets rocky terrain and lateral moraines. Stopping at a refined chunk of limestone, Corin shared how the motion of the glacier impacts the encompassing rock. Layers revealing centuries of change are evident, and as I wrote earlier, it’s made all the higher to have somebody share the scientific and geological details about what you’re seeing.

Onward, we cross a meltwater stream and inside minutes are on the ice. Regardless of ‘glacial blue’ being essentially the most related color of glaciers, they surprisingly function a spectrum of hues, starting from deep white, brown, and black to an array of icy blues, mild to deep. A mix of mud, ash, sedimentary rocks and minerals are layered inside the ice, then as in pictures, mild performs a key function in what we see on the ice. One very seen strategy of how mild, rock and ice work collectively is seen in tiny pockets and holes throughout the glacier. Because of the darker hue of the rock, generally as small as a pebble, the warmth of the solar warms the rock, in flip melting the ice round it.  

One other attention-grabbing color truth is how rock flour creates the colourful blue color we see and are drawn to {photograph} in glacial lakes. Rock flour is created when the glacier advances throughout the bedrock, dragging rocks and boulders, grinding them down right into a high-quality flour substance. The flour then will get into the water system and when hit with daylight, absorbs all the colors of the rainbow and solely displays the blues and the greens.

Photographing on the Ice –

I’m a powerful believer in having fun with any out of doors expertise earlier than making an attempt to take images. Soak all of it in, go searching, after which take into account the way you need to seize the scene. Now, I say that, but when anybody noticed me in motion, I used to be one snap-happy photographer up on the Athabasca Glacier, though I had spent just a few hours the day prior simply staring and conjuring up picture concepts.

To seize nice photos on the ice, it’s necessary to contemplate your composition, the weatherproofing of your gear, and lens selections to make sure you’re able to have some enjoyable. You’ll additionally need to be conscious to not lag behind an excessive amount of whereas on the glacier, primarily on account of security causes and following the trail your information makes. It’s not likely the place to arrange your tripod and take your time, it’s a snap-on-the-go sort of exercise, however there are breaks which let you decelerate a bit.

Composition Ideas when capturing the Athabasca Glacier/Glacial Landscapes:

  • Search for parts like ice and water to incorporate inside your picture, stand up shut (if secure to take action) to the glacial meltwater streams and incorporate them in your shot.
  • Main strains are an important function when taking pictures glaciers, use them to compose your picture and have the strains of the glacier lead the viewers eye into the body.
  • Maintain an eye fixed out for particulars, glowing ice, tiny holes, patterns, colors and the distinction between rock and ice.
  • Together with folks in your shot is an effective way to showcase perspective and visually characterize simply how huge a glacial panorama is. On the day of my hike, we may see a distant group of mountaineers, apparently, they had been just a few hours’ stroll forward of us, kilometers away in actual fact, which gave additional proof of simply how immense the Athabasca Glacier is.
  • In case your digital camera has the power, change over to the hand-held high-resolution mode (each my OM-1 and E-M1 MKIII have this) to make sure you’re creating picture recordsdata full of the intricate particulars of the glacier.

What Gear I Photographed With –

I took two cameras and three lenses with me on the half-day ice stroll. When mountaineering, I favor to make use of two our bodies and pop on versatile lenses so I can simply shoot all through the day with out altering lenses or fiddling an excessive amount of, particularly if there’s no the place to actually cease.

Physique 1: The OM SYSTEM OM-1 with the 40-150mm f2.8 professional lens.

Physique 2: The OM SYSTEM/Olympus OM-D E-M1 MKIII with the 12-40mm f2.8 professional lens.

As soon as I’d captured quite a lot of photos, for the stroll again down the glacier, I switched out the 12-40mm lens and relaced it with the 7-14mm f2.8 professional lens to seize some wider photographs of the panorama. This labored very well to stand up near the meltwater streams and since the digital camera has unimaginable weatherproofing, I knew just a few splashes wouldn’t do any hurt.

You possibly can see beneath what a distinction in focal lengths make.

Picture taken with the 12-40mm f2.8 lens at a focal size of 40mm. Word the street within the background and examine it with the following picture.

Picture captured with the 7-14mm f2.8 vast angle lens, providing a a lot wider view of the panorama and making folks seem far smaller.

Who can do that hike?

Should you’re able to strolling round 5km on generally uneven terrain with a slight incline, you are able to do this hike. I’m not an excellent match explorer, only a common gal who loves photographing open air and tries to remain match (by strolling/swimming, ain’t no operating/gymnasium classes right here). All up, the half-day hike was round 3 hours and also you’re out on the ice for many of this.

Ought to I be frightened about security on the glacier?

As with all out of doors adventures, the situations play a component and generally nature could be unpredictable, however I promise the second you meet your information, you’ll be put comfortable by their professionalism and data. The workforce at IceWalks are skilled in all features of mountain operations from avalanche danger evaluation and rescue to crevasses rescue, with the experience to know the place to stroll, and naturally, the place to not stroll! You possibly can examine their story and see information profiles right here.

What about different tour operators on the Columbia Icefields?

When visiting the Columbia Icefields middle, you’ll see a bunch of tour choices accessible. I opted to hike with IceWalks (solely bookable on-line) as a result of they’re a small, family-run enterprise who concentrate on group excursions with a restricted capability, making certain you’re getting a extra in-depth and personalised expertise.

I did see massive buses driving alongside the glacier close by, and whereas they do additionally stroll on the glacier and can be very best for anybody who can’t handle the longer stroll on account of well being issues, it solely seems to offer entry in a small space and also you’re alongside lots of different guests.

How you can e-book your tour with IceWalks –

Leap on to their web site and browse the choices to pick an acceptable date and time in your journey, as I famous earlier, I used to be on the half-day basic tour. They’re additionally providing an ‘Ice and Water’ mixture should you’re eager to mix a bit glacier stroll with a rafting journey the next day, or vice versa.

The excursions are supplied within the spring/summer season months as soon as it’s secure to entry the glacier on foot. This 12 months the season kicked off on Might 20th, nonetheless on account of seasonal climate patterns, it’s all the time price checking their web site to see which date the season will begin in 2024.

One factor to notice – I can’t think about anybody leaving this expertise and never contemplating it one in every of their favorite days open air. Whereas I’ve been fascinated with glaciers since my time in Greenland, my sister was additionally with me on this hike and famous it was presumably the most effective expertise she’s ever had within the mountains.

Lastly, an enormous thanks to Corin and the IceWalks workforce for internet hosting us on this half-day tour. It was so insightful, inspiring and enjoyable. You made our time within the Canadian Rockies so memorable and we’ll completely be again once more to step it up a notch and do the full-day journey.


Earlier than you go, should you’re serious about associated content material, click on on by way of to those guides –

Glacier Lodge Eqi – Sleep Beside a Calving Glacier in Greenland

Photographing Inside an Ice Cave, Vatnajokull Glacier, Iceland

Panorama Images – Capturing Particulars inside a Scene

Alternatively, study with The Wandering Lens by way of the gathering of eBooks, inventive pictures workbooks and on-line programs.

*Please notice, this text does embrace 1 x affiliate hyperlink for the Glacier View Lodge. I used to be a paying visitor of this resort and am merely recommending it as a result of it was a wonderful room, ideally situated for entry to the glacier and exploring with IceWalks! Any affiliate fee goes towards making this web site and all free content material shared attainable!

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