A few of weekends ago a couple of friends and I decided to take an icy drive down the 76 year old Icefields Parkway. Starting in Jasper Town-site, and after an obligatory Americano and scone from the very popular Bear’s Paw, we headed south down the road. Along the Icefields Parkway there are many places to pull over and get nice views of the Athabasca or Sunwapta Rivers, along with many open vistas with mountainous panoramas to behold. We stopped at a few of these places on our way to Athabasca Glacier located near Sunwapta Pass.
One of the places of note was Tangle Falls. As we walked across the road to get to the falls I grew excited once I spotted them; they resembled a giant shark mouth opened to allow the cold water to pour through. I practiced my long(ish) exposure techniques on the lower falls while my friends watched the ice climbers scaling the upper portion of the frozen falls. We counted over a dozen people scaling the ice cliffs, with what seemed to be at least two groups leading the climbs. If given the appropriate training, I think that ice-climbing would be a neat way to keep busy during the winter while you waited for summer scrambling. For now I will be content in watching them pick and kick their way up the vertical terrain while I plod about on snowshoes and skis down in the valleys.
A few more stops along the way for photo ops and then down the road to the Icefield Centre, just over 100km from Jasper Town-site. I imagine in the warmer months the area has a few more visitors, but today was nice and quiet. Once parked at the Athabasca Glacier parking lot we scaled the moraine and headed towards the toe of the glacier. A couple of snow angels were created along the way, and plans were made to slide down the snow-covered hill leading down from the glacier on the return.
As the last of the moraines were ascended, the vibrant blue of the glacier peeked out from its wintry cloak. We sped up our steps and headed toward the opening of an ice cave. Like excited children we explored the nooks and crannies and climbed up onto the two protrusions of ice that overlooked the cave mouth. The ice walls were incredibly smooth and the most gorgeous colour of turquoise I’ve ever seen; my pictures didn’t do justice to its cold beauty.
After about 30min of “oohs” and “ahhs” and “oh my goodness, you have to come see this!” we wandered out of the cave and around the toe of the glacier to appreciate the wall of ice and the frozen tarn at its foot. There was an amazing view of the mountains surrounding the pass and the skies were a deep blue with fluffy clouds travelling over the jagged peaks.
On our way back to our vehicle snow slide was spotted. Nervous of all things steep and icy, I let my hiking buddies go first. After one of them went head first (to get optimum speed from her slippery jacket of course), I felt a little better, and sure enough it was tons of fun. Our hike back to the vehicle was much less eventful, but was still a lovely walk in the sunshine and snow.
After downing some water and snacks we decided we weren’t done exploring, so off down the Parkway we drove. We stopped shortly at Bridal Falls for a peek over the cliffs and then continued on to the Weeping Wall, a very impressive cliff overlooking the river. After talking to two gentlemen that had just came down from climbing the frozen cliffs, we decided to pull on some hiking cleats, grab the poles, and check it out. Five minutes of walking through the snow-packed trail took us to the base of the falls.
Since the frozen falls were completely in the sun, there was a constant trickle of water and every now and then a sprinkling of ice would fall down. Envisioning a cold death-by-iceslide, I convinced my partners to head back to the safety of the truck…but not before my fearless friend made his way up to stand against the cliff so that we could get perspective on how tall it really was.
As we drove back to Jasper Town-site, I flipped through the pictures that I had taken and was quite happy with the day’s adventures. It’s not often that you get to see a beastly waterfall, climb into a turquoise ice cave, or hike to the base of a very tall and very frozen cliff, after all. There are many other sights and adventures to be had off this epic road, and perhaps I will have to elaborate in the future. For now, I encourage you to get out and go for a walk, even if there are no waterfalls, glaciers, or cliffs involved.