Athabasca Glacier Icewalk

In pretty much every glossy promotional publication about the Rockies, you are bound to see the big ads claiming that taking the Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure Ice Explorer Bus is THE thing to do in the Rockies. And from the looks of things, thousands of tourists jump aboard the huge world-renowned buses everyday to experience the Athabasca Glacier and would full-heartedly agree.

But what if there was a more intimate, relaxed way of getting to know the glacier?
Would you try it?
Well, if you know anything about me, you'll know that I'd jump on that opportunity in a heartbeat!

And yes, there is a way!

Athabasca Glacier IceWalks might not advertise like the big 55,000-pound gorilla in town but what they lack in marketing, they gain back even more with their eco-friendly, adventurous approach to providing guided, interpretive hikes onto the glacier.

IceWalks offers two walks: a shorter "Ice Cubed" hike or the extended "Icewalk Deluxe" version.

I went on the Deluxe version because who wouldn't pay an extra ten bucks for an extra couple of hours on a glacier?!?

The tour starts out at the parking lot closest to the glacier, where you'll find a station wagon with a little trailer emblazoned with the IceWalks logo. Our guide, Peter, was a very personable gentlemen who took the time to get to know each one of us as he quickly assessed our physical abilities, and provided the crampons, hats, gloves, and rain gear we need but might have forgotten to bring along for our trek up the Athabasca Glacier.

After hiking along the public trail to the edge of the glacier, it was time to jump over the rope and begin our unrestricted access hike on the glacier. I've been waiting a long time for this!

Hmm, not exactly what I was expected.  The glacier's surface was a bit sandy and not at all slippery.  Peter went on to explain how the surface's conditions changed on a daily basis depending on the weather conditions and time of year. It wasn't slippery today but yesterday was apparently a completely different story.

As we continued on our way, the snow and ice became cleaner, and George, a true snow dog, was frolicking in the snow like a little kid after the first snowfall of the season.  Peter soon took out his ice axe and chipped away to get to the clear, glacier ice, and handed each of us our very own chunk of the glacier as a souvenir. It was so clear. And tasty too!

Now the beauty of this personalized hands-on tour is the ability to have access to a much greater portion of the glacier than what you can get on the snocoach bus tour.  On top of that, you're not surrounded by so many lemmings and you're not stuck listening to the bustling bus engines during your short visit on the glacier.

On the walking tour, you can learn about the glacier's features and history while peering into the deep crevasses, jumping over streams of crystal clear glacier water, and even having lunch on a boulder slowly making its way down the glacier while enjoying the outdoors for the day, at a relaxed pace with a small, friendly group of like minded individuals. Peter even had a great chocolate-inspired explanation of the glacier's features and how they came to be.

This is all nice and dandy but the star feature of this trek of the entire length of the lower Athabasca Glacier is leaving the buses way behind and heading into the lowest of the three icefalls where you get to see the jagged ice formations and everything that comes with it.

You definitely don't get to see this on the bus tour!  

Sporting a big, silly grin, I enjoyed every moment of the hike.  The only downside is that I wanted it to be even longer!  Even with the flurries we experienced at times, five hours on the glacier just wasn't enough for me!

The glacier is constantly changing so I'll be definitely going back on another ice walk.

Maybe next time, I'll go later in the year to see how the glacier is affected by a warm summer.

And just maybe, I'll have better luck sneaking George home with me!

During our hike, Peter mentioned that in the winter, you can cross-country ski onto the Columbia Icefield up above the glacier, and spend a few nights up there in a tent or igloo!
Where do I sign up?!?

If you found this unbiased review helpful, please click on one of the interesting Google advertising links on this blog to help me out. Thanks.

Pizza at Emerald Lake

The weather forecast was calling for an overcast day so there wasn't much point in heading up into the mountains so a hike around Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park was in order.

Unfortunately, the trail was closed due to a bear in the area so there was no hiking around the lake today.  A helicopter was cruising around the lake, evidently looking for the bear, so that provided some entertainment for all the tourists.

 Irregardless, it was great way to sit back and relax...

before heading over to Cilantro on the Lake for a delicious wood-oven baked pizza.


Hole in the Wall

On the way to Emerald Lake, you'll encounter a small parking area at a bend in the road where you'll find a natural feature curiously named the "Hole in the Wall".

Considering the power of the water going through that hole, this is one place I would not want to slip and fall!

Getting Wet at Takakkaw Falls

Just a few days earlier, Yoho Valley Road, opened for the season so it was time for a little trip to see Takakkaw Falls.  

Along the way, the road presents a small obstacle to test your driving skills and patience, but more on that later.

The Takakkaw Falls' highest point is 384 metres from its base, making it the second highest waterfall in western Canada. It's an impressive sight.

What piqued my interest was how the cliff appeared to shoot out the water after it hits a huge obstacle on its way downward.

After getting soaking wet near the base of the waterfall, it was time to head back to the car, and experience the switchback in the road one more time...

Consolation Lake

Consolation Lake Trail was the first trail I encountered that is in recommended group access territory.

Since groups weren't mandatory, I proceeded on my own on this trail that extended from the Moraine Lake lookout trail.

Within listening distance of a mountain stream, the trail heads into a forest before it reaches Consolation Lake, where you not only get a clear view of the lake

but also the mountains

and alpine meadows.

Unfortunately, no grizzly bears were spotted on this hike.

Life Reflections at Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake is the most spectacular lake I've ever seen!

And the Valley of the Ten Peaks, Larch Valley, and Consolation Lake trails that start out at the lake aren't that bad either.

It's things like this that make life worth living.

More Hikes around Lake Louise

After grabbing a bite to eat at the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House, it was time to get back to business and start the hike up to Lake Agnes.

As you can see in the retro Lake Louise trail map, there are several hiking trails in the Lake Agnes area.

It was a spectacular, sunny day so why not enjoy it by hiking all afternoon long?!?

After viewing the mountains from this morning at a higher viewpoint,

it was time to hit the woods, where I crossed paths with this curious ptarmigan,

before hitting the Big Beehive, which provided an amazing views of Lake Louise, Mirror Lake, and the surrounding area.

Then it was time to head down the still fairly snowy switchbacks to Lake Agnes.

After making my way down, the trail headed towards the far side of the lake but not before crossing this snowy incline.

On the other side of the lake, you can see the switchbacks you just encountered...

At which point, you pat yourself on the back for your smart decision of taking this route today and avoiding the uphill battle with the eroded, snowy trail.

At the ever so popular Lake Agnes Tea House, 

the menu was reviewed,

and the decision was made to avoid the tourist masses, and just enjoy the view of Lake Agnes

before heading back up the trail to Little Beehive, where you get yet another great view of Lake Louise

and the entire Lake Louise valley...

After reaching the end of the Plain of Six Glaciers, climbing Big Beehive, descending to Lake Agnes, and ascending to Little Beehive, it was time to grab a real meal back in town so down I went to Mirror Lake and finally back to Lake Louise, where it all started.

What a great hike!

Plain of Six Glaciers

When you look out across Lake Louise from the tourist-packed shoreline near the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, it looks like the mountain and glacier at the far end of the lake aren't that far away

so you follow the lakeshore trail, and at the 2 km mark, you reach the southwest end of the lake.

Hmm, not what one might expect...

Very nice, but you've heard of great things beyond the lake's edge so you continue the gradual ascent up the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail.

As you continue the trek, your waitress passes you as she rushes to get to work on time.

Your surroundings are getting better and better so you keep on going...

ignoring the temptations of the tasty treats at the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse, you keep on going and reach the end to take it all in while listening to the occasional crackling sounds of the breaking ice and sliding rocks.

On your way back, you take one last look of your surroundings.

and watch one last mini avalanche.

Giving in to your thirst and curiosity, you check out the tea house despite it being the touristy thing to do.

And read the story on the menu..

Reading the menu is making you hungry so you splurge on the fresh apple pie to go with your raspberryade, and enjoy the experience of dining on your homemade dessert on the balcony of a quaint, historical tea house in the Rocky Mountains.

After thoroughly enjoying your light lunch, you take in the view yet again because it is just so spectacular

and finally start heading back...

because there are still many more trails to hike around Lake Louise.

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