Saturday, July 20, 2024

Columbia Icefields – Mountaineering on the Athabasca Glacier with IceWalks

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Photographing within the Columbia Icefields of Canada

At first glistening crunch, I knew I used to be again in my comfortable 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 atmosphere like no different, and I’m about to share how one can stroll upon one!

Athabasca Glacier in Alberta, Canada, is likely one of the most accessible glaciers on the planet. Situated throughout the Columbia Icefields on the Icefields Parkway, it’s roughly a one-hour drive from Jasper and two hours to Banff. Whilst you can cruise on by and catch views from the automotive, it’s past value stopping and staring a little bit longer. Or, spending a couple of days gazing upon the magnificent mountainside formations in case you’re like me and might’t bear to look away.

What makes this glacier so particular is that you simply’re capable of 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 stream impact, outward and down, a little 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, nevertheless, most not too long ago, 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 often called 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’ll be able to take a brief, self-guided hike to the foot of the glacier, accessible through a carpark simply off the Icefields Parkway, or, you’ll be able to take issues one very thrilling step additional.

You may stroll upon the glacier itself which is one thing I wholeheartedly advocate anybody does in case you’re snug climbing for roughly 5km. It’s this expertise I wish to share with you at the moment from my current journey with IceWalks on their half-day basic tour.

Simply to notice, whereas protected 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, largely invisible to the untrained eye. It’s at all times suggested to stroll on a glacier with a skilled knowledgeable, ideally a mountaineering information that’s had years of expertise exploring these treacherous but stunningly stunning environments.

The group at IceWalks have been strolling upon Athabasca Glacier since 1985 below 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 a couple of weeks again on the opening weekend of their excursions in 2023.

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

Truly, 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 every thing wanted to make sure your security on the glacier. Mountaineering boots are really helpful, however in case you don’t have any, they’ve received a van crammed with all sizes to equipment you out. There’s a pair of crampons for everybody, gloves, jackets, and even waterproof pants in case you want them. In fact, you’ll be able to put on your personal gear too, I solely used a pair of crampons as I had the remainder with me.

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

The tour begins with a brief shuttle journey 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 cultured chunk of limestone, Corin shared how the motion of the glacier impacts the encircling 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 information about what you’re seeing.

Onward, we cross a meltwater stream and inside minutes are on the ice. Regardless of ‘glacial blue’ being probably 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 combination of mud, ash, sedimentary rocks and minerals are layered throughout the ice, then as in images, mild performs a key function in what we see on the ice. One very seen technique of how mild, rock and ice work collectively is seen in tiny pockets and holes throughout the glacier. As a result of 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 fascinating 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 robust believer in having fun with any out of doors expertise earlier than trying to take pictures. Soak all of it in, go searching, after which take into account the way you wish 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 a couple of hours the day prior simply staring and conjuring up picture concepts.

To seize nice pictures on the ice, it’s essential to contemplate your composition, the weatherproofing of your gear, and lens decisions to make sure you’re able to have some enjoyable. You’ll additionally wish to be aware to not lag behind an excessive amount of whereas on the glacier, primarily as a consequence 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 little bit.

Composition Suggestions when capturing the Athabasca Glacier/Glacial Landscapes:

  • Search for parts like ice and water to incorporate inside your picture, stand up shut (if protected to take action) to the glacial meltwater streams and incorporate them in your shot.
  • Main strains are an awesome function when capturing glaciers, use them to compose your picture and have the strains of the glacier lead the viewers eye into the body.
  • Maintain a watch 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 might see a distant group of mountaineers, apparently, they had been a couple of 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 digicam has the flexibility, 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 information crammed with 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 climbing, I want 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 essentially 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 a wide range of pictures, 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 rather well to stand up near the meltwater streams and since the digicam has unbelievable weatherproofing, I knew a couple of splashes wouldn’t do any hurt.

You may see under what a distinction in focal lengths make.

Picture taken with the 12-40mm f2.8 lens at a focal size of 40mm. Notice the street within the background and evaluate it with the subsequent picture.

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

Who can do that hike?

For those who’re able to strolling round 5km on generally uneven terrain with a slight incline, you are able to do this hike. I’m not a brilliant match explorer, only a common gal who loves photographing open air and tries to remain match (by strolling/swimming, ain’t no operating/fitness center periods 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 anxious about security on the glacier?

As with all out of doors adventures, the situations play a component and generally nature might be unpredictable, however I promise the second you meet your information, you’ll be put relaxed by their professionalism and data. The group at IceWalks are skilled in all features of mountain operations from avalanche threat evaluation and rescue to crevasses rescue, with the experience to know the place to stroll, and naturally, the place to not stroll! You may 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 give attention to 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 could be supreme for anybody who can’t handle the longer stroll as a consequence of well being issues, it solely seems to supply entry in a small space and also you’re alongside a variety of different guests.

e-book your tour with IceWalks –

Bounce on to their web site and browse the choices to pick out an appropriate 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 in case you’re eager to mix a little bit glacier stroll with a rafting journey the next day, or vice versa.

The excursions are provided within the spring/summer time months as soon as it’s protected to entry the glacier on foot. This 12 months the season kicked off on Might 20th, nevertheless as a consequence of seasonal climate patterns, it’s at all times value 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 probably the most effective expertise she’s ever had within the mountains.

Lastly, an enormous thanks to Corin and the IceWalks group 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, in case you’re fascinated about associated content material, click on on via to those guides –

Glacier Lodge Eqi – Sleep Beside a Calving Glacier in Greenland

Photographing Inside an Ice Cave, Vatnajokull Glacier, Iceland

Panorama Pictures – Capturing Particulars inside a Scene

Alternatively, be taught with The Wandering Lens through the gathering of eBooks, artistic images workbooks and on-line programs.

*Please observe, 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 ravishing room, ideally situated for entry to the glacier and exploring with IceWalks! Any affiliate fee goes towards making this website and all free content material shared doable!

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