Headed north on Icefields Parkway to the Columbia Icefall in Jasper National Park. This glacier is one you can practically drive up to. It sits in the middle of a barren landscape filled with talus left behind from the receding glacier. As the years have gone by, markers have been established to show how far the flakier has receded. It’s pretty remarkable to drive through area that was very recently covered with an ancient glacier- even in my lifetime there are areas you walk through where the glacier is long gone and Steve’s dad remembered coming in the 1960s and it being much closer- the markers indicate it would have been where the current day parking lot is
Although the signs say not to (by showing graphic depictions of children freezing to death in a crevasse with a pleading look towards heaven), Steve and I headed onto the Athabasca glacier, crossing the river on a wood board to the far left side of the ice. Along the way we noticed scrapes in the larger rocks that had been scratched in as the glacier moved debris over the top. We saw interesting color patterns of orange, gold, gray and white in many o the surrounding rocks which reminded me of the lessons my professor taught about geomorphology and ancient sand deposits layering on top of one another. This area was so easily read about the processes that had shaped it that it was like my professor was right there, explaining about glacial deposits, moraines, talus, etc. I was fascinated by all of it and tried to recreate the ancient story of this landscape in my mind.
We crossed to the glacier and picked our way up, trying to read the ice but I’m not skilled in this department and knew very little about glaciers except from what I’ve read from Into Thin Air. We saw a large group of people walk up before us, so we figured we’d take their general path, but we spooked ourselves before getting to the top of the first rise and headed back. We tasted some of the frozen pieces of ice that had sloughed off from on to the many tiny streams flowing down he glacier. Although I know better and shouldn’t have water (or ice, in this case) from untreated sources, I couldn’t resist and popped a piece in my mouth. It was incredibly clean tasting, like snow. It made me miss winter (in which I eat snow by the handfuls). The rivers were the coldest I’ve felt. This is an obvious statement but this isn’t a normal cold. This kind of cold makes it feel like you’ve been stung and then stays inside your hands and down into you bones for minutes after submersing. Even if you try to warm them by rubbing them together, the cold just intensifies.
We took some pictures of us crossing the trail boundaries next to the signs that warned travelers not to, then headed out to Yoho National Park to check out an amazing waterfall that reaches about 750 feet. I believe it’s spelled Takakkaw Falls. The fall comes out of nowhere as you approach it by car. One of the best vantage points is when you are still on the road. This is the only place you can see (from an easy approach) how the top of the falls burst out almost horizontally before plummeting to the rock fall at its base.
You can feel the spray from the falls a good distance away if you are observant. By the time you reach the “end” of the trail, you will notice it. I say “end” because this is where the paved trail ends- in a circle of stones around a vantage point. Most people suppose they can’t go further and stop here to look at the waterfall, take photos with their friends, then turn back. But the best part of Takakkaw Falls is stepping beyond the pavement and onto the dirt paths that crisscross the steep scramble up to the actual base of the 750 falls. Yup. Right up to it. And right up to it is where Steve and I went.
Don’t expect to come back with even an inch of dry surface area on you. The closer you get, the more you realize this thing is gonna soak you. You’ll be cold, shivering, and miserable on the ride back to dry clothes (if you didn’t bring them with you) but the opportunity of being directly under something so massive and thundering, spraying glacial water tumbling 750 feet from its source is SO worth it! Your camera will get soaked… picture have to be taken immediately or not at all.
It’s a steep scramble up and descent down, but if you go to these falls, the magic is in the destination and not in the view (thought that’s pretty spectacular, too). Don’t miss that.
We headed back to Banff and ate at the Elk & Oarsman. Decent, not awesome. We met a couple of guys who work at a local sports shop. Talked to them about climbing in the area and exchanged information so we could meet up at some point. One was Mathieu from Quebec (who tried to teach us how to pronounce his name and was disappointed that I didn’t know French) and Ian. Afterwards, we grabbed ice cream and headed back to the hotel.