Friday, October 12, 2012

Tots on Ice - A foundation for Mountaineering

Last month we were blessed with the opportunity to take a walk on the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park as a family.  Thanks to tickets I won last Christmas from Explore Rockies,  my son has stepped on to his first glacier 25 years earlier than I did.  And while not officially a mountaineering trip, learning about glacier travel is very much at the heart of mountaineering and one of the first things you'll learn along with crevasse rescue skills.   Fortunately we didn't have to contend with crevasses on this trip because knowledgeable staff had gone ahead of us to clear a "safe" area of the glacier away from the threat of serac fall and well away from the ice fall higher up on the glacier.

First Glacier Walk
Family Mountaineering (look Ma, no rope!)

We grabbed the opportunity to use our tickets while we were staying at the Mosquito Creek Hostel (story here at Autumn Camping at Mosquito Creek) for a weekend.  Otherwise, from Calgary it would have taken us roughly 3.5 hours to drive to the Icefields Centre and that's a bit far for a day trip with a small child.  If you plan to take the tour look for a place to stay nearby.  Hostelling International has plenty of hostels scattered along the Icefields Parkway and Lake Louise is also another option.  From Lake Louise it only takes an hour and a half to reach the Icefields Centre.  Combine the glacier tour with a hike and you've got a nice day trip from Louise.  There's also an RV campground located beside the Centre and a tenting campground about 1km east.   If you truly want to splurge on a weekend away, the Glacier View Inn is attached to the Icefields Centre. 

My son's future (Just like Mommy)
And just like Daddy

The Columbia Icefield Glacier Experience takes about an hour and a half with snow coaches departing from the Icefields Centre every 15 to 30 minutes.  You don't need to book spots on the bus ahead of time so just show up and jump on the next bus.  From the Icefields Centre, you first board a bus to reach the edge of the glacier and staging ground for the snow coaches.  To get a good idea of just how large these special snow coaches are check out the photo of my son below standing below our vehicle.  The tires are bigger than him!  The snow coach is specially designed to navigate the steep hill down onto the ice and then to cross the ice to the cleared area where you get off to walk around for about 30 minutes, taking photos and trying not to fall down on the ice - which wasn't actually so slippery given I was  in sandals and never fell down.  I did however step into a very cold puddle of frozen ice so I do recommend better footwear than I had on.  :)

The Snow Coach Experience
My footwear choice for the tour

For more information on pricing and hours of operation go to the Explore Rockies website.  Be forewarned that the tour is not cheap but then, how many opportunities will you get to walk on a glacier as a family?

The Icefields Glacier Experience
A happy day!

Finally, as I mentioned above, combine your tour with a hike in the area for a superb day trip.  The hike to Wilcox Pass is 12km return and gives you a fabulous view of the Athabasca Glacier and Mt. Athabasca itself.  Another easier hike, and the one we chose to do, is nearby Parker Ridge.  At 5km return it was the perfect hike for our preschooler.  He hiked the whole thing on his own with a bit of encouragement and even passed some older folk on the trail.  Yay Noah.  From the top of Parker Ridge you'll get a bird's eye view of the Saskatchewan Glacier and on a clear day there's no place I'd rather be hiking.  Even on a foggy, rainy, windy or snowy day this is a premier hike in the Canadian Rockies and is on my top 5 list of favourite hikes with or without kids. 

Hiking on Parker Ridge
Looking down on the Saskatchewan Glacier

To read about our other adventures with Explore Rockies last summer on the Banff Gondola and Lake Minnewanka Boat Cruise, check out the story I wrote titled, Playing Tourist in Banff National Park.    And thanks again so much to Explore Rockies and Brewster Travel Canada for the opportunities you've given our lucky family.  We do truly feel  blessed to enjoy experiences like this. 

A parting shot of the Athabasca Glacier we walked on

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