Ice Cave Adventures
Nestled into the mountains of Alberta, Canada, on the border of the iconic Jasper National Park and the world-famous Banff National Park, there is a hidden secret. A place thousands of years old, where you can gaze into the past, where you can reach out and touch a piece of world history. There is a cave made of ice of the purest blue, ice that has shaped our world and that is part of a now quickly receding glacier.
Most people who visit the Columbia Icefields do so in the summer time; they park at the Discovery Centre across the highway and take the Snow Coach ride up onto the glacier, travelling in first class comfort to set foot on the glacier, to ooh and aah at standing on a moving river of ice. And while yes, I have definitely done that, and yes, it is a pretty cool experience, it is definitely not the best way to experience this incredible environment. What if I told you that you could explore INSIDE the glacier? That you could walk into something that is a piece of real history. Because you can; I have.
I would like to note, right here and now, at the beginning of this piece, that glaciers are incredibly dangerous places, where you should not travel unless you have the proper training, experience and equipment. One fall into a crevasse, and poof! You’re gone. So when travelling in and around the glacier, make smart, low risk decisions.
Aside from the Snow Coach tour (the above mentioned bus tour to the top of the glacier), there is another great way to experience the Columbia Icefield: park your car across the highway from the Discovery Centre and hike the ‘Toe of the Glacier’ trail. This trail takes you across a breathtaking landscape, where moraines tower over you and the ground is littered with erratics and alpine plants and wildlife. As you can see in the photo above, this landscape makes us humans look, and feel, tiny. I love the feeling of standing in a landscape that dwarfs me. It makes you realize just how very big this world is.
So in the winter, if you walk the road down to the lower parking lot, you will see a trail where people have crossed the debris field at the bottom of the glacier and it leads up to the foot of the glacier.
As you approach, you will notice a couple hollowed out sections in the foot of the glacier. I walked over first to the ones on the right, just to check them out. While these are not actually caves, it’s incredible to see the glacial ice up close. It is the most incredible blue color, something that no photograph can really do justice to.
Being able to reach out and touch something this ancient is an absolutely incredible feeling.
Out of the three hollowed out sections, one is actually a cave. There really aren’t words to do justice to the cave, so instead I would like to show you.
The entrance is really nothing remarkable, its not until you get closer that the light starts to catch the ice and light it up.
For the entire approach to the cave, the wind had been tearing over the glacier and had been in our face and whistling in our ears. When we reached the cave and climbed inside, the abrupt silence was almost louder than the wind had been. There was no natural noise in the glacier, except for small creaks and groans from the ice mass.
Up close, the glacier was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen; there was almost a lacework of air bubbles and frost inside the otherwise perfectly clear ice.
Standing inside the glacier was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It was so much more awe inspiring than just riding a bus to the top of the glacier, taking a selfie to say I was there and then leaving. I worked for this, I hiked through a mix of mud, ice and snow and I slid down a glacier on my butt to get to this cave and it definitely did not disappoint.
Should you ever want to visit the glacier, make sure to check conditions with local park authorities, and remember, the ice caves aren’t accessible in the summer! No matter how you visit the Columbia Ice-fields, you are sure to be blown away and leave inspired.