Ever notice the Instagram hashtag trend has turned everything that’s visually noteworthy into a glib form of porn? #Burgerporn. #Shoeporn. #Cloudporn. #Earporn. #Wormporn. Well, you get the idea. And thus #glacierporn is alive and well too, especially with the glaciers in Alberta, Canada.
A huge mass of moving ice. That was the extent of my glacier knowledge before a trip to two Alberta national parks – Banff and Jasper – last summer. Although most of the world’s glacier ice is in Antarctica and Greenland, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Canada is third on the list with 200,000 square miles. There are twelve major glaciers in Alberta, Canada, with thousands of additional ice masses.
I was lucky enough to experience many of them in different formats: as a dramatic backdrop on horseback and hiking trails, walking on one and zooming over others in a helicopter.
One of the most stunning ‘amenities’ I experienced while staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise was waking up to Victoria Glacier and the aqua-colored Lake Louise in which it feeds. Victoria stands majestically at 11,300 feet.
No, the photos are not enhanced as some of my friends and family have asked. The lake’s brilliant hue is a result of fine sediments floating in the water called ‘rock flour’. Rock flour is left in the wake of a glacier’s slow, crushing movement.
Although the glacier landscape from the hotel was stunning, the horseback ride with Brewster Adventures on the Plain of Six Glaciers trail offered up close vistas of Victoria and the mountains of Aberdeen, Lefroy and Popes. If you’re hiking this trail, a sweet reward awaits at the top: a rustic tea house chock full of mountain charm serving freshly baked goods and gourmet teas.
Staying true to my glacier kick, after the trail ride, a visit to the hotel’s Glacier Saloon was in order. I treated myself to a pint of Stubborn Buffalo Alberta Pale Ale (the hotel’s own creation in conjunction with local Grizzly Paw Brewery).
And just when I thought a glacier couldn’t paint a more vibrant body of water than Lake Louise, I went for a hike at nearby Moraine Lake. A dazzling shade of turquoise, it looked like the color of a cheeky Las Vegas casino fountain, i.e. totally fake. Thanks to the Wenckchemna glacier making copious amounts of rock flour, it’s mother nature showing off her wildly colorful side.
The hike, guided by Joel Hagen of Great Divide Nature Interpretation, offers spectacular views of the Valley of Ten Peaks high above Moraine Lake. Frolicking along among the wildflowers, oncoming hikers were reporting a few grizzly bears on the trail ahead. Unfortunately, I didn’t get see a bear as we had to turn around for obvious safety reasons. My consolation prize for missing a bear sighting? Picturesque panoramic shots of the valley in all its summer glory.
Athabasca Glacier – Columbia Icefield
Located on the border of Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, Athabasca, a part of the Columbia Icefield, is one of the most visited glaciers in North America. The Columbia Icefield is mammoth: 215 square kilometers and roughly 1,000 feet deep.
Here’s where my glacier education became up close and personal. Riding on the Columbia Icefield in the ‘Ice Explorer’ – a mammoth ice-mobile with monster truck-sized wheels – I actually got out and walked on the glacier. Hot tip: Bring an empty water bottle as your Glacier Adventure guide will fill it up with cool, clean glacier runoff. As the locals say, glacier water is considered the fountain of youth. With this knowledge, I greedily stocked up on as many bottles of water as I could stuff into my pockets.
Just down the road from the Columbia Icefield is the world’s only glacier skywalk, opening this May. Athabasca and its glacier-topped peak, Mount Snow Dome, are visible from the Glacier Skywalk. Mount Snow Dome is a true “hydrological apex” located more than 500 miles from the nearest ocean. It’s a unique phenomenon as it feeds three different oceans: Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific.
Jutting out 100 feet from the cliff, the glass-floored platform of Glacier Skywalk gives the eerie sensation of floating above the Sunwapta Valley, 1,000 feet below. Views include majestic glaciers, ice-capped mountains, cascading waterfalls and wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, caribou and – if you’re lucky – a mama bear with her cubs. It was still in construction when I checked it out, but you get the idea from the photo above.
I had walked on a glacier, now it was time to experience them as a bird – soaring above. When I called Rockies Heli Tours to find out which glacier I flew over in the helicopter, manager Ralph Sliger replied with laugh, “You flew right over not just one, but seven!” According to Sliger, the Icefield Heli Tour covers Lion & Lioness, Goat, Cline, Hanging (below), Resolute and Michelle glaciers.
The 45-minute tour included a champagne and cupcakes picnic perched above Lake of the Falls. With the off-the-charts romance factor, it’s no wonder hundreds of couples have gotten engaged (it would be hard to say no surrounded with such natural beauty) on one of their tours aptly named Icefields Rockies Romance Heli-Tour.
With my whirlwind glacier tour complete, I left with a glacier crush – the ultimate land artist – patiently, painstakingly sculpting landscape masterpieces.
“The glacier was God’s great plow set at work ages ago to grind, furrow, and knead over, as it were, the surface of the earth.” Louis Agassiz
Take an Air Canada or WestJet flight into Calgary. Both airlines offer direct flights into the capital of Alberta from many major U.S. cities. Airport shuttles are available to the Fairmont Banff via Banff Airporter. If you’re headed to Fairmont Lake Louise, Brewster offers motor coach shuttles. The ride is approximately 1 1/2 hours to Banff; 2 hours to Lake Louise.
- Activities, lodging and suggested itineraries in Banff and Lake Louise – BanffLakeLouise.com
- With a thriving arts community and booming foodie scene, the city makes for a great stopover: VisitCalgary.com
- A wealth of information on where to stay and play in the province: VisitAlberta.com
More #GlacierPorn Photos
Words by Lanee Lee, photos by Voyage Vixens.