Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park

Today, we travelled up the Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise. We didn't make it all the way to the Columbia Icefields but we saw lots of incredibly beautiful mountains and glaciers. I took this picture near Glacier Lake.


The next photo, I believe, has a view of the Crowfoot Glacier.


I've been reading How Old is that Mountain? by Chris Yorath. In answering the question in the book's title, Yorath uses a metaphor that will stay with me longer than most of the geological terms. He said it's like a new house built with hundred-year old timber. The rock was formed first long before the forces that "deformed" the rock and created the mountain. The sedimentary rock in the Banff National Park was formed about 610 million years ago but the mountains were created 90 to 60 million years. In addition, glaciation and erosion continue to change the mountains as well as carve the valleys between them.

I was disappointed not to get further north. (Ok, I'll admit that I didn't top off the gas tank before leaving Lake Louise and there were no services along the way, so I had to turn back fearing we might not have enough gas for the round trip.) I wanted to get to the Columbia Icefields and ideally all the way to Jasper. The sight I wanted to see was Mount Athabasca, which is described as the hydrographic apex of North America. That is, water from this mountain drains in three possible directions -- west to the Pacific, east to the Atlantic and north to Hudson. Yorath writes that it is the "one point on which a mountaineer can pollute all three oceans with a single act."

I will have to come back again. There's lots more to explore. I want to see the Canadian Rockies in other seasons but this glimpse of early winter is really wonderful.


  1. I thought that we had “the hydrographic apex of North America” here in northwest Montana (although I had no idea that it is called a “hydrographic apex”). I guess we just have -a- hydrographic apex of North America. Runoff from Triple Divide peak in Glacier National Park also drains into the Atlantic, Pacific, and Hudson Bay. Learn something new every day on the ol’ Boingboing. By the way, you really screwed up not making it all the way up to the Columbia Icefields. It’s worth filling up your tank for.

  2. if you get a chance, go rafting on the columbia and take a polar-bear dive in the ice-cold water. i’ve done it a couple of times in Jasper and it is great fun. as an Albertan, the mountains hold a special place in my heart and in our collective psyche… take in the site of glaciers while you can!

  3. The Icefields Parkway has got to be one of the most beautiful areas on the planet! I live on the west coast of BC, and try to drive through there every year or two. It’s always stunning. Those sights cannot fail to fill you with awe, no matter how many times you’ve seen them. And Jasper National Park, at the north end of the Parkway, is fabulous, as well.
    My favorite time of year to visit is a hot day in August; the fact that you are among huge glaciers is especially driven home then.
    You are lucky to have been there, even once.

  4. On beyond Jasper! If you keep heading northwest from Banff you’ll come to the largest wilderness area in the Canadian Rockies, the little-visited Muskwa-Kechika Management Area. 16 million acres and very few roads, which allows the wildlife lots of roaming options, and it’s a key link in the 2,000-mile-long wildlife corridor that stretches from Yellowstone to the Yukon. National Geographic has a story on it in the November issue, and the photos, not surprisingly, are spectacular:

  5. A fantastic read for those not afraid of non-ficiton is the Pulitzer prize winning Annals of the Former World by John McPhee.

  6. Wow, these pictures really make me regret moving to the east coast from Colorado. Dale, is anyone allowed to ski in this national park (by way of helicopter of course)?

  7. Curious things these hydrographic apexi.

    Incidentally, Dale D., I’m afraid that pissing from Mt. Athabasca hasn’t a chance to reach the Pacific, the proper Albertan hypnogorical apex is Snow Dome, just a spear-throw away.

    Being on a continent bounded (nominally) by three oceans, it should only be possible to have but one hypophilic apex thingy. South America shouldn’t have any one apex, just the entire Andes. Africa should have one, using the Med. Sea. Eurasia is a touch more complex.

    But somehow we Nord Amerikanskys have two! *Ponder* It all seems to hinge on defining which ocean Hudson Bay “empties” into. From Montana’s Triple Divide Peak, waters are split to the Pacific, Atlantic, and Hudson. From Snow Dome, it’s the Pacific, Arctic, and Hudson.

    But Hudson connects to both A-list oceans.

    Eventually it seems that whichever ocean the Bay gets pinned to depends on which side of the 49th parallel you live. Funny that.

    On a GTFI run, it seems the international majority sez Hudson Bay –> Arctic Ocean.

    As ‘Mericans, let’s not “neener” too much, eh? :) Unbecoming.

  8. @Cool Products, The mountain parks do have Ski Resorts. Sunshine (, in Banff National Park, and Marmot Basin ( in Jasper National Park. I don’t know much about Heliskiing, other than it is available in both towns (and would be undoubtedly awesome).

    Also, there is a gas bar midway between Banff and Jasper on the Parkway at Saskatchewan Crossing. It’s pricey, but it works. It’s also the turn off to go on the David Thompson Highway to Nordegg. Driving along the Saskatchewan River flood plain and Lake Abraham I’d say is a 7/10 (if the Parkway is a 10/10).

  9. You are in one of my favorite places in the world! My family loves to go up and stay in Canmore in the summer and enjoy all the beautiful drives. I hope you got to see Moraine Lake and Peyto Lake. They are both spectacular. The drive to Revelstoke is also beautiful. If you haven’t made it down highway 1A you should make that loop. We have NEVER failed to see wildlife along that drive. Thank you for some very fond memories.

  10. Ah, such memories — I used to live in Japser, then Calgary and traveled the Icefields Parkway often. Early fall is the best time — less traffic, less tourists, the air is crisp and fresh snow is in the high alpine. The larches and aspens are shimmering gold and the lakes are still ice-free and therefore still that incredible turquoise (the result of suspended glacial sediment in the water). And the elk are plentiful (so drive carefully!). I think I need to make some travel plans… I miss those mountains.

  11. Just did a glacier/mountaineering course on the east face of Mt. Athabasca. Our guide, with more than 20 years experience, said he could see the glacial recession dramatically- even in this short time. Pretty alarming. One morning we were almost trapped by the increased flow of melt water as the sun hit the glacier.

    Athabasca should be on everyone’s “must climb” list, before it’s no longer a glacial route.

  12. And just to agree, yes, that looks quite like Crowfoot there.

    I’ve been to Canada many a year ago, also visiting Banff and the National Park in the process. Not to bore anyone with details, but I’ve quickly grown to really like that country and its people, it’s become one of my favorite corners of this planet. I can’t wait to get back.

  13. Sorry to here you missed out on the Columbia Ice Fields, it’s a sight worth making the extra drive to see. At the rate the Athabasca Glacier is receding these days there won’t be much left in a decade or two, it’s receded drastically since I was last there about five years ago. So get out and see it while it lasts!

  14. Back in ’06, my Wife and I honeymooned in BC and Alberta. Part of the trip included a drive from Banff to Jasper.

    The flickr map:

    Some things we enjoyed:
    1. Check out 8000 years of water at work at Johnston Canyon (and be ready for a long but rewarding walk):
    2. We spent a night at Sunwapta Falls, and would recommend it to anyone for the nightime sky alone:
    3. Ride the tramway to the top of Whistler’s Mountain at Jasper, then take the hardest 2km walk of your life to the top:


  15. You don’t really wish you were there in other seasons. Particularly summer, Banff is absolutely inundated with tourists.

  16. Re #9

    I doubt it’s allowd in the park, but if you head east a bit to Revelstoke there are plenty of companies that will take you where you want to go.

  17. In 2003 — after an electrical storm chased us off the mountain during a failed attempt the previous year — I made the summit of Mt. Athasbasca. See pics at

    After viewing my photos a friend of friend was shocked at how much the ice at the summit had receded since he summited less than 20 years before.

    If you have the flexibility and time, try to head east from Saskatchewan Crossing (approximately halfway between Banff and Jasper) into the Nordegg corridor. It’s a beautiful area. I have a handful of pics from that area beginning at

    I hope you continue enjoying the Canadian Rockies. I leave nearby (in Edmonton) and try to make it to he hills most weekends.


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