[twitter]In the summer of 1984 we took an epic cross country road trip for our summer vacation. We scooted through the northern US from Vancouver to Montreal for a wedding, and then took our time coming back through Canada.
I was 14 and remember visiting the Big Nickel in Sudbury, the Canadian Mint in Winnipeg, horseback riding at Cypress Hills, and heading out to the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefield.
We took an Ice Explorer out on to the ice, and we went on a guided hike of the glacier. I remember the vibrant blue of the crevasses, the rushing of the water underneath our feet, and the feeling that the glacier was alive.
31 years later, I am back the Athabasca Glacier. Instead of cuddling with my sister and brother in the brisk wind, I’m with my wife and kids. It’s one of those twice-in-a-lifetime moments. I never thought I’d be back here, yet here I am.
The glacier has changed so much in 30 yrs. The toe is softer, not filled with angry crevasses and edges. The tour itself heads out to just a simple parking lot in the ice. And while we didn’t take a hike out on the ice this time, the entire thing just, well, seemed more tame.
Since 1884, the Athabasca Glacier has lost 60% of its volume. There aren’t markers for the past 50 yrs of recession of the ice, but watching how it moved back from the 1920s, to 1930s, to 1940s, I can easily image it has pushed back 100m since I visited as a kid. And it’s still going.
I look forward to coming back to the Columbia Icefield with my grandchildren (will that take another 30 yrs?) and seeing how things have changed again. Could the melting of the glacier stop? Will it stabilize? Will it start moving forward?
There are reports the Athabasca Glacier could disappear within a generation. A visit 30 yrs on in 2045 with my sons and grandchildren (?) might be to an empty valley filled with scraggly moraine.
Visiting the Athabasca Glacier a generation apart really puts the perils of climate change in perspective. It’s one of those things you only really see when you have kids. It’s my kids’ love of trucks and adventure and the planet and their study of the water cycle that brought me back here. And I’m glad it did.
This picture is of the same glacier from different angles. You can see from the 1984 picture that the Andromeda and Double A glaciers used to be connected. The are no longer.