Like many disappearing worlds, the Athabasca Glacier is as fascinating as it is fragile. Located in the southern end of Jasper National Park, the famous landmark is one of six principle toes of the Columbia Icefield, and although anyone can follow the gravel trail that leads to its tip, only certified guides (and the people they escort) are allowed to traverse its surface.
Rockaboo Mountain Adventures is one of Jasper’s longtime guiding heavyweights, and their new Athabasca Glacier Tour is the latest addition to their daily programs (which includes ice climbing in winter and rock climbing in summer). Its field staff is rigorously trained, especially for the glacier tour, which also includes educational facts and background information about the glacier in addition to safety expertise.
The full-day tour leaves from downtown Jasper, ventures down the Icefields Parkway (aka one of the most beautiful drives in the world) to the glacier, where guests are equipped with crampons and a delicious lunch sourced from a local eco-friendly eatery.
The experience is perfect for people who want a more intimate and adventurous exploration of the glacier. With group sizes capped at ten people, the guide is able to take people to places that the general public isn’t able to access. Including, most recently, an ice cave that one of Rockaboo’s guides discovered.
Jesse Milner always tests the cave for safety before bringing a new group in, knowing that each day could bring drastic changes to this constantly shifting landscape (part of the reason a certified guide is required on the glacier is to navigate around the dangerous and hidden crevasses that form around the glacier).
Guide: Jesse Milner
Guide: Jesse Milner
The cave Milner discovered is 30 metres long and, at its highest point 3.5 metres tall, which gives a fascinating look at the brilliant blue ice which hasn’t been obscured by the blowing dirt on the glacier’s surface. It is nothing short of magical. And it could be gone next year.
“This glacier isn’t going to be around and accessible for future generations,” says Lisa Darrah, who owns Rockaboo with her husband Max. Environmentalism is a core tenet of their business, and they impress upon their guides the importance of navigating the Athabasca Glacier — a world heritage site which feeds water to three separate oceans and has slowly been receding for decades — in a way that has minimal impact on the glacier.
But even if the newly discovered ice cave does collapse or become otherwise impassable, guests on the tour will not be disappointed. Conditions change, but the memorable experience of this interpretive tour remains.
The Experience the Athabasca Glacier trips run daily, and are open to guests aged 12 years old and older. No previous experience is necessary, though participants should have the ability to climb a ladder or go for a short hike. Note: the weather is significantly cooler on the glacier; hat, gloves or mittens, sturdy shoes and windproof coat are recommended.