Alberta, Canada travel series: mountains and tourists

Walls of rock and rising mountain slopes greeted us as we approached the Columbia Icefield at Banff National Park. It was, by far, the most colossal mountains of rock that I have seen!  The snow and ice did not help with my overwhelmed senses as it only added to the bulk of the scenery.  We reached the parking lot and the glacier can be seen when the fog and clouds parted momentarily.  It was dwarfed by the mountains and looked like a river of white traversing between two giant slopes.  There was a speck of red that I saw through the lens of my camera at the edge of the glacier.  It was moving very, very slowly and it made me curious.  I asked about it and learned that it was a snow coach that transported tourists to the glacier.

The mountains @ Banff

The building next to the parking lot was the staging area where all passengers from the incoming buses and other vehicles disembarked.  Reservation tickets were confirmed at the building and ticket holders waited until they were transported by passenger bus to the edge of the glacier.  There was a steady flow of people in and out of the building as busloads upon busloads arrived.  The busloads of tourists was the same scene that I saw on the drive to this place.  People of different nationality and speaking different languages.  This was really a potpourri of people from all over the world.  There were so many people that one cannot walk a straight path and private space was non-existent.  Common courtesy was still observed often but was challenging sometimes.

walking on glacier

The bus ride to the edge of the glacier was crawling.  The bus had to maintain a steady speed in order to gain ascent.  It was during this ride that I caught site of a group of hikers on top of the glacier.  They looked like ants in single file and the darkness of their shadowy figure was the only clue of their presence.  I was amazed by the immensity of the glacier ice.  It appeared both white and blue as we got closer and the crystal-blue clearness in some areas allowed visibility inside the ice.  The bus came to stop and we were asked to transfer to a bigger snow coach for the ride to the middle of the glacier.  My anxiety kept me quiet and vigilant during this ride.  The snow coach maneuvered a downward descent of more than forty five degree angle that it felt like falling off the seat.  After the descent, it was another ascent on top of the glacier and onto a parking lot.  We came to a final stop and were allowed to get out.

Snow coach

The snow coach driver also acted as our tour guide.  He had his head microphone handy as he spoke through the overhead speakers about the history and trivia of the glacier ice and the mountains.  He was knowledgeable and spontaneous but I took pity on him as I noticed that most people on the snow coach were engrossed in their own conversation, in their own native language.  The chatter became a steady hum until eventually it became a steady noise that drowned out everything else.  One of my companions spoke to him afterwards and he said that he has learned not to be offended being ignored.

We were warned of the gusts of wind that blows down the glacier slope.  The frigid wind can cause hypothermia when exposed too long to it.  I didn’t believe and thought that since I had somewhat become used to the cold that I will tolerate it as well.  I had to go back to the snow coach when I can’t stand the bone-chilling cold that hit me.  The triple layer of clothes and parka did not keep me warm enough!  It didn’t stop the others though as they jumped, ran, sat, posed, and took selfies!  They were so excited that they crossed the barriers and had to be herded back to the designated tour area.  Not all had the same reaction as I saw one man who didn’t look impressed, stood at the edge of the barrier, looked around and across the glacier ice, drew from his throat, and spat on the ice!

Columbia Ice Field valley.

The next stop was the Glacier Skywalk that gave a bird’s eye view of the mountains and the valley.  The tour bus traveled to this site in intervals as it was a short ride and it catered to the crowds of people coming from the Columbia Ice Field.  The steady stream of people walked to the skywalk, spent a few minutes on it, looked at the mountains and valley, took group photos and selfies, and headed back to the parking lot.

I never imagined that I could get to this place and admire the beauty of nature.  I read a lot about these places but seeing it in person was a totally different experience for me.  How I wish though that I could spend more time than just passing through or spending a full day at one place.  I’m sure that there is more to see.  I saw the crowds of tourists that came with me and I thought it made the experience superficial and fleeting.  I had to elbow my way through sometimes and had to hurry most of the time or else be caught in the middle of the crowd.  They are probably thinking of the same thing.

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