Title: Glaciers of Alberta

Author: Robert Guy Williams for

for ES 767

Quaternary Geology
Jan. 2007


Columbia Ice Field

Among the Rockies of our Alberta, lie our glaciers. these include the Columbia Ice fields, and several smaller glaciers the Ice field feeds eight major glaciers. These are the Athabasca, the Castleguard, the Columbia Glacier, the Stutfield Galcier, and the Saskatchewan Glacier. The Ice Fields is 325 km2 and 365 m deep. It melts partly to the west, partly to the east and laso northern the Athabasca river. This river flows just below Mt. Christie, which I climbed as a teenager. The Ice Field lies atop the Great Divide.

One of my references, Rob deMone tells me that the snow there never melts "but piles 20 feet higher every year, to become the headwall of the Athabasca Glacier. (This I find hard to believe, for the tongue of the glacier has been receding 4 km a year. He also states that this is the most-visited glacier in the world, over a million a year come to see it. One might think that this is impossible, but there is a continuous flight of airplanes from Japan to Calgary, and the passengers get on a bus to Banff, and thence to the icefield. DeMone's URL is no longer extant.

The Ice field feeds there into the continent's major river systems, the Columbia, the Mackenxie, and the Saskatchewean, so the "meltwater enters three different oceans, the Pacific to the west, the Arctic to the north, and the Atlantic to the east." (the reference here is wrong - the Saskatchewan flows into Hudson's Bay, not the Atlantic. Hudson's Bay is confluent with the Arctic and the Atlantic.)

A friend of mine, a doctor's wife was skiing just above the bulge of the Athabasca Glacier, in April, 1965. She fell through a snow bridge, and into a crevasse, for 120 feet. She broke her back, and was rescued . About 11 years later, her skis came out from beneath the tongue of the glacier, then her poles and finally her ruck-sack, with her frozen lunch in it, allegedly still edible. She kept her skis and poles nailed as a pair of X's in her family room.

The earliest photographs of the Athabasca glacier were taken in 1908 by Mary Schaeffer, and were published in "(the)Untrodden Ways" in the Canadian Alpine Journal (1,(2): 288-294"). These pictures were recently unearthed, and are published on the NET. The man who found them did considerable retouching of the pictures: he also took similar pictures from, as far as he could tell, the exact source of Mrs. Schaeffer's. I have found the reproductions of her pictures, touched up by Brian Luckman, and also his pictures from her site.

See earliest pictures of Athabasca Glacier.

Mrs. Schaeffer had a remarkable life, told in Ben Gadd's Handbook of the Canadian Rockies. When she came to Athabasca, she was a middle-aged Quaker widow from Philadelphia. She spent her summers exploring the Rockies, accompanied by her friends, Mollie Adams and Mary Vaux (pronounced vox). She moved to Banff in 1912, and married her guide, Billy Warren in 1915, she died there in 1939. (In 1914, Mary Vaux, married Charles Walcott of Burgess Shale fame.)

Other glaciers in Albera

Wikepedia tells me that we have 10 glaciers in Alberta, and the are the Angel Glacier, the Bow Glacier, the Victoria Glacier (formerly, now named for the queen's daughter, Louise), the Crowfoot glacier, the Peyto Lake and Glacier, the Ram River Glacier, the Vulture Glacier, the Wapta Ice Field, and the Waterton Glacier and Iceberg lake.

Unlisted are the Hilda Glacier and the Haig Glacier. The site of this latter was not given. The University of Calgary had its first excursion there in July. I found it on the NET, of course. It showed a picture of about 20 University students standing on the ice, and the Alberta Blue Sky behind them. I now know that it is in the southern Kananaskis country. And Hilda had allegedly melted away - see below.

Angel glacier is the first in the Alphabet. I should like to enclose a picture from Gadd's book, taken in 1922 and another, taken by Brian Luckman in 1971. Here the collector said that the Angel's robe had become a miniskirt!! p. 154. In that picture can be seen Mt. Robson. It is Cananda's tallest mountain.

The Crowfoot Glacier can be seen from the Banff-Jasper Highway. It used to have three large toes, but now two have melted away.
The lowest glacier in Canada is the Mt. Glacier one. This one straddles the 49th Parallel, and calves into Iceberg Lake. Lake Louise is a very famous holiday spot. At the head of the lake is the Victoria Glacier, named for Princess Louise's mother, the Queen. Peyto glacier is very nearby, and the lake that drains it has the most spectacular turquoise color from the glacier flour that flows into it. (As you told me earlier.)

The Wapiti Ice Field is north of Banff. an outflow of it is the Vulture Glacier. And to the west is the Ram River Glacier. The most important glacier for Calgarians is the Bow Glacier. From Bow Lake, into which it drains, comes the Bow River. It is the source of our drinking water.

Haig Glacier is on the east side of Mt. Assiniboine, our Alberta side. It is a small Cirque glacier. Mt. Assiniboine is the Matterhorn of the Rockies. In B.C. is the famous Assiniboine Glacier which extended into Lake Magog. I swam there in 1935, and it was perishingly cold. The Bergschrund was very conspicuous, I understand that the glacier no longer extends into the lake. Hilda is alleged to have melted away, but current NET pictures show it is still there.

References