Great Canadian Parks / British Columbia

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The Parks / British Columbia / Glacier National Park



A glacier is quite simply a layer of snow that has built up from one year to the next. They occur with such high frequency in this part of Canada because of the high amount of snowfall in the Columbia Mountains, and the consistently lower temperatures at high elevations. This prevents the snow accumulation from melting during the brief summer.

 

Glaciers usually originate in the basins or bowls between the mountains, gradually extending down the slopes. It is the build up of ice in the bowl, or neve, that eventually pushes the ice downhill, creating the movement of the glacier. Where the ‘flowing’ ice encounters rough or steep terrain, it breaks, forming the characteristic crevasses and seracs, which make glaciers so beautiful and treacherous. The best time to explore glaciers is in summer, when there is relatively little snow covering these dangers.

 

The Asulkan and Illecillewaet Glaciers were made famous by the Vaux family of Philadelphia who photographed and studied these rivers of ice between 1887 and 1923. In their early photographs, it is easy to see how much farther the toe of the ‘Great Glacier’, as it was known at the time, extended down into the valley. While there was a brief period of advancement during the 1960's and 70's, overall, the glacier is about 1.5 km shorter today. Visitors to Glacier House used to be able to take a short hike from the railway to reach the snout. It is a much longer and more difficult trek today, across an avalanche path and a lateral moraine, which once flanked the ice.

 

Other trails, which afford excellent views of the glaciers, are the Abbott Ridge, Glacier Crest and Avalanche Crest Trails.

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