- Cryosphere refers to any portion of the Earth's surface where water is in solid form, including glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, sea ice, snow cover, frozen rivers, lakes, and permafrost. The Cryosphere is closely linked to the Hydrosphere and plays a crucial role in the ecosystem and our everyday lives.
- I've chosen the name because Cryosphere encompasses a wide range of ice around the world. This blog is meant to chronicle not all glaciers, but those that I experience and photograph in my travels. My vision is to visit and write about as many glaciers and other ice forms as possible while I pursue knowledge and share experiences of a beautiful world of ice. I hope you enjoy the photographs and follow along as I go!

16 September 2016

08. Illecillewaet Glacier - 16 Sep 2016

When looking over a map of Canada’s Glacier National Park, the Great Glacier Trail instantly caught my attention. The trail was ranked a ‘moderate’ by their system, and was a measly 6.4 km round trip. Of course, it said right there in the description it no longer accesses the Illecillewaet Glacier as it did when it was constructed in the 1890s. I figured that the trail would at least get me pretty close to a glacier, though, and indeed an internet search returned many photos of people next to the ice of the Illecillewaet Glacier, via the Great Glacier Trail. No one really noted how much further they had to hike after the trail ended to get to the glacier, but a number of people appeared to have seen it up close, so how hard could it be?

Illecillewaet Glacier from campground road in Glacier National Park, Canada
Illecillewaet Glacier (left) as seen from the campground road.

Glacier National Park, Canada is acknowledged as the birthplace of mountaineering in North America. 1888 saw the first technical recreational climb in the Selkirk Mountains, later the home of Glacier National Park. The climb was completed by two British mountaineers - Rev. William Spotswood Green and Rev. Henry Swanzy. Starting in 1899 the park boasted two Swiss mountain guides offering safe travel up mountains and glaciers. The Glacier House, accessible only by train at the time, sat where the Illecillewaet Campground now exists and offered guests tremendous views of the surrounding peaks and the "Great Glacier" as the Illecillewaet was named at the time. In those days, a short trail lead awestruck visitors right to the edge of the tremendous glacier towering above. Those brave enough ventured out onto the ice and the high mountain peaks above.

Warming climate over the last 100 years has changed the area greatly. In fact, there is no point anywhere along the 3.2km Great Glacier Trail that you can even see the glacier that the trail was named for. Hiking around switchback after switchback, suddenly there was this sign post in the middle of the path that said "End of Trail." That was it, it just stopped. There was no viewpoint or information, just a post halfway up a slope in the middle of the mountain.
From the trail's end, the gentle grassy slope soon became a steep, rocky scramble with no definitive direction. It quickly became obvious that the 3.2 km trail had been the easy part, getting Lizzie and I only about half way to the glacier itself. Scree fields prolonged our fight upward and steep, mossy rocks presented an even less appealing alternative. Finally, we came over a rise to see the glorious white of the glacier glistening in the sun. Several pools filled depressions carved into the rock by the glacier over thousands of years, now exposed for the first time since before the last ice age.

Illecillewaet Glacier reflected in pond
Illecillewaet Glacier

The area below the glacier presented many signs of wear from the giant glacier of the past. Much of the rock had been scraped and plucked by the moving ice as gravity had forced it downhill over hundreds of years.

Channel scraped into bedrock by the moving glacier, exposed after severe melting

The edge of the ice was fractured and broken by rapid melting with several blocks of ice having broken free, now resting on their own tens or hundreds of feet from the rest of the ice. A number of small caves and tunnels appeared under the ice as we walked along the edge of the glacier. These types of features are common near the edge of the ice where water flows out from underneath the glacier.

Tunnel under the toe of the Illecillewaet Glacier
By the time we found a way we could climb onto the ice, we were already exhausted from the long hike. Determined to explore a bit of the ice, we pressed on up the steep slope.

Lizzie coming up the lower glacier - the highway below Roger's Pass can be seen below
On the way up we discussed the possibility of finding another route down. We had seen on the maps that there was another trail above the glacier, a sort of overlook that might be relatively easy to get to from further up the glacier. Another option circled around the left side of the glacier, behind another ridge. We desperately wanted to find another route that would allow us to go around the steep section we had climbed on the way up. Either option would add a lot of time, though, and require some serious route finding until we hit a trail. We opted to make our way up glacier and around a nunatak to attempt to gain access to the upper viewpoint trail. However, after walking roughly half a mile on the ice, any hopes of getting around to either alternative trail were dissolved by a covering of snow over the rest of the glacier. We had reached the firn line much sooner than expected, and any crevasses would be thinly veiled by the autumn snow. We would not be going any further.

We filled our bottles with freshly melting glacier water before starting back down in the shadow of a looming storm cloud.

Fresh water straight from the glacier

weaving our way between shallow crevasses on the way back down
The return to the trail was certainly faster than the hike up that morning, with almost as much time spent jumping and slipping down rocks as walking. With a light rain everything was even more slick as we picked our way down, and a muddy trail was a welcome sight for the last 3.2 km back to the truck. By the time boots were removed, both of us suffered from multiple blisters, and it would be several days before our muscles were relieved enough to even walk normally.

Illecillewaet Glacier Stats, as of 2016

My First Visit:16 September, 2016
Type: Alpine Glacier
Location: Glacier National Park, British Columbia, Canada
Source:Illecillewaet Névé, Mount Sir Donald vicinity
Status: Retreating
Access: ~7km (one way) hiking starting with the Great Glacier Trail, good route finding skills recommended after that.

More information:

1 comment:

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