September 30, 2008 Ice Age
We arrived at the trailhead late in the day, not knowing what we would find below Mount Edith Cavell in Canada’s Jasper National Park. A married couple from the USA–perhaps from Oklahoma or part of Texas by the twang–excitedly told us that this was the best area they had seen during their week in the Canadian Rockies! So we got out our camera gear and started down the Path of the Glacier interpretive trail.
This snowy north side of Mount Edith Cavell was breathtaking (or maybe it was the altitude!), and it has always been a significant landmark in the Athabasca River Valley. Three glaciers live on this side of the mountain: the Angel Glacier, the Cavell Glacier, and the smaller Ghost Glacier. All are retreating, as are most glaciers along the Rocky Mountain spine of Canada and the United States. Blame climate change. In fact, in a few short years Glacier National Park in Montana may have no glaciers at all. What shall we change the name to at that point? I know: Glacier National Historic Park! But I digress …
Mount Edith Cavell was named for a heroic English nurse who helped soldiers escape from the German onslaught during World War I. When caught, she was executed by the Germans. A genuine hero, she is celebrated in this Canadian outpost of the old British Empire by the mighty mountain.
The Path of the Glacier Trail meanders along a valley that was occupied by Cavell Glacier several decades ago, but has now been freed from the frozen grip of ice. Conifers and a few wildflowers are starting to return to the valley, but the growing season is so short that it will be decades before the subalpine forest feels like a forest and not one of life’s most remote outposts.
When we reached Cavell Pond, into which Cavell Glacier calves, it was near twilight. The aquamarine lake was frozen, and numerous icebergs were stranded in the pond and along the shore. It was a spectacular place. We photographed until the light faded, then decided to come back the next day to see it again and to get closer to Cavell Glacier.
The next day, we hiked to the glistening face of Cavell Glacier and looked the ice age in the eye–then backed down, deciding the ice age was tougher than us and that we had no desire to live in the same terrain as Wooly Mammoths and Sabre-toothed Cats.We spent the rest of the morning photographing icebergs, ice details, pioneering lichens, and a pair of Common Ravens who had little fear of modern people. Their distant ancestors undoubtedly interacted with ancient humans in this icy terrain, perhaps hanging around during the hunt in order to claim some bits of Caribou flesh–which undoubtedly would have been healthier for them than the Cheetos that some hikers tossed to the contemporary scavengers.
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Click on the photographs below for versions with captions.