Highway 93 through scenic heaven

RCI Magazine

What’s billed as “the most beautiful drive in the world” is unfolding before my eyes. I’m driving the Icefields Parkway through the Canadian Rockies. My windscreen is filled, edge-to-edge, with an unforgettable landscape in which great flanks of grey-blue rock and towering white-capped peaks soar above green skirts of spruce forest.

The passenger-side window frames a scene of two mighty glaciers that have slowly, inexorably, gouged colossal U-shaped valleys though the surrounding mountains. One of them practically nudges the highway.

I park the car then walk across a few score yards of fractured rocky ground to step up onto this icy tongue. My shoes sink into crunchy, pristine snow. I stand on the Athabasca Glacier, gazing in awe at looming cliffs of cold, cleft rock shrouded in white mist. Dwarfed by the precipitous terrain I am totally enchanted by this gigantic experience.

The Himalayas are bigger than the Rockies. The Alps rise higher. There are other contenders for the “best drive” title. But Alberta’s Icefields Parkway surely ranks top of the world in terms of accessible one-day natural wonderland adventures. Highway 93 really does run right through a scenic heaven.

Stepping off the glacier I stride back to the car park and up the steps of the Icefield Centre. It’s open from mid-April to mid-October and from its verandah, on a clear day, you can see the peaks of Kitchener, Snowdome and beyond them Mt Columbia (12,293ft), highest point in Alberta.

The scene I am contemplating with wonder is the Columbia Icefield, a 150 square mile accumulation of snow and ice, in places more than 1000ft deep. The melt from this enormous natural storage tank feeds river systems that eventually spill into three oceans.

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