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Glacier Gazing
By Jane Cassie
For Travel Writers' Tales

Glacier National Park
"C'mon, you can do it," my husband coaxes. "If Evelyn Berens could summit Mt. Sir Donald in 1901 you can get to one of these four hundred glaciers."

After driving the Trans Canada Highway's sixteen scenic kilometers (10 miles) from Revelstoke we're heading out on our first hike at Glacier National, an outdoor oasis that's aptly named. And flanking the trail are placards revealing its legendary roots. From 1887 to 1925 Glacier House, a posh ninety-room retreat was operated here by the Canadian Pacific Railway. Wealthy mountaineers would come, worldwide, and after riding the rails would revel in the amenities; billiards, bowling, buffets and glacial remains, just hiking steps away.

Berens, the first female to top one of the rugged peaks, is portrayed in this historical photo shoot. And though her Victorian lace-ups were no contender to my High-Tec footgear, she sure had cushier accommodations. Not that I'm complaining. Once again, thanks to we've been able to pre-plan our campsite and our roving home now nestles beneath the trees at nearby Illecillewaet campground.

Ten of the park's twenty trails begin at this base camp and lead to spectacular ridges, vistas and glaciers. "Let's try Great Glacier trail," I suggest to my mountain man. It's a moderate 3.5 hour jaunt with an easy elevation gain of 321 meters. Even with my aging quads should be able to get to this ice field.

Initially, the century-old path is a breeze. After bridging a roaring creek, we're canopied by spruce and hemlock. Omnipresent peaks are soon visible-some with jagged tops, others with snowy remains. After veering around mammoth boulders, the inevitable uphill begins -and within half a dozen switchbacks my heart rate is turbocharged. But the ascension is short and comes with visual rewards. Waterfalls cascade from rugged crests, shadows reflect from creased mountainsides and Illecillewaet Glacier shimmers in the backdrop.

"Back in Berens' day this ice-cloaked spectacle was reached in a lot less time," I say, realizing there's more uphill grunting in store. "Since then it's receded more than a kilometer and just keeps getting further away."

Our trail is abruptly interrupted by a stream, however trekking to the glacier base can be achieved with some fancy footwork. "There's just a bit of scrambling," Brent says with encouragement. "And it's only slippery when wet." Although it's reassuring to hear that my mate has confidence in my mountaineering skills, I'm skeptical about the glistening boulders that now replace my solid footpath. I watch two German hikers precede us and am pretty sure they have suction cups embedded into their hiking boots. And though they'll likely reach the ice field in short order, I'm quite content to see this spectacle from afar.

There are nine other ways to glacier gaze from this campground," Brent says, with hope, the next morning. "Let's go for more gusto on Glacier Crest Trail."

In spite of the low-lying cloud my hubby and eager pup are keen to climb. And like yesterday's trail, initially it's a cinch -until we cross a bridge where the uphill begins.

Razor sharp switchbacks carve into the mountainside and slice through mossy-loving flora. Spiny ferns, bushy thimbleberries, thorny Devil's Club hide in the shade of mature evergreens. "This is a rare non-coastal hemlock forest," Brent says, while posing next to an enormous tree. "For survival, they need lots of water!" It's as if his words curse the weather, for a few minutes later raindrops spill from the swollen clouds. Fortunately our green canopy also dubs as a natural raincoat.

Before long we've left the river and far below, the silvery ribbon of Roger's Pass hugs up to our mini-size campground. "It'll be a welcome sight after this 3,000 foot ascension," Brent says, as we slowly head upwards over rugged roots and rocks.

Finally, we break out into the sub alpine where panoramas abound. Monster-size boulders, provide perfect pika pockets for the squeaky protesters. Granite slabs, the size of small space ships, create Mother Nature's heaven-bound stairway and striking mountains rise stoically from a glacier-gouged valley. Some have wrinkled faces washed by waterfalls, many are pot-marked with serene grassy meadows and all are bearded with lush foothills.

After cresting a craggy ridge we get glimpses of the final reward. Under bluebird skies it would be magnificent but today, the virgin white snowfields play hide and seek with billowy clouds. "We could wait and see if it lifts," I suggest, a longer rest break being an ulterior motive. "Inclement weather can move in quickly," Brent warns, "We'd better head back."

When we're half-way down, the cloudy veil begins to lift and by the time our campfire is lit starlit skies are putting on a show. "Looks like it'll be clear tomorrow," Brent says. "And another great day for glacier gazing."

To keep following us on this hiking holiday, check out next month's article: Yohoho, Great Hikes, Hikes, Hikes at Yoho National Park.

Useful resources: RVing British Columbia Coalition (CRVBCC),
Kootenay Rockies Tourism
Parks Canada

Photos by Brent Cassie

#1 Our roving home nestles beneath the trees at Illecillewaet campground
#2 Remnants of Glacier House
#3 We bridge a roaring Creek when hiking Great Glacier trail
#4 Waterfalls cascade from distant crests, shadows reflect from creased mountainsides
#5 German hikers precede us with ease
#6 I'm quite content to view this glacier from afar
#7 Brent poses next to an old timer
#8 Roger's Pass hugs up to our mini-size campground far below
#9 We break out into the sub alpine where panoramas abound
#10 Virgin white snowfields play hide and seek with billowy clouds


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