Glacier running is something I knew nothing about until a few weeks ago. Crossing a glacier without a rope, what kind of crampons would I even wear? All of my concerns would quickly disappear with the reassurance of navigating this terrain with the guides at Canadian Rockies Running Adventures.
Blue ice crunched beneath my feet as I carefully ran on the Wapta Icefield. Surrounded by towering mountain peaks, I feel as though I’m a character in some kind of alpine fairytale. Crossing a mix of solid ice and melting ice for the next 8 km. I fill up my now empty water bottle with the melt water pouring off the melting glacier as it heats up from the afternoon sun. I feel as though I’m sipping a piece of Canadian history.
There’s a group of 10 of us runners having the time of our lives, running with micro spikes on our trail shoes, jumping over flowing water and avoiding the occasional crevasse. The sound of the river systems beneath the glacier echoed so loudly it was as if we were standing next to the Niagara Falls.
So it’s Safe Right?
This area of the of the Wapta Icefield is unique because it’s a “dry glacier”. That means that if the conditions are right, there’s no snow hiding the otherwise dangerous cravasses. That means there’s no risk of falling into the glacier never to be seen again. That doesn’t mean there’s no risk at all though! That’s where the guides come in.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when Canadian Rockies Running Adventures invited Ryan and I to come along on their Wapta Icefields Run. “Crossing a glacier? Don’t you need to be roped up for that?” I nervously thought to myself.
Don’t you need to be roped up for that?
Having this kind of glacier adventure without mountaineering experience is nearly impossible for the average runner and adventurer. However, My fears quickly disappeared in knowing that our friends and certified mountain guides James (IFMGA / ACMG MG) and Emily (ACMG AHG) would be leading the way!
Running to New Heights
We started running lakeside from the edge of the Bow Lake. Bow lake sits along the Icefields Parkway in Banff NP. We ran around the lake and then up a relatively flat trail through the trees behind bow lake. We gradually ascended alongside the flowing melt water from the glacier that we would soon be running on. Leaving bow lake behind us, a beautiful scene down the valley began opening up. I had never experienced so much eco-diversity in such a small area.
Hopping over some rocky terrain, small streams, and tree roots. We reached the famous backcountry hut, Bow Hut. We stopped to have some lunch and take in the gorgeous alpine scenery. After a quick bite of gourmet protein bars, we continued to ascend up to the toe of the glacier beneath St. Nicholas peak. Bright turquoise glacial ponds formed right at the toe of where we would start our “glacier running” adventure. We spiked up and got ready to take on the Wapta Icefield!
Glacier Running Across History Frozen in Time
The Icefields along the parkway are dwindling in size each year. The adjacent Columbia Icefield tracks the regression of its’ glaciers with great detail. The regression is shared with the public and shown by placing markers along the moraine with the dates at which the glacier still reached the markers, indicating the glacier’s retreat and the timeline at which it’s retreating.
The climate crisis can be overwhelmingly large and intangible at times. Spending time near glaciers and on glaciers is the best way I know how to get a “crash course” on our climate and the rate at which our planet is getting warmer.
Glaciers around the world are receding at an alarming rate due to our current climate crisis. It’s sad and sobering, however it’s a fact, and it makes me appreciate our time on the icefield, as it lives and breathes, even more special.
Taking Photos While Running On Ice
Having the right lightweight setup is really important. Consider a smaller camera like the Sony a6000. Pairing a small camera with a Peak Design camera clip on your running vest will really elevate your photo/running experience.
Because this trip is only possible during peak summer, you’ll have plenty of daylight. That’s a good and bad thing. However, weather changes fast in the mountains, especially up on these glaciers. That means you’ll likely have an opportunity for tons of variety.
How Glacier Running Helped Grow my Comfort Zone
It’s true what they say. When you do something outside of your comfort zone, your comfort zone grows. This glacier running adventure is a low risk opportunity to put that theory to the test. Having professional ACMG guides blazing your trail and upholding an uncompromising ‘duty of care’ ensures your well-being.
Having your safety looked after, you can focus on enjoying a brand new experience. Pushing your personal boundaries and exposing yourself to a brand new experience that might otherwise be unachievable or dangerous. After this glacier running adventure, I have become even more inspired to push my safely boundaries and personal development moving through the mountains. I hope to explore new and exciting terrain that before I thought to be unachievable or out of reach.