There is a place. A magnificent place. A place where vast, upswept earthly monuments adorn the rugged landscape with regal vigor and longstanding distinction. A place where prehistoric ice and snow compliment an ever so frigid and mountainous terrain. Sheer exalted beauty awaits for all who seek to marvel its majesty. This place, is the Columbia Icefield.
Photos: Heather Vopni
Set amidst the coveted Canadian Rocky Mountains on the Continental Divide where the boundary of Banff and Jasper National Parks meets the border between the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, sit six major mountain glaciers co-creating the strikingly expansive Columbia Icefield. With a total land area of approximately 325 square kilometers (125 square miles) it is the largest accumulation of ice south of the Arctic Circle. The pristine and opulent altitudes of crystallized vapor remain poised and purposeful along the Icefield Parkway, yet, these colossal giants are said to be considerably endangered and have an increasingly frail and sensitive ecosystem.
The Athabasca Glacier is the largest of the six ice sheets which forms part of the Icefield in Jasper National Park. She is uniquely united with the five, Castleguard, Columbia, Stutfield, Saskatchewan and Snow Dome glaciers. The structure and magnitude of these spectacular glacial landmarks is a photographers year-round paradise. The world renowned Athabasca Glacier is believed to be the most popular glacial tourist attraction in North America, visited by millions of sightseers from around the world annually. However, the famous glacier is losing ice every year at an astonishing rate and some climatologists consider it to be in danger of completely vanishing by the next generation due to Climate Change and Global Warming. Although the steady fluctuating and melting of ice and snow is a regular and natural glacial occurrence, the seasonal snowfall it receives, which turns to ice to restore the surface area of the glacier, has been proven to no longer be an adequate counterbalance.
Also among the select six, the distinguished and photographically sought-after Snow Dome Glacier is certainly much more than just another pretty mountain face. It is historically and hydrologically vital. With its particular geographical positioning, and, while reaching an impressive 3,456 meters (11,339 feet), the Dome’s glacial mass is considered by many experts to be the ‘hydrological apex’ of North America. The continuous, icy down flow from Snow Dome is known for providing essential, continental water supplies through three dramatically diverse yet equally important waterways which include, the Columbia River, running westward to the Pacific Ocean, the Arctic Ocean via the Athabasca River, part of the Mackenzie basin, and, the North Saskatchewan River of the Nelson River basin, flowing north to Hudson Bay, and ultimately eastward to the Atlantic Ocean.
Water is essential for all life on earth and the Columbia Icefield is the most important clean, fresh water source in all of North America. Meltwater from these ancient ice packs plays an intricate and crucial role in sustaining the significant, multiple watersheds from which we heavily rely on. Continued scientific research on Climate Change and Global Warming promises only a glimpse of hope for our most valuable and treasured, renewable resource.
From these beloved and majestic, ice capped pillars flows an age-old, temporal life force to be forever protected and preserved for as long as perceived possible. From breathtaking wonder, primitive and pure, holistic and refreshing, from precious ice comes precious waters; from glaciers we drink.
As a coast-to-coast Canadian landscape photographer, Heather Vopni pursues her creative craft almost daily with a generous level of anticipation and excitement. The geographic world for Heather is full of splendid stories waiting to be told and is constantly stimulating her imagination.