Magazine article Geographical

That Moment: The Winner of the Ice Category Is Gemma-Claire Ali of London

Magazine article Geographical

That Moment: The Winner of the Ice Category Is Gemma-Claire Ali of London

Article excerpt

'The glacier was here in ...' That's what the signs said:' was'. There were ten of them in total; ten seemingly insignificant plaques, parading upwards through the abandoned valley. Dwarfed by the magnificence of the surrounding landscape, it would be easy to overlook those short inscriptions, and many people would want to. The magnitude of their implication, however, humbled even the towering, snow-covered mountains, and couldn't be ignored. 'The glacier was here: they said. So where was it now?

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That was the question I asked myself as approached the Columbia Icefield, which straddles the boundary of Canada's Banff and Jasper national parks. 'Where was the ice?' This hydrological apex, one of just two on the North American continent, was a hive of tourist activity, teeming with snap-happy photographers and unruly holiday-makers. I had hoped for the magic of nature in its untouched purity, a phenomenon so immense that any human interference paled in comparison. Instead, I beheld a sea of garish colour, and the first of those heartbreaking signs. 'The glacier was here in 1843.'

Now, just 160 years later, the Athabasca glacier had lost more than half of its volume. Before me stretched a desolate expanse of rocky terrain. I started along the glacier's former route, now a fully paved road, following the trail of dates that marked its course: 1925 led to 1948 and the road gave way to a rocky track littered with glacial moraine. The dates revealed the quickening pace of the glacier's retreat.

I reached the last of the plaques. '1992,' it read. Only 11 years ago, yet a good 200 metres still divided me from the ice river's mouth. The sun was beginning to set and the fading light coaxed people back to their vehicles, leaving me to proceed alone. As I approached the threshold of a land carpeted in ice, my pace slowed to a trance-like crawl. I was spellbound.

The glow of the evening sun bounced off a jewelled landscape and split, painting the land with a subtle yet enchanting spectrum. I hastily pulled off a sheepskin mitten and lowered my hand to the ground. The icy chill warmed my heart and provoked a shiver of heated excitement within me.

I cautiously placed one heavy boot on the ice, then the other. I felt strangely awkward in this fragile expanse. …

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