Glacier garbage disappoints mountaineers exploring Jasper's Columbia Icefield
'This is ... kilometres off any highway; it's in the middle of a giant icefield that's 100s of metres deep'
Driving through Banff or Jasper, you might see the occasional piece of litter on the side of the highway, but a pair of mountaineers were surprised last weekend to come across a whole pile of trash somewhere you wouldn't expect.
"Here we are on the Athabasca Glacier, trying to do some ice climbing, but instead we're doing garbage pickup for all the tourists," Quinn Turner says in a video they recorded of their unpleasant discovery while out exploring the Columbia Icefield on Aug. 10.
It's a popular destination for mountaineers, but also for everyday tourists, who are bussed onto the glacier in vehicles with massive wheels called "Ice Explorers."
The vehicles drop tourists off, who are then free to roam around the glacier on foot.
Turner believes it was some of those visitors who tossed the trash, which was then carried along by melting snow and ice, accumulating in crevasses and other holes in the glacier known as millwells.
In all their glacier travel, it was something the mountaineers hadn't seen before.
The garbage included plastic bags, water bottles, old potato-chip bags and candy wrappers.
"We were pretty upset, and pretty angry," Turner said.
"This is ... kilometres off any highway; it's in the middle of a giant icefield that's hundreds of metres deep. It's been there for a long time and it just feels different because usually, when we're up there — and on any glacier — there's really no human influence at all."
So, they decided to do something about it.
Using their climbing equipment, Turner and his mountaineering partner Eric Kitteringham worked to extract the trash from the holes in the ice.
"I put in an ice screw and then lowered myself in," Kitteringham said. "I hung off the ice screw and then picked up all the garbage we could and then packed everything out."
Kitteringham says they then informed Brewster Sightseeing, which runs the "Ice Explorer" tours.
"Brewster's was receptive and then they actually sent us over to Parks [Canada], and then Parks was quite disappointed to see that," he said.
In a statement, the company said it was "disheartened" by the photos of the garbage on the icefield, as it strives "to educate visitors on the importance of the glacier and surrounding national park."
"We will continue to work with Parks to manage our impact on the environment while fostering respect for these special places," the emailed statement from communications manager Tanya Otis said.
"This includes our continued partnership with Parks Canada in regular clean-up initiatives within our leasehold and surrounding areas."
Parks Canada said no one was available Friday to talk about the garbage in the glacier, but noted it encourages all visitors to "leave no trace" when travelling in national parks.
For their part, the mountaineers hope that, by sharing the story, they'll help raise awareness that littering is not acceptable anywhere in the parks — glaciers, included.
"I just feel like people should be aware and respect the natural environments when they're visiting," Turner said.
"And just make sure to leave no trace on their way out."