“You can do it Mrs. O’Brien, just look up and follow us.” Step by step the principal of Duke of Connaught school was led by Mrs. Ramsay’s Grade 7/8 class around Jasper National Parks newest stomach flipping adventure: the skywalk.
Jutting out 35 metres from the cliff face and hanging 280 metres above the valley floor, the clear glass of the Brewster Travel’s Glacier Skywalk is an excellent way to see glaciers, but also a harrowing experience for those afraid of heights. And Mrs. O'Brien wasn’t the only one who needed help to traverse the cantilevered arc of glass. Jaiden Fairclough, a Grade 8 student needed some help too, but though he called it a “fun-torture” he managed 10 steps without support. “It’s one of those experience you keep,” he said once safely back on concrete.
Mrs. O'Brien, Fairclough and the rest of Mrs. Ramsay’s class are in Jasper as winners of Canada’s Coolest School Trip, a partnership between Parks Canada, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Air Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Foundation, Nature Canada and Historica Canada that brings one Grade class on an all expenses paid, unforgettable trip.
Other than conquering fears, day three was about how glaciers continue to shape the land and how that land was so different from their homes in Toronto. “There are no buildings,” Houzayfa Mahamat Zene says as we peers over the lip of the roaring Athabasca Falls at a rainbow caused by the fall’s mist. The falls are the first stop of day three. “In the city it’s all buildings and houses and this is so much greener.”
Soon the class left the green of the falls for its source. “On the right is a braided river,” Paul Langevin, a Parks Canada educator at Palisades Stewardship Education Centre, says pointing at the twisted, spaghetti strands of water winding down the valley. “They are formed by the changing levels of fast glacial rivers, and guess what? We’re going to its source and you’re going to walk on it.”
Around a bend in the highway a lip of sea-blue ice appears peaking out from a mountain pass. “These glaciers once covered this entire valley,” Langevin says. “And they cause the rivers here to ebb and flow throughout the day; more ice melts during the day so the rivers get more full later in the day.”
An hour later and the class was riding on one of Brewster Travel’s giant, six-tired, 750 horsepower ice explorers onto the Athabasca glacier. Despite the strong wind, spitting rain and sub-zero temperatures, they sipped from a pristine glacial river and touched ice that had been formed thousands of years ago. After learning about how moraines (piles of rocks left by receding glaciers) are clues, similar to tree rings, of the age of glaciers and the conditions in which they existed it was time for short break before the “fun-terror” of the Skywalk.
After testing their guts (and the strength of the skywalk by jumping on it in unison causing the whole shelf to bob, while nervous writers walked quickly by despite the guide explaining that “movement is good, things that bend don’t break”) the class once again boarded the bus for a visit to the town of Jasper, where the ice cream and candy shops will never be the same.
A short bus ride home for dinner and a few games later and it was time for some much needed sleep. After all, tomorrow isn’t only the last day of the trip: it is by far the most packed.