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Saskatchewan Glacier, Banff National Park

The Saskatchewan Glacier is part of the Columbia Icefields. It is located 117Km south of the Jasper Town site, approximately 100K north of Lake Louise. This hike has a low elevation gain of under 250Meters, but the access in and out is approximately 15Km return. Allow 5-6 hours for a round trip. The Saskatchewan Glacier trailhead is unmarked and not an official trail. Don't attempt to access the route from the west parking area near the centre of big bend, it turns into a long miserable bushwhack. The trailhead is located next to an old abandoned concrete bridge, just as you enter big bend on the Jasper Park highway. Big bend is the large highway loop on the Jasper Park Highway before you ascend the south side of the Columbia Icefields. The gravel entrance to the old bridge is slowly eroding away and may be gone in a few years. Park at the old concrete bridge, then cross the bridge and take the trail on your right which leads back west along the North Saskatchewan River and the highway. Follow this until you reach the trees then look for an old gravel road heading to your left. This old road was built in the 1930's by the U.S. Army's 87th Mountain Division. The Army Division set up a camp on the Saskatchewan Glacier to test winter equipment. There are still old parts of vehicles scattered here and there. Logs that were used for this camp can still be found high up on the glacier. Follow the old road up through what used to be  the terminal moraine of the Saskatchewan Glacier. Keep in mind that this is the only practical route in and out of the entire valley so beware of bears. Grizzly Bears crossing over the Columbia Icefields may pass through from Parker Ridge, Wilcox Pass and Castleguard Meadows. We ran into a Grizzly crossing the ground moraine in the spring of 2010. Once you hike up and over the old moraine you'll arrive at the start of the valley. You'll see an old log food stash that was built by the Alpine Club of Canada in the 1950's. There are two routes from here. The first and safest day hike route follows the existing old road straight ahead on the south Side of the North Saskatchewan River. This first route is absolutely beautiful but you cannot get as close to the Saskatchewan Glacier due to an impassable lateral moraine. The second more dangerous route is mainly used by climbers. You'll have to cross a very nasty looking canyon that is bridged by a pile of old logs. The North Saskatchewan River disappears down this canyon and reappears back at big bend on the Jasper Park Highway.

Follow a worn trail towards a bunch of rotting logs that form a precarious bridge across the river canyon. Don't confuse the initial log jam as the bridge. The natural log bridge is a few meters further down from the log jamb. Be very careful here, if you fall into the canyon it is certain death. Over the years this natural bridge, has gone from one very large single log, to several smaller logs. It changes from year to year due to erosion and spring run offs. Climbers and cavers are the ones that usually rebuild it or add more logs to it each year. Do not cross this log bridge unless you have the proper mountaineering gear and you're absolutely sure it is safe. Once again if you breakthrough or fall off you will most likely never be found. If you have any doubts take the first safer trail on the south side of the North Saskatchewan River. As you hike towards the toe of the Saskatchewan Glacier the scenery is absolutely beautiful. Cliffs on the south side of the valley rise 600M straight up. Parkers and Hilda Ridge can be seen on the north side. Views of the hanging glaciers on the south east faces of Mount Andromeda and Mount Athabasca are outstanding. Further on you will start to see the workings and geology of the glacier. Eskers, drumlins, lateral moraines, medial moraine, ground moraines, erratics, glacial polish, striation on rocks, glacial deposits, rock flour, till plains, kettle lake, Paternoster lakes, braided river, katabatic winds are all here. See this interesting survey from 1952 and compare the glacier photos to these in 2010. Geoheads will love it here, unusual and eye catching rocks are everywhere. Mount Castleguard and Castleguard meadows can be seen to the left half way up the Saskatchewan Glacier. Castleguard Cave, which is the longest cave in Canada is located near here. As of 2007 cavers have surveyed 20357M of passages and its the fifth deepest at 384m. Castleguard Cave ascends gently from its entrance and terminates beneath the Columbia Icefield. Due to the caves flash flooding the entrance is barred and locked by the Parks Department. Parks permission and a key, is required to enter Castleguard Cave. Be very careful around the lake and the toe of the Saskatchewan Glacier, there is deep glacial silt along with hidden ice under steep rock. Do not climb up the glacier unless you have mountaineering experience and the proper gear. Trailheads to Parker Ridge, Hilda Ridge, Hilda Glacier, Nigel Pass, Wilcox Pass, Weeping Wall, Mount Athabasca north Glacier, Castleguard Mountain Alpine Climb and Boundary Lake are also located in this area. You are in bear country.

 

Area Map

Interesting Survey Taken In 1952 Local Campground

 

 
Saskatchewan Glacier  
   
Start at the unmarked parking area. Big Bend on highway before the Columbia Icefields.
   
 
   
Old bridge at parking area. Canyon under old bridge.
   
Hiking towards the Saskatchewan Glacier valley along Big Bend Canyon under old bridge.
   
More Alberta Wildflowers. More Alberta Mushrooms.
   
  Trail leading up into the valley.
   
Trail leading down into the valley. waterfall near trail leading down into the valley.
   
south east face of Mount Andromeda southeast Face of Mount Athabasca.
   
Old food stash built by the Alpine Club of Canada in the 1950's. More Alberta Interesting Vegetation.
   
Old parts left by the military from 1930. south side of Parker and Hilda Ridge near top, ground moraine to glacier.
   
More Alberta Wildflowers. More Alberta Interesting Vegetation.
   
Log jamb at the start of the Saskatchewan River gorge. Log bridge over the Saskatchewan River gorge. (Extreme Caution Here).
   
Saskatchewan River gorge. Saskatchewan River gorge.
   
south east face of Mount Andromeda Saskatchewan River braided on the ground moraine leading to the glacier.
   
Striation on rocks. More Alberta Rocks.
   
Cliffs and waterfall on south side of valley. Cliffs and waterfall on south side of valley.
   
Glacial polish and striation on rocks. More Alberta Rocks.
   
Trilobites Trilobites
   
Trilobites Trilobites
   
Trilobites Trilobites
   
Rolling hills of glacial deposits. Paternoster lake and stagnant ice covered in rock. This is or was an outflow.
   
Saskatchewan Glacier (More Here) Saskatchewan Glacier (More Here)
   
Paternoster lake and stagnant ice covered in rock. This is or was an outflow. Kettle lake and tents near the toe of Saskatchewan Glacier.
   
Tents near the toe of the Saskatchewan Glacier.  (More Here) Tents near the toe of Saskatchewan Glacier.  (More Here)
   
Paternoster lakes Glacial deposits and Paternoster lakes
   
   
Looking towards Castleguard meadows. Mount Castleguard on right. Medial Moraine to right of glacier. This was level with the ice in 1990.
(More Here) (More Here)
Saskatchewan Glacier Saskatchewan Glacier
(More Here) (More Here)
Saskatchewan Glacier Eskers
(More Here)  
Saskatchewan Glacier south Side of Valley. Saskatchewan Glacier north Side of Valley and rock flour.
   
Till plains looking down the valley. Till plains looking down the valley.
   
Till plains looking towards glacier. Till plains looking down the valley.
   
 
   
Till plains looking towards glacier. Till plains looking towards glacier.
   
Erratics Eskers
 

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