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The Athabasca Glacier is one of the six principal 'toes' of the Columbia Icefield, located in the Canadian Rockies. The glacier currently recedes at a rate of about 5 metres (16 ft) per year and has receded more than 1.5 km (0.93 mi) in the past 125 years and lost over half of its volume. The glacier moves down from the icefield at a rate of several centimetres per day. Due to its close proximity to the Icefields Parkway, between the Alberta towns of Banff and Jasper, and rather easy accessibility, it is the most visited glacier in North America. The leading edge of the glacier is within easy walking distance; however, travel onto the glacier is not recommended unless properly equipped. Hidden crevasses have led to the deaths of unprepared tourists.
Athabasca Glacier snow coach
The Icefield Interpretive Centre, closed during the winter (mid-October to mid-April), stands across from the glacier. It is used as a lodge and for ticket sales for sightseeing on the glacier. Standard buses transport tourists to the glacier edge, where they board specially designed snow coaches for transport over the steep grades, snow and ice part way up the glacier.
The glacier is approximately 6 km (3.7 mi) long, covers an area of 6 km2 (2.3 sq mi), and is measured to be between 90–300 metres (300–980 ft) thick.
The Rocky Mountains (or Rockies) are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than 4,800 kilometres (2,980 mi) from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in Canada, to New Mexico, in the United States. The range's highest peak is Mount Elbert in Colorado at 14,440 feet (4,401 m) above sea level. Though part of North America's Pacific Cordillera, the Rockies are distinct from the Pacific Coast Ranges (as named in Canada) or Pacific Mountain System (as known in the United States), which are located immediately adjacent to the Pacific coast.The eastern edge of the Rockies rises impressively above the Interior Plains of central North America, including the Front Range of Colorado, the Wind River Range and Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming, the Absaroka-Beartooth ranges and Rocky Mountain Front of Montana, and the Clark Range of Alberta. In Canada geographers define three main groups of ranges: the Continental Ranges, Hart Ranges and Muskwa Ranges (the latter two flank the Peace River, the only river to pierce the Rockies, and are collectively referred to as the Northern Rockies). Mount Robson in British Columbia, at 3,954 metres (12,972 ft), is the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. The Muskwa and Hart Ranges together comprise what is known as the Northern Rockies (the Mackenzie Mountains north of the Liard River are sometimes referred to as being part of the Rockies but this is an unofficial designation).The western edge of the Rockies includes subranges such as the Wasatch near Salt Lake City and the Bitterroots along the Idaho-Montana border. The Great Basin and Columbia River Plateau separate these subranges from distinct ranges further to the west, most prominent among which are the Sierra Nevada, Cascade Range and Coast Mountains. The Rockies do not extend into the Yukon or Alaska, or into central British Columbia, where the Rocky Mountain System (but not the Rocky Mountains) includes the Columbia Mountains, the southward extension of which is considered part of the Rockies in the United States. The Rocky Mountain System within the United States is a United States physiographic region; the Rocky Mountain System is known in Canada as the Eastern System.