A glacier adventure
The Athabasca Glacier is located right off the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian province of Alberta, just before the town of Jasper. It is the most visited glacier in North America and it’s receding every day. The glacier sits under the watchful eye of Mount Andromeda which is fittingly named for the Greek mythological maiden who was chained up because of her beauty. Mount Andromeda looks on helplessly in the peak season, as 5,000 visitors trample on the ebbed ice.
Brewster bus driver Kaley Weston is on a mission to spread awareness about the glacier by giving guided tours out of her renovated bus.
The pint-sized Ontario native fell in love with the mountains after a trip to Vancouver. Unable to shake her newfound passion, she packed up her things and headed west. She eventually moved back to Ontario and got her level 1 certification to be a ski instructor. She had several random jobs, but always managed to be patient with the whole “figuring out what to do with my life stuff.” Luckily for Brewster, a good friend of hers lured her back by sending her seasonal work opportunities in the Rockies. Ultimately, this led her to Athabasca Glacier, unlocking her obsession with climbing the Canadian Rockies.
THE RED BULLETIN: What was the hardest part of working and driving on the glacier?
KALEY WESTON: We were working on a massive chunk of ice that was literally moving and changing every minute of the day. It was such an unpredictable and dynamic environment to work in. The weather was crazy (thick whiteout blizzards in May, hailstorms, lightning). The landscape was constantly changing - shelving from the glacier, rock slides from the mountains, etc. Crevasses and milwells were always opening and closing all around our ice road. It took a lot to focus on delivering a good tour while also maneuvering a massive bus on a flowing glacier.
What was your driving experience before the buses?
Pretty minimal. I mean, what you would expect - bicycles, scooters, your average car. Nothing close to a bus. Luckily, I had some solid trainers who let me drive our coach busses over curbs in Jasper until I figured it out. After getting my class 2 license and a couple weeks driving the shuttles, I got to do training in the Ice Explorers.
What was the biggest learning curve of driving the buses?
Everything about the Ice Explorers took some getting used to. How to get in and out of a bus that has a tire as tall as me, patience with a vehicle that tops out at 18 kph. How to change a flat tire!
What is your favorite part of the job?
This is such a cheesy story. I had a few guests on my tour who requested a photo with me and were kind enough to leave their email in case I wanted a copy of the picture. We emailed back and forth a couple of times and they told me a bit about their road trip; they traveled all through the Rockies and down into Yellowstone National Park in the states. What really touched me was when they said that with everything they had seen and done on their trip, the Icefield tour that I gave was the highlight. It was always nice to remember that we, as tour guides, were able to represent and show visitors a very beautiful and special part of Canada. We got to play a part in a trip that they will (hopefully) always remember.
When you aren’t working, (but you are in Jasper) what are you doing?
The reason I went to the Rockies wasn’t to work, but to be out exploring the mountains (although getting to do such a cool job on the side wasn’t so bad!). I wanted to learn more and I wanted to push myself. At the Columbia Icefield we were in the perfect location to launch out on missions. I also found myself surrounded by like-minded people who were keen on outdoor adventures.
In April my friend Zach took me to Grassi Lakes and taught me how to rock climb. I was instantly hooked. It didn’t take long for me to knock off all my firsts: lead, rappel, trad climb, multi-pitch, alpine climb. On rainy days we would drive to Canmore and climb at the indoor gym Elevation Place. On sunny days we would make our hands bleed on the chossy limestone crags along the Icefield Parkway.
I also spent the summer developing my mountaineering skills and taking on some of the Rockies’ 11,000ers. Directly outside our staff common room window was the majestic (and slightly daunting) north face of Mt. Athabasca. Staring at it every breakfast and dinner, I couldn’t resist the temptation for long. It was the perfect intro to what mountaineering is all about: alpine starts, glacier travel, steep snow & ice, and horrible, unpredictable mountain weather making you turn around 30 minutes from the summit! Despite that initial defeat, I summited over 10 mountains throughout the summer (two 11,000ers — Mt. Edith Cavell and Mt. Cline). My favorite of all the adventures was the seldom climbed Mt. Cirrus in Banff National Park.
What are your goals for next summer?
Next summer I’ll be back in the mountains, working somewhere, climbing something. I am definitely going to attempt Mt. Robson. I want to continue progressing as a climber - the multi-pitch Cardiac Arete on Grand Sentinel is top of my list. Once I’m situated back in Canada, I would also love to get into ice climbing. Mainly, I am going to start training, getting stronger and getting faster. I have a somewhat crazy long-term goal to climb all of the 56(ish) 11,000ers in the Canadian Rockies in one year.
What are you doing in Japan currently?
I’m in Niseko with my boyfriend on a working holiday visa. Spending my days skiing their unbelievable powder and climbing at the local indoor gym. I have a seasonal job (still driving a bus!) and am planning on spending a month after the season traveling around, camping and climbing. Japan is an amazing country.
What is some advice you would give to someone about following their path?
I would say you just have to go for it. It’s easy to sit there and come up with excuses, to put things off, to not go, to not try. But at the end of the day, even if it doesn’t work out, it’s worth it for the experience. I think the biggest regret I could have later in life would be wondering what I had missed out on because I didn’t go for it.