The power of social media has dramatically influenced the way we approach exploration. Living in an age where we can access a continuous stream of fresh content at the tap of a finger, we discover hidden corners of the planet by living vicariously through the photographs of strangers. Occasionally, these photos can pique our interest so intensely that we must experience them ourselves. In winter of 2018, I embarked on a road trip through the Canadian Rocky Mountains to explore the jaw-dropping frozen terrain. Among the many unique experiences of the trip, I ventured out to frozen Abraham Lake along the North Saskatchewan River in western Alberta, a place I discovered via social media.
In the cold winter months of Alberta, many of the lakes in these Northern Rocky Mountains begin to freeze. The lakebed is home to a variety of plants that begin to decay and release methane gas in the form of underwater bubbles. As temperatures continue to drop, a thin layer of ice forms at the surface of a few of these lakes, trapping rising bubbles of methane gas below. With nowhere to escape, this gas remains in place as the ice thickens, encapsulating it in a winter tomb. These lakes can freeze meters thick, allowing plumes of frozen bubbles from decaying plant matter to create an eerie form of raw, natural art.
While driving north along the Icefields Parkway, I made a detour to this frozen lake to witness the strange phenomenon firsthand. The low-hanging sun began to set behind distant mountains; all sound seemed to disappear with it. I strapped on my headlamp and hiked down to the shoreline below. Hours had passed since seeing another person, a seemingly common theme during the winter months here. I took the first few steps out onto the ice. In that moment, I heard a distant, deep sound that caught me off guard. Pause. Eyes wide, I listened to complete silence for a moment. That deafening, overpowering silence found only in remote parts of the world. Another deep sound of moving air startled me. Subtle, yet powerful. I realized in that instant that the lake ice, moving into the relatively warmer month of March, was beginning to find it’s weakest points and fracture, releasing pressure and causing low-pitched thumps. Remembering the research I had done, and trusting the meters of ice below me, I continued out until I found a clearing of uncovered, crystal clear ice filled with frozen bubbles of methane. I stood there, mesmerized by the sight in front of me, and smiled.