I zoom to the edge and stop, quickly glancing back reassuringly at the others, like all of us fearless leaders do, then nervously turn back to the abyss. My heart is in my throat; I slowly … bravely (?) … wheel out onto the clear walkway, stop and look down. Below my footplate is clear glass … and nearly a thousand feet of sky … and then rocks (gulp). Beside me is a handrail with more clear glass. It feels like I’m suspended in the air. My wife, Terryll, follows with her cameras.
“A little scary isn’t it?” says she.
“Not bad,” I lie. “Are you getting pictures?”
“Yes,” she replies, “but this is a little unnerving.”
Like a lot of people, I’m not a big fan of cliffs, balconies, roofs, etc. In my first life BC (Before Crash, back when I was nondisabled) I flew airplanes, an ultra-light that was like a lawn chair with wings, a hang glider and a parasail. Maybe it makes me a control freak, but in my head if I felt it could be steered, then there would be a solution if a problem arose, and I was confident that all possible situations were rehearsed in my mind. I was on high alert and never got injured in these “well-planned” endeavors. Looking back, I think, man, over-confident or what? Based on results, I never anticipated every calamity as well as I thought, and as a result I’m a quadriplegic from a car accident! When it comes to structures, ropes, and anything you can fall from, I still get the creeps. I guess it stems from having to rely on the builders and designers to make it safe, and there is no plan B if they’re wrong.
We had seen advertisements years before of the skywalk over the Grand Canyon, but never had the opportunity to experience it. It seemed too far away and remote. Then during the winter we saw an ad on television for a new Skywalk opening in the Rocky Mountains a few hours from home, close to our favorite campground near Jasper, Alberta, in Canada. The thought of wheeling on it made me nervous … perfect!
Right away I started scheming on how to arrange the adventure, how to tactfully bring up the subject in the best possible light so as to gently entice the affected parties into wanting to go.
“Can we try that … huh … huh … huh … can we?” I hinted in my subtle way.
“Sure, ya gotta,” laughed Terryll, knowing full well she’d hear me a gazillion times until she gave in. “Let’s book a campsite. Is it wheelchair accessible?”
“It has to be, it’s new.” I reply.
“Isn’t that a little scary, being that high up with a clear floor?” she asks, looking at the pictures.
“Yes, it probably will be, but that’ll make it exciting. It’s good to conquer a fear once in a while,” I reassure myself.
A quick internet check confirmed that all was well, and the whole facility was totally accessible. You simply park at the Columbia Icefields Glacier Discovery Center between Banff and Jasper, and go inside to get your tickets. Then you hop an accessible bus for the short trip to the Skywalk.
Wheeling on Air
We arrived on a warm and sunny spring morning. After we purchased our tickets, we were ushered out to a waiting bus. Within a minute or so I was on board, the rest of the passengers were loaded and we were off. The driver gave an informative narration of the area as she drove, and about 10 minutes later we were parked next to the curb beside the canyon. The bus driver, a real funny screwball I might add, had the ramp out and was gesturing me out the door.
“Where’s the red carpet?” I say dryly.
“For who?” she replies with a grin … touché!
We unloaded and were given a telephone-like device that gives a recorded information session at different stations as you amble along the discovery pathway. There were also park employees along the way with interpretive displays on various subjects. We learned all about the glaciers that were just a few miles down the valley. At another display we heard about the different birds of prey found in the area.
All the while we were working our way closer and closer to the skywalk. It did look a bit intimidating. It is a semi-circle section of the path, protruding out from solid rock, seemingly suspended with little support. I was getting a bit nervous as we approached, but I sure wasn’t letting on! — Pshaw, nothing to this — I portrayed, rolling ahead to try it.
At first it was scary having nothing between you and the distant rocks but see-through glass, but after a few minutes, the beauty of it took over! There was a beautiful aqua blue river rushing from the glaciers to the left, crashing along over huge boulders and exiting miles down the valley to the right. The sides of the mountains were covered with pine trees up to the treeline, and then it was rock, snow and ice above that.
Below we noticed a couple of white fluffy things slowly moving along the cliffs. Closer inspection revealed a mountain goat and its baby. What a treat! We were now familiar with the situation, and we were in awe of the scenery. It was no longer scary. A fear challenged!
If you’re looking for a wheelchair-friendly, safe, awe-inspiring adventure, you can’t beat the Glacier Skywalk!
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is the Skywalk located?
It is located in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, between Jasper and Banff in Alberta. You park at the Columbia Icefield Glacier Discovery Center. Accessible shuttle buses leave every 15 minutes to the Skywalk.
How long can you stay?
They recommend 45 minutes or so, but we were told that we could stay as long as we like.
Where can I find more information on the Glacier Skywalk?
At Brewster’s website — www.brewster.ca/activities-in-the-rockies/brewster-attractions/glacier-skywalk/#/0