As far as mountains go, statistically, Mount Snow Dome isn't all that spectacular. With a peak that tops off at 11,000 feet above sea level, it's barely a third of Mount Everest's height. And it's hardly the tallest limestone slope in the Rocky Mountains on either side of the Canada-U.S. border. That honor goes to Colorado's Mount Elbert, boasting a height of 14,400 feet.
But Mount Snow Dome is impressive to look at. It's geographically situated in British Columbia, Canada, on the edge of a jutting part of the border with Alberta, where it's more visible, thanks to a highway that connects the Banff and Jasper national parks.
And what visitors see beyond the lower altitudes of the Columbia Icefield is a panoramic display of glaciers covering much of Mount Snow Dome's crusty shale exterior. Those glaciers not only add to the picturesque surroundings, but they also showcase one particular function of the mountain, a task no other slope in the world can perform.
One Peak Feeds Three Oceans
Let's assume you're able to climb to the top of Mount Snow Dome and to celebrate, you decide on a toast with a bottle of water. But somehow, you drop the bottle and water flows everywhere down the mountain. As long that water doesn't seep into the ground or eventually evaporate, it trickles down all sides reaching glaciers hugging the slopes below.
Here's where it gets interesting. If any of that spillage down the mountain reaches the Columbia Glacier, that water will eventually travel southwest towards the Columbia River before emptying itself into the Pacific via Oregon. Other trickles may find its way to the Athabasca Glacier will head north via the MacKenzie River to the Arctic, while remaining contents from that bottle could make it to the Saskatchewan Glacier to the North Saskatchewan River before hitting Hudson Bay and eventually the Atlantic. The duration? Let's say at least a few centuries.
Put in another perspective, this planet has four oceans. Mount Snow Dome feeds water to three of them. No other mountain on Earth can share that credit.
Debunking Three-Ocean Peak Claims Elsewhere
As for how Mount Snow Dome's glaciers can have its melted contents reach those oceans, geologists call this particular mountain a hydrological apex, in other words, the highest point of an intersection of three watersheds or drainage basin landforms.
Mount Snow Dome is located on the Great Continental Divide, the junction of two tectonic plates that make much of North America. It's also at the southern edge of another plate called the Arctic Divide, which further enables the mountain glaciers to flow into three oceans.
Proponents for two other mountains claim that their choice slopes also have the same ability as Mount Snow Dome. One of them is Triple Divide Peak in Montana, which upon closer geological inspection, turns out that its glaciers feed three rivers flowing eastward: one to Hudson Bay and two to the Gulf of Mexico.
As for the other one, a nameless peak in Siberia, maps courtesy of the U.S. Geological Association reveal that only the Arctic Ocean receives any flows from ranges in that region.
Easy To Find, Harder To Climb
It's easy to find Mount Snow Dome to anyone planning a visit. All it takes is a trip along Highway 93, dubbed the Icefields Parkway, between Jasper and Banff and a stop at the clearly marked Columbia Icefield. There, spectators can check out the mountain from the skywalk or take a guided tour across the ice in a customized bus.
For the hardier lot who actually want to venture right up the mountain, it helps if you're a mountaineer with plenty of experience traveling on ice. The easiest way for climbers to hit the top is from the south and most experts recommend taking such a tour during the summer. Skis also help for part of the journey. So does including an expert familiar with the territory in the expedition.
But Climate Change Might Have A Say
Tourists make their way to the Columbia Icefield for a couple of reasons. To them, it's an adventure to see a glacier that's responsible for a sizeable amount of the continent's water supply up close. It's also a chance to see these frozen rivers before they disappear.
Climate change has greatly affected Mount Snow Dome, the Columbia Icefield and the glaciers in the Rockies. According to Parks Canada, the Icefield has been shrinking since the beginning of the 20th century, and during that time, the giant glacier has retreated by nearly a mile.
It doesn't help that the Columbia attraction is the most-visited glacier in North America, with an average of 2.4 million tourists hitting the site each year. All that traffic adds to the erosion of the ice.
But the big picture is far more sobering, Researchers are predicting that by 2100, 70 percent of the mountain glaciers in western Canada will be gone. That includes the Columbia Icefield and the unique properties of Mount Snow Dome unless plans to mitigate climate change go into effect as soon as possible.