Climbing through Climate Change in the Canadian Rockies: Guides’ Experiences of Route Transformation on Mt. Athabasca




Hanly, Katherine
McDowell, Graham
Tricker, James

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Tourism and Hospitality


Mountain guides play an important role in the provision of nature-based tourism activities, such as mountaineering, in alpine environments around the world. However, these locales are uniquely sensitive to climate change, and despite extensive documentation of bio-geophysical changes, there are few studies evaluating the impacts of these changes on mountaineering routes and the livelihood of mountain guides. This constrains adaptation planning and limits awareness of potential loss and damage in the mountain tourism sector. In response, our study explored mountain guides’ lived experiences of working on Mt. Athabasca in Jasper National Park, Canada, to reveal the effects of climate change on mountaineering routes and implications for the mountain guiding community. To do this, we used a mixed methods approach that combined spatio-temporal trend analysis, repeat photography, and semi-structured interviews with mountain guides. We found that rising temperatures and changing precipitation regimes in the Mt. Athabasca area are driving glacial retreat and loss of semi-permanent snow and ice, which is impacting climbing conditions and objective hazards on mountaineering and guiding routes. Guides’ experiences of these changes varied according to socio-economic conditions (e.g., financial security, livelihood flexibility), with late-career guides tending to experience loss of guiding opportunities and early-career guides facing increased pressure to provide services in more challenging conditions. Our findings offer novel insights that identify salient issues and bolster support for actions in response to the concerns of the mountain guide community. This study also underscores the need for further research, as the underlying issues are likely present in mountaineering destinations globally.



climatic change, guiding, mountaineering, nature-based tourism, adaptation, risk management, Rocky Mountains, cryosphere, Canada


Hanly, K., McDowell, G., & Tricker, J. (2023). Climbing through climate change in the Canadian Rockies: Guides’ experiences of route transformation on Mt. Athabasca. Tourism and Hospitality, 4(4), 539–558.