Tea for Two and Two for Tea

Anything you read about Banff, Jasper or the Canadian Rockies will tell you that you have to visit Lake Louise. To which I say, “absolutely!” For us, it was the grand finale. Our last day and final hike of the trip. This is the view that greets you at the Lake Louise shoreline if you arrive at sunrise:

The east end of the lake is home to the (Fairmont) Chateau Lake Louise resort which began life in 1890 as a log cabin on the lake built by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a stop along the rail. But, by 1912 it had grown and been developed into an international destination for the rich and famous, having been visited by more than 50,000 guests, including the British and European royalty. The facilities were renovated and winterized in 1983 and the resort is now open year-round. I checked the current rates: the cheapest room is $949/night; suites start at $2,200/night. We’re content staying at the RV campground down the road for $32/night. Same trails to hike; same views. Speaking of which, let’s get started.

There are two main hiking destinations at Lake Louise and both are teahouses. The most distant is the teahouse at the end of the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail, built in 1924 as a staging area for mountaineers. The one closest to the resort is the Lake Agnes teahouse at the base of Big Beehive, a rock outcropping rising to 7,450 feet. That’s Big Beehive, below:

We were among the first to arrive at the Lake Agnes teahouse this morning. It was originally built in 1901, but was reconstructed in 1981.

We had read that it’s necessary to bring your own water to boil for tea – obviously a ruse since the teahouse sits on the shoreline of an alpine lake – but we fell for it and lugged an additional quart up the 1,400 foot altitude gain from the trailhead. Here’s a view of Lake Agnes, Mount Whyte (in the distance), and the Devil’s Thumb (left) from the teahouse:

The young women working at the teahouse hike up early every morning, but heavy supplies are air-lifted by helicopter. Dale had tea; I opted for hot chocolate and pastry. Delicious, refreshing, and beautiful views. [If you ever go, remember it’s cash only.]

Reinvigorated, we continued our hike around Lake Agnes, bound for the top of Big Beehive.

There’s an old fire lookout up on the top of Big Beehive…

… from which the vista includes the Fairmont resort, the Lake Louise junction with the Icefields Parkway, and even our campground.

Since our plan was to visit both teahouses today, we descended from Big Beehive to the Highline Trail from which we could see the western end of Lake Louise and the rivulets and silt deposits flowing down from the Victoria Glaciers. (I love this picture. It has everything: larch forest; striated, snow-capped mountains; evergreens; alpine lake.)

I was on a mission today to identify the predominant tree species. I snapped off tips of branches and stuck them in my shoulder straps so I could identify the needles later. I was a walking Christmas tree! (By the way, I was able to discern that most of the evergreens around us were White Fir.)

Once we intersected with the Highline Trail, we had a great view of Mount Victoria (elev. 11,365 feet) and the Victoria Glaciers.

We continued on a gradual incline for an hour or so, arriving at the Plain of the Six Glaciers teahouse which, fortunately for us, had exactly one table open! We had intended to lunch here, but we spent most of our cash at the Lake Agnes teahouse earlier in the day, so we could only afford tea, coffee and – really – a crust of bread. We made do with the rest of our trail mix.

From the teahouse, we took the last leg of the Plain of the Six Glaciers Trail…

… up beyond the maintained trail, then along a ridge atop the lateral moraine of Lower Victoria Glacier…

… to the lookout at “The Death Trap.” Cute name. This is the Upper Victoria Glacier – and other glaciers (6 in total), though I couldn’t begin to tell you where one ends and the next begins.

After catching our breath and playing a little heart-stopping slip-and-slide on the loose rock, we descended, taking the Path of the Six Glaciers Trail all the way back down to the Fairmont resort, way off in the distance, 3 miles away.

Lake Louise is 230 feet deep at its deepest and its water – a milky blue – is almost entirely glacial meltwater. Being close to the parking area at the resort, there were a number of tourists out on the delta.

But we had no idea how crowded the place had become while we were out hiking the surrounding trails. But, not with hikers. These people were are all hotel guests and tourists. You can tell because there’s not a single backpack among them (other than Dale’s). It was nice to see so many people enjoying the outdoors, but they were missing the real beauty of Lake Louise by not venturing further out along the trails (fortunately for us).

We knew this was going to be a long hiking day, though we didn’t expect to set a new personal best. But we did! This hike tied our 2,800 foot elevation gain set at Yoho Valley/Iceline Trail, but beat our distance there by a mile – 13 miles total. We celebrated with a nice dinner at the Lake Louise Train Station Restaurant, then packed up for the drive home. A wonderful trip.

P.S. Over the summer, there were several days when the smoke from forest fires in British Columbia had been blown down the Fraser Valley into Whatcom County, completely enveloping our home in Bellingham, Washington. As we drove back to Washington on the Trans-Canada Highway (with an overnight stop in Kamloops), we saw that the fires are still burning in Canada’s Glacier National Park. At least it looks like the worst is over.

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