Hiking Lake Louise and beyond

The “snow fall” theme for this trip continues, although today it came in the form of snow falling down the mountainside – an avalanche! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our destination for today’s hike was the Plain of Six Glaciers. We started off alongside the popular Lake Louise. One can see why its clear blue green water surrounded by mountain peaks is such a draw, but we were happier when we continued beyond the populated tourist trails and ventured into the wilderness areas. We passed through pine forest, followed rushing water, looked up sheer rock faces, and picked our way on rocky footings and across deep snowy fields. As Erik commented, “This is what I came for!”

Tea House at Six Glaciers

The reward for our efforts was reaching a Tea House on the mountainside. It had only been open for a week so far this season, and the staff willingly answered all our questions about how they get supplies up there (answer, helicopter drops once a season plus pack horses). We settled ourselves at a bright red table on the log balcony of the stone building, and savored outstanding soup and home made bread, flavor enhanced by the outdoor experience.

We did quite well in the wildlife department, spotting mountain goats, a marmot, porcupine, Clark’s Nutcracker, and even a mama Grizzly bear and two cubs. The latter were far across the lake, but we followed their progress along the entire shoreline.

Snow resting at the foot of the avalanche

There were signs warning hikers of avalanche danger in the area, and in fact, we could hear and see them up high on the distant mountains. It was on our return trip that the experience became distinctly personal. Just before crossing a large snow field, we heard the telltale sounds, and there directly in front of us was an avalanche, spewing snow above our trail! It looked just like a waterfall coming down the mountain, but the spray and masses of moving moisture were snow not water. The accumulated mounds of snow formed large snowballs that slid down the slope in a very liquid manner. It was fascinating to watch, even though it threatened to cover our path. We watched in amazement, as it poured on and on, wondering if and when it would be safe for us to continue. It eventually came to rest well above our path, and we high tailed it across, only to see it reactivate when we reached the other side.

Day 2 in the Canadian Rockies – never a dull moment.

Oh no – Snow!

We’d seen the weather forecast. We were prepared for wet conditions, given the 90% chance of rain. But snow never even entered our minds. Not far into our journey away from Calgary toward Banff, the raindrops assumed a thicker, fatter quality and the realization of what we were seeing dawned on us all at once.Snow in CanmoreBy the time we reached Canmore and stopped for lunch, the accumulation was undeniable. Trees were straining under their heavy white burden, and green grass had been replaced by a snowy blanket. We settled into a local restaurant, enjoyed exceptionally good food, and had a good laugh at Mother Nature’s joke. Rainy weather was just unpleasant. But snowy weather on June 9 was an adventure.

 

If we learned anything about the Canadian Rockies today, it was how quickly conditions could change. Water rushing through Johnston CanyonWe gradually left the snowfall behind, replacing it with drippy skies, clouds, and the occasional burst of sunlight. Hiking through Johnston Canyon, we managed to stay mostly dry while marveling at the thunderous volumes of water plummeting down the river. The brown swirling current raced by at a torrential pace, exceeding the boundaries of its normal banks, and showering us with spray at its waterfalls.

View near Lake LouiseTraveling the Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise, we were rewarded by lifting clouds that rose enough for us to see the towering mountains beyond the pine trees lining the road. The dark formations of the peaks, largely covered in snow were majestic and particularly stunning in contrast with the greens of the pines and the growing blue patches of sky beyond. We were surrounded by mountains in all directions, alternately materializing and slipping away behind swirling clouds. We finally knew we had arrived – Canadian Rockies, Day 1. Snow and all.

Canadian Rockies here we come!

We are about to embark on the third and final College Graduation Trip!  Diplomas were handed out Memorial Day weekend and the new job begins July 9, so this is our son Erik’s final hurrah and our special time together before he heads out into the “real world.”

The destination is the Canadian Rockies, and the focus will be on hiking in the mountains.  Erik’s choice is one of those featured in National Geographic’s Drives of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Most Spectacular Trips.  That’s a pretty good recommendation, even if he didn’t know it when he made his selection.  After months of research, countless visits to TripAdvisor, and reading way too many reviews, we have all our reservations and are ready to depart on Saturday.  Here is the basic plan:

  • Arrive in Calgary and immediately head up the Icefields Parkway
  • 3 nights in Lake Louise, hiking in Banff National Park
  • 4 nights in Jasper, hiking in Jasper National Park, with a side-trip to Mt. Robson Provincial Park
  • 1 final night in Banff, then return home

The goal was to limit moving around and maximize time spent outdoors.  We also chose accommodations in simple cabins.  Erik would have preferred “back country” lodgings, which require hiking in to reach them.  That sounded like great fun, but the timing of our trip precluded such adventure, as they do not open until later in the season (something about snow conditions…).

If time, inclination and internet connections permit, I hope to blog along the way.  But there is also something to be said for unplugging.  If it comes to choosing between an evening bonfire and blogging, I  already know which will win.