Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Canadian Rockies Part 5 - Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse

In the lobby of the Chateau Lake Louise was the only place we could find a restroom, and what a fine one it was! On the walls hung black and white photos of the early days at the hotel. The original chateau was conceived by the Canadian Pacific Railway and built at the end of the 19th century. It was part of the chain from the Banff Springs Hotel and the Chateau Frontenac.The Painter Wing, built in 1913, is the oldest portion of the hotel still standing. It is a magnificent building. Refreshed, we walked around the turquoise lake and caught a glimpse of the huge hotel framed in the lake and the Rockies.
Also a glimpse of Rebecca's butt as she scooted up the trail ahead of me. Looking up the trail, the Plain of Six Glaciers emerged in the distance. Glacial "milk" or silt, from the grinding action of the glaciers above turns the lake into a milky turquoise color. It had been a late spring, and snow still covered the high country just a thousand feet above. But, we were wearing our running shoes and being Alaskans, didn't have much to worry about.
The stream coming down the valley didn't look too intimidating. In Alaska it would have been a raging torrent. The mountains and trail system, including bridges, looked so civilized to us. But then, since the late 1800's, princes and kings had visited this spot, walked these trails, and stayed at the Chateau.
UP, UP, UP!!!
The crags caught my attention at every turn. I was mesmerized by the constant beauty of the limestone peaks and cliffs, snowy couloirs, and green forests along the trail. We thought this should be an easy hike, since so many people were on the trail. We must have confused kilometers with miles, because it seemed endless. But I didn't care. I was in my world.
Huge coniferous rain forests reached up on both sides of the trail. Moss grew on every tree; the ground was a green sponge coating, and every flower seemed to be in bloom.
Looking up at the end of the lake, we saw my friends, the rock climbers. Even though it was a misty rainy day, the climbers were on the rocks, and I stopped to watch their progress.
As we rose above treeline, snow blocked the trail. It took a bit of care to cross some of the steeper patches, since a slip would have had severe consequences: a slide down a steep slope ending in a rock pile.
While at our feet, the green plants and flowers were everywhere, poking their little blossoms up at us. I photographed every species. However you can thank me for being selective in what I've posted here.
Looking up, waterfalls spilled down the cliff sides and caught my eye. This one seemed to have worn a grove down the striated limestone. If it hadn't been such a cold, dank day, it would have been tempting to take a shower.
As we reached the Plain of Six Glaciers, the peaks ringed the amphitheater. A glacier oozed out of the gap to the south, and a permanent glacial ice cap hung above the peaks to the south and west. We were walking on an enormous lateral glacial moraine, seen in this photo below.

At my feet, tiny flowers from the pea or vetch family caught my eye growing from the most rocks. At the other side, a vertical cliff dropped precipitously. Parks Canada had affixed a steel cable to the rocks to make sure folks didn't slip off the trail. Water rushed under foot, making the slick flat limestone very slippery.
I heard a huge rumble and looked across the valley to see a serac of ice crack off, pulverize and pour in an icefall down the cliff face. It lasted over a minute, time enough for me to snap a shot.
Finally, as the rains really started to unleash their fury on us, we spotted the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse, a beautiful log home sequestered in the forest and overlooking the glaciers and moraines below.
They served soup and bread...maybe even a sandwich. And tea! It was cold, rainy, and dark, but the staff was wonderful. We didn't have cash, but they said, "No problem, just pay the bell captain at the hotel. He will give us the cash later". That doesn't happen everywhere.
We ordered the soup and bread. Perfect for the weather. I heard a young man trying to start a chainsaw below. I wanted to go help and show him how to make it work, but Rebecca held me back. Fortunately the chainsaw never started.We descended into the rain, but then it began to let up; blue sky appeared among the darker clouds, and Lake Louise appeared below.
I couldn't help taking another picture of a flower. I must have a thousand of them, just from this summer alone.
I hated to walk down. It had been a fantastic week in the high mountains, with a hike to a different location every day. It seems we had just touched the surface of the thousand peaks and valleys in this one area. And there was so much more: Jasper National Park, Kananaskis Park, Yoho Park, Glacier Park... A world of my dreams.
Meanwhile at the lake, a horseback party of dudes crossed our path, a reminder that this is a tourist Mecca, par excellence!
The crowning glory of the day was this little pika, peeking out from under a boulder at the shore of the lake. Pikas are a member of the rabbit family, about the size of a large mouse. They spend the summer storing all kinds of grasses and sedges in their houses for the long winter hibernation. You want to reach out and pet one, but usually they are elusive. This was as close as you might get.
Back at the hotel, we strolled through, waddled back up to the parking lot to the car and rolled down the road to Canmore. Time for that final beer!


Rebecca said...

You've captured this adventure perfectly! Thanks a million for sharing

Ralph said...

Rebecca, you were the inspiration!

jtingey said...

Great story and wonderful photos - Thanks Ralph