Friday, August 27, 2010

Days Six and Seven: Roughing it in Magnificent, Cold Lake Louise

On the way down from Plain of Six Glaciers
Reluctantly, on Sunday morning we left Fernie to head back north and east to Lake Louise/Banff. Although it was out of the way, I had heard such wonderful things about the area and I felt that my cross country adventure would be missing something important if it was bypassed.

We stopped in the ski destination of Invermere, B.C. for groceries and some lunch on the way up, treating ourselves to a sit down meal before heading into a few days of eating on a camp stove in the wilderness. As we drove down the main street, we saw signs for Ray Ray’s Beach Pub, which claimed to have the best view in town. Easily convinced, we drove through the few blocks of the main strip and sat down looking out onto the mountains, a pond with a fountain, and the crisscrossing lines of the railroad track and electric poles. It was an artful view, but perhaps if we had been sitting outside (it had started to rain and was cooler now) we would have seen impressive Windermere Lake. The food was typical Canadian pub food: I devoured a sweet Thai chicken wrap with yam fries and salad, while Nick dined on a beef sandwich.

Lake Louise, Alberta is a tiny village with one main plaza (Samson Mall), which includes a few restaurants, a grocery store, gift shops, and a visitor centre. We spoke to a very helpful woman in the welcome centre, who gave us detailed information on hiking in the area, and where we could find the best vistas for taking photographs. We paid $6 for four litres of water (a forgotten item on our grocery trip in Invermere), and decided not to spend hundreds of dollars on warmer gear in Wilson Mountain Sports. My advice is to do your research on the weather (we were seriously underprepared for the cold mountain air), and make your grocery list and check it twice!

Our first evening was rainy and somewhat miserable. We shivered in weather that went down to 2 degrees Celsius, dreaming of toques, mitts, rain pants, long underwear – all things that were nicely packed away in a container on its way to Vancouver. In a few moments of weakness we considered going home; we were exhausted after the move and the drive and were just too darn cold. However, we steeled ourselves and got geared up for a hike around Lake Louise on Monday morning.

Although you are able to see beautiful views of the lake and mountains from just making your way around the lake, we wanted to do a proper hike to the ‘top’ of Plain of Six Glaciers, which had been recommended to us. The lake water is a turquoise blue and is an absolute complement to the dark, snow-capped mountains that form a curve at its tail end (from the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise). Hiking along the shore is light and easy: you can take your time, stop to take photos, say hello to fellow travellers. One of my favourite things about hiking around the world is the number of different languages you hear along the way: Japanese, Chinese, French, Italian, Dutch, German and British tourists walked with us, ahead of us, around us. You feel a sense of global community by sharing in this experience with such a diverse population.

As you move beyond the lake, the trail starts to move upwards and becomes a little tighter; moving into the higher latitudes it is harder to breathe as the air gets thinner. It is a good idea to wear layers for the hike, as you start to warm up with the exercise of getting to the top. However, once you get there and settle in for a few minutes, you will want to layer up against the mountain chill in the air.

At the top, there is a tea house that was built in the 1920s by Swiss guides and still hosts a variety of food and drink today. They helicopter the raw goods and propane (there is no electricity) once a season, while the fresh goods come in on horseback or with the staff almost daily. Make certain you have some cash with you, as a nice, hot tea is a great treat after your 5.5 km hike! We ate our own packed lunch on the upper level of the tea house, enjoying a great view as we took a break from our efforts.

Afterwards, we treated ourselves to the hot springs in Banff. Not a huge space, it still has an impressive view of the mountains, and was a warm 39 degrees. Before heading downtown, we stopped at the Indian Trading Post, where we found toques for $5 (what a deal!) and some Manitobah Mukluks (slippers) to warm my feet on cold winter (or summer in this case) nights. We walked around Banff town, enjoying a coffee from one of the three Evelyn’s Coffee shops along the main street. There is a relatively good variety of stores and restaurants; overall, Banff is an inviting place that I would like to spend more time in.

Our evening was filled with attending to the campfire, drinking Fernie pale ale, and singing Sam Roberts. I’ve never felt so Canadian. It was an ideal end to a cross country trip filled with diverse history, landscapes and people. I love this country.

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