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Grizzly Country: Lake Louise and the Plain of the 6 Glaciers
by Anne C » Thu Dec 11, 2014 1:49 pm
Date walked: 19/09/2013
Time taken: 5.5
Distance: 14 km
Ascent: 600m1 person thinks this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
great path by scotlandmac, on Flickr
This is one of most straightforward, spectacular half-day hikes in the Canadian Rockies. An excellent path takes you high above Lake Louise into grizzly bear territory – meadows, rock bands and moraines and a superb close-up of the 6 glaciers below the summits of Mounts Lefroy, Aberdeen and Victoria. Ahead of us, we had a week of touring Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks, but we wanted to fit in a few walks into the wilds as part of that, weather permitting. This was the first full day of our week in Canada.We'd arrived in murky rain and the flag was down but today dawned a little differently to say the least.
Lake Louise by scotlandmac, on Flickr
We set off around 8.45am after taking some shots of stunning Lake Louise. You see it in photos but nothing prepares you for the colour and scale. The opaque turquoise water is almost unbelievable - a result of rock crushed to powder by glaciers. Spring melt washes this rock flour into the lake and as light reflects on the particles, it produces the incredible colour.
Crowds were already there, milling around the enormous, unattractive Chateau Lake Louise hotel and my heart sank; what would the trail itself be like? (Argyle Street came to mind). I’d read how popular it gets.
But within minutes of walking along the beautiful shore path everyone seemed to disappear and we were on our own. Bliss. The views even at this point were just gorgeous. The lake is always busy and probably the most photographed of all, for good reason. Similar to many of the Rockies lakes, it is ringed by 11,000ft + peaks and their glaciers. We were already at 5,679ft (1,731m) so you have 5,500ft worth of mountain rearing up around you in ‘wow’ proportions.
Silt beaches at head of L.Louise by scotlandmac, on Flickr
I couldn’t believe how good the path was. It took us up in fairly gentle gradients beyond the silt beach at the head of Lake Louise, a lovely spot in itself. The colour of the water with the sand looked like something out of the South Pacific.
This walk was great in that you were hardly in the forest at all. So many hikes in the area are spent climbing up through endless spruce and pine forest, nice initially but a bit tedious after a while. But almost immediately we were in amongst groves of berries and meadows and winter avalanche chutes. Beautiful country.
Soon Up in the Mountains by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Lake.Up into the meadows by scotlandmac, on Flickr
It was at this point that we realized how absolutely alone we were, the lake and the masses far below. I had worried a lot about walking in the Rockies because of possible bear encounters. The beauty of this route (and its downfall) was that it was so busy; there wasn’t a need to walk in a group. Other walks I had researched and which we also planned to do, legally required you to be in a group of 4 minimum; 4 because there have been no records of grizzlies attacking such a size of group (yet!). A larger group tends to make more noise than just 1 or 2 people.
As I forged ahead in the silence , my husband, C, behind me (hhmm…I wonder why?) I suddenly panicked. We were each wearing tinkling bear bells (I’d also read they are no use in themselves – you need to keep talking loudly to give grizzlies plenty notice of your approach and therefore not surprise them, when they are likely to feel threatened and get aggressive). We were walking through short bursts of forest then into lovely lush meadows, the very areas grizzlies graze! And we were totally alone, early morning. Prime bear time!
6 Glaciers hike by scotlandmac, on Flickr
We were both thinking the same thing. We’d only arrived in Canada the day before and this was our first ever walk in bear country. Totally alone. At a time when bears are feeding 20 hours a day storing up for hibernation. And there we were, a couple of tasty morsels (I know, we’re not really their prey but both types are carnivores and opportunistic feeders, we were told. If there’s an easy meal, they’ll take it). Suddenly, we felt like very easy meals. I had the fleeting thought that thank goodness we’d got rid of bears in Scotland so long ago – this was starting to ruin a great walk already.
We tried to be logical about the statistically slim chance of an encounter. What wimps! Then off we set again, talking even more loudly and inanely as we went. The scenery was getting better and better, the low clouds lifting then swirling around the big peaks really dramatically, almost better than if they were totally clear. I love that.
The mountains looked ominous, very forbidding.The scale was eye-popping.
050 by scotlandmac, on Flickr
With lots of photo stops we eventually reached the famed Plain of 6 Glaciers Teahouse, tucked in amongst the pines. This little wooden house was built by the Swiss guides who first climbed these peaks with clients, mirroring the idea of Alpine refreshment huts in Europe. It was in a beautiful spot, close to a big meadow and with wonderful views up close of the peaks.
At 10.15am they’d just opened for business. We sat on the top deck and ordered tea, coffee and apple pie. A bit surreal but very civilized and a great wee break.
049 by scotlandmac, on Flickr
I believe the hut has been in the same family for many years and we talked to the owner, a very friendly Canadian woman. She ‘loved’ our accents, although I thought they must sound so harsh compared to her easy, lazy drawl. She told us of the female grizzly which had lived in the area for many years, raising two cubs. She did make the point that the only reason the bear was still there was that she was intelligent enough to go out of her way to avoid human encounters as the bear usually comes off worst in the end (shot). She had often seen the grizzly with her cubs and they simply put their heads down and marched slowly off if people came on the scene. She herself had been out sketching one day up in the meadow, talking loudly as she walked to warn off bears, but as she settled down to sketch, she had been totally silent. Suddenly, a grizzly appeared as if from nowhere, very close. She wasn’t sure which of them got the bigger fright but thankfully, the bear turned tailed and galloped off at a fair rate of knots.
A black bear had wandered into the area too but at its first sight of people had just about catapulted itself down the moraines in utter terror.
Of course all this was very re-assuring and to some extent bred a confidence in us that wasn’t warranted, as we were later to find out from one of the local park rangers.
085 by scotlandmac, on Flickr
Tea finished, we decided to head on up the trail to the very edge of the moraines and closer to the glaciers, another 1.5km further or so. It was now a glorious day, perfect temperature, clouds lifting all the time.
061 by scotlandmac, on Flickr
The path remained good as we climbed a bit higher and the terrain became harsher. Every so often there was what sounded like gunshot – avalanches!
Another 20 mins or so took us to the steep edges of the safest ground with fine views down to the dangerous looking crevasses of the Victoria glacier. We had hoped to see the Abbot Pass Hut , an Alpine refuge at over 9,600ft sitting squat above The Death Trap – a well-named gully prone to avalanche/serac fall and crevasses which you can see the start of below Mount Lefroy. The hut, built in 1922, was named after the first climber to die in North America, Phillip Abbott, only 28years old and one of the explorer- climbers of the late 19th century who gave their names to so many peaks and lakes in the area.
069 by scotlandmac, on Flickr
071 by scotlandmac, on Flickr
074 by scotlandmac, on Flickr
065 by scotlandmac, on Flickr
I always find it difficult to leave high country but we had plenty other things we wanted to do so reluctantly we headed down. By now, the trail was plenty busy and we both had that level of exhilaration when you’ve done a route and are on the way down and cheerily telling folk who ask – ‘oh it’s not too far now!’ My husband in particular changes from a man of few words to a ‘hail fellow well met’ sort of guy bubbling with good humour. Really annoying when you’re plowing your way up! Little did they know of the wobbles we’d both felt on the way up. Frauds that we are!
No chance of a bear sighting now – it looked like Argyle St – although we’d conveniently forgotten how much we didn’t want to see one earlier.
We thought of branching off to do the Lake Agnes/Beehives hike which joined our route halfway down and would have added about another 2 hours or so, but I wanted to see Moraine Lake in such fine weather and we only had so much time.Ah, the old complaint…so much to so, so little time…..
Canada California and New York - 1st 3 days 111 by scotlandmac, on Flickr
We took a breeze through the Chateau, just to see it inside. I’d been in once before when my boys were very young on a skiing trip. The gardens are beautiful but it is a really OTT structure totally out of keeping with the landscape. Inside, I thought we might stop for more tea and cakes, my usual weakness, but it was full to the gunnels with people, chat, clinking china, rattling cutlery and despite the huge picture windows looking out to the lake, we weren’t in the mood to trade our memories of tea at 6,000feet in the mountain peace for the slightly madhouse atmosphere. I was longing for the peace of the mountains already!
Untitled by scotlandmac, on Flickr
So – it was ‘Moraine Lake here we come’ - a 12 mile drive away and a chance to check out the route we planned the next day to Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass. A groups only walk or a hefty fine (and a chance of being bear food!).
by larry groo » Thu Dec 11, 2014 2:10 pm
Thanks for posting, a great read.
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- Location: Angus
by Anne C » Thu Dec 11, 2014 4:36 pm
I've been meaning to post these reports for an embarrassingly long time - I'd written them then got sidetracked.So thought I'd work on them over the next day or two and get the photos in.They might prove useful for anyone planning the walks in this great area.I use a lot of Users Walks myself for reference, really excellent for a bit of extra info.
by Border Reiver » Thu Dec 11, 2014 5:39 pm
by Anne C » Fri Dec 12, 2014 11:46 am
I never, ever thought I'd go walking knowing grizzlies were around but it's amazing once you get a bit more informed, it changes your view a bit.I noticed some folk posting they had upped the group size to 6 on occasion - sounded a bit ominous, as if there'd been an incident with a 'smaller' group.
by jmarkb » Fri Dec 12, 2014 12:22 pm
We decided to join a small guided group as we were worried about bears, but there seemed to be lots of folk going around in ones and twos. We never saw one but, a group just ahead of us had a close encounter on the way to Wenkchemna Pass from Moraine Lake.
Looking forward to seeing what else you got up to. I haven't managed to get around to doing any trip reports, but there are some photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/14623510@N03/sets/72157647319612107/
(I know what you mean about the trees - I got a bit tired of them after two weeks! )
by Anne C » Sat Dec 20, 2014 11:12 pm
All we did after that was the short walk to the Angel Glacier up at Jasper.The weather turned a bit nasty and ruled out one of the easy walks we'd planned overlooking the Athabasca Glacier.Next time maybe! It would be great to read yur own report - looks amazing.
by litljortindan » Mon Dec 22, 2014 2:36 pm
by Mountainlove » Mon Dec 22, 2014 4:42 pm
by ilovescotty » Wed Oct 28, 2015 4:47 pm
Very said that some people have this view on wildlife.
by ChrisW » Wed Oct 28, 2015 5:52 pm