Monday, December 12, 2011

Plain Of The Six Glaciers

The proprietor of Mt. Burgess Guest House in Yoho National Park, Canada thinks we are nuts to go hiking at Lake Louise this early August morning. The crowds! The tour buses! The white socks and sandals! We really do not care in the least, though. It makes no difference to JC, CO, or me. We have finally arrived at the Center of the Rocky Mountain Universe and know that if we get up early enough we can evade the white sock–wearing contingent. Plus, it is a well–known fact that ten minutes away from any parking lot or trailhead the sheer size of the crowd is certain to diminish exponentially. Those folks have half an hour. We have all day. 

We are settled into our respective accommodations in Field, British Columbia following a four day, fourteen hundred mile marathon drive from southwest Utah (start the adventure here). Our hike to Walcott Quarry for our Burgess Shale experience is on tap for later in the week. Now, though, we are ready to go stretch our legs and continue immersing ourselves in these magnificent mountains. With a majestic flourish I spread out the guide books and trail map I have recently purchased. JC, CO, and I excitedly consider a multitude of nearby options in Yoho, Banff, and Jasper National Parks but soon unanimously settle on the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail in Banff, near Lake Louise. Ginormous crowds notwithstanding, we somehow know we will not be disappointed. 

DSCN0391Mount VictoriaFromLake Louise
Lake Louise and Mount Victoria

DSCN0394View FromLakeshore Trail
View from Lakeshore Trail

105_0528SiltyInlet OfLakeLouise
Silty inlet of Lake Louise
We hop onto the Lakeshore trail which skirts glacial–floured Lake Louise. Within the expected ten minutes or so the throngs of bus–touring day–trippers thin considerably. Soon we are beyond the sapphire lake’s silty inlet, gradually gaining elevation up through the dense subalpine forest and onto the Plain of the Six Glaciers trail. Mesmerizing views of elegantly snow–draped mountain peaks and barren chutes of rock avalanches compel us to pause and soak in the views.  

Actually, it is a good thing that we have all day because we definitely stop a lot. It is what we do best. 

CO and JC

105_0546Rock Avalanche
Gravity at work - rock avalanche
First we hear the thunderous cracking, as if a member of the Snow Angels bowling team had just knocked down all ten pins at once. Our six eyes search for the suspected source of this reverberating sound. Up valley we see the avalanche already in progress, split seconds after the score, a cliff of ice and snow plummeting halfway down the sheer face of massive Mount Victoria. 

Mount Lefroy and Mount Victoria - CO for scale

105_0536Lefroy GlacierAndMount Lefroy
Mount Lefroy

105_0544Victoria GlacierAndMountVictoria
Victoria glacier and massive Mount Victoria

Soon the trail opens up and we are gliding past the Plain of The Six Glaciers teahouse and onto the thin thread of trail traversing the rocky crest of a lateral moraine of the Victoria Glacier. This glacier last reached its furthest advance in the mid–1800s. Now the steep ridge of glacial debris offers a near eagle’s eye view of the rock and boulder–covered ice of the remaining glacier. 

105_0541Victoria Glacier
Debris-covered Victoria glacier

DSCN0472PlainOf SixGlaciersLateral Moriane
Trail across lateral moraine
DSCN0442Glacial Debris_PlainOfSix GlaciersTrail
CO and NF keeping our balance on glacial debris

Beyond the moraine’s end we find ourselves on a precariously steep talus slope below the impressive edifice of Mount Victoria, Abbott Pass, and Mount Lefroy. We are in the eastern main ranges (I wrote about that here); the rocks are more resistant quartzites, limestones, and dolomites as opposed to the more easily eroded shales west of Field and onward towards the Rocky Mountain Trench. 

DSCN0463_COand JC
CO and JC


Of course we do not want to leave, and decide we could stay in these mountains forever. On our leisurely hike down we stop at the teahouse. We squeeze ourselves around a table on the crowded veranda and have a spot of tea, and get three forks to share a piece of chocolate cake. The teahouse here is one of the Rockies’ oldest, having been constructed by the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1920s. 

105_0548View_ PlainOfSixGlaciers Teahouse
View from teahouse

The days are long at these northern summer latitudes, and so we linger. What a beautifully imposing place to hike, and have tea and cake with wonderful friends. Did someone really tell us we are nuts to go to Lake Louise on this mid-summer day? I for one would not have traded this adventure for all the tea in China. 

DSCN0404PlainOf SixGlaciersTrail


  1. Wow, you really did pick an awesome trail. And so true about 10 mins in and reduced tourons. I've never seen a glacier. What an amazing place for a teahouse.

  2. Beautiful country and beautiful pictures!

  3. You sure got lucky with the weather! Nice pix.


  4. It's easy to take great photos when there is a great subject. The Lake Louise area is indeed gorgeous, and we were so lucky to be able to spend time there.

  5. Critics have long argued paid parking will drive away tourist
    Banff National Park

  6. John Paul - I do not believe we paid to park at Lake Louise, but we did have to go back to the West Louise Lodge and get a different parks entry pass that was good for multiple people in a car - we were in one car with a pass that I had bought that was only good for only one person. Kind of strange, I thought, compared to US parks passes which are good for everyone in the car.
    That said, I don't think that paying to park would drive tourists away from such a lovely place as Lake Louise! Locals, perhaps, but not foreigners.