Monday, December 29, 2014

Banff Day Two - Glaciers and Teahouses

This is second in a series recapping my 2008 trip to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.

Our first day in Banff National Park was merely an appetizer.  My hubby and I's brief visit to Lake Louise left us hungry for more.  The next morning we awoke early, and headed back for further exploration.

Lake Louise on a foggy morn

Many trails depart from the lake's emerald shoreline.  But after much research, I decided to combine two of the favorites; treks to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, and the Plain of Six Glaciers.

Our day's goal:  hiking up to Abbot Pass Viewpoint to see the glaciers, and visiting the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse.  Then we'd head over to Lake Agnes, the Big Beehive, and the Lake Agnes Teahouse.  Round-trip, the distance was about 10+ miles and a couple thousand feet of elevation gain.  Ambitious, yes, but we wanted to take in as much of Banff as possible.  That's what we'd traveled here for.

Climbing above the clouds

Roger and I began our hike retracing yesterday's steps along the lake's north shoreline.  Reaching the inlet creek at the far end, our trail began to climb.  Almost immediately the surrounding scenery changed.  We traveled though a narrow valley, sandwiched between tall peaks.  A gravelly river of glacial melt snaked through it's very bottom.

Glacial melt flowing towards the lake

Oh were the views spectacular!  Steep, jagged mountains rose on all sides.  Lush green forests carpeted the lower valley.  Picture-postcard perfect!  (And, yes I kept my camera clicking in hopes of capturing a postcard shot of my own).

Although the morning started out overcast and foggy, the higher we ascended, the clearer the skies became.  Small pockets of blue sky teased and provided encouragement to my hubby and I through the difficult climbing.

Plaza at the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse

The trail switchbacked steeply through a thick wooded grove, and then suddenly the forest opened up into a huge clearing.  Someone had paved a patio area with local rocks, and installed wooden benches for tired hikers.  This scenic place offered visitors front-row views of the massive glaciers at valley's end.

Glacial ice hanging on the mountain

Roger and I glimpsed the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse through the trees.  It was still fairly early, and we weren't yet hungry, so we agreed to save our stop for the return trip.  The glaciers, and Abbot Pass Viewpoint were calling loudly, and we were eager to see them up close.

An interesting cairn!

As we departed from the viewing plaza, Roger and I passed by an area sporting cairns of all shapes and sizes.  Not sure if they were constructed by tourists, or bored locals, but there were some very unusual ones.  Made great photo subjects!

Amazing alpine views

The final 1.5 km of trail was exciting.  With each step, the mountains drew closer, and appeared to rise even higher.  The clouds parted enough so we could see their craggy summits.  Glacial ice perched on steep cliffs grew in size, and appeared near enough to touch.

Lake Louise is very tiny from up here

Looking back down the valley, Lake Louise was just a small aqua-blue dot.  Wow - we'd traveled a long way!

Looking down on the glacier

Our defined trail deteriorated into a rocky plain.  Cairns marked the route to the designated viewpoint.  We followed other people through the desolation (we were by no means alone!)  Finally, we came upon a large area where everyone seemed to be congregating.  Assuming this was the Abbot Pass Viewpoint, Roger and I pulled up a rock.

Dramatic place for a photo op

An amazing place!  You could see the white glacial ice perched high on a steep cliff.  I don't know how it stayed in place - the entire slab looked ready to slide off at any minute.  Small amounts of ice and snow were continually sloughing off its face, collecting at the base below.

Mountains and dirty ice

The glaciers themselves spread out between the mountain peaks.  Their surfaces a dirty gray, you had to look hard to realize this was a river of ice and not part of the mountain.  Deep crevasses splitting across the glacier's surfaces were one of the more obvious clues.

Proof I was there

Roger and I rested, snacked, and took copious photos.  We oohed and aahed after witnessing a large icefall roar down the mountainside.  And Roger got some unwanted attention from a very friendly chipmunk (more about that in a later post!)

The trail travels over a moraine

A continuous stream of people snaked up the gravel moraine to this viewpoint.  I was surprised by the large number of visitors who'd made this trek (a six mile round trip).

Heading back down the valley

After about an hour of sightseeing, Roger and I realized if we were going to hit all our day's destinations, it was time to get going.  So back down through the rocky moraine we traveled.

In one place, the trail was carved into a rock ledge

With views just as spectacular going down as climbing up.

The Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse

In no time, we were back at the Plaza and the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse.  A cute little log building in the middle of nowhere, this wilderness cafe catered to hungry hikers.  Originally built as a rest stop for mountain climbers en route to Abbot Pass, this building now operated during summer months.  Due to it's isolation, all supplies had to be either helicoptered in, or packed up by horses and people.  The building had no running water, and all cooking was done on propane stoves.  Employees either hiked up, or slept in nearby outbuildings.

The place was packed!

By the time Roger and I reached the teahouse it was early afternoon, and I was ready for a bite.  However, the place was packed to the gills with other hikers.  I looked around for a table, to no avail.  We had to settle for dry granola bars, sitting on rocks outside.

Fantastic views on the trail to Lake Agnes

Bellies full, we continued our trek to Lake Agnes and the Big Beehive.  This trail stayed high as it contoured across the mountaintops, providing killer views of Lake Louise, far, far below.

A nice bunch of fireweed

And it meandered through fields of lovely pink fireweed.

Mirror Lake and the Big Beehive

Roger and I reached the shores of tiny Mirror Lake, in the shadow of a massive rock known as the Big Beehive.  Very impressive indeed!

Lake Agnes Teahouse

From Mirror Lake, we climbed past a small waterfall to the very scenic location of Lake Agnes Teahouse.

We stopped in for a cuppa

Perched on a tall cliff's edge, this cute teahouse had a wonderful view of Lake Agnes and the Big Beehive.  As with the Plain of Six Glaciers, this place was also packed to the rafters with customers.  However, we lucked out, passing by a table just as it was being vacated.  Acting fast, I claimed a spot by quickly plopping my backpack onto a seat. 

Beautiful setting for a teahouse

So my hubby and I enjoyed a very expensive cup of tea and scone surrounded by 360 degrees of amazing scenery.  A wonderful high mountain cafe!  Despite the high prices, I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Lake Agnes

After refueling, I detoured over to Lake Agnes to take in the views and snap a few pics of it's dramatic mountain setting.  Then it was down, down, down, a wide switchbacky trail, returning to our starting point on the shores of Lake Louise. 

Lake Louise outlet - looking back to where we'd been

We ended our day's journey at the opposite end of Lake Louise, looking back towards the immense glaciers - the base of which we'd stood at just a few short hours ago.

What an amazing journey!  Truly one of the most spectacular trails I've visited, and a high point of our Banff National Park vacation.

But wait, there's more......much more.  Part Three is next - look for it soon after the new year.

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday


  1. Just gorgeous, Linda, and your first photo is especially breathtaking!!!

  2. Abraço de Ano Novo com Votos de muita felicidade,
    Feliz 2015.

  3. Linda, what an awesome place for hiking.. The views of the mountain and glaciers are just amazing.. The color of Lake Louise is beautiful. Wonderful series of photos, thanks for sharing your trip! Now, I want to go! Have a happy day!

  4. Wow, what an amazing mountain adventure. I would have enjoyed this day trip myself very much. The surroundings offer themselves up nicely for photography. The Teahouse is a jewel at the end. Loved this post, and I'm looking forward to part three in the New Year!

    Mersad Donko Photography

  5. I doubt you could find a more suitable place for a tea house. I was very excited by your post as I am just looking at flights to Canada for 2015. Never been before so I think this will be the year.

  6. Nice series- people do elaborate cairns here too

  7. Your post is treasure of fantastic pictures of your travelogue! Thanks!

  8. Wonderful pictures of a magnificent place. I was surprised to notice first, how many people there were out there, and second, that few if any of them used trekking poles. I simply could not navigate the downward terrain any more without them. We all use them in our hiking club for hikes with any ascent and descent. With the fireweed looking like that, I suspect it was late summer. Beautiful! :-)

  9. Wow. Awesome. Simply awesome! What a glorious place. I love your images, as always, and that photo that you wrote "The trail travels over a moraine" is incredible.

  10. Awesome scenery. I did not get to see it from your vantage point when we were there. In fact the trails were closed at Lake Moraine due to grizzly activity.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. Wow this is a stunning panorama and a great tour. The tea house would do very well in my garden;-)) Happy new year to you and your family Regards Frank

  12. Wonderful shots. Looks like a really nice area to go tramping in !!

  13. What an amazing trip with such a huge variety of landscapes.


  14. What a pretty place!! The color of the water in Lake Louise in that first pic and from afar are amazing. Love that milky hue. Glad you had such a great time!!!

  15. So dramatically beautiful. Happy New Year and a return to happy hiking!

  16. These scenes make my jaw drop and my heart flip flop!
    How about that tea house, too!!!

  17. Wow, does that bring back memories! When we were there in'86, we did the hike up to the tea house at lake Agnes, and then did the higher hike to the lookout at the top of the beehive. Trail went around the back of Lake Agnes and then up a VErY steep series of about 20 switch-backs (the left hand slope in your second last photo). Our kids were 2, 6 and 9. And yes, the scenery was just as spectacular as your pictures - and very easily accessible by travellers. The trail to the Plain of the Six Glaciers is still on my list, but I do intend to do it before too long.

  18. Great photos and wonderful scenery. Your descriptions brought back memories for me too - but from many years ago! I only went up as far as Lake Agnes and the tea house there - too much snow higher up and even at that height it was a bit damp in places. The views you show from higher up are amazing. Thanks!

  19. What breath taking views ! Such beautiful pictures !

  20. What fabulous shots.

  21. What a place and fantastic photography ~ you are blessed to be there and get those gorgeous photos!

    Happy New Year to you,
    artmusedog and carol

  22. Wishing you all of the best in the upcoming year and looking forward to some more great adventures and gorgeous photos!
    Happy New Year!

  23. wow, this is amazing nature. I don´t think I have ever seen images from this place before. It is stunning. Thanks for sharing it :)

  24. Absolutely stunning. I can't hike anymore so it was lovely to see your photos of deep inside the mountains. I can still enjoy the beauty from afar though and I'm always blown away whenever I travel through this area. Happy New Year!


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