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THE TEAHOUSE IN THE MOUNTAINS
Lake Louise in the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada has been aptly called ‘The Jewel of the Rockies.” On one side of the lake, massive rock faces thrust skyward from waters made turquoise blue by suspended glacial “flour’ and reflections. On the other side, an easy walking track through trees follows the shoreline to the end of the lake.
The lakeside walk was an easy and well-populated stroll and we soon reached the end of the lake, where the path seemed to disappear into a slightly swampy area. As we turned back we were overtaken by a Canadian couple who asked us, “Have you been up to the teahouse?” We confessed our ignorance of the existence of the teahouse. They told us that the trail led on up to the Plain of the Six Glaciers, a little over 5 kilometres away, where there was a teahouse and great mountain scenery. We should be able to do reach it about a couple of hours. The Canadians’ parting words to us were, “It’s uphill all the way though.”
The easy walk along the lakeshore had barely given us time to stretch our legs. We were wearing good walking shoes and polar fleece jackets, with our woolly hats and gloves in the pockets. It took little to convince us to continue on to the teahouse. An uphill hike in these majestic surroundings and with refreshments at the top sounded no hardship at all.
We quickly passed through the swampy end of the lake and the trail started to climb through trees and other vegetation. Almost every turn of the path gave us scenic views back over Lake Louise with the famous Chateau Hotel in the distance at the foot of the lake. I had to self-censor my photo taking to avoid running out of film too early and returning to New Zealand with twenty picturesque lake shots of remarkable similarity.
As we hiked further up the valley the lake was lost to view and for some time we traversed barren, rocky glacial moraine country and old avalanche slopes. At one place the trail traversed a cliff face that gave my wife, who is not too fond of heights, a few anxious moments. Throughout this section of the hike we looked across the very narrow valley to snow covered mountains that towered over us and seemed almost close enough to touch.
When the valley widened slightly the trail twisted back into the spruce trees as we continued to climb. There was snow on the ground among the trees and on the branches, from a snowfall the previous night. We were puffing somewhat but had no difficulty in keeping up a steady pace. We had not considered ourselves to be particularly fit but must confess to feeling some middle-aged satisfaction upon overtaking a couple of groups of younger hikers. The trail was gaining altitude all the time and we were glad of our hats and gloves.
The last few hundred metres of the track, before reaching the Plain of the Six Glaciers, was covered in icy well-trodden snow, which was a little slippery under foot and required some care. Suddenly we came out of the trees and onto a small snow-covered plain, hemmed in by towering mountains, from where we looked up to a clear view of the hanging glacial valleys from which the plain derives its name. The jagged mountains were largely covered in snow, except for some faces that were too steep for even snow to adhere.
On one side of the plain was a small two-storied building constructed out of logs. This was the famous teahouse, which we later learnt was built in 1924. With the snow covered fir trees behind it and icicles hanging under the eaves it looked like a backdrop from a Christmas card. It was the sort of scene where one almost expected a red-coated Mountie to emerge from the trees and start singing in a strong baritone, or perhaps a horse-drawn sleigh with bells to glide by.
We made our way into the teahouse and took a seat on the upstairs verandah that had a view out to the mountains. Although it was getting late in the afternoon, there was still some weak sunlight filtering through the trees and no wind. We sat and enjoyed a hot cup of tea and some scones while watching the birds in the nearby trees and a small squirrel that scurried about in the snow below us. The young man who served our tea, chatted with us and we learnt that the teahouse was due to close for the winter season in a couple of days’ time. Soon the trail would be under snow and the place isolated. At the start of each summer season the stores are brought in by helicopter. Several times a week fresh supplies come in by packhorses. During the summer the staff members, who are employed for the season, live in a small building behind the teahouse.
As the afternoon was drawing in and the temperatures dropping, we did not linger over our tea and scones and soon commenced our return trip to the lake. Although care was needed on some parts of the trail, it was downhill all the way and we were able to get back in about two-thirds of the time the trip up had taken us.
We went for a number of shorter walks while on holiday in Canada but the hike up to the teahouse above Lake Louise, that took us right into the heart of the mountains, was undoubtedly a highlight of our trip.
© Terry Carson
Where: Lake Louise
Banff National Park
57 kilometres west of Banff
just off the Trans Canada Highway.
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