Avalanche - Banff National Park - Hiking Alberta

An avalanche encounter near Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

The morning hike to Saddleback Pass consumed more of my day than expected but there is a short, precarious window of opportunity to make an attempt on the nearby Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse.  The day's temperature has warmed substantially and risk of avalanche will increase. 

Hiking solo without avalanche gear will seriously limit acceptable risk.  However, no guts, no glory, so I quickly capture perennially impressive images of the Plain of Six Glaciers at the far end of Lake Louise, then establish a brisk pace directly along the frozen surface of the lake.

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada The Plain of Six Glaciers, past and above the west end of Lake Louise, in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Close-up of the hanging glaciers on Plain of Six Glaciers, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

At the end of Lake Louise, the disintegrating blue ice of Louise Falls is tucked away beyond and above the north shore.  The round-trip distance between the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise and the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse is about 11 km (6.9 miles) with an elevation gain above Lake Louise of 360 m (1,180 ft.) to a maximum elevation of 2,100 m (6,890 ft.).  The amazing Abbott Pass Viewpoint, which appeals to more adventurous souls, is 1.3 km (0.8 miles) further.  Worth a look in summer/fall.

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Louise Falls, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Continuing at an aggressive pace past the end of the lake, I soon arrive at the spring avalanche warning sign.  Two observations occur to me.  First, the French translation for 'Warning' is 'Advertissement', similar to the English word 'advertisement'.  It is interesting to note the French word may prophetically warn us about the constant onslaught of superficial information we have chosen to endure. The second observation is an earth-shaking rumble which gains substantial intensity over its nearly thirty seconds of duration.  It is an avalanche, unmistakably a very large one, and in relatively close proximity. Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada My objective to visit the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse is clearly defeated but my curiosity is aroused.  I shall hike to the avalanche fall for a closer look.  At a more leisurely pace now, I encounter two young men with voices about an octave above normal, who advise me to proceed no further. 

There were obviously closer to the slide than I and rightfully exercise their obligation to warn; so I promise to proceed with extreme caution. About 1.5  km (0.8 miles) past the end of Lake Louise, I encounter an old avalanche fall near the base of a rock wall.  The smooth mounds of snow are laced with young trees bent horizontal from the force of the slide.  I hike over the mounds and arrive at a left turn. Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Directly ahead is a prelude of the impressive path the very recent avalanche event has taken. Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada The trail ahead is buried under 3 to 4 metres (10 to 13 ft.) of avalanche snow.  It is an impressive fall which reaches to the bottom of the valley where I was hiking a week earlier past the end of the Lakeshore Trail. I approach the slide and climb its margin for a better look at the avalanche field and the Plain of Six Glaciers beyond.  The risk of a second slide is unlikely but it is expedient to limit exposure.  Photographs of the massive slide follow.  I will return the way I came. Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada The interruption will allow a leisurely hike back to the car across the surface of Lake Louise.  The hike to Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse will be done another day. Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada From the main trail, I lateral to the base of Fairview Mountain for photos of the Cable Gullies Ice Fall.  The best composition, by my definition, has me standing in the middle of a creek.  Runoff, in the warm Easter weather, has increased markedly since last week.

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Cable Gullies Ice Fall, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Up tight with Cable Gullies Ice Fall, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

From the base of Cable Gullies, I can look back across to get an excellent photo of the source of the massive avalanche down the side of 2,458 m (8,064 ft.) Devil's Thumb and/or 2,983 m (9,787 ft.) Mount Whyte.

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Source of the avalanche at Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise at the far east end of Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

The hike back to the car, across the surface of Lake Louise, is incredibly peaceful and scenic.  There are several opportunities for artistic photos of expanding water routes through fields of snow.  Most people have left for the day. Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada The Lake Louise Ski Area on Whitehorn Mountain looms past the approach to the Chateau Lake Louise.

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Approaching Chateau Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Horse drawn sled on the Lakeshore Trail at Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Waning light on the Plain of Six Glaciers

 

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Chateau Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

 

Later afternoon sun leaves the Plain of Six Glaciers predominantly in shade with sunny highlights where light can navigate its way through openings in tall mountain barriers. Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada Avalanche, Lake Louise, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada On the way home, I stop in Lake Louise Village at the infamous and perennially popular Laggan's Mountain Bakery and Delicatessen, with food to die for, and limit myself to healthy fruit beverages for fluid replenishment on the drive back to Calgary.  Outside the bakery, I capture one last image of low sun on Saddleback Pass.  Good memories are created today.  The break from city routine, the fresh air, and the exercise are as beneficial as always.

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Comments

Thanks for your comment, Charlie. I do not always choose to publish an incomplete mission. Your comment validated the reason I chose to publish the photos of this partial attempt on the trail to Plain of Six Glaciers. I suspect there are many people who will never have the opportunity to witness an avalanche or the aftermath. It is common here but in many countries there will never be an avalanche. Even snow is rare. I advocate education about avalanches or attendance with well trained and knowledgeable guides before approaching these areas. There are serious sources of reference for current avalanche conditions and many seasoned guides are able to escort the untrained into avalanche areas with the proper equipment and caution. The threat can be very real and the risk deserves careful management. Like crossing a busy street. Charlie, I hope you get the chance to experience an avalanche from a very safe distance. Rogers Pass is a lucrative area in winter. Cannons are used there to bring the snow down before it becomes too big a threat.

The younger men were on the far side of the avalanche and they had to cross the slide to return. So, far more exciting and risky for them than myself who only visited the aftermath. By their account, there were six avalanche events on their trek through the valley that day. Obviously not the best day to hike towards the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. To be honest, I strongly suspected I would not make it all that far given the dramatic rise in temperature and the length of time the sun had been working on that south-facing wall. In late summer I will take the trail past the Plain of Six Glaciers to the Lookout. It would be an excellent edition to the blog. There are so many outstanding and epic hiking opportunities in the Lake Louise area and many I have not repeated in more than 15 years. I am very excited about hiking the Lake Louise trails again and sharing the pictures with people who may choose one day to get out there and see it for themselves. In this kind of natural extravaganza, there is no reasonable substitute for standing there and absorbing the surrounding panoramas. Photographs cannot possibly do the spectacle justice. Thanks for your comment, Andra. Good luck and best wishes on your new travel adventure.

Thank you, Barry, for your kind words.

Cool. I've never seen or heard an avalanche before. May be a good thing....its hard not to respect nature.

Thank you Barry, as usual, great read and great photos!

Amazing photos of the avalanche terrain. Good thing you and the two young fellows were not on that section of the trail when the avalanche happened. I love being in that area in the summer and autumn.

Thanks for your comment, Helen. My risk profile is fairly conservative. On this day, the snow is older, naturally compressed and quite stable. The warm weather raises risk but there is no risk from wind this day. If there is a fresh dump of new snow, that is a completely different game and could raise risk substantially. I shudder thinking about some of the things I did when I was younger and considerably less experienced. There were no anxious moments on this short hike. I plan to do it again in the summer. I understand the 'lotto' thing. When it is my turn to win, I shall spend the remainder of my life living six months in New Zealand, and six months in Canada, so I can enjoy the long daylight year round. The short winter days here suck the life (SAD) out of me but a sunny day at higher elevation on snow, bombarded by surrounding sun, is good for a week. Yes, you will notice the differential in elevation. The key is to gradually acclimatize. Every year we go through the same training process for muscle conditioning and altitude acclimatization so we can do the big, new mountains at hiking season's end. On the other side of the coin, since you live near sea level, when you return home you will be able to run like the wind with all those new red blood cells supercharging you with oxygen.

Wow! Wow! Wow! So relieved you were able to capture nature's dramatic forces safely. re visiting - when I win lotto, I would love to spend a year in the Banff area, to experience all her moods and seasons. On the other hand, I feel quite fit and capable on our terrain, but doubt my fitness would be acceptable on your hikes. I climbed a short steep sand dune on a walk this week and couldn't believe how it made me feel. I'm not giving up and will continue to enjoy The Rocky Mountains through my favourite blogs.

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