Up close and personal with glaciers above Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
This hike begins at Lake Louise in Banff National Park following an early morning drive west from Calgary, Alberta. The objective is the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse past the far end of Lake Louise. The ambitious route will be more challenging than anticipated.
Rather than take the relatively straightforward and more sensible Lake Louise Lakeshore Trail, the decision is made to visit both tea houses on the same day and this hike sets out from the Chateau Lake Louise on the climb to Lake Agnes via the moderate grade 3.5 KM (2¼ mile) switch backing trail through lush, green and damp forest. Heavily overcast skies with low ceilings are dumping intermittent light rain which will be dealt with throughout this cooler day.
Elevation gain to the Lake Agnes Teahouse is 390 m (1,280 ft) to maximum elevation of 2,120 m (6,955 ft). The ascent is warming and occasional use of umbrellas handles the rain. Shortly after passing the horse trail on the right a stop at 2.7 KM (1¾ miles) provides brief rest and the opportunity to socialize with other hikers at tiny Mirror Lake with Big Beehive looming above.
The hike passes the junction to Little Beehive and the head wall waterfall before climbing the wooden stairs to the Lake Agnes Teahouse for shelter, warmth, and nourishment from backpacks combined with a cup of their excellent hot chocolate. The views of Lake Agnes are stunningly beautiful and enhanced by upper elevation cloud.
Continuing along the north shore of Lake Agnes is immersion in breathtaking beauty surrounded by towering mountains. Cloud is currently lifting to provide an excellent view of 2,458 m (8,062 ft) Devil's Thumb above the opposite shore at the far end of Lake Agnes.
Near the end of Lake Agnes, an offshoot trail into the bowl beneath Mount St. Piran 2,649 m (8,691 ft) and 2,976 m (9,764 ft) Mount Niblock creates an upward opportunity through talus to seek out a potentially hidden lake behind a prominent rock head wall. No body of water is discovered although there is plenty of water running through the rock beneath. There is an opportunity to photograph a pica whose curiosity is piqued by our unexpected presence.
The loop around the west end of Lake Agnes provides an excellent view of the teahouse at the opposite end. Switchbacks temper the rapid altitude gain on the steep trail to the pass between Big Beehive and Devil's Thumb.
The Lake Agnes Teahouse is now tiny from the other end of Lake Agnes as the hike ascends aggressively to the pass between Big Beehive and Devil's Thumb above Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The steep climb on switchbacks from Lake Agnes leads to a trail junction at the top of the ridge. Left leads to Big Beehive. Right leads to Devil's Thumb. Straight ahead drops off the other side of the ridge to the Highline Trail which will lead to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse.
Mercifully, the steep climb on switchbacks ends at the pass between Big Beehive and Devil's Thumb. The distance from the Lake Agnes Teahouse and the trail junction is only 1.6 KM (1.0 mile) with elevation gain of 150 m (490 ft) to maximum elevation for the day at 2,270 m (7,445 ft). The map shows it is a relatively level 0.3 KM (¼ mile) to the Big Beehive Shelter. The good decision is made to hike the short distance over rocky terrain to the Big Beehive Lookout. There are a couple of amazing views to the Chateau Lake Louise, the milky, aquamarine water of Lake Louise below and over to the Lake Louise Ski Resort on the other side of the valley.
Approaching the Big Beehive Lookout on trail through large boulders. The gazebo is perched at the top of Big Beehive where there are outstanding views of Lake Louise and the ski resort on the other side of the valley.
The next segment of the hike is a 1.0 KM (⅝ mile) descent from the trail junction at the pass, predominantly on good, twisting, trail through pristine aromatic forest, to the Highline Trail on gradual descent. Occasionally there are outstanding vistas of the valley beneath and motivating views of the foggy objective at the Plain of Six Glaciers. After 0.7 KM (½ mile) arrival at the junction with the connector trail will allow dropping down to the extension of the Lakeshore Trail for options in either direction however the choice is to stay on the Highline Trail for another 1.3 KMs (¾ miles). The compromised vistas will be better at higher elevations even though it is now raining steadily.
The Highline Trail descends gracefully and motivational views of the objective appear through the rain and mist as the hike continues along the Highline Trail towards the Plain of Six Glaciers beyond Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
Near the junction of the Highline Trail with the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail we begin to see the moraines leading to and the features of the Plain of Six Glaciers above Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
The merge occurs into the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail from the Highline Trail. In the valley below, rivulets of water fed by glaciers are laden with glacial silt and streams appear to be composed of milk at the base slopes of 2,744 m (9,002 ft) Fairview Mountain on the opposite side of the valley. There are spectacular features on the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail but the practicality of taking photographs is negated by a cold wind from the glaciers combined with driven rain. Trail traverses somewhat precarious rock ledges which occasionally allow only single lane traffic. Towards the end, much of the trail is over the rocky surface of moraines before heading back into a mild ascent through forest to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. Stone steps and person-made path signal arrival at the teahouse is imminent.
Shelter in the crowded teahouse provides refuge from the weather and opportunity to enjoy packed lunches supplemented by food and hot chocolate from the kitchens of the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. At the open area near the teahouse there are interpretive plaques which identify surrounding mountains and the glaciers they host.
There is one additional trail extension through a forested section to a viewpoint closer to the field of glaciers. The trail is signed as 1.3 KM (¾ miles) but, in reality, the end of the trail is only a teaser. The urge is overwhelming to hike as far as possible, over rough terrain with some exposure to height. The weather has cleared up a bit. Ceilings have lifted and there is an occasional patch of blue sky.
Photographs taken cannot do justice to the scope of the terrain so a brief video is captured before returning to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse and the return hike to the parking area at the Chateau Lake Louise.
Just to be clear, there is no real alternative to standing at the location where this video is taken but this will help those who cannot get there for whatever reason.
The return to the teahouse provides the opportunity to capture images of the glaciers whose massive surfaces are covered with rock fall from the faces of mountains they have been grinding against for thousands of years. This is an awesome spectacle and the cracking sound of constantly moving ice combined with the feel of cool breeze against the skin allows the experience to touch the soul.
Sunshine creeps through cloud cover to ignite vivid colors on Fairview Mountain and Lake Louise as the return hike to the teahouse begins.
The long lens reveals the Chateau Lake Louise at the other end of Lake Louise backed by the ski runs at the Lake Louise Ski Resort with lateral moraines in the foreground from the Plain of Six Glaciers in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The 5.6 KM (3⅝ mile) hike from the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse to parking at the Chateau Lake Louise is on tiring legs in the best weather of the day. Total hiking distance for the day is about 21.5 KM (13⅜ miles) through some of the most unique and beautiful scenery on the planet.
This incredible hike from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes, the Big Beehive and the Plain of Six Glaciers ranks as one of the most scenic and rewarding hikes available in the area.
Photographs were taken on July 29, 2013.