An avalanche encounter near Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
The morning hike to Saddleback Pass consumed more of the 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.
At the end of Lake Louise, the disintegrating blue ice of Louise Falls is tucked away beyond and above the north shore.
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.
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 'Avertissement', 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.
My objective to visit the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse is clearly defeated but my curiosity is aroused. I shall hike to the edge of 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.
The trail ahead is buried under 3 to 4 meters (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.
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.
From the main trail, I lateral to the base of Fairview Mountain for photos of the Cable Gullies Ice Fall.
The best photo 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.
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.
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.
The Lake Louise Ski Area on Whitehorn Mountain looms past the approach to the Chateau Lake Louise.
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.
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. Nearly like being reborn.