Tuesday opened up dark and stormy; not the sunny morning that the weather guessers predicted. By about 1000 or so the skies to the west were brightening some so Neil rousted Connie away from her backed up Wall Street Journals and podcasts…and despite her insistence that it was supposed to rain Tuesday afternoon according to the forecast and the fact that they were totally wrong about the morning forecast we headed out but she wasn’t expecting anything good. Forty five minutes later we arrived at the parking lot at Lake Louise where we were going to hike up to the Agnes Lake Teahouse for lunch. Nothing like a 2 mile long 1000 foot elevation hike to get your appetite up. Before we headed up we stopped for some pictures of Lake Louise and the Victoria Glaciers. This first shot is the most famous view in Banff National Park; I’m sure most of you have seen a picture of this scene before…and the thing has been photographed a gazillion times…but now it’s a gazilion and one I guess. The two white patches you can see at the far end of the valley (it’s about a mile to the far shore and maybe another mile or two to the white patches…are the lower and upper Victoria Glaciers. Don’t know exactly how thick they are…but the second shot is a closeup and as you can see from the trees near the edges they are way thicker than the trees are tall so it’s gotta be at least 100 feet at the edge you can see of the upper one; it’s much thicker a bit further back from the edge. Compare this with the Athabasca Glacier we posted the photos of the other day; it’s about 30 feet near the edges and has been measured at thicker then the Eiffel Tower is call and that’s 900 something feet. The third photo is looking slightly to the left toward the canoe rental area and the last two one farther to the right toward the area where the teahouse is perched on the shore of Agnes Lake. The zoomed in one in the last two is just a crop of the fourth shot that shows the location of the teahouse; it’s in the center of the red outlined section 1000 feet above Lake Louise. I’ll put in better photos of it as we got closer but wanted to give you a sense of where we were headed. From where all of these were taken we continued around the lake to the right another 300 yards or so then made climbed along the ridge on the right side of the lake until we were about underneath the teahouse and down to the far end of the lake. The trail then switched back on itself and continued to climb the ridge via switchbacks to Mirror Lake which is about 300 feet directly below the teahouse then continued up until we got there. The bare mound immediately to the left of the red highlight at the teahouse is Big Beehive, Little Beehive is on the other side, isn’t visible from this viewpoint, and you have to really use your imagination to call it a beehive anyway. Big Beehive on the other hand is almost perfectly named although you can’t really see that yet from this viewpoint.
After about a mile we got to the first switchback directly below the treehouse (although we didn’t know this at the time) and looked down from the right towards the far end of the Lake Louise, at this point we had done about 600 feet of the 1000 foot climb.
Continuing on another half mile we arrived at Mirror Lake; which was named because of it’s typical lack of any waves and the resulting reflectivity. The Indians said that it was used by Mountain Goats to comb out their beards, hence it was named Mirror Lake. While there we we grabbed a few more shots; first is the entirety of Mirror Lake with Big Behive in the background; for the second Neil walked another 50 feet or so to the left and aimed farther to the right. In the first the teahouse is behind the trees to the far right; in the second you can just see the treehouse. Start at the peak at top center and come straight down until you cross the tee line; then a little more down and to the left you’ll see the brown area…it’s at about 7 o’clock from a small area of what appears to be snow but is actually the glacier at Agnes Lake.
While at Mirror Lake we also spotted a group of Clarks Nuthatches and got a nice close up of one for you.
Headed up towards the teahouse which meant around Mirror Lake to the right and then zigzagging up the ridge we got a photo of the teahouse perched at the top of a waterfall;
followed a few minutes later by some closeups of the waterfall itself (see how a part of it comes out from underneath a snow cornice perched over the stream) as well as a picture of Connie perched at the falls right before we headed up the last 40 steps (luckily it was stairs since the cliff was pretty much vertical at that point). The first shot was taken from about where Connie is standing in the last shot and Neil turned 90 degrees to the left for the second one which shows the lower and wider portion of the falls itself.
With that done we climbed up the last 40 feet or so to Agnes Lake and the teahouse itself. Since the weather was temporarily pretty good (it had been getting continually better but we weren’t sure if it would continue or turn to clouds and rain again) Neil grabbed some shots of Lake Agnes; which is approximately circular, 400 yards or so in diameter and has a little waterfall coming in on the right side and a bunch of glaciers on the far side where the trail starts up the back side of Big Beehive. The fall is in the center behind the trees in the third photo but it was pretty small and you really can’t make it out in this photo…and the close up one (although it did show the falls but it’s more of a trickle down the ridge face than a proper falls) of the falls didn’t turn out very well. All of the white areas at the back side of the lake are glaciers and not snow and the tree lined slope on the left side is the back of Big Beehive where the trail heads up.
We had lunch on the porch at the teahouse and grabbed some photos looking back towards Lake Louise as well as a picture of the teahouse itself. We were sitting right in the middle of the porch you can see when we had lunch and the two guys standing at the railing on the far right are looking straight out towards Lake Louise. In the second photo the large building you can see at the left end of Lake Louise is the Chateau Lake Louise; a Fairmont hotel that probably costs 500 bucks a night for the cheapest room. All of the Lake Louise photos back at the beginning of the post were taken from right in front of the hotel and the canoe launching area we got the photo of is just to the right of the hotel, you can see the boathouse right over the top of the last large tree that juts up into the lake and immediately below the last white area (the parking lot) on the back side of the lake. The last photo after the teahouse is from the far side of the falls (Neil walked about 50 feet to the right from where the teahouse photo was taken) looking almost straight down. Pretty impressive views from up here, huh?
With lunch done and pix taken we headed back down…and I gotta tell you it was a lot easier on the downward leg. About half a mile down Neil wanted to hike around a side trail and see if we could get a picture of Little Beehive so Connie rested on the side of the trail since she wasn’t climbing anymore. He hiked a kilometer or so around and got a shot of it…but it really doesn’t look much like a beehive at all.
We stopped at Mirror Lake again to grab this picture of a Ground Squirrel (it’s sort of like a chipmunk but larger, brown instead of reddish, and with 2 light stripes on it).
and then continued on down to the parking lot. The hike up took 2 hours and 10 minutes and the hike down 1 hour and 15 minutes so we made much better time with way fewer stops to catch our breath on the way back; the only times we really slowed down were for tricky sections of the trail. After a water and bathroom break we headed off for our second stop of the day…it was 1600 by this time so we decided that since the weather had drastically improved and the forecast for the next 3 days was rain to get in everything we wanted to do over in the Lake Louise area which is about 40 miles from Banff. So off we headed to Moraine Lake. A moraine is leftover from the glacial days and is essentially the line of rubble that the glacier leaves behind on the side edges of it’s path. It’s usually piled up are of rocks and rubble (well, if you can call house sized boulders rubble) and is usually at least several hundred feet tall. The area between the moraines was gouged out by the glacier and when the glacier retreated the depression fills up and becomes a lake. Lakes formed by Moraines are almost always long, thin, and very deep in the middle with steep valley walls surrounding them…these are the harder granite type rocks that the glacier could not grind into rubble. These views are looking southwest; essentially down a curved valley toward the river. The glacier likely came in from behind where the picture was taken and ground it’s way down the valley away and to the right. You can see the moraine rubble piled on the left side of the lake and the steeply sloping valley walls. The lake is about 300 feet deep in the middle and is maybe 500 or 500 yards wide at it’s widest. The mountains you can see on the far side of the lake continue around to the left past where the picture was taken from and are all about the same height. The mountain peaks are over 5000 feet higher than the surface of the lake and the horizontal distance from lake to peak is barely over a mile which results in about a 45 degree slope between the lake and mountains. There aren’t any huge peaks on the right side of the lake as you look at it…I don’t know why that is although it is on the inside of the curve of the lake. My guess is that the far side mountains are granite and the near side ones were softer material and were hence ground down as the glacier came in from behind the photo spot then was turned by the harder rock mountains to the right towards the river, grinding away the right side peaks as it moved. Connie stayed in the car here…we had seen Moraine Lake before on our last trip, she was tired, and it was almost a 2 kilometer trip up and over a 200 foot tall pile or rocks to get to the photo spot; the view from the parking lot is looking about 40 degrees to the left and you really can’t see much.
As we headed back down the road towards Lake Louise and Highway 1 we stopped to get this picture of the mountain ridge on the left (south) side of Moraine Lake. Mount Babble is the third peak from the right that you can see and is immediately to the left of where the pictures above were taken from. From this viewpoint the end of Moraine Lake is around the corner past the trees on the far right and another mile or so down the road with this view being almost south as opposed to the west-southwest orientation of the above shots. Looking at this topography you can see how the glacier came in from the left before being turned to it’s right by the mountains. I don’t know why the lake doesn’t continue up into this area; probably because it’s higher and the glacier flowed downwards into a pre-existing valley over a lip of harder rock which was left behind as it retreated to keep the lake in place. At the far end of the lake there is another pile of rubble that was pushed in front of the glacier as it moved; this formed a natural dam to pen the lake into the valley.
Continuing on back to the highway; we turned west and shortly crossed into British Columbia on our way to Yoho National Park to see the Takakkaw Falls on the Yoho River. Unfortunately the road was not opened yet; not sure if it was bears, not finished clearing the roads yet, or just they haven’t finished repairs due to the avalanches farther up and higher into the valley. We could only get as far as the confluence of the Yoho and Kicking Horse Rivers where there were some very nice rapids that one could not get close enough to get a picture of due to the trees. We wondered why the park service put up nice story boards explaining why the rivers are two different colors when there’s not much of a view. The first shot is of the Kicking Horse river which is clearer and bluer since the silt in it has settled out in some lakes and slower sections of the river upstream. The second shot is about 90 degrees to the left of the first and just barely shows the bottom of the Kicking Horse with the Yoho River coming in from the left. The Yoho is much milkier in color since it (like the Kicking Horse) is glacial melt fed and hence full of silt but doesn’t have lakes or slower sections to allow the silt to settle out. Once the rivers come together the Yoho continues on southwest towards it’s eventual destination in the Pacific.
A few miles downstream we crossed back to the south side of the Yoho to rejoin the highway for our trip homewards. Here are a few shots from the bridge and banks of the Yoho…which was flowing at 12-15 knots here. The likelihood of surviving a fall into this river is essentially zero I’m guessing from the current and many rocks to bash your head in. The third picture is of Cathedral Mountain and the bridge where Neil was taking most of the photos; it’s another of those 5000 foot elevation changes in the space of a mile or so that are so frequent here in the Banff area. We continue to be impressed by those things…no matter how many of them we happen upon.
Heading back homeward; we discovered that were climbing up Kicking Horse Pass which has a grade of 4.5 percent in a very narrow valley pass up to the higher valleys where Lake Louise and Banff are located. As you go west from here you’re heading down into a lower elevation area of British Columbia. Back in the day; the railroad followed the modern day roadbed almost exactly and the 4.5 percent grade was the highest railway grade in North America (they usually like 1.5 percent grade maximum). This meant that a 5 car train going down the pass had the front of the locomotive over 15 feet lower than the back of the caboose…which given the relatively inefficient train brakes of the time resulted in lots of train derailments. To solve this; in 1907 a couple of bright railroad engineers discovered that the Swiss had built what are essentially switchbacks for trains but at the corners of the switchbacks instead of making a sharp almost 180 degree turn (which trains can’t do) they tunneled into the mountain and made as tight a loop as possible then coming back out of the mountain 50 or so feet higher then they went in almost overhead the tunnel entrance but headed the other direction. There are two of these spiral tunnels which add about 5 kilometers of length to the track up the valley but reduce the grade to a manageable 2.5 percent maximum. Here are a couple of photos of dioramas to give you a better understanding. The first is an elevation model, the second an overall shot of the valley and the third a closeup of the spiral tunnel section of the track. Uphill is to the left in all 3 cases. Looking t the terrain model the trains came in from the top of the pass at the upper left then entered the tunnel mouth on the right, circling around and coming back out the tunnel mouth a little to the left and down from the entrance. Continuing on across the current day road it entered the second mouth at the far left then came out right where you can see the red train car, paralled the current day road, passing underneath the current day road and then out of the model to the right. A pretty ingenious way to solve a problem I think. The tunnels are still used and have doors at each end to keep as much cold air out as possible…the tunnels leak water some and ice builds up on the inside; the doors minimize the buildup by increasing the average tunnel temperature. The railroad has some specially equipped train cars that essentially have big ice scrapers on them that they drag through the tunnel (actually they probably push them through to clear the ice before it damages the locomotive) to get rid of ice on the walls and roof.
With that our day was done; an uneventful 40 mile trip back to Banff where we had dinner at the Bear Street Tavern. We did spot what we believed was a wolf patrolling the outside of the wildlife fence along the highway but there was no place to pull over for a picture since it’s a feeeway. This is the only highway we’ve ever seen that the transportation folks tried to make wildlife proof. The entire length of it is lined on both sides by a wildlife proof fence about 10 feet high with rocks piled along the bottom. Wherever there is an exit/entrance to the highway the fence comes right up to the edge of the road and there is a 10 foot wide cattle grate (they call them Texas gates up here) which animals won’t venture onto since their feet will fall though the grate. This keeps wildlife from getting onto the highway. About every 5 miles or so there is what looks like an over pass but is actually a wildlife corridor. They are about twice as wide as a four lane overpass would be, have an undulating upper surface that is covered with dirt, grass, and trees…and are fenced on the sides with the fences connecting to the fence along the side of the highway. Thus the wildlife has a way to remain outside the fence and still get to the other side of the highway. Another pretty ingenious idea…but I guess after getting who knows how many cars totaled from hitting bears or elk or whatever in the middle of the night this is a cheaper solution overall. I’ll remember to get a picture of one of the wildlife corridor overpasses the next time we’re out and add it into a post so you can see one.
Wednesday and Thursday it’s supposed to rain so we’re going to the library in a bit for Connie to work and Neil to surf…after that it’s leftover chicken for dinner. We slept really late today as we were both exhausted after yesterday. It was a 4 mile hike for Connie with 1000 feet up and then down; Neil’s total was closer to 6 miles and 1500 feet by the time you add in his side trip to Little Beehive and the hike over the moraine rubble pile at Moraine Lake.