Nestled up in the hills above Lake Louise in Banff National Park is the perfect little destination that, if I had the choice, every hiking trail would have – a lovely little Tea House with beautiful loose leaf tea and a small variety of delicious cakes and pies.
Hiking with my mother and some new friends, we began our journey at approximately 8.30am, starting from the parking lot of Lake Louise near the magnificent Fairmont Chateau Hotel. Unfortunately the morning started off rather cloudy and just five steps from the car park we were forced to don our rain gear. It wasn’t the most pleasant way to experience our first sight of Lake Louise, but a good thing about our earliness and the crappy weather was that we managed to avoid the hoards of tourists who we would encounter later on in the day upon our return.
There is a well-maintained paved path around most of Lake Louise, complete with a number of strategically placed benches to sit and admire the view. At the end of the lake, the adventure began appropriately with a crossing over some stepping-stones taking us into the wilderness, as well as a sign alerting hikers that a hungry cougar is in the area – as if the threat of hungry bears wasn’t enough.
The trail to the Tea House continued for 5.4km through some beautiful scenery of forests and wildflowers, cliffs and waterfalls, and snow capped mountains and glaciers in the distance. The rain continued on and off for the duration of this climb, forcing us to stop almost every 10 minutes to dress and undress with our rain gear. The rain stopped as we approached the Tea House, and we breathed a sigh of relief that we were finally there.
The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House was built in the 1924 as a resting hut for mountain climbers who were on their way to Abbott Hut. The Tea House offers a variety of flavoured teas (their Maple Tea was amazing) as well as some sandwiches and sweet treats (the chocolate cake is good!). Since there is no road leading to the Tea House, all supplies needed to bake the goodies must be carried up by staff or by packhorse on the trail. With a couple hundred visitors a day to the Tea House in the summer months (it is snowed in during winter), this must require a lot of trips. Fortunately, a bulk load of baking supplies (flour, sugar, etc.) is dropped off by helicopter, but only once at the beginning of the season. With no electricity at the Tea House it is important to remember to bring CASH in order to indulge in tea and cakes, as there are no EFTPOS facilities. I will also mention that there is no flushing toilet (kind of an issue for me that I had to get over), but there is a relatively clean outhouse.
After stuffing our faces with tea and cake, we continued further for another 1.6km towards the Abbott Pass lookout. From there we could see Abbott Hut far in the distance, resting along from a part of the mountain named the ‘Death Trap’. We also had a lovely view of the six glaciers (for which the Tea House is named). As we looked back to where we had come from, Lake Louise looked like a small blob of water and the Fairmont Chateau was just a tiny speck. At the very end of the lookout is a wall of scree, which was fun to scramble up in order to get the highest we could before our descent back to Lake Louise.
On our way down, the weather had drastically improved and there were a lot more people on the trail. When we passed the Tea House it was crawling with tourists clicking away on their cameras, making us very glad that we had gotten there earlier and enjoyed a little bit of privacy. We continued down past a stream of even more people hiking up and it was evident that they were struggling in the heat of the sun, making us even more glad we had gotten there earlier in the day even if it did rain on us.
Back on the shores of Lake Louise, the sun was out and it seemed like every single tourist in the area had come out to play. It kind of made me feel like I was back in New York, and while I did enjoy the crowds back in the heart of the city, they seemed out of place in the midst of nature. Behind them stood the towering Fairmont Chateau, reminding us of what it was that had attracted the mass swarm of tourists to the pristine lake.
We did mingle with them for a bit of course, exploring inside the Chateau a little, complete with its exquisite chandeliers and hallways. We also seized the opportunity to take some nicer, sunnier shots of the lake. Waving farewell to the crisp blue water, our journey ended where it began – back at the parking lot – where we lingered around a little bit longer trying to find our vehicle. The parking lot which was near empty when we arrived, was now consumed by a lake of tourists all searching for their respective cars.