Hike to the ‘Lakes in the Clouds’

Winter is nearly here and a lot of the Summer activities are closing for the season. Sunday was the last day the Lake Agnes Tea House was open so my colleague Layla and I went for a hike up there in the morning. Layla is British so loves a cuppa. Funnily enough she grew up in Basingstoke, just over the hill from Newbury where I lived for many years, it’s a small world indeed!

We left my house around 8am and drive up to Lake Louise and managed to park in the first parking lot due to it being so early in the day. Even the lakeshore wasn’t that crowded which made a pleasant change.The trail starts just past the Chateau and quickly rises steeply up through the forest zigzagging all the way up to Mirror Lake. The path is well worn and wide and mainly consists of dirt at the beginning but gets a lot rockier as you ascend upwards towards the treeline.  
There is not a lot to see most of the journey up, the forest is beautiful and sheltered from the weather and you do get the odd glimpse of the bright blue lake in places and views of the surrounding mountain ranges and the Big Beehive.Once we got 2/3 of the way up we came across Mirror Lake, a small frozen lake at the foot of the Big Beehive. It’s a pretty spot for a rest and a sit down before you head up the steepest bit of trail up to the Teahouse and Lake Agnes. Up here the trees thin out and you start to get views over the valley to the Lake Louise ski resort and down the Bow Valley towards Banff. It’s impressive and a nice reward for the hard slog up.After 15 minutes or so you turn a corner and come across a small waterfall and a flight of stairs. Sitting atop these stairs is the Lake Agnes Teahouse. The building is a small log cabin with a large, covered verandah that houses the kitchen and tearooms on the lower level and the staff accommodation in the loft. Staff stay there over the Summer and hike up with fresh supplies 2-3 times a week, they also do 20-30 trips by helicopter at the start of the Summer to bring up the majority of the supplies. All the garbage is carried down by staff and guests who wish to help. (We carried down a bag of rubbish)It’s a quirky little place, we sat inside and had a pot of tea and a Mars bar while we chatted to a young couple from California who had hiked up with their 2-month-old baby, and what a happy wee thing he was, all rugged up and smiley.

We walked past the Teahouse along the lake for a better view of the surrounding mountains, Mt Whyte, Mt Niblock and Devil’s Thumb. The trail continues from Lake Agnes up to the Big Beehive and I would have loved to go up there but Layla had to work at 3 so we didn’t have enough time. You can also hike a further hour on to the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House which looks amazing too.The way back down probably took us longer than it did to get up as the weather turned while we were up there and it was snowing quite heavily on our decent. The path had become extremely icy due to footfall and snow so we were slipping and sliding all over the place. Layla was first to slip over in a style that can only be described as cartoon like, she was on her back in a flash as both feet went out from under her, it looked very sore.  In one particular spot we were joined by a guide from the Chateau and 2 of his guests who had ice cleats on so they offered a steady arm for each of us to grip onto to prevent us sliding down the path. There were a lot of other hikers slipping over and the guide was warning people about the hazards. Apparently, a woman had been airlifted to hospital after slipping over on the trail the day before! They helped us down until the path became less icy and we chatted quite a bit. They were lovely, very helpful people.Once down on Lake level we walked around the end of Lake Louise, past the Chateau and the 1000s of visitors that had now descended on the place and back to the carpark. A great day with more than a few laughs along the way.

• Time: half-day hike (1-2hrs one way)

• Distance: 7 km (4.5 miles) return or 3.5 km from Lake Louise

• Elevation Gain: 400 m (1300 ft)

• Altitude: 2135 m (7005 ft)

 

 

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Lakes, lakes and Waterfalls

This weekend we took my one of my best mates and former flatmate and his boyfriend, both over from London to some of my favourite places in Banff and Yoho National Parks. 

This post doesn’t contain ellobarate descriptions of the places we went, no detailed accounts of the colours of the lakes or the shadows over the valley from the mountains etc, the pictures speak for themselves in my opinion. 

First we did the 10 minute, short hike to the lookout point overlooking stunning Peyto Lake and the surrounding Waputik Range, Caldron Peak, Peyto Peak and Mount Jimmy Simpson. Photobombed by 2 ladies! Love this photo.Stunning Peyto Lake, amazing colour.One of the best views in the Rockies!

We then headed to the most famous lake in Banff National Park, Lake Louise. Lake Louise is beautiful but it just gets far too busy and I much prefer it in Winter when you can walk across the lake to the Glacier, and it’s far quieter.Lake Louise shorelineLouise Creek

After being turned away from the Moraine Lake turnoff and the overflow parking lot due to it being full we detoured up the Trans Canada to Yoho National Park to visit Takakkaw Falls. It was my first visit to the falls and after a very windey and steep but magnificent drive we arrived at the carpark. It’s a short 10 minute hike to the falls but we decided to scramble up to get a closer look and were awarded with a great view of the 260 metre falls, the creek below and the surrounding peaks.Takakkaw FallsAdam & Gilles Stunning views

Later in the day we finally make it to my favourite lake, Moraine Lake in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. Unfortunately we were too Lake to go Kayaking and have a bite to eat at the cafe but climbed the rock pile to get some lovely views of the lake and valleys around it. Not many places compare to this.Adam & IAdam & GillesLooking down the valley towards the highway

Overall it was of my favourite days out sightseeing. I just love taking friends to see these amazing local spots and seeing new places for myself. There is still so much to see here in the Rockies. I cannot wait!

50 days, 5 resorts and a million laughs…

This is the first time since we started traveling that I have felt really down. I feel like something is missing, something special has ended and there is a void in the pit of my stomach. The ski season is over.​I always knew I would have a wee cry and be upset when the ski season ended and to be honest I was getting a bit sick of skiing and only made the effort to go up if the weather was good whereas at the beginning of the season I would go, rain, hail or shine but I am feeling very sad that I can no longer jump on the bus and head up the mountain for a few hours before work or spend the morning skiing and the afternoon at Trappers having a few drinks or watching a band.2016/17 was such a great season and doing this was the best thing I have ever done and something I have wanted to do all my life. Sunshine Village is a very special place, the staff, many we know personally have made it such a great place to be. From the instructor who taught Fergus to ski to our mate Mitch from rentals, they have all made it a season to remember.Goat’s Eye, Standish, Angel, Wawa, Divide, Teepee and Strawberry are words we used often and everyone knew where you were talking about. In the future these words will always evoke a good memory when they are randomly and most probably very infrequently used. We had our own language up there, one everyone understood.I’m so glad Fergus has enjoyed it too. Back at the start of November he had never even been to a ski resort and I remember laughing at him trying to walk in ski boots for the first time, roll on 7 months and he is nearly as fast as me and is flying over big jumps and down black runs with ease. I’m glad I have been able to introduce the sport I love to the man I love.Slush Cup 89 was the best way to end a cracker season, the sun was out, the tunes were pumping and Trappers was packed full of revellers all wanting to cheers to a great season. It definitely went out with a bang!So today I packed up my boots, wiped down my skis, put them into storage and cleaned out my rucksack of things skiing related and stored them away in a memory box.

Yes, it is sad but we still have another Canadian ski season ahead of us, an amazing Summer full of travel and adventure and we have met some lifelong friends skiing this season at Sunshine.Sunshine village will always have a special place in my heart.
 

A fleeting visit from some Queenslanders.

We were lucky enough to have a very fleeting visit from Sarah and Deryck from Australia in March. I know Sarah as the daughter of Kyme, who used to sing in a band with my Dad years ago in Australia. She seems to have followed me around the world from NZ to Australia then to England and now to Canada! Her boyfriend Deryck did a season in Whistler so returns to Canada often. (I hope we will follow suit)

They stayed in Whistler on their holidays and made the long journey (14 hours or so) over to Banff to see us. The weather was bad when they drove through, both BC and Alberta were getting pummelled with snow and at one point I wasn’t sure they were going to make it.

Sure enough, while at work on the night shift I received a call that they they were only an hour away! So once they arrived Fergus came to work to meet them, grab some dinner from Nesters and keep them company until I arrived home. 

The following day we got up early and headed to Lake Louise. With only one full day in Banff, Deryck was keen to see the ledgedary lake voted one of the most popular tourist spots in Canada and on the places to see in the Lonely Planet Guide on Canada.Once there we bundled down to the snow covered, frozen lake for a wander. Deryck, intent on taking thousands of photos (much like me) wanted to walk across the centre while Sarah, Fergus and I chose to walk on the sleigh path around the side of the lake to avoid the deep snow. 

Somehow we lost Deryck and the three of us ended up at the end of the lake watching climbers on the frozen waterfall while Deryck had apparently turned back and was at the Chateau waiting. Sarah and Deryck went for a second trip across the lake while Fergus and I waited at the Chateau and watched the ice skaters. It was a stunning day and not too cold either.Back in Banff we stopped quickly at the Norquay Lookout that looks over the Town of Banff and at Surprise Lookout that looks over the Bow falls to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. (The Castle in the Rockies)Back in Banff and hungry we stopped into Tommy’s Neighbourhood Pub for burgers and beers. I love Tommy’s, the burgers are big, the drinks cheap and there is always a good atmosphere in there.We then decided to get some wine to take home and headed down to the car which we had parked by the river and were lucky enough to see a couple of huge male Elk foraging for food. Got some great photos and we were really chuffed Sarah and Deryck got to see some of our local wildlife.Had a few wines and a great old catch up at home before heading to bed. Sarah and Deryck left at around 3am that morning.It was really nice to catch up with Sarah and to meet Deryck who is a lovely chap. 

See you in Australia guys! X

FAM days

As a person working in Banff in the tourist industry, we are really lucky to be treated to a lot of familiarisation tours.

Tour operators and the ski hills give us heavily discounted or free days out from time to time so we can experience their product and subsequently sell or refer tourists to it.

This month I went on 2 FAM tours to Mount Norquay and Lake Louise. 

Norquay

The closest skifield to Banff, Norquay is only a 10 minute drive and you can even see the runs from town. It’s the oldest resort in the Rockies and is really popular with the Banff locals. There is a 91 year old man who still regularly skis there.

The day started at the Mount Royal hotel car park. Only 4 of us jumped in a van and headed up the hill. Normally the tours have at least 20 people so it was nice to have a smaller group. The 3 Polish people that accompanied me all work as housekeepers and a resort in town.  They were all new to skiing so after our free coffee, muffin and chat about Norquay with the snow school director, they headed out for their lessons.

I headed out by myself to explore the mountain. It was a little eerie as it was so quiet (it was snowing heavily) so on most of my runs I didn’t see a single person. I did a few runs on Mystic, Cascade and Spirit chairs and the snow was great in the morning, about 10cm of fresh powder. The runs are a lot steeper than Sunshine but most are long and wide so they are enjoyable. I really wanted to do the North American chair, that one has the best view over Banff and has black and double blacks but it had only opened earlier that week so the snow coverage wasn’t great. I was advised to give it a miss. Next time…Skiing finished at 3:30 and I then had beer and nachos with the 3 Polish people, their ski instructor and the ski school director in the main lodge. It was a good day and for $37, you can’t loose. 

Lake Louise

At 40 minutes from Banff, Lake Louise is the furthest ski resort of the big 3. I was so excited about going to Lake Louise as I knew it rivalled Sunshine for area, terrain and lifts. Lake Louise has 10 lifts, 1700 skiable hectares, 3 lodges to eat in and incredible views. 

The bus from Banff was pretty much full and most people slept on the 40 minute drive up. Once at the resort we piled into Whickey Jack Lodge for coffee and muffins. Everyone was in groups and my friends (workmate Cian and flatmate Zeke) couldn’t make it so I went and sat with some girls at a table. Got chatting to Jana and Lena from Germany and Sophie from the Uk and ended up skiing with them all day. Very lovely girls and awesome skiers too! Lake Louise consists of 3 areas, Frontside, Back Bowls and Larch. We headed up the gondola on frontside first and explored the runs from there, mostly blue and green tree runs with a few blacks scattered around. Before lunch we headed over the the back bowls to Paradise chair and Larch which we really enjoyed as the snow was excellent and we found a couple of long wide blue runs we loved.

Lake Louise Trail Maps
After a quick burger and chips for lunch the girls and I headed up the top to the Top Of The World Express and Summit Platter, the first button lift I had ridden all season, hard on the legs I can tell you! Up the top visibility was poor, all day it had been cloudy and snowing, we couldn’t see anything except grey clouds over towards the lake, a pity because the views are usually fantastic. On the way down from the top I had the biggest wipe out so far this season. Too much powder and 0 visibility = faceplant! We did a few other runs on Larch and Glacier before heading back to the Lodge for a beer and some nachos. 

It was a great day despite the weather and  skiing a full day with people equally as good as I am was tiring! I’ll definitely be back to Lake Louise again, hopefully when the weather is clear and I can enjoy the stunning views.

The arrival of friends and family

After being in Canmore only a matter of weeks it was time to host our first visitor.  Frankie, our friend from Bromley arrived at the beginning of September from New York and was our first guest. It was nice to still be off work and be able to show her around the area a bit. 

We went up to Norquay Gondola and after a wet and cold ride up and a hot chocolate in the restaurant at the top, the clouds cleared and we could see right up the valley and over the town of Banff. Got some great photos up the top.Fergus and I on top of Norquay Mountain

The weekend she arrived was also the annual Canmore Highland Games so we went down in the afternoon for a look around and some food and drinks. There were lots of stalls as well as a big beer tent and food vans. We watched some highland dancing, pipe bands and Irish dancing which was amazing! Had lots of drinks and listened to the various bands inside the tent. It was a great day and night. Frankie stayed with us two nights before moving on to the hostal on Canmore and then to Hi Hostal in Banff.Frankie, Sheryl and Fergus – Highland Games

On September 19th Kim, also from Bromley, returned to Canmore. She did a visa a few years ago and was here to do a second. I was working when she arrived so left her to explore the town on her own on her first day but later that same day my cousin Susan arrived from New Zealand! I told Kim Susan was arriving around 2pm and funily enough they arrived at my work at the same time! So I sent them off for lunch and a mosey around town before Susan returned to help me close the pet store.   

That evening we all met up for locals steak night at The Wood and a few drinks and a game of pool afterwards. Kim has now moved into a lovely flat in Canmore. 

The following two days Fergus and I had off work to play tour guide to Susan who was on a 5 week tour of Canada and the US. Unfortunately the weather on both days was rubbish and you could barely see the mountains through the cloud and on and off rain. 

The first day we went to Calgary airport to pick up my skis that I had sent over from London and then went up to Spray Lakes to do some wildlife spotting. Didn’t see a lot apart from some Chipmonks, rabbits and a deer. I guess the Bears had headed to higher ground to prepare for hibernation. Susan and I at Spray Lakes

The following day we were up early and headed up to Banff to look for Elk. We had been told they like to hang out at the Golf course so went for a drive around the course loop near bow river and we were not disappointed! We came across a male with a bunch of females and saw another 3 males trying to move in on the pack. They were making weird noises but we didn’t see any fights unfortunately.Elk at Banff Golf Course

Had a quick stop at Bow Falls before carrying on up to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake for a look.Susan and I at Bow Falls

Driving up the road to Moraine Lake was great, it had been snowing up there and small areas of snow lined the roadside. It was quite misty and we felt like we were miles away from anywhere, that is until we arrived at the lakeside lodge and saw loads of tourists milling about!

We climbed the small hill at the head of the lake and from the top, the view, even though we still couldn’t see the tops of the mountains, was amazing! The lake is a stunning blue/green colour and is surrounded by green forest and stunning snow capped peaks.Susan and I at Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake Panoramic

Had a look through the the gift shop at the Lodge before carrying on to Lake Louise. Again, it was crawling with tourists but it’s a very impressive place. The huge Fairmont Hotel stands at the head of the lake looking to the mountains and glacier in the distance. Again, we were unable to see the glacier or the tops of the mountins due to the low cloud.Lake Louise

Had some lunch in the small Lake Louise shopping area before heading back to Banff. Had a look around Banff town before dropping Susan off at her hostal and saying our goodbyes. The following day she got the tour but up to Jasper and we were happy to learn the weather had cleared so she was able to get great views for her trip. 

We are so lucky to have had so many visitors and new arrivals so early in our stay in the Rockies. It’s such a lovely part of the world to share with loved ones.

I hope it continues.